Written by: Oliver Streuli
[Editor’s note: Blog reader Oliver Streuli spent a few days in Slovenia last month, fishing with Matt Calderaro of Worldflyangler. Oliver posted this account on his blog, The International Hobbyist, and graciously allowed us to republish it here.]
For our annual fishing trip this year, my friend Mark and I chose Slovenia. The Soča Valley boasts some 140 kilometers of some of the most beautiful trout rivers in the world. Just a short (and cheap!) flight from Zürich, we flew into Ljubljana, and drove about an hour and a half to Kobarid, the home of Soča Fly, the fishing lodge where we decided to stay for our four days. The lodge was fantastic, and the owner, Matt Calderaro, did a great job of bringing some of the U.S. fly-fishing culture to this sleepy little town in eastern Europe. Not only does Soča Fly offer a little fly shop in addition to three nicely outfitted rooms, but the town of Kobarid has a very lively town square with a selection of good cafes, restaurants, and bars.
On the first day, we woke up bright and early and headed to the Soča River itself with Matt. He wanted to show us the peculiarities of fishing the river system, and we were very glad he did. It isn’t an easy place to fish. The pressured fish and impossibly clear water demand concentration and deliberation. In short order, we nymphed up some healthy rainbows in fast water. If you’re not disciplined enough to retie your tippet after every fish, this type of fishing will change your mind in minutes. The strong fish, the fast current, and the sharp rocks combine to shred your tippet.
We moved downriver to a less turbulent section and tied on some dries, where we also had success. The fish were silvery and fat, around 15 inches, and very acrobatic and determined, perhaps due to the icy cold water of the Soča. I had to laugh at the fact that I had naively considered leaving my waders at home in favor of wet-wading. It would have been torture. Keeping my hand in the water long enough to let a fish recover and swim away was bad enough, so standing hip deep in water this cold would have been unbearable.
As the day went on, we moved down the river, sometimes driving, sometimes hiking, and fishing dry flies to rising rainbows. I was very surprised at the vigor of these fish: I’d never felt as much fight from a trout this size, and my 5 weight Helios 2 enjoyed quite the bend throughout the day. Practically every pool contained massive fish. Getting deep enough and enticing them to bite was another thing, so eventually we focused on easier targets. As the day went on, Mark landed a substantial grayling, and Matt regaled us with stories of the history of the Soča Valley and his time as a product developer at Orvis and elsewhere. He’s got a few lifetimes of fly-fishing experiences under his belt.
We finished up the evening with a delicious pizza, a few cold mugs of local beer, and a finger or two of whisky we’d brought from Zürich. After dinner, we wandered across the street to the Hotel Hvala, famous for the mount of a 47-inch, 55-pound marble trout found dead on the banks of the Soča.
On the second day, Mark and I went off our on own, to the Idrijca river. As was to be expected, we saw plenty of big fish, but hooking them was another matter. As we headed downriver, we switched to streamers and immediately hooked some fish and eventually came across the occasional pool of rising fish, where we would switch to dries, and then streamer or nymph our way to the next pool. Matt was nice enough to let me take one of his Mirage reels with me, and not just any Mirage. I guess one could say it was the Mirage. Needless to say, I was particularly careful with it.
As we worked our way downstream, I lost one very substantial fish on a streamer in a very small, unassuming riffle, and it wouldn’t be the last big fish I’d lose this trip. (Consider this foreshadowing)
We called it a day, walked back along to the road to car, and enjoyed a plate of calamari and a local potato dish for what would be the first of our two dinners. Later that evening, Matt came back to the lodge with another pair of guests, and as we relayed fish stories it turned out that one of the guests had briefly hooked and subsequently lost one of the largest trout Matt had ever seen in that part of the Soča system. (Consider this foreshadowing as well.) We headed over to a local campground, where we ate a delicious second dinner consisting of mixed meat platters with plenty more beer, and more whisky once we got back to the room.
