Fly Fishing with the Etruscans

A report of a fishing trip with friends to the wildest parts of Maremma, where nature surrounds you.

The last house of the small village was some 20 minutes ago and we have driven through an uninhabited landscape following a rocky and sandy track. Huge holes in the asphalt – survived here and there as souvenir of old, better times – oblige us to zig-zag and proceed very slowly.

The mountain swallows us when we enter a long, dark and narrow tunnel at the end of which we are forced to protect the eyes from the bright sun.

We park the car a few meters from the ancient iron bridge, decades ago crossed by a local train. Today, the railways show the reddish color of time.

The blue ribbon of the river is some hundred meters below, and we can admire the reflection of the sun on the clear water searching its way across the boulders disseminated all along the river bed.

A small hill rests, motionless, on our left. Small round stones emerge from the short, yellowish grass. They’ve been rounded and levelled by the constant wind blowing through the valley. The eyes follow an unseen path carved in the tufa, now almost disappeared under the grass and reach the top of the hill, where a heap of stones and blocks of “peperino” indicate the presence of an ancient, primitive civilization, now disappeared but still alive in local people.

Everybody living in this province has, in his blood and soul, a hint of the ancient civilization of the Etruscans.

We are not far from the ruins of Luni, in the upper valley of river Mignone. We are in the middle of nowhere. We are where most of us would like to be once in a while. No computers. No portable phones. No shouting people. No bosses to tell you what to do. Only you and the old spirits of the Etruscans, half concealed beyond the ancient, ruined walls of the primitive village.

The river is some 20 minutes’ walk from the car along a hardly visible path which descends the hill. It is not a difficult passage but being careful is a must.

Trekking boots would be perfect but the river suggests waders or, at least, hip boots, often necessary to cross some deep water passages.

The ladies won’t be with us: they have decided to stay up here and visit the Etruscan ruins and tombs of this ancient village, known as Luni sul Mignone. They have their sacks with enough food and water for the day. They also have binoculars and camera: the wild nature of this land offers birds of prey, foxes, young deers, wild boars, colourful butterflies, horses, long-horned cows (known as “maremmane”)… a real treasure for those interested in ancient civilizations, wild nature and photography.

It’s mid morning and the sun is already high in the sky. It’s hot as it should be in this period of the year and as it must be for our fishing trip. Such a weather is of no use if you go for trout but here we don’t have salmonids.

The fishing technique in this kind of water is completely different from rocky mountain streams. The water is not very fast and creates big, sometimes deep pools holding savage, strong, shy chub.

Sometimes you see them from the distance, cruising a few inches under the surface, passing under overhanging vegetation or near the shore. Sometimes you don’t, but they spot you even if you are some 20 meters away.

This is not light and delicate fishing. The leader is some 2mt long, ending with a 0.20mm tippet. The best rod is an 8,5” or 9” equipped with a #6 or #7 flyline. The fly is the imitation of a terrestrial, hook #8 or even #6. A hopper would be perfect. Or a small mouse. A caterpillar. A wasp. Any would fit. Small poppers also give good results.

Imitations of terrestrials (artificial fly above, natural below)

The first “must” for you is shelter: never stand up in good sight but crouch so that the fish can’t see you. Or use a big boulder, a bush, a tree as a screen between you and the fish.

The second “must” is detection and rapidity: find a cruising group of chub and cast – as quick as you can, keeping false casts to the minimum – the fly aiming to the tail (not the nose!) of the fish. Don’t worry if the fly creates sound or water movement. If you are concealed from the fish’ eyes, he will react abruptly, quickly and savagely. It reminds black bass fishing with a popper, but a little less rude.

Be ready for an immediate strike and a powerful fight. If you have decided to use barbless hooks (warmly recommended always and everywhere), after the strike keep pulling: the fish won’t escape.

At the end of the slope, we are some 15 meters from the river. Rods are ready and so we are. We approach the water slowly, avoiding stepping onto the unfixed pebbles and cast the fly near the group of roots emerging from the water. There is no fish in sight but some little, almost invisible movements of the water surface – do you remember bulging trout? – near a submerged root reveals a cruising finned presence…  Don’t move. Don’t even whisper… you know that the fish can’t hear you but this is your unconscious reaction. Again, the water surface is disturbed by the submerged presence. You step into the water. Big mistake! The waders boots hit the slippery pebbles and you grab the wading staff, in search of stability but the water you had stepped into sends thousandths of waves to the centre of the pool… to where your possible prey has taken shelter.

