Fly Fishing in Austria - Schwarzach

22.05.2021 11:04

Last year we had the pleasure to fish on the Schwarzach three times, at the beginning and middle of August and in early October. We came at two different times because we were interested in seeing how the conditions in the fishing district change at different times of the year and also wanted to see if we would be able to catch some fish towards the end of the season.

Schwarzach

Schwarzach section 1, before the long left-hand bend - beginning of October

By reading this article you will find out what our experience was like and what is the best time and approach to fishing in the Schwarzach. You will find all the information you need to replicate our experience in the dedicated information box at the end of this article.

TIP: Be sure to also read our article on the 'little brother', the Trojeralmbach.

1. General Information

The village of St. Jakob, nestled in the Defereggen Valley in East Tyrol, is scenically very impressive and invites you to slow down as you pass through it. We were amazed when, even in August, we were able to enjoy nature and the tranquillity that comes with it without any tourist crowds. The Schwarzach is the main river in the Defereggental Valley and although you would expect a watercourse of this size to flow through the lowlands, here we are at almost 1400 metres above sea level. This is explained by the abundance of water in the large catchment area upstream.

Schwarzach

Early autumn view into the valley, the mighty Schwarzach in the centre (section 1 - here a widened section), on the right in the background the small village of St. Jakob in Defereggental

The water flow of the Schwarzach changes considerably during the year, with a minimum water flow in winter and an increasing water flow in spring. The highest water flow is from May to August and then decreases towards autumn. Because of the altitude the fishing season extends from about the beginning/middle of May to about the middle/end of October.

2. Fishing District

Thomas Ladstätter, owner of Naturhotel Tandler and the Schwarzach fishing district where we fished, has always paid great attention to the sustainable management of his waters. For many years he has relied on excellent natural reproduction and catch and release, which has meant that he has not had to restock any fish.

Schön gezeichnete Bachforelle

No restocking necessary: wild brown trout, born in the Schwarzach, presumably in its third year, deceived with a searching fly - beginning of October

The wild fish are in good shape, the rainbow and brown trout are powerful and fight hard. In terms of size, most of the fish we were able to catch were between 25 and 40 centimetres. There are specimens that grow significantly bigger, some we have seen under bridges, but we must always bear in mind that we are at the foot of the Alpine mountains, where the long winters and short summers create very harsh conditions for the fish fauna. Without this basic knowledge one could be misled into thinking that, given the size of the stream, fish of 50+ centimetres are the order of the day.

Schön gezeichnete Regenbogenforelle

Beautiful rainbow trout drawn by Schwarzach - from above you could almost think it is a Marble trout.

The mouth of the Bruggeralmach, on the right-hand side of the Schwarzach, is an extremely valuable spawning and juvenile fish habitat - photo taken in August (sorry for the poor quality of the video).

Interesting: The Schwarzach has three absolute advantages that distinguish it from most similar watercourses in the Alpine region:

  1. It is not affected by glaciers, which means that even in August the water is very clear, unlike rivers of glacial origin such as the nearby l'Isel.
  2. It cleared up quickly after a heavy rainstorm. Despite a heavy thunderstorm in the evening, we were able to fish with dry flies the following day, albeit with a higher water flow.
  3. It has easily accessible banks and is also easily accessible on foot. You can leave your car in the Naturhotel Tandler car park even during a fishing holiday lasting several days.

The Schwarzach fishing district, managed by Thomas Ladstätter, is 7 km long and can be roughly divided into two sections. The somewhat longer upper section extends from the border at "Bad Grünmoos" to "Außerrotte", and the somewhat shorter lower section extends from "Außerrotte" to "Bruggen".

The two sections are completely different from each other: in the upper section (1), the Schwarzach mostly flows quietly through the Defereggen valley, which in this area is flat and characterised by a wide valley floor without any significant gradient.

The lower section (2), on the other hand, is characterised by fast-flowing waters, especially in summer, due to the gradient and the narrow valley. The width of the stream varies between 10 and 20 metres and it is almost impossible to wade through it in summer, but it is much easier to wade in autumn due to the lower levels.

