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Savinja, the river of fairy tales

There is a mountain glacial valley in the Slovenian Solčavsko region and its upper part is named Logarska Dolina, a magical and breathtaking place surrounded by fairytales forest and peaks over 2000 meters high.

Generali Bruno

There is a mountain glacial valley in the Slovenian Solčavsko region and its upper part is named Logarska Dolina, a magical and breathtaking place surrounded by fairytales forest and peaks over 2000 meters high. There are several legends and old stories that originate from this area, some of them have come down to the present days through oral history, then represented by modern Slovenian renowned authors. For the time being, a Fairytale Forest Park that cover 20,000 square metres of woods have been created to represent all of this. It features all the Slovenian folk tales and legends originating from the Solčavsko region and the best world-famous classic stories. Children, and even adults who still have the ability to dream and have imagination, can roam the forest freely or can be guided through by gnomes and witches. Next to the tales park, a mountain eco farm named Na Razpotju offers fine local gourmet food, as žlikrofi, deer fillet and porcini mushroom plates, as well as the possibility of overnight stay.

The atmosphere that reigns there seems out of time. The picturesque appearance of the Logar valley was created by a glacier during the last ice age. The beauty of the Logar Valley is reflected by pristine state of the environment. Featuring beautiful meadows, the area beyond the green curtain of the forest reverberates with the magnificent roaring of the Rinka Falls. Right there the Savinjia river was born. Nowadays, tradition and nature have found harmony there, serving as a good example of sustainable development. It is a place where to find a real representation that empathy between man and nature is possible.

The signs of the fist people living in the upper Savinja valley are from the Roman period. However, people did not systematically advance up the Savinja river until the arrival of Slovenian ancestors. They came here from the heavily populated lower Savinja valley. The people settled next to the river, close to the area where on present days lies the village of Ljubno ob Savinji, the slopes further upriver were populated later. Ljubno was first mentioned in historical documents in 1247 in relation to the ministerial of the Gornj Grad Benedictine monastery that, among others, also had authority over Ljubno.

Throughout history, the people from Ljubno made a living primarily on agriculture and timber rafting, since the crafts industry was relatively undeveloped. Timber rafting, one of the main recognisable characteristics of the municipality of Ljubno, was once the most profitable economic industry in the upper region of the Savinja valley. Today, it survives only as an ethnographic attraction of the Ljubno Flosarksi Bal timber rafting festival, taking place first Sunday in August. During these days was evoked the memory of when transporting timbers from the forests to the valley on riže, sawing wood on sawmills, making timber rafts and traveling down Savinja, Sava and Danube river as far as to the Black Sea. Life of raftsmen was difficult, sometimes dangerous. After WW2 the wood was transported on roads or with trains, consequently timber rafting tradition died.

Springing in the heart of the Kamnik Savinja Alps, the Savinja River runs through a picturesque valley, carved out through the millennia, providing shelter for an abundance of fish. The spring of the Savinja river is situated under the Okrešelj Cirque and fall into the Logarska valley in a wonderful waterfall. Due to the slopes of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps overgrown with forest, upstream the river can barely pass between the rocky barriers in some places and in others it flows carelessly under beautiful small wooden bridges. Between the Logarska valley and Ljubno ob Savinji, Savinja is a typical alpine river with a steep gradient, numerous rapids, amazing pools with gin clean water inhabited by a rich fauna. In this parts, the river is the essential feature of the upper Savinja valley as it gives its picturesque character, that is further reinforced by the mountains, made of limestone and volcanic tuffs. Savinja, one of the most beautiful Slovenian rivers, is friendly to fly anglers and to romantics and poets who sing praises to its striking beauty. Just be there and breath the enchanting fishy atmosphere.

Savinja is quite a long river, it flows for a hundred and two kilometres thought mountains and meadows, then joins the Sava river at Zidani Most, where the Savinja is traversed by three bridges. With regard to fisheries management, the river has been divided into five zones, where the fishing rights are managed by the respective local clubs. Starting from its spring, in the section managed by the RD Ljubno, Savinja has approximately forty kilometres of watercourse of first-class water suitable for fly fishing. Already tamed from cutting through a narrow gorge, the Savinja River runs through a valley of green and gold. Wide glides, channels carved in limestone and deep pools provide shelter for an unimaginable abundance of fish life. Small pleasant villages and isolated farms, every now and then, they manifest the moderate presence of man among the bucolic and wild landscape.