Your left hand squeezes the wading staff handle while the right one holds the rod, tip low to the water to avoid being seen by the fish. Stay motionless… don’t breathe…

A wake breaks the water surface from the root to the centre of the pool, some 20 meters away. Damn… it’s moving farther! You must move a little forward… quietly… slowly. The movements stop again but now you are within an easier casting distance. Stay still and wait.

A cloud runs over the bright sun and the water gets duller for a while and you don’t notice the shadow emerging from the depth and swimming slowly in circles around the root. Go and back. Go and back… go… and the fly darts in a blink, hitting the surface somewhere near the tail of the shadow.

A huge water ball explodes on the surface and you unconsciously pull the rod back, setting the hook. You’ve got the devil at the end of the line. And stop breathing.

It’s big. It’s strong. It’s a bastard. A really angry bastard aware of the fact that he’s been cheated and is fighting hard for his freedom. Chub are not as resistant as trout but can give serious problems if of good size: they pull, and swim fast around roots, and rub the nose against the bottom trying to get unhooked. You rely on the thick leader and “pump” the fish: he is not going to last for long and you know you can stress him using the rod’s spring action.

Soon, the heavy fish stops fighting but doesn’t surrender. He relies on his weight and reaches the bottom. You pull. He pulls. Once, Twice. Thrice… he’s tired, now. You bring him near your net, already mid-submerged and awaiting for the corpulent body.

He touches the net’s rim… a quick movement and returns back to the river bed. The operation is repeated two o three more times and, at last!, he enters the net while you lift your prey well above the water, lowering the tired right arm holding the rod.

A nice fish, indeed. You take a photo keeping him submerged so that he can breathe easily (he’s still in your net and can’t escape). A quick movement holding the fly between your thumb and forefinger and he is free to swim away and rest under the root. This is the best prize for a good fighter.

For sure, the pool contains other “monsters” but more casts to the water will get no extra catches. Chub are very shy fish and the rest of the company has – we are convinced of this – left the battlefield and we would cast to an empty pool.

Reel in, get off the water and move a little upstream, aiming to the next pool, where other giants are waiting for you.

The hot air is filled with our words, explanation of the fight, description of the technique and gesticulation, repeating the whole action again and again.

We approach the next pool and from the distance we see the shadows of the fish cruising in the centre of the pool. We stay far from the water and get ready for an extra long shooting. More strikes will fill the rest of the day.

Butterflies go from flower to flower while some clouds appear at the horizon. The blue-greenish shapes of bee-eaters dart in the air… swallows almost touch the water surface in a quick dance… We are in peace with us and the rest of the world. Do we need more?

We still have 2 or 3 hours to spend immersed in this untouched nature. Waiting for the sunset and the “coup de soir” is of no use here, in this period of the year. We’ll go back to the car following an easy cow track all along the river and will be in time for a nice pizza on the route to house.

Note: best period for this stretch of river Mignone is during hot summer days and asks for good trekking skill being approx 1 hour’s walk from where we park the car.

 

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Skillful Casters are not always Skillful Teachers

The capacity for imparting knowledge to others is a natural gift just like an ear for music of talent for drawing. A moderate performer who possesses this capacity is a far better  teacher than  the highest exponent of the art who is without it.” These words were first printed in 1913 and I reported them to a fellow angler with whom I had a “strong” talk about casting quite a long time ago.

This friend had been yelling and shouting for hours about the qualities a teacher had to possess in order to be considered on top of the list.

Everything started when we met on the river a few hours earlier. I was with a young man who had asked me to show him the best water for trout near the area where I lived.

I left him all the best fish we met during our fishing day and he was extremely happy with the results of the trip. We had taken a short rest in front of a very nice pool at the head of which a nice brown was rising to the many Drakes on the water.

The Mayflies were coming down with the current and gathered near a submerged rock under a fallen tree, some 12 mts from us. Not a long distance, but quite difficult to be reached. He tried dozen of times without results and the trout, at last, stopped rising. Of course: too many splashes, too much noise… everything out of control. From upstream, the fellow angler had noticed us and the rising fish and literally jumped into the water, a few meters above the pool and quickly moved to our place, waving and shouting his “Hello”.

“He’ll never catch that trout” he started “if you don’t show him how to do”.

“It’s “his” fish, not mine” I replied “In addition to this, I don’t think I’m skilful enough to reach that undercut from this distance and I don’t want to spook the fish, wasting my friend’s chance”.

“It’s not a difficult cast! Look!” and started waving the rod pulling more and more line out of the rod tip. The trout had stopped rising the very second he had jumped into the water. Of course. Obviously.

The fellow angler’s fly reached the branches three times in front of him and twice the back trees. He hadn’t even noticed that the trout had gone quiet.

