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We’ve reported quite a bit on the trout fishing available in Italy, but to date we have never mentioned this country’s saltwater fly fishing. Frankly, we didn’t know there was anything worth writing about in that area. Enter Claudio Tagini, our Italian correspondent, who just keeps on surprising us with the things he comes up with. Here is what he calls a preliminary take on Italian saltwater fishing. Enjoy!
With a coastline measuring 4,750 miles (more than twice that of the Bahamas!), Italy has a lot to offer in the way of saltwater fishing. No, we do not have any flats-type fishing. Our fishing is more like that found along the north¬eastern coast of the United State. There is some surfcasting, but predominantly our saltwater fishing is done by boat, chasing pelagic species, that is, fish that live neither close to the bottom nor near the shore.
Saltwater fly fishing in Italy emerged only about 15 years ago when a small group of Italian fly angling enthusiasts started sharing information about places to launch and where to find rental boats and appropriate fly-tying supplies. Initially, saltwater fly fishing was viewed by many anglers as a way to extend their fall fishing season, which closes in some regions (such as Friuli) at the end of September. Eventually, though, some anglers became completely dedicated to the salt, abandoning all their previous pursuits in freshwater. At this point, after several years of learning their home waters, Italy has a few professionals who can offer visiting anglers a very high success rate on saltwater fishing outings.
While there is good fishing on almost the whole Italian coastline, at the moment there are only four specific places where saltwater fly fishing is well organized. The first I will mention is the Rapallo-Portofino area east of Genova. As a teenager, before moving to Milan, I lived a few years in Santa Margherita Ligure, about midway be¬tween Rapallo and Portofino, and I kept going back there later in life, as I had a boat moored there for a time. Portofino is a spellbinding old fishing village turned into a seafarer’s luxury destination. It is a wonderful place to stay if you are going to fish the Rapallo- Portofino area.
The second area where saltwater fly fishing is well organized is the island of Palmaria, an hour and half drive south¬eastward by car. You could also say it is about 30 nautical miles east/southeast of Portofino. The mainland jumping-off point is Porto Venere, at the end of the enchanting and world-famous “Cinque Terre.” [Editor Note: Cinque Terre is an
area along the Italian Riviera coastline that consists of five villages. One can hike a scenic trail along the cliffside that links the villages.) The third fully developed saltwater fishery is on the other side of the country, south of Venice, at the broader delta area of the Po River, the longest-flowing Italian body of freshwater. Continuing in a south¬ward direction, the fourth developed fishing area is in the Marche region (pronounced “Markay”), specifically between the cities of Pesaro and Ancona. Here, there are substantial saltwater fishing possibilities offered by professional local outfitters.
The two areas east of Genova are breathtakingly beautiful. They are also well known by wealthy international travelers. I will describe the fishing there, and in the area between Pesaro and Ancona, but at another time. In this issue, I want to focus on the Po River delta fishery, a one-hour drive south of Venice. The Po River, as mentioned previously, is the largest river in Italy. It begins its 405-mile course in the Alps, not too far from the French border, in Piedmont, and flows through many important cities, including Turin, Piacenza, and Ferrara. It is connected to Milan through a network of channels called “navigli” mostly designed by Leonardo da Vinci back in the early 1500s. The Po collects all the south-flowing streams from the Alps and the Dolomites, as well as the north-flowing smaller streams from the Apennines mountains of the Emilia Romagna region, creating a very substantial discharge of water, much more, actually, than several other rivers twice its length.
The vast amount of water the Po contains has created disastrous floods in the past, causing folks living nearby to alter its course. As early as the year 1152, the river was diverted just north of Ferrara, to relieve floods around Ravenna. Many years later, among other major river diversions, the power¬ful Republic of Venice literally moved the natural northern estuary’s branch slightly to the south, so its heavy, silt-rich outpouring wouldn’t affect Venice’s lagoon.
