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Fly Fishing The Italian Alps

June 4, 2021

To be sure, there are few places on earth that rival the Italian Alps for pure beauty and wonder. These ancient mountains were once a limestone seabed before they were thrust upwards millions of years ago. Today their picturesque peaks beckon to tourists from all parts of the world. This magical place was also for many years my home.

My wife and I moved to the tiny village of Tret in the Val di Non of northern Italy’s Trento Province in the fall of 2002. Being a lifelong fly fisherman, one of my first tasks was to sort out the question of whether or not my new home would equal my old home in Eugene, Oregon in terms of the quality of available fishing. The short answer, I soon found out, was no. However as with every no or yes, there are always qualifiers. To be sure, my old home in Oregon had provided every possible type of quality fishing experience combined with an enormous variety of species, from Chinook Salmon to tiny mountain Cutthroat Trout. There probably isn’t a better place for a fly fisherman to live. However, the Italian Alps have their own special fishing qualities that might rank the spot pretty high on most anglers’ lists.

When fly fishing is looked at as a harmonious experience with the natural beauty around you, the Italian Alps probably outrank most spots on the planet. And as I soon found out, the fishing is very good there as well. However, a large learning curve needed negotiating at the very beginning. First, fishing in Europe is considered a privilege not a right. I had to first obtain a freshwater fishing license. In Italy, one doesn’t just pop into the local Walmart and buy a license. No, in fact I was required to take a weekend course to prove that I had practica (experience). Once the license was issued, it became valid for my lifetime. However, a permesso (permit) is also required for each piece of each body of water and for every day that it is to be fished. For instance, I immediately found that to fish the Adige River from the Austrian border to the town of Meran, I needed three separate permits each day I fished. At 14 Euros apiece (about $20), this could soon turn into a very expensive pastime. It’s true that I could buy a yearly permit at 120 Euros but it was only valid in my valley and did not apply to other areas. Therefore, the first thing I learned about fishing in the Italian Alps is that it is awfully expensive. Fishing here has to be a planned experience.

The offset to the expense was that there were practically no other fishermen. In the 12 years I lived there full-time, I saw but 6 other fly fishermen and perhaps another 20 bait fishermen. Simply put, you’re going to have most water pretty much to yourself. The water itself is evenly divided between fairly steep streams, large valley rivers and hundreds of alpine lakes. Fish species are similar to the United States with a few odd species (like Marmorata) thrown in for good measure. There are many Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and variations of Brook Trout. Like the United States, most streams are hatchery supported. The fish are small to large. At one time, the world record for a Brown Trout was from the Adige River that flows from the Austrian border to Verona and on to the Po River. I soon found my favorite lakes were Lake Tret (just above my house) and Lago dei Caprioli (Deer Lake) in the neighboring Val di Sole above the town of Pellizano. My favorite river was not the Novella or the Noce in my valley but rather the Avisio in the nearby Val di Fassa. The Avisio starts as a trickle high in the Dolomites near the famous Marmolada Glacier. At the base of the Val di Fassa, it flows into a manmade lake, Lago Soraga. Just above the lake is where some of Northern Italy’s best fly fishing is located.

Author On The Avisio, Val di Fassa ©2007 Rachel Rizzi

Many large Rainbow Trout come up from the lake in the fall to spawn and offer the patient angler lots of opportunities. These are both hatchery fish and a few holdovers and natives. The water is almost always chalky in color owing to the high concentration of calcium and lime in the Dolomite Mountains. I immediately found that nymphs, especially a Hare’s Ear (#10 or #12, work very well when the water is flowing high. For dry flies, I had the best luck with a Bob’s Green Caddis (#12 or #14). For a rod, I almost always went with a Sage 9 foot, 4 weight or a Sage 8 ½ foot, 3 weight). The section from the wooden bridge to the lake offers about a mile of diverse fishing.

