I will never forget the first time I saw images of the rivers and streams of Slovenia. It was 20 years ago in an issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I was dumbfounded by the clarity and beauty of their waterways. I filed my intent to see and photograph the region one day, long before learning that these same rivers offer world-class trout fishing and that Slovenia is considered by many to be the New Zealand of Europe.
Fast forward to 2019 when my wife and I landed in the capital city of Ljubljana to meet our friends John and Betsy Murray for a week-long custom couples tour of the country. John’s and my objectives were one in the same. Take our wives on a great trip with fine meals and boutique accommodations where they could partake in a wide range of thoughtfully guided tours and at the same time, he and I would sneak out for three days of guided fishing. If we pulled it off, we would all enjoy great touring and dining together and, despite sneaking off to fish hard, we would have some real brownie points in the bank by the end of it all.
Our last day of fishing was spent on a technical wild trout system that had large wary fish. There were wild rainbows, browns, marbles, and even rare marble/brown hybrids. John’s day had been made early on. He and our guide Sasa had diligently sight fished to a large rainbow and after 30 minutes John closed the deal and landed a gorgeous 22-inch fish amidst a green backdrop of wild rhubarb.
My day had been a bit more of a struggle. I had put two large fish down trying to coax them with a nymph. Then, in the last hour a nice rainbow rose to my dry but for whatever reason, only nicked it. I rested it for half an hour as a sparse hatch of mayflies continued. After 20 minutes it rose again and after it rose three times, I crept back out with a fresh CDC dun and connected. The fish fought like it had never been hooked before, zigzagging wildly across the surface of the pool and jumping recklessly between boulders. As it lay submerged and recovering in the pale cobbled shallows I was overcome with gratitude, not only for this moment and this gorgeous fish, but for the fact that when John and I got back to our hotel, our wives would be smiling and we would have a carry-forward credit in our personal fishing accounts.
One Cool Country
Formerly part of Yugoslavia, Slovenia is a remarkably beautiful, prosperous, and appealing country. Its 2 million residents are friendly, highly educated, speak nearly impeccable English, and pride themselves on never drinking wine alone. It is considered one of the seven safest countries in the world and is one of the greenest and most progressive countries in the EU. Sixty-six percent of the country remains heavily forested and 12 percent of the landmass is covered in well-manicured vineyards, most of which are organic. Slovenia’s southwestern region is lovely wine country and shares much in common with neighboring Italy. The entire northern region shares a border and many cultural traits with Austria and when you move south towards Croatia, the Balkan influence becomes readily apparent.
Slovenia is also the southern terminus of the Alps. These limestone peaks, some of which exceed 9,000 feet, are dramatic and many visitors make a point of spending time in and around the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park. Sports, skiing, and mountain culture run strong throughout the country and Slovenia typically ranks in the top ten in terms of Olympic medals per capita.
Additionally, Slovenia is considered the EU and Scandinavia’s second wealthiest country in terms of freshwater resources. They have rivers—lots of them—and in those rivers they have trout, and in many cases lots of them! Fly fishing for indigenous marble trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, and grayling are all woven into the fabric of this unique country and its culture.
Fly Water Travel is partnered with Slovenia’s premier custom tour provider and we are proud to be their exclusive agent for any and all trips involving fly fishing. Our partners are dialed in beyond compare and are welcomed with smiles and open arms wherever they take our guests. Together we custom build virtually every trip depending on the size of the group, preferred dates, and most importantly, the groups’ specific interests and abilities.
If we want to build a trip that has guests fishing every day or a trip where there is no fishing whatsoever, we can do it. Our sweet spot has been six to nine day trips for couples that integrate two to four days of fishing amongst a variety of other thoughtfully guided activities. On fishing days, dedicated fly fishing guides will be brought in for the anglers and the primary driver/guide will make sure that the other travelers have enriching activities planned suited to their desires. To date, this program has worked so well that many anglers have actually been thanked by their travel companions for going fishing!
