Subtleties of Slovenia

Frontiers media Editor Emily Graham into a wild rainbow…

An earthly paradise of snow-capped peaks, turquoise-green rivers and Venetian-style coastline, Slovenia enriches its natural treasures with harmonious architecture, charming rustic culture and sophisticated cuisine.” Lonely Planet

We have sent clients to Slovenia for 20 or more years and to-a-man, and woman because many lady rods have visited it too, they have really enjoyed it. We have a wonderful operator there for whom nothing is too much trouble and he has been the key to our success. But, I have never made it and with more guests travelling again this summer, the discomfort of lack of first-hand advice made me make a definitive plan.

Downtown Ljubljana

I travelled 2nd to 9th April 2019 – it was always going to be a lottery from a weather point of view and that proved to be the case. Rain and cloud prevailed with the occasional break allowing for the odd brighter photograph.

Instead of going through the trip day by day, I am going to discuss the fishing as an overall experience, how it all works and my suggestions for tackle and equipment. Then discuss hotels, where I would stay and how I would set about a trip for best results.

Centre of Kranj…

A larger rainbow in superb condition…

A Fishing Day

You are finally on your way to Slovenia, you have made your choice of hotels and their locations and have decided on the number of days fishing you will do… what next?

It is likely that plans have been made to meet you at the airport and transport you to your first hotel where you can relax, get sorted and have dinner.

You will be notified what time your guide will arrive to pick you up. They are usually there early and if so, inviting them for a coffee always goes down well. They will explain the plan for the day which will be decided on conditions as well as your objectives and preferences. You may have a drive of up to or over an hour so most prefer not to put on waders for the journey. Cars are of mixed quality and spaciousness so try and minimise the amount of gear for maximum comfort!

Typical fishing licence…

You will usually be driven to where you buy your fishing licence first, these cost €50 on average, some more and some less. Then you will drive to where you will start fishing. If there are people there, you will go elsewhere. This is the time waders are put on, rods up etc. If you move during the day (normal) the rod can slide in the length of the car. Guides may want you to sit on waterproof cushions once waders are wet.

There can be almost no walking or a lot of walking into very steep valleys, that is your choice in discussion with your guide. It is up to you if and when you have lunch at a local restaurant which vary in cuisine and standard. It is advisable to go to lunch to keep your guide happy and normal to buy them lunch. The average cost is about €30 for three people.

You and your guide will have planned the timings of your day around conditions, likely hatch time etc but the normal time to pack up is around 6 pm unless you started later. Your guide will drop you back at your hotel or a local restaurant. It is best to tip each day unless you are certain you will have the same guide for your entire stay.

The Species

The main species are rainbow trout (wild and stocked), brown trout (wild and stocked), the unique marble trout (mostly wild), Adriatic (Soča and Sava grayling), some brook trout and in the winter the Danube salmon.

There is no doubt that most of the rivers are stocked by the Government or local fishing clubs but equally, there is no doubt that there is a very good head of wild fish in the majority of rivers. There are some big trout too and one would be forgiven for thinking that all the big ones are stocked. Not the case, there are some beautiful, big wild fish.

Species mention of the marble trout: They are unique to the Soča river and its tributaries. Up to about 20+ inches they can be caught on nymph and dry fly but as they get bigger you need to go to streamers and sinking lines. They can be caught up to 50lbs!

The Rivers and the Fishing

I fished the following rivers:

Sava Dolinjka – there is the upper part which is on the small side with water so clear, it is as if there is no water. Then there is the middle section, the tailwater below the dam where some wild giant rainbows lurk in less attractive countryside and finally back to the wilder, lower part of the river which is more forested but bigger and faster. Rainbow, brown trout and grayling.

Looking for fish on the upper Sava Dolinjka

A nice rainbow on the broader Sava Dolinjka tailwater…

Lower Sava Dolinjka

Savinja – a medium-sized river in the east of the country and very clear and pretty. Rainbow, brown trout and grayling.

Into a rainbow on the Savinja…

Krka – a pretty chalkstream in-part running through a small town. Sadly, the day here was very rainy and cold. Brown and rainbows with some grayling.

A pretty brownie during a very rainy day on the Krka…

Lepena – a small, very pretty tributary of the Soča with browns, rainbows and marble trout.

A stunning spot on the Lepena…

The Soča – the most famous river in Slovenia – very powerful. The home of marble trout, rainbows, browns and grayling.

Into a wild rainbow on the Soča…

The Idrijca – a chalkstream/freestone combo but pretty and challenging but with potential for great rewards.

The Idrijca, where we caught four species in one day…

This was a fine selection and an excellent cross-section of rivers to experience. There are far more physically demanding rivers some of which are a serious hike to get down in to and out of with a commitment to a full day in a canyon.