The next morning we grabbed some sandwiches from the local grocery as soon as they opened their doors, and hooked up with Matt again, starting at the Trebuščica river, a bit more on the Upper Idrijca, the Bača, and finally back to the Soča.
Our day on the Trebuščica started out great, with plenty of smaller rainbows rising to dries and eagerly taking nymphs. The pools were frequent, but the river small, so one person fished at a time, while the others watched and chatted. I brought my Superfine Glass 3-weight, and it was the perfect rod for casting smaller dries to these lively fish in close quarters. Around midday, we came upon another fisherman fishing his way downstream, and his partner had apparently fished his way upstream, and in a stream this small, the fish would be down for a while, so we decided to move on.
The Upper Idrijca was beautiful, but not much going on in the fish department; we all caught a few smaller fish but nothing substantial. After a brief stop at the Bača and at a few nice pools on the Soča for a few fish on streamers on the way home, we enjoyed an impressive dinner of massive ribs at nearby Kamp Lazar. It should be noted that I was not able to eat everything on my plate. I literally can’t recall the last time that happened.
Our trip was almost over, and we had an evening flight, so we decided to fish a smaller river on our way back to the airport. We got a particularly early start, and walked down, spotting fish but having no luck at first. This was, it should be noted, the river where some other Soča Fly guests hooked and lost that big rainbow I mentioned previously. We walked down the river until it became unfishable in a canyon, and slowly made our way back up. In short order, we saw the fish.
He was huge, and actively nymphing right where the other guests left him. A short and very careful stalk, a cast, and nothing. Again and again, and nothing. Mark and I switched off, and he tried with no luck. The fish would periodically move out into the current, and back a few minutes later, but his size made him easy to keep track of in the pool. He wasn’t spooked or skittish, so after a while I abandoned all caution in my eagerness to get him on the hook.
Finally, I got him to short-strike a streamer. Mark had long since given up and was enjoying the wide open dry-fly fishing elsewhere on the river. I took a break and did the same, catching plenty of fat rainbows on my 3-weight. I came back to try again for the big fish, and sure enough, he took a big black stonefly nymph, shook his head, came halfway out of the water, and immediately threw the hook. After that, my luck was up. I’d never had a fish that big on the line, not even close. 30 inches was a very conservative estimate. And with that, our trip was over, our plans for next year already coalescing on the drive to the airport.
The main lesson I took from fishing the Soča Valley is that you can drive yourself absolutely nuts fishing for the huge fish you see in some of the deeper pools, and never get them to take a hook. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner you can find the plentiful and big fish practically everywhere else. Will we go again? Definitely, probably as soon as next year. Kobarid is a beautiful little town in a stunning part of Europe, with easy access to a number of amazing turquoise blue rivers, each offering their own challenges and peculiarities.
For some odd reason I didn’t bring enough rods, just my 5 weight Helios 2 and 3-weight Superfine Glass. (I ended up breaking the tip on my H2 on the last day, so I was a little undergunned with the 3 weight.) Next time, I’ll bring more rods. I also didn’t land a marble trout, so that’s definitely on the list for next year.
While the day cards were very expensive at a hefty 60 Euros per day (and even more if you bought a license enabling you to keep a few fish), that was more than compensated for by the affordability of every other part of the trip. There are various discounts available for the cards, but for the average fisherman, the lion’s share of a trip’s budget will be taken up by the license costs, a rude awakening for anyone used to fishing in the U.S. and grabbing an annual license for less than the cost of a single day here in the Soča Valley. Food and beer was very cheap, especially compared to Switzerland, and the accommodations and service at Soca Fly are excellent and provide an almost palpable aura of fly fishing culture that’s unfortunately all too rare in Europe.
Oliver Streuli is a film editor and fly fisherman who lives in Switzerland.
One thought on “Photos and Story: Four Days in the Soča Valley of Slovenia”
You lucky dawgs! Looks like it was an awesome fishing trip. I’ll have to put that one down for the bucket list.