What is most remarkable is the depth and breadth of the activities available for our travelers. If our guests are interested in easy walking, food, wine, and architecture, we build their trip accordingly. If guests are into lite hiking, waterfalls, alpine vistas, and photography, no problem. And if guests want to dig deep into adventure and multi-sport activities, we offer a vast menu of options including alpine hiking, cycling, whitewater boating, via ferrata climbing, canyoneering, and even sailing. In the winter months we can even set up trips with resort or off-piste skiing coupled with fishing for large huchen.
Private parties of two are typically picked up at the airport by their driver/primary guide in a Tesla and larger groups by a new Mercedes van. Vehicles are equipped with their own wi-fi hotspot for convenience. Often guests’ first night will be spent in Ljubljana. If guests arrive early enough, an afternoon walking, culture, and food tour of this charming capital city will be con-ducted by a special guide followed by a great dinner out with your primary guide. Your primary guide will be with you throughout the course of your trip and a range of specialty guides will be integrated as dictated by your itinerary and interests.
Driving to the river one morning I asked our guides Sasa and Bostjan how many days it would take to fish all of their preferred waters. They both paused. “About 60 days,” Sasa said, and Bostjan quietly nodded in agreement. I could hardly sit still, as that was not all their water; that was just the places they liked best! As much as I try to be present and in-the-moment, it seemed half of my time in Slovenia was spent figuring out how I could spend more time there…like a lot more time. For my trout fishing tastes, it seemed that every other river or stream I crossed was as beautiful as any I could imagine. The clear turquoise waters and the pale limestone bottoms made it seem like I might spot fish from the moving car at 100 yards. I had been given a taste of something sweet and new and I wanted more.
The bottom line is that Slovenia has a tremendous variety of water, most of which is located in the central and western portion of the country. There are fertile lowland streams and cooler semi-alpine streams that can be relied on come the warmest months of their season.
Some of their waters are federally managed and others are managed by private clubs that still allow public access. These clubs are not easy to join, and new members needs to be mentored for several years by existing members as well as pass a very rigorous test that covers fishing techniques, fish handling, biology, conservation, and high-level aquatic entomology.
These clubs have a fair degree of autonomy in how they manage their waters and both the federal managers and club managers will plant some of their waters in addition to managing their wild trout resources. Access laws are very liberal and all rivers have 6 to 12-meters of open riparian access and anglers can also cross private property to reach their elected sections of rivers. Licensing is expensive (averaging 30 to 80 Euros per person per day for residents and non-residents alike) and somewhat complicated but Fly Water Travel guests need not worry, as our guide teams take care of these details.
Each section of river can also have its own specific regulations. In some sections, anglers can buy a more expensive license and harvest one or two fish and other sections might be managed as full wild-fish sanctuaries with year-round no-kill regulations. It is also worth noting that fishing two flies is rarely if ever legal in Slovenia and some systems don’t allow additional weight or indicators.
In addition to beautiful freestone sight fishing for multiple species of trout, Slovenia offers another truly unique opportunity; a chance to catch the rare indigenous marble trout (salmo marmoratus). Marble trout are close relatives of the brown trout and are found in only a handful of Adriatic basin drainages. While marble trout can be found in a small region of Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, Slovenia is their greatest stronghold. In the 1960’s marble trout were almost lost altogether due to overfishing, hybridization, and competition from non-native species. Luckily, several genetically pure strains were found in some nearly-inaccessible tributaries of the Soca River valley in Slovenia. With the help of the Tolmin Anglers Society (one of the private angling clubs) they were propagated in hatcheries and re-introduced to their native range and are once again thriving.
Marble trout are like big vermiculated brown trout that often prefer lazy lies and have great growth potential. The largest ever caught on rod and reel was from Slovenia and weighed just under 50 pounds! With that said, most specimens are in the 12 to 28-inch range and prized by fly anglers lucky enough to land them.
We give our guides ultimate freedom in deciding where our guests fish so they can factor in current conditions, skill, and mobility. Best yet, you will not need to bring flies, waders, or tackle on your trip unless you wish to, as they provide all needed gear as part of our package price.