Author With A Decent Rainbow On The Avisio ©2007 Rachel Rizzi

Fat Rainbow On The Avisio,  Val di Fassa ©2007 Rachel Rizzi


Author Working The Avsio River, Val di Fassa ©2010 Rachel Rizzi

On one of my many visits to the Val di Fassa in 2010, I stopped to see a distant cousin in the village of Pera di Fassa. Augusto Rizzi is a fisherman as well with a great nose as to where the fish are located. As we stood alongside the state highway that runs in front of his hotel, he motioned to the opposite side of the road. “Give that ditch a try!” he bluntly exclaimed. I walked across the street and looked at the ditch. “Sai pazzo (you’re crazy)” I shouted back. The ditch was a roadside drainage affair about a foot wide. Augusto insisted, so I obliged. I dropped a number 14 Hare’s Ear into the water with my 3-weight Sage and bam! A Salmonata Brook Trout took the fly and headed up into an 8-inch concrete pipe that carried water into the ditch. There I was in the middle of a busy state highway trying to play the fish out of the pipe with cars honking at me and others stopping to watch the crazy American fisherman. Once I landed the fish, Augusto insisted that he include it in his hotel’s menu for the night as trotta Americana. I am a staunch catch and release angler but I acquiesced after a brief protest and some lucky tourist was treated to a dinner with an unusual story.

Salmonata Brook Trout From A Drainage At Pera di Fassa ©2010 Rachel Rizzi

There are many great little spots to fish in the Italian Alps but finding them is a bit tricky. A pre-fishing internet exploration is a must along with any information you can gin up from local residents and sporting goods stores. If you happen to be heading to Northern Italy, pack a rod, vest and a few basic flies with you. You’ll be glad you did. But remember a couple of Italian phrases: Guardia di Pesca (fishing warden) and rispetto della ambiente (respect for the environment). These two go hand in hand in Northern Italy as they do throughout the world.

Author’s Note: Allen E. Rizzi is a fly fisherman and resident of both Northern Italy and the USA. He has fished waters around the world for over 60 years and is author of several books, including The Blackest of Canyons and Other Micro Tales of Fly Fishing, which examines fishing, family and fidelity.

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From → Fly Fishing, Italy, Travel

  1. Gosh, Allen, it looks like some great fishing. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You’re a true aficionado to go to all that trouble and expense, but it sounds beautiful and fun! I love the ditch trout story.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Janet's Thread 2 and commented:
    Great fishing tales.


  4. Quentin Russell permalink

    Looks like a beautiful place to fish

    Liked by 1 person

  5. gary permalink

    Allen, Thanks for your extremely timely post. I am from N.California and my Italian wife and I will be in Sestriere and around the Italian/French Alps for 3 weeks of August to visit friends, family and to indulge in her passion of climbing. Can I also indulge myself in some fly fishing? I was hoping to pack a rod some small supplies and do something impromptu. But probably impractical if one needs to take a weekend course just to obtain a license, or hire a commercial guide just to cut through the red tape. Do you know if the red tape of obtaining a license/permission is similar in France? Any advice? thanks in advance, gary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gary – A tourist day permit will suffice in both countries. The course I mentioned is for residents. I would recommend 4 piece pack rod (4 wt), light weight reel and very limited supplies including tippet and just one box of flies. This has always worked for me. In Italy the day permits are usually purchased at local bars but I would check in advance. Also check the internet for specific rivers near your planned trip. Nymphs size 6 to 10 work well and hatches are extremely unpredictable in the Alps. If you get into the Val di Fassa, be sure to fish the Avisio River just above the town of Soraga. Remember the term for “fish warden” is Guardia di Pesca in Italian. Tight lines!


  6. gary permalink

    Thanks again for the info. wow those are some large nymphs! My go to’s are usually princes, copper johns, hares ears, pheasant tails, zug bugs and perdigons. Are these reasonable in these larger sizes or smaller sizes suffice (12/14)? Is there a prohibition on split shot? I’m guessing from your posts that nymphing is the most productive. gary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nymphing is your best bet with Hares Ear and Wooly Buggers in the larger sizes I mentions. I would bring a generous assortment of nymphs in different sizes (6 to 14) as fly shops are very far and few between.


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