Tenkara fishing in Tolmin area, Slovenia. Part 2.

by Lesly Janssen, NL

The surroundings themselves in this part of Slovenia ensure a nice experience. The 9 different species of fish that live here top it off nicely, creating something really special and unique. Fly fishing is the only method of fishing allowed. Only a single fly tied on a single barbless hook may be used to keep it sportive and fair.

The fish populations here are large and healthy. Each species has it's own place in the river and the best thing is the high concentration of wild fish. Fishing for the wild trout here can be a frustrating challenge, one that can be seen be different and difficult. The hunt for spooky wild specimens will definitely make you a better fishermen. On the other hand, the fishing club stock rainbow trout and grayling in the more accessible stretches of river make the fishing in Slovenia more interesting for beginners or those who just want to catch whatever they can get without much effort.

I will discuss: 1. the native Marble trout, 2. the introduced Brown trout, 3. the Hybrid trout (Marble crossed with Brown), 4. the introduced Rainbow trout, 5. the native Adriatic grayling, 6. the introduced Danubian grayling, 7. Hybrid grayling (Adriatic crossed with Danubian), 8. Barbel, and finally 9. Chub.

I will explain, in depth, some inside knowledge about the habits of my favorite species. This information will make your time in Slovenia, while hunting for these species, more successful. The Marble trout and Grayling are my preferred targets because they offer me the highest challenge and bring me to the most beautiful and pristine places in this region.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic.2.1 My personal favorite challenge, sight fishing marble trout in remote places. This dark marble trout on the right took my dry fly with no hesitation.

There is much to tell about The Marble trout. For me, this beautiful fish is the most rewarding to catch. A decent sized marble trout is not stupid; the are smart and very shy. Catching one takes effort. These fish need to be earned, and will surely not be handed over on a platter.

It is Slovenia's national fish and was once the only trout species in the Soca river and tributaries. The population came under pressure with the stocking of brown trout in the 20th century. They crossbreed and the offspring are fertile. Hybridisation is one of the main reasons the population went downhill in the Balkans and Northern Italy. Due the hard work of the fishing club of Tolmin the marble trout is back again. The 8 pure marble trout populations they found in the remotest upper tributaries are used in a well organised breeding program that helped rebound the population. Now this is the last remaining place on earth where you can catch them frequently and on a daily basis if you have some skill and know where to look.

Pic.2.2 Perfect , pure marble trout. Very beautiful, but you will need to earn the catch. 

Although it is the most wide spread trout in these waters, catching a good sized marble trout can be seen as a big compliment to your fishing skill. They are more common in remote places with abundant cover. Marble trout are masters of camouflage with their silver, yellow, dark (sometimes almost black) colors and pronounced marble pattern with zebra-like stripes. It is called "the ghost of the river". Many fishermen only see them when they start swimming towards safety after they overlooked and spooked them. There is a reason for this. It is a far cousin of the brown trout but has a different and almost strange trout behaviour when they reach the 25cm mark. One of the remarkable things is their constant need to swim and that flowing water is not particularly important for them. They often lay in places where you would not expect to find trout, hugging the bottom in shallow water that may be far away from the river’s main current. They are always in the vicinity of a hiding place; it is what they need most. Dark places in deep pools or with some kind of overhang are their preference. Those dark places are also where they retreat when hooked. The fish don't jump out of the water during the fight but dive deep and constantly swim towards darkness. They are good, fast, and smart fighters that will try to trick you with unexpected escape methods like rubbing their noses on rocks trying to break your tippet. They can give you the idea that they are beaten and then make another unexpected escape attempt so fast that something will break in your setup. Be aware of this and expect that they don't give up easily. Running after them once hooked is more rule than exeption. After a release they swim away with rocket speed to the dark place that they love so much. 

The younger, smaller ones are fairly easy to catch because of their aggressive nature. I like to fish for them with dry flies in smaller rivers with a lot of pocket water and have caught large numbers with this method. Mainly the water is so exceptionally clear that catching a decent sized marble trout leaves little room for errors when trying to get close enough. When the fish sees you, it is gone for the rest of the day. Going after these spooky fish will teach you a lot about tactical and strategic approaching and can be seen as the ultimate challenge. If this is not difficult enough, these rivers contain so much food that the fish have a lazy attitude and can be very picky. They often don't want to make much effort to go after food that is floating too far away from them. Rather, they just wait another 10 seconds for a new opportunity to eat. To fool them requires a precise first cast and a flawless drag-free presentation, otherwise they refuse to bite. Even the smallest mistake in approach and cast will ruin your effort, leaving you empty handed and looking for a new target. They can grow to exceptional sizes around the 125cm mark and weigh up to 25 kilo's. The fish over a meter, however, are very rare.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia

Pic. 2.3 Marble trout: the big one.