All of the above has created a unique environment where this huge amount of silt-rich freshwater mixes with the salt of the Adriatic Sea. Large numbers of baitfish are drawn to the Po Delta (as it is called) and they in turn attract significant numbers of predator species. The Po Delta encompasses miles and miles of water, basically from Venice to Ravenna. The Adriatic Sea, to be sure, is fairly shallow. The point where the water begins to deepen significantly is 12 to 24 miles offshore, and, typically, it would be necessary to go that far to find large pelagic predators. But here, because of the large amount of silt-rich water and nourishment, large predators are quite often near shore, as close as two nautical miles from the coast. The predators I am talking about are large tuna, false albacore and others.
Fishing is good here all year long, with perhaps a slight lull in June and then again in February through the first week of March, mostly due to weather conditions. The very best fishing starts mid- to late March and continues through the beginning of May. During this time, bluefin tuna show up close to the coast, along with schools of little tunny. The little tunny in this area weigh as much as 30 to 45 pounds, with an average of about 20 pounds. It is usually easier to catch these fish, and in greater numbers, of course, with spinning gear, but this past year several fly fishing out¬ings brought in a 20-fish count. For the little tunny an eight-foot rod rated to accommodate a 12 wt. line is recom¬mended. As for the bluefin tuna, the problem with them is their large size. In this area, they easily reach 80 to 110 pounds. Local outfitters have the appropriate gear to tangle with these behemoths.
Another species you can go for in this area is false albacore. They show up near the coast, usually within 10 to 12 miles of the shore, and sometime even closer, from late April to the first week of June. These fish average 15 to 17 pounds, but they can easily reach more than 30 pounds.
July is the month when drifting for giant-size bluefin tuna pays off. It is not that difficult then to connect with a specimen six feet long and weighing more than 200 pounds. July is also the time to chase dolphinfish averaging 20 to 30 pounds, as this is the time they approach the coast to spawn. In August, the little dolphinfish already measure six to 10 inches, and by mid-September most of them measure upwards of 20 inches. Later on (in October) small schools of 23- to 27-inch dolphinfish, along with some larger ones, are found near floating debris. September through November, but throwing in also December and January, is the time to find schools of bluefin tuna surface feeding. This makes them accessible to fly fishers as well as traditional anglers.
Regarding bluefin tuna, the Adriatic Sea has always been a nursery for this magnificent predator, and the Po Delta area has produced many IGFA records. It is here, as a matter of fact, that specimens weighing more than 800 pounds have been caught. About 30 years ago, the Japanese were flying helicopters here to find surface-feeding bluefin tuna schools, encircling them with huge nets. Their population in the Mediterranean Sea crashed and, consequentially, a European law was set in place in 2008 to preserve this resource. Harvesting is limited, but once the allotted number has been taken catch and release is al¬lowed. This limit was reached as early as July this year. Thanks to the new law, bluefin tuna are making a very strong comeback in the entire Mediterranean Sea.
Anyone interested in fishing the Po Delta will find diverse lodging. Everything from minimalist motels (often
with trattorias, which typically serve lo¬cal specialties) to small furnished apartments to three-bedroom villas are avail¬able. For small groups desiring a more sumptuous stay, there is a romantic 13th-century Gothic-style castle in the area you can rent. It comes with a park and pond. Nearby attractions include Venice, Palladian villas, and a number of charming small cities.
Earlier, I mentioned that some Ital¬ian fly fishermen have become addicted to saltwater fly fishing. One of them is Alberto Galeazzo. He was originally a client of mine. I organized his first Alaska steelhead fly fishing trip in late April 2001. Alberto, who was already quite an accomplished fly fisherman, not only caught nice steelies, but also further refined his skill with tarpon and other large tropical fish. It was in the tropics that he got addicted to saltwater fly fishing. He is my most important collaborator in the area of Italian salt-water fishing. I will be glad to put you in touch with him as part of a trip I put together for you.—Claudio Tagini.
Postscript: As we have mentioned be¬fore, Claudio is an agent for fishing and general interest tours, and we don’t usu¬ally publish reports from agents. Over the years, our decision to break our own rules about this in his case have been vindicated by having never received a complaint about anything he has done for Angling Report subscribers. Clearly, he knows more about Italian fishing than anyone we know, and he combines that with a wide knowledge of Italian history and culture. He can find any level of lodging you are interested in and put together for you a guide to activities, restaurants, and many other things (besides fishing) that will make your mind reel. We would dearly love to get a report on this fishing. If you get in touch with Claudio and book a trip, be sure you file a report. You can get in touch with him at: wetawa2015@gmail. com or [email protected]. Just be aware that he conducts his bookings in the European manner by levying a fee on the customer, not by taking a com¬mission from the service provider.
Now, here is a fishing travel development we would like to get a subscriber report on. It’s the upcoming series of Orvis trips to Cuba (www.orvis.com/s/orvis-hosted-trip-to-cuba/14246). The first trip will have already taken place by the time you read this, and another will be right around the corner, November 13, followed by one on December 3, and then quite a few through April 2017. The fishing venue will not be one of the current glamour spots, such as Jardines de la Reina, but Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, relatively close to Havana.
Ciénaga de Zapata National Park encompasses the Bay of Pigs and the fishing spot is often simply called the Bay of Pigs, though it is far larger than the historically important shallow area where an anti-Castro force stormed ashore some 50 years ago. It is worth noting that the shallowness of the area is important to the upcoming series of fishing trips, just as it was to the invading force a half century ago. The invading force apparently had to disembark (and wade) much farther from shore than planned, making it more vulnerable and giving the Castro forces more time to react. As for the impact of that shallowness on the sportfishing there, until recently, the national park banned the operation of skiffs, directing guides that they had to use poled craft only.
Here at The Angling Report, we fished Bay of Pigs before the motor ban took place. That gave us access to some of the best bonefishing flats in the world in terms of numbers. We called Bay of Pigs back then a marvel of a fishing area, and it was indeed just that. Our report on a summertime trip to Bay of Pigs spoke of hundreds of schools of bonefish pouring through a pass on their way to deeper water as the summer sun heated the water above the comfort level of bonefish. It was such a spectacle that it caused our reporter to just put down his rod and gaze in amazement.
Therein lies our keen interest in the first Orvis trips. It will give us, we hope, our first report in many years on the larger Bay of Pigs fishery. The reduced fishery that has been fished by poled guides has not enjoyed good press for obvious reasons: You can only pole a skiff so far in one direction before you have to start fishing for the day. Too much pressure on too small an area has had its impact on the fishery. And the boring nature of an all-day poled trip has turned off many visiting anglers. How much fun is it, after all, to just sit there for two or more hours before your guide invites you to cast for the first time?
So, our first question about the up¬coming Orvis trips is about the quality of the fishing on tap. We think Orvis clients have a treat in store, and we want to be among the first to trumpet that. We also want to know how the guides are negotiating the shallow part of Bay of Pigs called Las Salinas. That is the area that was closed to motors after we re¬ported on serious propeller scarring in a number of areas after our long-ago trip. We understand careful attention is being paid to this matter, and we are eager to understand what is going on.
The other thing that interests us about the upcoming Orvis trips is the quality of the non-fishing activities that will be included in all of the itineraries. These activities of a cultural nature are obligatory under current American law. Some trips to Cuba by other organizations have included uninteresting activities, but not the Orvis trips. The planned activities include a visit to a classic car restoration garage and a visit to the Hemingway House, where the author’s storied boat, Pilar, is kept carefully housed beneath an outdoor structure. This is the real Pilar, not a replica.
Those two visits are in addition to private musical performances and other more usual activities.
If you are going on one of these Orvis trip, you can weigh in at: [email protected].