Marina Gibson joined The Fly Fishing Nation crew on their German and Austrian home waters. Big browns, barbel, grayling, brook trout ensued. As featured in The Mission Issue 23


Marina Gibson spent 12 days with The Fly Fishing Nation crew, targeting a raft of species across their home waters in Germany and Austria. From big browns in filthy urban rivers to yellowfish-like European barbel and pike, plus grayling and brook trout in clear mountain streams, she discovered that Central Europe has plenty to offer.

“As soon as the UK lifted the 14-day quarantine I booked a spontaneous trip to Germany to visit Fly Fishing Nation’s Head Quarters for a 12-day fishing bender.

Anyone who follows them on social media will know of their highly enviable backwaters. What better time than now to go and explore.  This was new turf and I was excited.

Over the years, Stephan Dombaj, Paulo Hoffmann, Alex Keus et al have spent countless hours seeking out the most desirable wild fish in Europe. And they’ve all been amply rewarded with their gold, silver and bronze medals.  I had no idea I would soon be catching PBs and hooking into new species. I was equipped with an array of rods ranging from 10ft 3wt to 9ft 9wt. My quiver had to tempt a diverse list of toothy predators: delicate ladies, urban monsters and whiskered beauties.  I couldn’t wait to find out what was lurking beneath the surface in these Central European waters. But the full plan was yet to be revealed…

“To have caught and witnessed such a specimen in the flesh was one of my proudest angling moments.”

As we were not leaving Germany immediately, Stephan Dombaj organised some barbel and urban trout fishing close to the FFN HQ. In the UK barbel are a cherished species by many anglers. But, it is rare to see fishermen catching them on the fly. People tend to catch them on halibut-scented pellets or on rolling Spam or luncheon meat cubes on Avon-style or specialist barbel rods with a 1.5lb or 2lb test curve.

Barbel orgy in Germany
Nils Gabsda, Stephan Dombaj and Marten Laciny engage in a barbel orgy on their home waters in Germany.

I was eager to see if Stephan had been exaggerating when he said how productive the barbel fishing was and that I was guaranteed to hook into one. We arrived at the first spot and peered over the bridge. The water was low and clear and the eye could almost make out every lie, rock and stone. We could see the elongated shapes of a handful of decent sized barbel with some short nosed carp and chub among them. They were all unflustered and moving ever so slightly from left to right in the slow to medium current.

“The second pool was stuffed to the brim with barbel.”

We crept down a little path under a bridge. On our way we had to dodge the giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a toxic, towering, cow parsley-like plant that if you, or any animals, touch it, can be fatal if the sting is left untreated. While Stephan was kindly trying his best to dodge these plants and clear the area, some of the stems catapulted back towards him and brushed along his arms. It wasn’t until the next day when the area was exposed to the sunlight, causing it to flare up and blister, that he realised he must have got some of the plant’s sap on his skin.

Matthias Strothotte and Paulo Hoffmann with an urban grayling and brown trout respectively. Photo Stephan Dombaj
Matthias Strothotte and Paulo Hoffmann with an urban grayling and brown trout respectively. Photo Stephan Dombaj

I stood there eagerly, rod in hand, and carefully unhooked my duo of jig nymphs from the rod guide and pulled some line gently off the reel. I made a few casts, connected with, but lost, a barbel. Shortly thereafter I hooked into a chub, which gave me a good tussle compared to those that we catch on my local river with a double hander, whilst trying to catch Atlantic salmon.

The second pool was stuffed to the brim with barbel. You could identify their slim shapes where the water surface calmed. You could even make out the odd lobes of their tails. It was especially exciting to see them in the yellowish, clear water. The visibility made it ever more exhilarating when you executed a perfect drift and could watch your team of nymphs approaching the fish.

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After many casts, a few lost fish (triggering the occasional expletive) and many refusals, finally the line pulled tight and I landed a gorgeous barbel. It fell for my homemade perdigon that I had tied the evening before. To have caught and witnessed such a specimen in the flesh was one of my proudest angling moments. We went on to catch copious amounts that day. We ended with a bankside brew and tipple that a woman brought out for us from her house beside the river.

I didn’t think the week could get any better until we went trout fishing in a nearby urban river. This time the target was ‘dirty’ wild trout. The weather was warm and the water was low but that wasn’t going to stop us from trying. Because my time was limited, I needed to make the most of it.

Fly Fishing Nation know their backwaters intimately so I was feeling confident. These artificially straightened stretches with their murky waters, tampon migrations and other unpleasant surprises, such as the omnipresent smell of sewage, reminded me of a Yorkshire river not far from where I live. It’s hard to believe that cities, towns and rural areas use our waterways to dump their rubbish and infect them with sewage and waste. However, despite this, the average size of fish was impressive. Whatever they’ve been eating has had a positive effect on their growth. That day I caught a 9lb rainbow trout. On my next visit, with my last cast in the darkness, a 4lb brown trout with my last cast.”

For the rest of Marina Gibson’s story, including the Austrian leg with grayling, brook and mountain brown trout, check out The Mission Issue 23 below.

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