Idrijca wild brownie…

What I loved about all the rivers was the clarity. We did some blind casting, mostly due to the lack of sun and rain but even so, with a poor week of weather, we still did the majority of fishing to sighted fish mostly with nymph because of the cold. The clarity was as clear as I have ever seen, some of the rivers made the rivers of New Zealand and Iceland look cloudy. As I have said, at times, it looked like there was no water it was so clear. What I was not so keen on was that often the rivers or beats we were fishing ran through towns. It was lovely to hear the bells of the church ring but it was not as wild and scenic as I would have liked BUT… my big proviso on this is that I was seeing these towns and villages at their worst, grey weather, end of winter and colours not really out yet. I can imagine it would all look very different in late May and be charming. My last slight negative is the potential for other people. The guides are confident that they will find fishing away from others but it is possible to arrive somewhere and find it occupied.


We fished upstream almost exclusively and when you fish with guides used to fishing these rivers on a regular basis, you really learn about line management, presentation and how to manage your line relative to the current and streams you are trying to fish. The guides kept telling me that the fly was not so much the issue as the perfect presentation and this proved to be the case time and again. I did have lot of success fishing directly upstream in faster, more even-paced water, but when the water slowed down or grew more swirly, things became more complex and often fishing from the side and fishing a shorter, more actively managed line proved more effective. There is no doubt that how you manage your line in order to present the fly as naturally as possible is the greatest key to success.


I did have two ongoing debates with guides. The first was how to strike. They like you to lift the rod but for me, whatever direction strikes the fly into the fish’s mouth quickest was more effective. They were right about presentation being key but I did not feel I lost out striking as I did! The second was their technique of a very short line, in fact virtually no line at all which might be called French or Czech nymphing. Both highly effective techniques but for me, not in such clear rivers because if you were close to the fish, they could see you. My conclusion on this was, fish that were deep (2 metres) seemed fine but in the shallower lies the fish spooked.

My conclusion on the fishing was… which fly-fisherman does not like casting to a sighted, feeding trout in crystal-clear water and beautiful surroundings?!


I was told to bring a 3 to 5 weight rod; I brought a pair of 5s because I rarely travel with smaller trout rods and therefore do not own the four-piece travel variety. If I should return, I will take a 3 and 4 weight and if I could only take one rod, it would be the 4 weight. Tackling up for Slovenia is more complex than it seems and here is why.

It reminds me a little of Lake Thingvallavatn in Iceland, the challenges are slightly different but the same complexity. There you need to strike a balance between a stronger leader for huge fish and presentation of small flies and the choice of rod needs to be that balance. A stiff rod and you will bend the hooks, too thin a leader and a stiff rod will break the leader. Too soft a rod and you will never get the fish in. In Slovenia the challenge is a little more subtle because heavier nymphs (usually small), lighter leaders and more careful presentation come into play. Again, strike too hard or use too stiff a rod and the leader will snap easily, go too soft and light and you will struggle with heavier nymphs. For me, a medium action 4 weight would fulfil most of the requirements. But there is a wild card and that is there are 10 lbs fish about, so you need something with some backbone but not too much otherwise you’ll break the leader. You see the problem I am sure! It is highly likely you will use 6X, 7X and even 8X during your stay – that is 3.5, 2.5 and 1.75 lb respectively!

Reels too are important for the same reason. You might think this is only trout fishing, how hard and long can a trout pull but that is not the point. The smoothness of the drag is critical with the light leaders and small flies. Imagine that you finally get the big rainbow to take, you lift in with a nice smooth lift with perfect timing having waited for the fish to turn away and now it is on only to break you as a result of clumsy inertia from your reel! A nice smooth start up is important and can be the difference between landing and losing that dream fish. There is no great need for masses of backing, 50 metres would be just fine for most rivers unless you are hunting big marble trout.

We have talked a little about tippets. The guides used a shortish leader which I was not so keen on – they were using 6 to 9 feet where I felt that I might have benefitted from 12 to even 18 feet. I am a lazy fisher when it comes to tapering but Slovenia is somewhere I feel tapering the leader would be worthwhile.

A big rainbow on the Savinja…


Flies are best purchased from guides. Fly selection varies greatly by time of year, river fished, and your guide. Each fishing guide has confidence in a slightly different set of patterns and we definitely recommend going with what your guide recommends on a given day.


Spring patterns:
Dries: Size 18-14 BWOs, 18-14 PMDs, size 14 March Browns, size 18 Parachute Adams, size 12 Elk Hair Caddis, size 18 midge patterns in golden-olive or rusty-brown.

Nymphs: 14-18 CDC baetis emergers, 16 Prince nymphs, 14 and 16 Hare’s Ear, 8 and 6 black and olive woolly buggers, 6 beige streamers, 6 sculpin patterns, the most important is that nymphs are tied with tungsten beads.