From the Logarska Valley downstream to the idyllic mountain village of Luče, with a total length of thirteen kilometres, the Savinja forms fascinating rocky gorges and represents a typical alpine stream environment, inhabited mostly by native Danubian type brown trouts accompanied by some graylings and rainbow trouts in the lower reaches. Due to the alpine character, the average size of fish in this area is smaller, and fishing has been limited applying a daily licence quota of only five anglers. Water temperature is cold even during the central part of the summer. Nature is pristine, the riverbed is characterised by white stones, crystal clear water and moss on the rocky walls. This upper part is a must for any fly fisherman who is keen on stalking wild and spooky fish. This river stretch, called zone 1, can be considered a dry fly paradise. Blind fishing with mid to big size dries or fishing the water with terrestrials during the summer can be real fun.

At the height of the village of Luče, the much smaller Lučnica creek joins Savinja. Some five kilometres stretch of this small tributary stream can be fished with a special licence and provides excellent dry fly fishing. Best times to fish here are during spring and autumn, as it usually suffers from high temperatures and low water levels during the summer. Nice trouts and occasionally surprising graylings can be met. The confluence of the Savinja with the Lučnica marks also the start of zone 2 extending for nine kilometres downstream to the first bridge above the village of Ljubno ob Savinji. Old abandoned mills, wavering wooden bridges, high rock walls, become milestones to represent dream fishing spots. Probably in this stretches it is possible to find the most fascinating, characterising and representative sections of this river.

Throughout this section the Savinja runs through massive boulders forming several deep pools. With an abundance of food this section boasts a healthy fish population, alternating graylings, brown trouts and extremely strong native rainbow trouts with beautiful intense colours. However, the angler has to put in some effort in order to catch the fish of a lifetime. This river section is wild, it offers a variety of different situations, pocket waters with cyclopean boulders, regular runs, deep pools, tricky flats where infinite micro currents overlap. Even though accesses to the river are often easy and the distance from the road is limited, the perception is that of fishing in the wilderness.

Just above Ljubno ob Savinji with a total length of seven kilometres begins zone 3. Here the river starts to be calmer and wider. In the stretches downstream the village of Ljubno ob Savinj, the bottom becomes more stable, especially during the summer when the phenomenon becomes prevalent. Deep pools and burrows hidden under the banks are suitable for hosting large sized trouts. During the spring some currents come to life and become magical. Starting from the second half of the afternoon until dark is time for matching the hatch. The variety of insects present is great, it is possible to meet stoneflies, large sedge and mayflies of various sizes and colours. The greatest success with big trouts, however, is usually obtained by imitating small to medium sized insects in the emergency phase, as the Emerger CDC Loop Pale Olive and the Emerger CDC Loop Hare Olive by Igor and Nadica Stancev. Then, as the season continues, the hatch moves more and more every day towards the evening. Up to the time of full summer when the hatches are rarer and the largest fish, which have become spooky, must be searched on the bottom by means of nymph fishing. 

This zone 3 also includes the two kilometres long trophy zone, very easy to access also for fishermen with limited range of motion. Easily reachable by walking from downtown Ljubno. This can be the place where you can catch a trophy fish, both brown or rainbow trouts. Big fish are visible almost everywhere from riverbanks or bridges, but catching them is another story. Finding the right fly, gently sneaking in the water, using long leaders as the Cortland Nylon Tapered Leader 15Ft, and light tippets as the magic Cortland Ultra Premium Fluorocarbon, can make the difference. Around the central part of the trophy area is the headquarters of the historic fishing club RD Ljubno, a cozy and homey place where to rest for a moment, to eat local food or to just drink a beer.

Beside fisheries management, the primary goal of the RD Ljubno club is to protect and preserve all natural habitats as well as the plentiful species of the upper Savinja valley. A restricted quota on the number of licences issued per day ensures that guests will be able to enjoy sufficient privacy on the water while escaping from the hustle and bustle of daily life. For this reason it is recommended to purchase licenses well in advance. Strict fishing rules have been put in place in order to protect fish population, which is one of the main reasons why most of the guests visit the area year after year. Certified bailiffs will prevent poaching and insure that all rules are carried out. River wardens also keep an eye, on any damage to the natural environment.

