a life of cheerful simplicity
The last three Summers have seen us in Umbria, spending the last week of the holiday in Spoleto. The most under-rated of the central Italian towns (save perhaps Ascoli Piceno), Spoleto has a marvellous duomo dating from the XII century, with painting by Fra Lippo Lippi amongst others, and a larger historical centre than nearby and more feted Perugia.
It also has one of the top trout streams in Italy just over the hills, in the valley of the Nera. And this year I fished it for the first time, on the No Kill section just near Borgo Cerreto.
A couple of years back, I went fishing on the Sorgue in southern France. It is a rather technical river and I was utterly hopeless, floundering around with no idea of the right flies (microscopic, by the way), best length of rod, best places to fish etc etc. So this time, I just bit the bullet and paid for a guide. I used FlyFishingItaly.com, and in particular Niccolo Baldeschi, an Italian guy who splits his time between Italy and Argentina, where he guides out of San Martin de los Andes. As he was raised in Montana, he speaks perfect English which is a bonus for those without the lingo.
The Nera is a beautiful spring creek-style river. Not more than 20-30 feet across in most places, it is densely packed with trees and bushes and presents rather technical fishing. Access to the river is awkward, as it has high banks and a profusion of brambles, and unless you know where the best spots are (another good reason for using a guide) it would be hard to chance upon the right holes to get down to the river.
The fish are smallish—this guy is fairly typical of the 8 or so trout I caught during the day (in truth, I kind of lost count, but suffice to say that it was a good day). Locals seems to use very short rods, of about 6-7 ft. I had a Sage ZXL 8’ for a 4 weight with me, which seemed about right, but you could use an even longer rod, and indeed my G2 8’8” would have been just about right for the mends that are inevitable when you have a stream like this where you are often fishing across faster water into slots right on the far bank.
Sometimes, the river would open out a little into a sort of cathedral of trout and trees. Here the casting was generally easier, though any slight lack of attention would lead to a hook-up in branches or brambles, especially with a two-fly rig of large terrestrial and bead-headed nymph which is what I was using most of the day.
As I normally fish alone, I don’t have many pictures of me fishing, so this is a rare “sportsmen as intrepid hero” shot. And yes, the cap is the only bit of Simms gear I own! I caught this fish in a large double pool, full of back-eddies and fallen, floating logs. It was a hard cast to reach the fish, into a slot between two trees that only left about 6ft of open space, and then brambles against the rock below which the fish was lying. Then I had to get him out over the fallen branches, and then avoid letting him slip into the very rapid current. So I confess to feeling a certain self-satisfaction at the point of this photo.
Another oddity of this spot was seeing a dead porcupine caught on the edge of the pool. I had no idea they had porcupines in Italy.
At other times, the river would pool in the body itself, rather than in side-pools. Here a lovely deep section forms, full of larger trout than are to be found in the shallower riffles. I had two of these, each about 14-15 inches, but could not get a much larger one, which Niccolo reckoned at over 20”, to climb on board.
By the time we finished this pool, with a streamside picnic at lunch, I’d been fishing for 8 hours sold, most of that time wading in fairly shallow but fast-running water. I was, frankly, knackered. Niccolo suggested that the evening would bring out the largest fish, but ignoble as it may have been, I was just thinking of that first nice cold beer waiting for me back in Spoleto and, more nobly, of the two hour drive that Niccolo had to his father’s farm in Le Marche. So we called it a day at 6.30pm.
This was hard, beautiful, Rolls-Royce fishing. I’ve never fished with a guide before and it was a massively self-indulgent experience having someone show you all this stuff, tie on the flies for you (I offered to do it myself, but he said it would make him feel awkward), step across the river to retrieve lost flies, tie up new leaders, compliment me on my outstanding (ahem!) casting, bring excellent sandwiches and generally make it all very easy. It’s not something you’d want (or could afford, at Euros 330 per day[!]) every day, but occasionally it’s great. The added benefit is that I now feel that I could go back and fish the Nera reasonably confidently.
A good day out.