Trip Report by Brandon Li
As an angler who takes pride in appreciating the vast diversity of fishes, I have to admit that I have a soft spot for salmonids. In only a handful of drainages and rivers of the Adriatic basin, there lives an enigmatic trout that is found only in the most stunning alpine habitats, grows to immense sizes, and is an incredibly beautiful fish that displays a huge amount of phenotypic diversity across its range.
Salmo marmoratus. The marble trout.
This was truly a fish of my dreams, and having found myself with a day to fish near the small mountain town of Tolmin in northwestern Slovenia, I was almost giddy at the prospects of coming across one. Unfortunately, the conditions weren’t in my favor. It had been a hot, dry summer, and low, warm, and clear waters on the main rivers weren’t especially conducive for fishing. I turned my attention towards cooler waters in the smaller alpine streams that crisscrossed the Soča Valley.
The Julian Alps are really stunning and serene. It’s hard to describe the beauty of the place in the summertime, with its lush, dense foliage, emerald to turquoise waters, and, if you’re in the right places, lack of human activity. In fact, despite having hiked miles and miles of streams up and down the mountainside, I didn’t come across a single other person all day.
The forests echoed with the sounds of birds and insects, and the prominence of life was evident in the roaring streams filled with tadpoles and caddis larvae. The water was clean enough to drink straight from the source.
The high-gradient streams in this region and a tenkara rod are a match made in heaven. Pairing my Suntech Kurenai HM33R with a size three level line and a small selection of kebari, I was lucky enough to have an amazing session casting to the small to mid-sized stream resident marble trout, often in waters I could jump across.
What I found was that marble trout tend to hide in surprising places—I saw quite a few tucked into inches-deep water right next to shore, and others that seemed perfectly content imitating rocks on the streambed. Of course, I spooked my fair share as well; this was a sight fishing game, and the marbles’ ability to camouflage was uncanny.
When I was able to remain out of sight, however, in these small streams most of the fish were indiscriminate players. Fishing a relatively longer level line, the Kurenai handled fish up to sixteen inches wonderfully.
The marble trout I came across varied greatly in appearance. Every specimen was a unique sight to behold: some had gorgeous red dots littered over their mid-flank, while others had much more muted marbling. At lower elevations, I also came across some hybridized fish, the result of marble trout breeding with introduced brown trout.
Decades ago, the marble trout almost went extinct in these waters due to hybridization and introgression with stocked brown trout. But due to an aggressive conservation and reintroduction effort, nowadays the brown trout is a rare catch, and anglers such as myself are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to fish for this special species.
I had told myself weeks before that if I had caught just one marble trout, the trip would be made. But after having spent hours fully immersed in the marble trout’s world, what I realized was that fishing for marble trout wasn’t only defined by the fish themselves. Everything that made the experience surreal came intertwined together: the taste of the water, the sounds of bubbling streams, and the trout found nowhere else on Earth.
Marble trout get much, much larger. I cannot wait to return.
Brandon Li – College student based in Philadelphia. Tenkara enthusiast. Avid angler, artist, and powerlifter. 370+ fish species caught and counting.
This article originally appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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