In the spaces adjacent to the club house there is also a small lake with crystal clear water, mainly populated by trouts, dedicated to classic fly fishing only, no streamer allowed. During some moments of the season it is possible to witness spectacular images with dozens of fish feeding on the surface or just below the water surface. Technical fishing with dry flies, buzzers, emergers, midges, or with a specific fly line as the Cortland Line Hover and unweighted small surface nymphs, can be really challenging. It can be an opportunity for a relaxing day between more demanding and tiring fishing excursions. The pond is also perfect for children, seniors, fishing courses, or just for new anglers who are tackling fly fishing for the first time. An adjacent area dedicated to picnics and games for kids and children makes the lake a particularly pleasant and welcoming place.

The entire Savinja Valley offers a wide range of delicious local food and a variety of accommodation options as bed & breakfasts and guesthouses, all of them comfortable, cosy, intimate and homy. Among many, I cannot avoid to mention the Eco Tourist Farm Kolar, a small fragment of the world, which will guide you to a state of complete relaxation, and where you will feel right at home, with a direct access to the river. This bucolic farm, managed by a delightful and pleasing family, is a paradise for individuals, couples, families, and small groups, perfect for anglers. From my point of view, this is a cornerstone, the navel of the enchanted Slovenian world. Then, a useful point to get information about lodging and local events is the TIC Ljubno, a tourist office where the local community welcome international guests.

For the non-fishing partner or visitors, the area offers unspoiled nature, historical and cultural amenities as well as hiking and a range of other outdoor activities. Among these, the possibility of entering the thermal resort of Terme Topolšica, indulging in the healing effects of thermal water in the heart of nature. Otherwise, flea markets across Slovenia offer a wonderful opportunity for tiny explorations, where you can suddenly find yourself in front of priceless treasures. Among the most interesting is certainly that of Velenje who stands once a month on the second Saturday, among the farmers marketplace on the Center Nova plaza, or the one that takes place downtown of Ljubljana, every Sunday morning along the Ljubljanica river shore. 

Among the numerous ancient objects dating back to the period of Yugoslavia and that of the Habsburg Empire, a starting point for research for fishermen is to look for old memories relating to the history of local fishing clubs. They are many, today as in the past, and they are deeply rooted in local communities. Since the WW2 post-war period, almost every municipality has had a fishing club, and as time has passed, many of them concentrated their focus on fly fishing for salmonids. The oldest have origins dating back to the end of the nineteenth century. The most ancient of which I have found traces is the Fishing and Angling Club founded in 1893, quickly renamed the Zagreb Fishing Society. An informal party of sociable citizens enjoyed sport fishing and related companionship on river Sava since around 1860. This club, later society, became probably something like a mother for many, if not all, other fishing clubs and associations in the area.

Continuing its course towards the lower valley the river Savinja passes to the management of RD Mozirje, still with the appearance of typical sub-alpine river, alternating runs and bends, but with a more regular course than before. The average depth varies between half meter and one meter and a half, except in pools and under dams, where it reaches greater depths. The bottom is mostly of limestone gravel and marl. The area pertaining to RD Mozirje starts under the dam in Grušovlje and ends on the bridge in Letuš, for a total length of approximately fifteen kilometres. It is inhabited by brown trouts, graylings, rainbow trouts, danube salmons and cyprinids, as chubs and barbels. 

Although non-traditional species for fly fishing, do not underestimate the power of barbels, which can reach enormous sizes and involve the fisherman in endless battles. They sometimes live in promiscuity with trout and grayling and hardly come off the bottom. They are spooky and very clever, but it is possible to stalk them with little nymphs. It is not easy to convince them to take the nymph, to have chances the angler must bring the submerged fly exactly against the fish's mouth, even few centimetres ca make the difference between success and failure! Usually barbel nymph fishing require a technique featuring short distances and being always in contact withe the leader. It takes a lot of sensitivity to recognise the attacks and a fair amount of experience to bring these tenacious fish to the landing net after countless escapes. All fly fishing style can be practiced in this section, carried out solely on the catch & release principle and following the barbless hooks mandatory rule.

