Slovenian Hucho Hucho. A trip to fish for Europe's Ultimate Streamer fish.
I took a long weekend break this winter to visit my brother and his wonderful family in Slovenia. I have been to Slovenia a number of times and love to visit in the winter to have the added opportunity to fly fish for Hucho Hucho. Hucho has a number of different names including Danube Salmon, Huchen, Sulec and is endemic to the Danube river basin in Europe. It is a close relative to the Siberian Taimen, if not the same fish. The Hucho is a large predatory trout that can grow to 1.5m in length and the average size depending on the river is 60 to 120cm. They predominantly eat other fish and are often present where there are good stocks of species such as nose carp, barbel, grayling, rainbow trout and chub.
When fishing in Slovenia there is no better guide than Rok Lustrik https://www.lustrik.com/en/ I have been lucky to be able to fish with Rok on a number of occasions and on previous trips I have managed to get takes and catch fish and each time I have learned a lot and had some amazing experiences, in what is possibly the most beautiful country to fish a fly on the planet.
Two weeks prior to travelling, The dose that shall remain nameless, finally caught up with me and I managed to crawl out of bed just in time to travel.
I was fatigued but also really excited to have an opportunity to fish for Hucho again. I organised my fishing gear that had largely been tucked away for the winter, I packed waders and tied some Lustrik style Hucho streamer tubes and sent him a couple of pictures for approval.
From Ireland, I’ve found the best route is to go with Lufthansa via Frankfurt to Ljubijana and the cost is reasonable.
Flying over the Alps into Slovenia on a clear morning is quite a spectacle. I landed in Jože Pučnik (incidentaly one of the coolest little airports in Europe) at 10am and my worst fear was realised, My duffel bag containing all my fishing gear was missing. It also contained the big bag of Irish sausages and black pudding that my bro was so looking forward to!
I had planned to meet Rok at 7am the following morning and lack of bag would have ruined the day. Rok has plenty of gear but I had planned and organised myself to the last degree as it is really important to me to comfortable in my own gear for a long day of chucking big flies.
As with most issues involving large companies these days it is very difficult to speak to a human, however my super Slovenian sister in-law found the right person to talk to and arranged that the bag would be in the airport for 7am the following morning. Relief!
I arrived at the airport at 7am and found the only person in the airport sitting having coffee. I asked if he knew where the lost luggage offfice could be found and he replied “Mr McDonnell?” Fantastic! I was back in business.
Rok had generously offered to pick me up at the airport and we spun around on an empty roundabout a couple of times, weighing up our options on whether to try one of the big rivers or a medium sized less well known spot. We decided on the latter and were on the road for a good spin up to the north east of the country!
We arrived in a small village set on the river bank and headed for the local bar to pick up the fishing licence. In Slovenia there is a rule where you must fish for Hucho in pairs and this I understand is from a safety point of view. The river we fished is not somewhere I would be happy to fish alone. My first glimpse of it was of a craggy, but beautiful ravine with typically emerald green waters. There were smooth greasy bowling ball type rocks on the bottom, combined with pots that were eroded like glass bowls, perfect for making you swim! The wading was so tricky, I had to use Rok for support, who has an incredible ability to bound over rocks like a mountain goat. I on the other hand was like a small child on roller skates for the first time! Having been in hibernation for most of the winter, combined with my recent dose and a couple of beers with my brother the night before, my energy levels were depleting rapidly. Hucho fly fishing is a game that requires good casting technique. On this ocassion, we were using an 11wt single handed rod combined with a 10ips sinking line in order to get the fly to the fish and carry the large flies (20-25cm in length)
Regardless of my current lack of fitness, I was determined to fish hard and that I did. We fished stunning pool after pool that looked perfect for holding a big predator but the fish remained hidden in the depths. There was a northern breeze and a glaring sun that for streamer fishing at home would lead to considerable doubt about the chance of success but Rok was determined that we would give it our all. Just before lunch we fished a section of river where I was really “in the zone” of fishing well, really happy with the way I was covering the water, each cast was with intent, each retrieve was with consideration that a big bucket mouthed Hucho was right behind the fly, about to savage it. Each time I touched a branch or a stone with the fly, I strip-set perfectly on it. As with trout streamer fishing you must strip set really hard and I managed to bring a rock to hand and a large piece of wood having set the hook into them so hard. I commented to Rok that it was all down to the fish at this point. I felt confident that I would get an opportunity!
Each retrieve was with consideration that a big bucket mouthed Hucho was right behind the fly, about to savage it.
After a break for a burger and a beer, I had expected to feel refreshed and have additional energy to keep up my fishing zen. Our first stop was at huge wide pool that required long casts with the 11wt and 700 grain line. An hour of this followed by a really long and difficult wade to get to the next pool had me almost on my knees with tiredness. We persevered and I continued to cover the water well. By now I had to repeatedly check myself to make sure I was retrieving the way Rok and more importantly the Hucho like it. The angle of the cast, retrieve speed and pause between retrieves are critical in getting a take and require constant changing to present the fly close to the bottom where the fish lie. This is not like the fast paced summer trout streamer fishing I often mention. At this time of year in Slovenia the water is cold and the fish are reluctant to move much in the water column.
The angle of the cast, retrieve speed and pause between retrieves are critical in getting a take and require constant changing to present the fly close to the bottom where the fish lie.
We continued to another section of river and fished some beautiful narrow bouldery pools by casting upstream and bringing the fly down adjacent to the undercut banks that looked just perfect for a big predatory Hucho. Still he didnt pull. At this point even though I had been complaining of low energy for much of the day, I had to admit to Rok that I was close to defeat, I was literally dragging myself around with little reserve in the tank.
Rok suggested we try one more pool before we called it a day. He felt that we had a chance and I knew he meant it. So I threw a litre of water into me and told myself it would be a least a year before I’d get another chance.
I stumbled along behind Rok on the walk up to the pool feeling clumsy and weak. We arrived at a pool that had a perfect current speed and depth. The sun had now dipped and conditions felt more favourable. I felt the last of the sun on my back and fished each cast with pure concentration. I felt the fish take the fly just as it paused and I immediately reacted and strip-set the the hook perfectly. The fish boiled on the surface, I kept the rod low and I played the fish hard and Rok scooped him perfectly into the net. I let out a roar of absolute triumph! We got a couple of pictures and released the fish. It really was an amazing experience.
I arrived back to my brother’s apartment in Ljubljana in the early evening, dropped onto the couch and fell asleep until the following day! I can’t wait for another opportunity to fish for these incredible fish.
Hucho Fly Fishing is a winter pursuit. The season for Hucho is October to February 15th so an ideal way to extend the fishing season. The Hucho is a notoriously difficult fish to target with proper fly fishing tactics but with Rok’s experience we were able to get the job done. There are very specific requirements for success and I can’t recommend Rok highly enough, he knows Hucho and how to fly fish for them.