When he decided to stop casting to an invisible quarry, he started a sequence of descriptions on the speed of the cast, the angle from which the fly had to touch the water, the distance of the arm from the body during the double haul movement (a double haul to reach a spot 15mt away???), the movement of the tip compared to the speed of the reel hand…

My friend politely disassembled the rod and sat on a rock, watching him moving in the water while describing all these movements and explanations. “Excuse me, sir” he asked “but… where is your fly?”. The other stopped abruptly, checked the leader and exploded in a strong swear… “She broke the leader… damned fish… you broke it! You damned big fish… you broke a 0,18mm….”

“Excuse me, here is your fly… it was on the stem of this leaf… near my shoulder…”

The fellow angler didn’t stop swearing but stopped casting. “You lazy teacher… you should show him how to reach that spot… you can’t even do a reverse cast with a double haul… how can your pupil learn how to, if you don’t show him? You should not cast from this distance… a teacher should move downstream farther to show the pupil how to cast from that distance… from here it’s too easy and you can’t do that and neither can your pupil…”

He moved out of the water still shouting, yelling and saying that casting teachers should be more expert and know everything about speed, physics, hydrodynamics, chemistry, hydraulics…

My friend started laughing as soon as the fellow was far enough not to hear him and went on for 10 minutes… then asked “but… can that trout be caught?” “Sure. Let’s leave the water and I’ll show you something. She’ll have time to rest while we have a short stop.”

When on the meadow, I gave him a few hints on how to shoot a very narrow loop under the branches while side casting. In very simple words, I told him when to stop the back cast and when to release the line for the shooting. Few words, but extremely simple. We ate a sandwich and returned to the pool. The fish had started rising again. He didn’t pulled the fish into his net but left the fly in its mouth. Presumed length: approx 60cm. One of the monsters of this wonderful river escaped to a too stiff wrist during the strike.

“Happy?” I asked.

“WOW!!!” he said “but tell me… who told the words you reported before? Those about the moderate performer…?”

“Mmmhhh… a certain Fredrick Halford, in his The Dry-Fly Man’s Handbook. Chapter II – …”

“Halford? Never heard about… I’m too young and have not a great knowledge…”

“Oh, don’t worry… actually you’re too young… “YOU” are excused, I said, You’re not an experienced and skilled fly angler… “YOU”, I repeated… and a smile exploded in my face.

From the Netherlands to fish unusual water.

When Wilco decided to fix the date for his first fishing trip to Italy – and had decided for Central Italy – my  first thought went to the weather forecast: it had not rained for months, rivers level was at the lowest and fish’ activity almost absent. Clouds were not expected for another long period and anglers were ready for the rain dance. Days passed by and Wilco’s arrival was round the corner: I was in dispair and hoped he was going to delay his holiday. Suddenly, three days before his arrival Italy was covered by clouds and rain arrived. Too late and too much!!!

Before reaching the hotel, we stopped at the bridge where I had planned to start fishing: the color of the water was not excellent but we still could see the bottom and the river was fishable.

A few minutes later we reached the small village along the river and had lunch at the hotel. The owner, already informed of our arrival, warmly welcome us the table was ready in seconds, in spite of the late arrival time.

 

 

            

During the night a heavy storm made sleeping difficult: thunders and wind and the thought of the river conditions the next day crossed my dreams all the night through.

When we got up,  the sky was still covered but the storm had apparently moved away.

The water was darker than the previous day. We had no chances: we had already bought the fishing ticket and dressed up, ready for the fight…

Wilco had little experience with fast streams, being more used to the placid water of his land and his casting technique reflected the environment where he had fished for years. In spite of this, his skill improved very quickly and soon was rewarded with some catches.

 .   

The day went on with rain and  changes in water color and levels and fishing was very hard. The rain made spotting the fish  very hard and he switched to the nymph making good use of my endless suggestions about fishing “near the bank”. The rest of the day was marked by a few more takes. After all, results were better than what expected.

 

The day after the water conditions were definitely better and we moved to the upper stretch where water is faster and casting much more difficult. I had already given him some hints about the difficulties he was to expect and at the beginning fishing was very hard. Not used to place the fly at a very short distance, Wilco hooked many many trees and branches but he had accepted my suggestion to use a strong tippet (0,16 or 0,18mm) and he left only few flies on the vegetation.

I almost oppressed him with the suggestion to place the fly near and along the border. I think he started to hate me because of my constant repetition but when he saw huge trout darting away from the undercuts he changed his mind and made short, accurate and precise cast exactly along the weeds and bushes.