Early Summer
Dries: Size 18-14 BWOs, 18-14 PMDs, size 14 March Browns, size 18 Parachute Adams, size 12 Elk Hair Caddis, size18 Midge patterns in golden-olive or rusty-brown, Chernoble Ants size 10-6, Humpies.

Nymphs: 14-18 CDC baetis emergers, 16 Prince nymphs, 14 and 16 Hare’s ear, 14-18 Copper Johns, 14-18 Scud patterns, 8 and 6 black and olive woolly buggers, 6 beige streamers, 6 sculpin patterns, the most important is that nymphs are tied with tungsten beads.

Late Summer – late July to mid-September
Dries: Size 18-14 BWOs, 18-14 PMDs, size 18 Parachute Adams, size 18 Midge patterns in golden-olive or rusty-brown, 16-18 Black midge, Black Ants 16-18.

Nymphs: 14-18 CDC baetis emergers, 16 Prince nymphs, 14 and 16 Hare’s ear, 14-18 Copper Johns, 14-18 Scud patterns, 8 and 6 black and olive woolly buggers, 6 beige streamers, 6 sculpin patterns, the most important is that nymphs are tied with tungsten beads.

Late Autumn – Late September – November
Dries: Size 18-14 BWOs, 18-14 PMDs, size 18 Parachute Adams, size 12 Elk hair caddis, size18 Midge patterns in golden-olive or rusty-brown, 16-18 Black midge, Black Ants 16-18.

Nymphs: 14-18 CDC baetis emergers, 16 Prince nymphs, 14 and 16 Hare’s ear, 14-18 Copper Johns, 14-18 Scud patterns, 8 and 6 black and olive woolly buggers, 6 beige streamers, 6 sculpin patterns, the most important is that nymphs are tied with tungsten beads.

Best supplier of all these goodies is Fin and Game


Of the Daily Telegraph’s top twenty hotels in Slovenia, fifteen are in Ljubljana or on the Mediterranean coast. Two are in Bled, both of which I have seen and none are in or around the Soča valley. It is possible to drive the length or breadth of Slovenia within three hours and given that Ljubljana really is a very attractive place to stay (the centre with its traffic control is a pleasure) it seems logical that if one was staying for say seven nights, three or four of them should be in Ljubljana from which, given Ljubljana’s central location, you can reach many of the country’s rivers. There is a good mix of restaurants, bars and cafés to enjoy and a stay in Ljubljana really will add to the pleasure of the trip. Another option is Kranj which is favoured by the guides because it is easier to get in and out of but the hotel options are limited really to the Actum and the dinner options are even more limited but go to Gostilna Krištof about 10 mins out of town, it was very good.

The Soča valley or nearby is a must for any serious fisher, the beauty of the place and of course the ticking of the marble trout box. It is not easily reached from Ljubljana because of the drive through the mountains which simply has to be done either driving or putting the car on the train. We were very kindly hosted by the Hvala Hotel in Kobarid and that has a decent restaurant but there is also the Kotlar Restaurant in town and the Hisa Franko Michelin-Star restaurant just outside of town. Another hotel option, less convenient for the Soča but very good for the Idrijca, is the Hotel Kendov Dvorec.

Some typical ‘old building’ rooms…

Now for a sweeping statement! The hotels tend to either be in very old buildings and therefore characterful with many nooks and crannies, low ceilings and bathrooms tucked in odd places, large 70s’ style with giant rooms and bathrooms with slightly characterless décor or, finally, new builds which lack a bit of soul. My preference is for the older buildings.

Upper Soča valley…

In summary…and to revisit what Lonely Planet had to say about Slovenia in general…

An earthly paradise of snow-capped peaks…

I concur with this entirely and I was not seeing Slovenia at its best or in prime time but even I could see the potential

…turquoise-green rivers…

I agree, some of the most attractive, clear rivers I have ever seen.

…Venetian-style coastline…

Sadly, did not make it to the coast!

…harmonious architecture, charming rustic culture…

I concur entirely, I particularly loved the churches with their high towers and loud bells. I spent a lot of time looking out of a rain-covered car window imagining how stunning the towns and villages must look in the sunshine and polish of new spring growth.

…and sophisticated cuisine.

We struggled with the cuisine to start but made some good discoveries for dinner. Lunches were less appealing unless one wanted to drive larger distances than necessary for a quick lunch break off the river. A lunch prepared by your hotel on the river in the sunshine may not be a bad idea!




Comments 3

  1. Keith & Ros Clarke

    Thanks Tarquin

    As Ros & I will be first timers to Slovenia in June, your comments and insight really appreciative.
    Light weight rods & hair thin line will be interesting.

  2. Cathy Beck

    Thank you Tarquin. We will be in Slovenia in June and your blog has helped a lot to prepare us for the trip. Sorry that you did not see more sun, but it sounds like you had a good trip to a very pretty spot in the world. Cathy & Barry.

    1. Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *