On Top of the World

By Pete Tyjas on 4th December 2018

Tags: brook trout, dry fly, fishing magazine, fly culture magazine, fly fishing magazine, Switzerland fly fishing

Matt Boydell visits Switzerland and fishes the high alpine streams

Very occasionally I am at a loss for words, this was one of those very rare occasions. We’d just got out the car at 5900ft and the views that greeted me were breath taking.

I was on holiday in Northern Italy near Lake Maggiore staying with friends and had managed to sneak a day to go fishing. As always, plans had started some months earlier and it had proven difficult to find online information for the area.

Thankfully, I did find details of a  relatively new guiding operation based in Ticino which seemed ideal ( ).  So, here I was some three months later on a river high up in the Alps just over the Italian border in the Ticino canton of Switzerland.

I’d left the house in the dark at 5.00 am. The drive up through northern Italy with the sun rising was stunning. I met Matteo, had a quick coffee and made a short drive to meet Jonathan who guides with Matteo. They routinely guide together, so it really isn’t designed to be high paying job. They just genuinely love to share the mountains and amazing fishing with people and couldn’t have spent the day with more knowledgeable guys. At the end of the day I not only knew more about the general area and the fishing available but about the geological formations of the valley, retreating glaciers, wildlife and a whole lot more.

But back to the day. We sped off up the valley for about 1.5 hrs, getting higher and higher with the views just getting better and better.

The river we were fishing was typical for high mountains, crystal clear, fast flowing boulder strewn runs interspersed with deep pools and cold, really cold water.    

The quarry was wild brown trout and brook trout; now I love brown trout, but the chance of catching wild brook trout for the very first time and in such amazing surroundings is something I dream of during the cold miserable winter months at home.

The fishing technique was similar to the small moorland waters that I fish in Devon, short casts and equally short drifts before casting again. The plan was to cover the water quickly and keep moving.  

In the second pool I was into a fish, Matteo immediately knew it was brook trout. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly they take a fly but the fly held until it was in Matteo’s net. My first brook trout.

More fish followed, all brook trout, before we stopped for a lunch of local meats, bread and cheese, one of which was made and purchased on arrival at the tiny high-altitude farm where we parked the cars. Oh, and a very nice bottle of local beer too.

Pic courtesy of Francois Marclay

By the time I was home I genuinely couldn’t remember the number of brookies I’d caught, perhaps 7 or so and quite a few I’d missed that were just too fast for me.

For anyone planning a visit it’s an amazing place. All the rivers in Ticino canton are public, so after purchasing a fishing licence there is well over a 1000km to explore. You can buy tourist licences for the day, week or full licences for the year.   

The range of fishing is immense – small alpine rivers and streams, large rivers like the Ticino river and a multitude of  lakes too.  The main species are native brown trout and non-native but naturalised brook trout, that were introduced in the 1950’s. They are perfectly adapted to  the high altitudes. 

There are a small number of streams that contain rainbow trout, which also naturally self-sustain, but these are quite rare.  Lastly, in the alpine lakes you can also fish for arctic char and Canadian lake trout.

In Ticino (as with the whole of Switzerland) catch and release is illegal, all the trout reaching the legal size (24cm for brown, 22cm for rainbow and brook trout) must be killed.  

However, there is another law that allows anglers to release fish for ecological purposes.  In essence this means C&R is forbidden except for ecological purposes (e.g. mature fish can be released if you believe they are ecologically important).  It is up to each individual angler to decide whether a fish is ecologically important or not.

I have to be honest, the Brook trout in the photos aren’t the ones I caught.  So, although I have some shots of the fish I caught they just don’t do brook trout the justice they deserve.   A quick email to Matteo and his good friend Francois  ( kindly gave permission to use a couple of his amazing photos.