You can easily fish in the Schwarzach for several days without getting bored. The absolute tranquillity that the nature of this place offers and the distance from all common points of interest make this stream an ideal destination for the angler who wants to combine a relaxing family holiday with fly fishing.

Video footage from early autumn of the Schwarzach, managed by Thomas Ladstätter

2.1 Section 1: from the upper border of "Bad Grünmoos" to "Außerrotte" (approx. 3.7 km)

At first glance, this is certainly the most interesting section for fly fishing because it offers many good hot spots, and most of the banks are easily accessible, thanks also to the footpath that runs parallel to the river.

In the first part of section 1, the bed of the Schwarzach River is somewhat narrower than in the lower part of the same section. As a result, the natural rise in water levels due to melting snow tends to be felt more strongly in the first part of section 1. It is advisable to carefully explore the banks and the most promising places which can be fished without danger. In this section, fishing with searching flies or very floating flies is definitely the first choice, provided you opt for dry fly fishing.

Oberer Bereich Revier Schwarzach

The Schwarzach in the upper border area - beginning of October

Downstream, the waterbed becomes wider and less structured, while the speed and depth of the water decrease. Parallel to this section of the river there is a very large, beautiful playground where children can play in complete tranquillity in the midst of nature. Fly fishermen are not disturbed in the least by this situation because the river and the playground are separated by a small wood about ten metres wide.

Wasserspielplatz

The Schwarzach in the playground area - early October

Wasserspielplatz 2

The same area, this time photographed from the opposite bank, mid-August

Below the playground, about as far as the Naturhotel Tandler, the Schwarzach alternates between wide, shallow and narrow stretches of good depth. This is undoubtedly the area with the highest fishing pressure and therefore hosts very suspicious fish, especially towards the end of the season.

Schwarzach im Herbst

In this stretch, after the playground, the bed of the Schwarzach is narrower, with some deep sections - early October.

Schwarzach im Herbst

The Schwarzach is bathed in a riot of colour; the parallel path can be seen behind the trees on the left-hand side of the picture - early October

Schwarzach im Sommer

Easily accessible stretch of the Schwarzach in the area of the trail leading directly to the village of St. Jakob over the bridge at the top left of the photo - beginning of August

Schwarzach im Sommer

Typical stretch of Section 1 of the Schwarzach in summer over a bridge, clear water, relatively high water level - beginning of August

Schwarzach im Sommer

Almost the same section (about 100m above) but photographed towards the valley; here the Schwarzach flows in a relatively wide riverbed - early August

Schwarzach im Herbst

And again the same stretch, this time seen from above and with less water than in summer (the perspective and the crystal clear water make it look like there is less water than there actually is) - early October

In this area, if you look at the river from the bridge, you can see some big fish that are not easy to fool. The easy access to the bank of the river probably means that this is a fairly busy stretch and the trout probably know better than the angler what types of artificial flies are used.

Brückenfische

This stretch, with very good spots, is home to some of the largest fish in the fishing district, however, we were unable to outsmart them - early October

Before section 2, the Schwarzach makes a wide left turn several hundred metres long. Here the flowing water has carved out the bank of the stream, creating perfect shelters for the fish. Here, as well as being fairly deep, the meadow protrudes above the water, offering the fish a safe burrow in which to wait for food to pass. In this stretch of section 2 the banks of the stream are very accessible, thanks also to the large meadows surrounding them. The depth and speed of the water increase again.

Schwarzach im Herbst

The long, wide left-hand bend of the Schwarzach in the background, in the shady area below the church tower - early October

This is where we caught the biggest fish during our stay in early August, such as the wild rainbow trout seen in the photo below, which was caught on a fairly large searching fly. Because of the higher water flow rate, some caution is required when wading in the middle of summer. By contrast, in October, virtually all the most promising spots are wadeable or fishable and this without having to be a casting guru.

Schöne Regenbogenforelle

Beautiful rainbow trout that aggressively bit our searching fly

The short video, although shaky and of modest quality, is sufficient to show the water conditions in August as well as the overhanging banks

Unterspülte Ufer

The same stretch, this time photographed. Here the bed of the Schwarzach is narrower, the water level is high in summer, crossing is not possible, be careful when wading! - Early August

Now, after about 3.5 kilometres, the main road again approaches the Schwarzach, which here makes a sharp 90° bend to the right. In this stretch, a small tributary flows into the Schwarzach on its left orographic bank. In our experience this area is home to many fish, especially rainbow trout. When the water level is high in summer, this hotspot is highly recommended!

Schwarzach im Herbst

Crystal-clear water at the beginning of October, water level clearly lower than in summer, the 90° bend to the right is very visible when viewed from above

The same 90° bend, this time with typical summer water levels, taken from the opposite side. Lots of fish here - sorry for the shaky video.

Regenbogenforelle Schwarzach

In the area of the 90° bend we were able to catch some nice rainbow trout in August.

Schwarzach

View after the 90° bend in the Schwarzach, on the transition to section 2 - beginning of August

Schwarzach im Herbst

View down the valley on the transition to section 2, here we caught well with searching flies - early August

After that the Schwarzach changes abruptly. The terrain becomes steeper, the valley narrower and the Schwarzach becomes a fast-flowing stream. Welcome to section 2.

2.2 Section 2: Außerrotte to Bruggen (approx. 3.2 km)

At first glance, section 2 seems much less interesting than section 1, which we have just described, especially in terms of the landscape. In terms of fishing, however, the first glance is very deceptive! We explain why...

This section is much more difficult to approach due to the greater gradient and speed of the river, the smaller width and consequently the greater depth of water. Many of the most promising spots are really difficult to reach. A closer look reveals that the Schwarzach here is characterised by a great structural diversity of habitats. Thanks to the large rocks and wood in the water, adult fish find far more safe havens here than in section 1, which is often out of reach of other fishermen or predators.

Schwarzach unterer Teil

Section 2 is not very scenic, not easy to fish but definitely worthwhile, mid-August

Certainly in August we had quite a bit of trouble fishing in the most promising and reasonably safe spots, but where it was possible we managed to catch more trout than in section 1. In most cases the bite came as soon as the big searching fly settled on the surface of the water, with a decisive and sharp attack, without any shyness.

Schwarzach unterer Teil

Section 2, a little below the previous photo; the many woods and structural diversity provide excellent habitats for fish - early August

Bachforelle Schwarzach

This wild brown trout caught our searching fly with lightning speed within seconds of it touching the water surface - early August

Due to the lack of time we could only fish section 2 on the left orographic bank, i.e. on the side of the road. We found many excellent spots on the opposite side, which could have been fished if we had enough time. If you ask Thomas Ladstätter, he will be happy to advise you on the best spots to easily reach this bank, as he is himself a passionate fly fisherman and a profound connoisseur of the area. Even though he calls himself an average fly fisherman, his advice is invaluable to ordinary fly fishermen like you and me.

Schwarzach unterer Teil

If you can keep the fly in the area opposite the current for a few seconds without dredging the line, a catch is guaranteed.

Regenbogenforelle Schwarzach

Biting is guaranteed in this area, provided the well-floated searching fly can drift naturally for a few seconds - early August

Small tip: In section 2, crossing the Schwarzach is impossible because it is really dangerous. When the water level is high in the middle of summer, great caution is also advised when walking along the river banks (if possible).

Why and especially when in our opinion section 2 becomes particularly interesting for fishing, you will find out in the next chapter!

3. What are the best times of year and spots to fish in the Schwarzach?

As mentioned at the beginning, the fishing season on the Schwarzach is relatively short, lasting five months from mid-May to mid-October. Thanks to natural spawning, good hydro-morphological conditions, catch & release and sustainable management by Thomas Ladstätter, the fish stock can be classified as very good. Always bearing in mind that we are in the low mountain range of the Alps, with very harsh general conditions in terms of both temperature and insect availability.

Thomas Ladstätter always makes sure that there are only a few fishermen at any one time, fishing licence are only issued to hotel guests and a maximum of four per day. There is a strict catch and release policy throughout the fishing district, which brings us back to the question we asked at the beginning of this chapter.

