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Ah, winter… the prime time of year for cold-weather chub and grayling fishing, for restocking fly boxes before April, or just for leafing through photos and notebooks to relive last season’s highlights…

For this Piscator, September 2010 finally provided the opportunity to get back to the Austrian Alps via a night at Innsbruck’s Weisses Rossl hotel… 

… before driving south-east into the high valleys above Mayrhofen. 

In these landlocked alpine regions, fly-fishing is just one of many well-promoted summer sports – but who needs high-altitude endurance running and mountain-biking when the rivers alone are enough to take your breath away…

… and that’s before you see the trout that live in them?

 

 

This late in the season, I’d learned in previous years, the fish would be locked onto tiny dark needle flies, and whenever the close-copy Elk Hair Caddis got tired, the Bibio proved the perfect change pattern (an obscure point I proved to myself by catching with this fly on every Austrian water I fished this year).

On faster water like the straight-from-the-Hintertux-glacier Tuxbach, dancing huge Chernobyl Ants over the standing waves on a long ultralight rig drew savage strikes from the strongest rainbows in the river…

… but one of my favourite memories came from sight-fishing for a beautiful little brook trout that inspected the Ant, turned aristocratically away, and only rose again for the truly imitative #16 Elk Hair Caddis:

 

Like many other Wandle Piscators, I love these alpine torrents because they contrast so completely with our own lowland, urban streams.

So (let’s be brutal here for a moment) I found it all the more shocking to come back to them with a few years’ extra river-mending wisdom and recognise that yes, we humans have done a pretty impressive number on many mountain rivers too.
From longstanding hydropower schemes that sieve whole rivers away to drop through turbines…

… to non-native invasive species like Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed escaping from gardens to rampage along mountain streams in a high-altitude environment that’s thoroughly to their liking…

 

… and even the boulder riprap reinforcing canalised banks when the spring run-off pours down from the peaks: all these are damaging the natural health and hydromorphology of these stunning rivers in ways that make me grit my teeth and not want to imagine when I’m supposed to be on holiday.

(Nor is it encouraging to recall that I emailed the Zillertal Tourist Office in pretty good German about the Himalayan balsam threat as soon as I got home – and still haven’t had a reply).

Still, the Austrian Alps are a fly-fishers’ paradise, and I could happily have lingered in the hanging valleys of Mayrhofen for the rest of the week.  But there was much more water to explore, so we packed up the hire car again and headed further east for the Gerlos Pass and the rivers and high lakes beyond…

 

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