The main difficulty for him was to make “wrong” cast so that the line and leader were not straight and curveless on the water. He soon understood the importance of placing the fly downstream, leaving all the rest upstream. By doing this, the fly could float with the current without pulling on the leader and stay on the spot longer. Wilco quickly understood the point and results soon arrived.

We moved upstream where there is a wonderful stretch of river, delimited by two bridges. Entering the water between the bridge is forbidden and casting is very difficult because of the trees and bushes

Of course the best fish stay under cover, “under” the overhanging branches or in small pools protected by rocks and boulders  and casting, staying out of the water, is extremely difficult.

But Wilco is a quick learner and immediately understood how to deal with this unknown to him environment.

.

The third day we started from the same stretch between the bridges but the presence of some anglers on site made us decide to move upstream.

After a short walk following a path along the river, we stopped in front of a nice stretch with four good sized trout feeding under a bush. Hard, hard spot. At the lower limit of the small pool, there was a semi-submerged log with a lot of vegetation all around. Wilco entered the water very carefully and made a few casts offering a big terrestrial  to the four nymhing trout. The biggest of the four rose and… missed!!!

Wilco’s face expression cannot be reported… The strike was so fast that the fly got entangled to the trees and Wilco was obliged to move downstream to free it.

 

 

While there, he noticed a quick silver reflect: “A trout! Huge!!!” he yelled to me in surprise. “Cast there! Now!” was my suggestion and he obeyed. The result was a very very nice trout of some 40 cm.


The rest of the day was spent between the two bridges: the sun was moving beyond the mountain and I knew a hatch was to come in that stretch of water. I was right: trout started feeing avidly on small flies but none accepted Wilco’s offers.

Sunset arrived soon and Wilco, tired because of the endless casts, was ready to end his fishing holiday. “One more cast and we go…” but the rod bent and he was unable to understand what happened. Then he felt the rod pulled away from his hand and a “splash” on the water: a small bat had “accepted” his fly… From now on, Wilco will be known a “the Bat-fisher-man”!!!

(To be honest. this is not the first time that bats are “captured” by flyanglers: not long ago another Dutch angler was “lucky enough” to hook one while false casting to dry the fly just before leaving the water.)

Wilco’s holiday was over. We went back to the hotel and had our dinner. While eating and joking about his adventure, I remembered that his flight was late the following evening. Still another day before actually departing: a few hours to be spent at the railway station in Rome. Quite boring. So, I made him a proposal: I offer you another fishing day for chub at the lake and its outlet. It is not a “natural environment” because the river flows between concrete and houses. No need to wear waders or booths and casting is not that easy. If you want, we can make a try…

Of course he did not refuse and we drove to lake Bolsena where river Marta originates. The river offers nice stretches some kilometers downstream but we only had few hours and it was not possible to stay on site enough for a real fishing expedition.

Here, Wilco had to face difficult situations, with big chub patrolling the river and refusing the flies. Casting from a high bank is not easy and the very shallow water did not make things easier.

 

 

Because the fish didn’t seem interested in our offers, I proposed him to try the lake.

Unfortunately, the lack of rain of the last months had dropped the lake level to the minimum and the few fish we saw near the bank preferred to say us good bye and ran away.

We finished the day paying a visit to the near Etruscan site, right on the lake. This completed his too-short fishing trip to Central Italy.  An experience with new and different fishing environments (from slow to fast trout stream, channel and lake fishing) and a short dive into local history and culture.

Was the trip appreciated? Was Wilco happy with his first fishing holiday in Italy? I hope so. He assured me he’s thinking of  coming again. The decision is, of course, up to him. I did my best to make him feel comfortable and appreciate the holiday. In my opinion, I think we shall meet again:

“Hello Osvaldo, thanks to you for a very good week. I have learned a lot from you, especially about fishing in a small stream with strength current.
The Nera is a very nice river, most beautiful was the stretch of the second and third day.Because off your trained eyes we saw a lot of fish and very big one’s to. A shame that the fish were not behave like we hoped to. But we catches some nice one’s. Also a special one was of course “the bat” on the last night.
I want to thank you again for the good time we had, I enjoyed your teaching, “Always near the bank” 🙂, And of course your help for getting many flies out of the trees and for untangle my miraculous knots.
Besides fishing the river Nera I also liked to see the area around Martha and the fishing on the river and the beautiful lake.

Central Italy is a beautiful part of Italy. I recommend it to everybody who wants to fish in a remarkable river with beautiful sights and very nice trout. I hope that we meet again and explore other rivers in the central part of Italy and try to catch more trout.

greetings Wilco”

 


Some of the flies used during the week had been tied by 
fly51@tiscali.it. Get in touch for more infos.

 .  Hunter Helk

 .  Brutal Sedge

 .  Caddis 1