In August we fished mainly with searching flies, which are quite voluminous, highly visible and very floaty. On both fishing days, which were actually two half-days, we were able to catch 20-30 fish quite easily. Especially the most difficult to reach spots gave us the greatest satisfaction. We were pleased to see that even the biggest fish in the deepest areas rise up to take our artificial fly, which is not to be taken for granted. On the other hand, we were less successful in the easily accessible hot spots, e.g. near the bridges, but in general we can say that we fished well and spent two nice half days on the Schwarzach. The biggest fish we were able to catch was a rainbow trout of about 45 centimetres.

When we returned to the Defereggen Valley at the beginning of October, the conditions had changed completely. Autumn days coloured the landscape, with very cool temperatures in the mornings and gradually becoming warmer and more pleasant around midday. The water levels were much lower, around 20-30 centimetres, and its colour had become crystal clear.

Schwarzach im Herbst

Fantastic conditions on the Schwarzach in a spectacular natural environment - early October

Schwarzach im Herbst

The water is crystal clear and the level is much lower than two months ago - at the beginning of October.

The fishing is proving to be tougher than expected. Our searching fly was ignored by all the fish we intercepted on sight.

At the beginning of October, our hunting fly was much more ignored than in the summer, as you can clearly see in this short video

The approach we had used in the summer proved totally ineffective in the autumn period, not a single trout was interested to our searching fly, at least at first. What had happened? The fish were still there, in the clear and now shallower water. We could see many specimens feeding on small nymphs, some even rising to the surface so it was not a problem of lack of hatchings. After a short time we realised what the problem might be.

As the fishing season was coming to a close, the fish had seen quite a few artificial flies and were probably "stung" by many of them, so they learned that some insects are best left alone. Especially in the best and most accessible spots we noticed that our flies were completely ignored one after the other.

Our thesis was confirmed when we fished in places where it was not possible to fish in summer due to higher water levels:

At the mouth of the Trojeralmbach the bed of the Schwarzach stream is very wide, with side branches and gravel islands, which constantly change during the different times of the year. Here we were able to spot 5 very nice trout feeding in shallow water right where the Trojeralmbach flows into the Schwarzach. Only after several fly changes and countless unsuccessful attempts were we finally able to hook a rainbow trout.

Schwarzach

Extremely cautious fishing; after what seemed like an eternity, a small black dry fly brought well-deserved success. In this easily accessible area, dozens of fly fishermen tried their luck throughout the season, the fish noticed and became sceptical - early October

A few metres away the situation was completely different. Near a larger island covered in bushes, the main branch of the Schwarzach was difficult to fish in summer. Now, however, the most promising spot could be fished with a dry fly without any problems. Already on the first cast, a large rainbow trout came up to catch our searching fly. In total we were able to catch six fish in this spot, in less than fifteen minutes, without having to present the fly particularly carefully. The unintentionally dragging of caddis imitation was also successful! All this happened a few metres away from the previously described section, practically a few minutes later, so with the same conditions.

Schwarzach

A few metres from where the previous photo was taken, our imitations caught very well. Why? Because fishing here is difficult with the increased water flow in summer. The fish have not often seen an artificial fly, even at the end of the season - beginning of October.

Schwarzach

In this photo you can see both areas: in the top centre the mouth of the Trojeralmbach, which is easily accessible all year round, in the bottom left the main branch of the Schwarzach, which is extremely difficult to fish in summer (the photo is quite misleading in this respect) - early August

After finding the right strategy, we decided to concentrate on all those spots that are impossible to fish in the summer time due to higher water levels, avoiding all areas of easy access or fishing in these stretches with very small artificial flies. We managed to fool a few modest sized fish, mostly on sight, while of the big ones that could be seen from the bridge, we couldn't catch a single one.

Unfortunately in the end there was not enough time to fish section 2. We are sure that with the lower water levels, the October fishing of this section would have been extremely exciting and promising.

We will definitely be back...

Conclusion: The Schwarzach section managed by Thomas Ladstätter is definitely a reference point throughout the fishing season for those who love this discipline. Due to the catch and release, the fish tend to learn and the fishing becomes more and more challenging as the end of the season.

For this reason, we advise beginners to take advantage of the beginning of the season until mid-summer (fish seem to forget during the winter that they are threatened by artificial flies) or to avoid the "beaten path" in the autumn and fish mainly in spots that were impassable during the summer.