The Brown trout is also present but no longer common since it is illegal to keep, breed, or stock them in the Soca river basin. They are a big threat to the marble trout population in terms of the crossbreeding and as competitors for food and space. I catch them rarely during the hunt for Marble trout and grayling while fishing in the pools of the smaller rivers. They need more constantly flowing water but also like a hiding place close by. You will find them anywhere in this region but mostly in areas with pools with some current and the normal places where you expect a trout to be. Today it is more likely to catch a marble trout than a brown trout. They can grow to the 70cm mark.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic.2.4 The widely spread black and red dots with sharp edges and absence of a marble pattern on the head and back identifies this as a brown trout.

The Hybrid trout are my second most wanted trout species because they can be so beautiful in their color patterns. They can be very different in the way they look and most of the time it is impossible to tell quickly what species it really is. They can look very similar to a Brown trout or look very much like a Marble trout. The most beautiful ones have some of both. This combination can be stunning. They can have the habits of a Brown trout or the Marble trout, but who cares? They are wild, beautiful, and a good sport on Tenkara. They can grow to around the 1m mark.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic.2.5 This I consider as a Marble trout. The young ones have red splotches with soft edges as a pearl stain on the lateral line along with the nice marble pattern over the whole body.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic. 2.6 The many red dots with sharp edges and marble pattern on the head and back shows something of both species and considered to be a hybrid.

The Rainbow trout is introduced to make the fishing more interesting. They are aggressive and just easy to catch compared to the native species. It often saves the day when catching Marbles or Grayling didn't work. When hooked, they jump out of the water multiple times making them a good sport fish and a lot of fun to catch. At first they didn't reproduce in these rivers but they are now accustomed to these waters and it's now not uncommon to catch a wild specimen. The wild ones have perfect fins with white edges and are more light silver in color. They eat almost anything that is presented well. The average stocked size is "big" and can demand the most of your fishing equipment and skills. You will find them in the more easily reached parts of the river, in open pools. It is the most seen and caught species because of its aggressiveness and persistent hunger. Most of the time it is the first fish to reach your fly. Personally, I like to avoid areas that hold a lot of rainbow trout because they make the catch of Marble trout and Grayling almost impossible. They can grow to the 80cm mark in these rivers.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic. 2.7 The rainbow trout will save your day when the wild species leave you empty handed.

The Adriatic grayling is not named as a different species yet but has different behaviour than the Danubian grayling that was introduced earlier. Both species have also crossbreed. The hybrids are almost impossible to tell apart, especially when they have black dots on the front. The Adriatic grayling is the original species and the easiest to recognise. It has a light grey or golden yellow body with few, or no black dots in the front. The two graylings’ behaviours differ from elsewhere in Europe. They are not that shy but the hard part is catching them. Mostly they are lazy and very picky and this gets worse when they become aware of your presence. The fly must be presented in close proximity to their feeding lines. They are mostly found close to the bottom, so your fly needs to go deep. To catch a good sized grayling can require a lot of patience and many casts. Once you have spotted one, don't give up quickly but give it some extra casts. They live in the slow middle and lower parts of the rivers and prefer a gravel or sandy bottom. They mostly hold at the ends of the pools where the current slows down and the gravel bottom comes up. When you hook one they often jump out of the water like the Rainbow trout and use tactile strategies like hanging in the current with their backfin unfolded to give you the feeling that you have hooked a brick. They are good sport on Tenkara gear as they can reach the 60cm mark.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic.2.8 The endangered Adriatic grayling has a light color and few or no black dots.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic.2.9 Difficult to tell if this is a Danubian or hybrid grayling. Actually I don't care. A grayling is a grayling.

The Barbel and the Chub are species you will not likely meet while Tenkara fishing because they like the wide and slow water that we mostly pass when Tenkara fishing. They also are more common in the big rivers where you cannot get to them with Tenkara gear. They don't have a standing place but are more the river bums and in search of food most of the time while swimming around. The barbels live in schools and vacuum clean the bottom. Anything they eat that feels hard they spit out right away so registering a bite and setting the hook is difficult. The chubs also live in schools, are super shy and very picky in their diet. I consider these two species as a lucky bycatch but when that happens it is a lot of fun because of their strength and fighting energy. Targeting these two species will ruin your fishing trip as there is so much more to do in terms of fish that are more willing to bite and live in areas better suited for Tenkara.

tenkara fishing in Slovenia
Pic.2.10 A barbel is a species that lives in places that are not that interesting for Tenkara fishing.

To be continued with how I catch my fish here on a average day...