There is also another gem that belongs to the RD Mozirje club, the Dreta river. Its source is near the Črnivec Pass in the Kamnik Alps. It flows through the town of Gornji Grad, Bočna, and Šmartno ob Dreti, and merges with the Savinja River in Nazarje. The total lenght of the fishing district is around twenty-two kilometres. The Dreta was attested in written sources from the mid-thirteenth century, on the dark age. The average depth of the Dreta is between half meter and one meter, ten to twenty meters wide, wadable practically anywhere with normal levels. The bottom is made up of marl or covered with gravel limestone. Rapid stretches are followed by long glides that make it very challenging for fly anglers. Conditions for dry fly fishing are excellent, but require a long lasting and strong experience. Fish are spooky and often hidden under the banks that are covered with riparian vegetation. All the salmonid species can be found here, brown trouts, graylings, rainbow trouts. The central part of the hot summer may reserve further difficulties due to low levels, better to fish in spring and autumn.

Not only nase, chub, barbel, roach and many others cyprinid species, which are already extinct in most parts of Europe, but also brown and rainbow trout as well as grayling inhabit the Savinja River downstream from the village of Letuš. Among them you can find the king of Slovenian rivers, the mighty huchen or Danube salmon. This illusive freshwater predator is one of the most sought after sport fish amongst fly fishing experts. And that’s the reason why many anglers visit the area in search for this majestic ruler of the pools. Easy access to the river is an advantage for those who would like to fly fish for trout or grayling or those who have a more ambitious bucket list, including huchen.

Keep going downriver, we will meet the lower Savinja valley managed by the RD Šempeter, here the stream is a typical subalpine river with a lot of deep pools and dams, full of different fish species from cyprinids to salmonids. Some stretches are well known for its unique natural conditions that are perfect for Hucho hucho Danube salmon. Water temperatures and levels are just right for fast growth and reproduction of this rare fish. The Danube salmon is a freshwater fish belonging to the Salmonidae family and to the order Salmoniformes. Originally endemic of the Danube drainage basin and its tributaries.

It lives exclusively in fresh water and never descends into the sea, it prefers calm areas near strong currents, with deep, clean and well oxygenated waters, it can be found in deep holes under bridges and similar environments. The body is spindle-shaped and slender, very similar to that of Atlantic salmon but the mouth, which is armed with strong teeth, is much larger. However, it is absolutely unmistakable as there is no salmonid species of this size in the same environments. The largest specimens reach, or rather they reached in the past, the length of 150 centimetres for a maximum of about 50 kilograms of weight. The color is greenish on the back and has copper or pinkish reflections on the sides. The sides are sprinkled with black specks, some of which are X-shaped.

The Danube salmon is a solitary predator, endowed with great strength, which hunts preferably in the early morning and evening hours. Its favorite prey is the nose but it also hunts other cyprinids such as barbs or white fish and, occasionally, other fish, even trouts and graylings if they are present in the stretch of the river in which he lives in. Nor he disdains frogs and, apparently, the chicks of water birds. It can be fished by fly fishermen, but nowadays the species is everywhere subjected to stringent protection measures. The fishing season is purely winter, it begins in November and ends in February. The fishing activity must always be carried out with at least two people for safety reasons, furthermore it is strongly recommended to be accompanied by an expert local guide, without which it would be extremely difficult to spot the fish.

Hucho Hucho fishing equipment must be suitable for casting large streamers, in some cases at a considerable distance. Mostly, rods between nine and ten feet long with weight forward fly lines from size eight to ten. It is important to have available fly lines of different sinking types, in order to correctly reach the spot where the fish is lying, in different conditions of current and depth. It is fishing of a thousand casts, it can be very tiring, so it can also be useful to tackle it even with two-handed rods that allow the angler to reach, by means of anchors in the water, the desired distance without false casts. The strike must be energetic when you have a fish on, because the Danube salmon has a very hard and bone-rich mouth. Only the best and sharpest hooks should be used to tie flies for Hucho Hucho fishing!

Always under the management of the RD Šempeter , The Bolska creek, a tributary of the Savinja, offers challenging fishing for all those who would like to try their casting skills under overhanging trees that provide shelter for brown trout in this little meandering stream. Moreover, hidden in the forest in a wonderful setting, Braslovško lake provides exceptional fishing for pike or carp. For those of you who prefer a more leisurely setting, the ponds in Preserje near the headquarters of the fishing Club of Šempeter are more than an alternative. Besides fishing, in this area you can explore many other things such as a vast number of karst caves. An interesting one is the Jama Pekel, carved for millions of years by the Ponikvica stream, where, with a bit of imagination, one can discern an image of the devil above the cave entrance. The cave was created by the Ponikvica stream that disappears in front of the cave and reappears in the cave as the Peklenščica stream. The twelve hundred meters long path through the cave is easy and well maintained. The area also boasts a huge number of historic sites, many of them dating back to the era of the Roman Empire or medieval period.

Along the river we can meet historical sites as the Žovnek Castle that dominate the homonymous lake and the Grad Komenda in Polzela, the former town of Heilenstein. The oldest mention of the castle is from the Aquileian charter of 1149. Between 1323 and 1780, the Order of the Knights of Malta was associated with the castle, which significantly influenced the lives of the local people. When grad Komenda was at the height of its power, the castle was surrounded by a wall, inside which were three-storey tracts with an inner courtyard, several towers, the chapel of St. Ulrich and an outbuilding. Since 2011, Komenda Castle has been completely renovated and can be visited by tourists.

Going even further downstream Savinja became a big river flowing through the waters of RD Celje, from the Petrovški bridge to the viaduct in Tremarjeand. Establishment of RD Celje originated in 1952 from the former Fishermen's Cooperative and the Fishermen's Association, led by Branko Tominšek. Here the interest in fly fishing drops significantly but increase the concern for culture and heritage. Along the river bank it is possible to meet a series of splendid medieval castles as the Old Castle of Celje. The first foundations of the Old Castle of Celje date from the second half of the 12th century. Since then, the castle building has witnessed many turning points in history. Best known as the residence of the Counts of Celje, it was even the home of Barbara of Celje, triple queen, familiar with the mysteries of alchemy, that stood behind the elite Order of the Dragon. Some many ancient adventures and tragedies have had theater here.

From the area of Pohorje pod Roglo runs also the Hudinja creek, whose lower course flows through the Celje basin, where it empties into the Voglajna creek. The Hudinja stretch above Vitanje is very clean, rich of invertebrates and populated by wild brown trouts. In this area it is also possible to experience the new era of local craft beer. In the land on the sunny side of the Alps, a valley of the green gold lies. Among hops plantations, an old hops house. In the house, located in Petrovče, the Clef Brewery opens its door, the Savinja region craft beer runs from its pipes. It is possible to have a brewery tour, discovering the brewing methods and taste the various fine beers. Not so far in Žalec, stands the first and probably unique beer fountain in the world, a tribute to the hop heritage of lower Savinja valley. Assorted local craft brewery are represented. Grab a beer and taste.

Downstream from Celje the river becomes part of the RD Laško, soon flowing at the feet of the legendary Grad Tabor located on a small hill above Laško, named Tifer in the ancient time. It was first mentioned in written sources in 1145, later testimonies prove that it was owned by the Counts of Celje. During the 16th century it was transformed into an anti-Turkish defense, hence its name. In this area the large and peaceful Savinja river is populated by white fish, but the tributary creek Gračnica is one of the most picturesque and well-preserved waters in Slovenia, extremely rich in wild brown trouts, therefore being of interest for fly fishing. Its journey begins on 460 meters altitude and runs in approximately twenty kilometres long course to the outflow into the Savinja near Rimske toplice. The creek is regulated at the beginning and when going downstream it creates beautiful spots. Due to flat land the creek's current is slow. Its course continues through the fascinating and varied chine Grohotje where the stream runs faster and rocks obstruct the channel. It shapes two waterfalls here, the little Počerenski slap and the big lap pod Marofom.

After that, Savinja reaches the confluence with Sava river in Zidani Most, Steinbrück at the times of the Austro-Hungaric Empire, in a beautiful and peaceful valley. The name Zidani Most literally means stone bridge, built at the site in 1224 by Leopold VI. Here the calm waters slowly approach the massive Rajhenburg Castle in Brestanica, built between 1131 and 1147 by Archbishop Konrad of Salzburg the Castle of Brežice. In 1881, Rajhenburg Castle was bought by Trappist monks and converted into a monastery. It remained active until April 1941, when the German authorities transformed the castle and its outbuildings into a deportation camp. Then the Castle of Brežice built in the 12th century, and the magnificent Grad Podsreda inside the Kozjanski Park, one of the oldest and largest protected areas in Slovenia. It represents a mosaic of the pre-Alpine Posavje Mountain Range, hills, and plains along the rivers Sotla and especially Bistrica, that carved a gorge in stone with his crystal clear water, with emerald-blue hues in fantastic pools, populated by brown trouts and graylings. The nature in the area is untouched being the gorge located in a nature park.

Photo curtesy of Boštjan ZagoženGregor KrižnikLara Zaleznik, Bruno Generali.