Especially section 2, although less scenic, must be a true Eldorado of autumn fishing because of the particularly ideal conditions at this time of year. This was also confirmed to us by Thomas Ladstätter who, due to the heavy workload in his hotel, only finds time to swing his rod in autumn, in section 2 and preferably with a dry fly.

4. Technique and Equipment

For the Schwarzach, a medium-sized stream, the best equipment is the universal fly fishing equipment. So a 9' #5 with floating line DT (my favourite for dry fly fishing) or WF. We recommend a knotless leader at least 12 feet (365 cm), with a fluorocarbon tip of about 50 cm (0.12 to 0.16 mm diameter, depending on water level and visibility).

In your fly boxes you should have various patterns on light hooks, from large searching flies (mostly caddis or stimulator imitations), to small ephemeral and dipteran imitations, preferably made with CDC feathers, on hook sizes 16-18. For the basic colours we have had more success with natural tones of black and grey. Take a look at our "Made in Italy" CDC flies for example - very effective!

Fliegen für die Schwarzach

On the left a voluminous, well-floated and visible searching fly on hook size 10. On the right a nice CDC fly (clearly enlarged in the photo) on a small hook size 16.

Of course it is also possible to fish with the classic nymph technique and it is usually even more promising, although less attractive (at least for us). Nymphs of different weights and sizes are the order of the day here, i.e. tungsten and brass nymphs with hooks ranging from 10 to 16.

Tip: Thomas Ladstätter knows his area very well and is happy to give advice on the most attractive fly patterns.

Adequate wading gear, polarised sunglasses and a landing net (preferably with a rubber net) are the minimum requirement. A wading staff is very useful but not essential.

5. A holiday destination for the whole family

As described at the beginning, St. Jakob in the Defereggental is a somewhat sleepy and very rustic oasis of wellbeing away from the hustle and bustle of urban centres. In contrast to other holiday destinations in South Tyrol, for example, the Defereggental is quiet and peaceful even in August, without excessive crowds of tourists! The landscape invites you to walk and enjoy the surrounding nature and the abundance of water, which manifests itself in numerous streams, historic mills and themed paths, is a guarantee of fun for children. Two of the attractions that can be reached on foot from St. Jakob are the playground and the Langstauden trail.

The nearby Trojeralm valley, at around 1800 metres above sea level, is also worth a day trip. There is much for nature lovers to discover here...

Trojeralmtal

Natural idyll in the Trojeralmtal, above St. Jakob im Defereggental - August

INFO BOX SCHWARZACH:

Rating: 1/5 = very bad, 5/5 = very good

  • Country: East Tyrol (A)
  • Location: St. Jakob - Defereggen Valley
  • River: Schwarzach (length of the fishing district approx. 7 km, at almost 1,400 m above sea level)
  • Fishing licences:
    • Licences are issued ONLY to guests of Naturhotel Tandler (max. 4 per day).
    • Price of daily permit 20 € (also cheaper for longer stays)
    • Contact person Thomas Ladstätter (owner of Naturhotel Tandler, passionate fly fisherman)
    • www.tandler.at/it
    • [email protected]
    • Tel. +43 4873 6355
    • You can also fish with the same day licence in the Trojeralmbach (see blog).
  • Beauty of landscape: 4/5
  • Tourist offer: 2/5 (for nature 5/5)
  • Fly-fishing season: May to mid-October
  • Technique and bait allowed:
    • Barbless fly fishing with 1 fly (dry fly, submerged fly, nymph).
    • Catch and release (no kill).
  • Best techniques:
    • Hot weather in summer and autumn: dry fly.
    • Cold and all season: nymph.
  • Fishes:
    • Rainbow trout (65%)
    • Brown trout (30%)
    • River trout (5%)
  • Difficulty level:
    • Section 1: easy to difficult, depending on the subsection.
    • Section 2: Hard
  • Stream accessibility: 5/5
  • Bank accessibility: 5/5
  • Wild fish stock: 5/5
  • Overall rating (water category average size): 4/5
Schwarzach im Sommer taleinwärts

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