River Dora Baltea (Italy) 


The Dora Baltea springs from the highest mountain of Europe, the Mount Blanc (4810 m.), it runs for 160 km. and then flows into the river Po. In its first part in the Aosta valley it is a typical alpine creek. Before reaching the city of Aosta it becomes wider, yet maintaining the typical alpine river characteristics with stony bottom. After the city of Aosta the river is unfortunately subject to water captions, and sometimes its imponent course is reduced to a brook. After the border with Piedmont the river becomes larger and deeper and host trout and grayling. During the snow and ice melting period (it springs from a glacier), normally between May and September, the Dora Baltes is characterized by high water with waxy colour, therefore during summer there is no good fly fishing here.

I visited for this report the reserve between Mazzé and Villareggia in Piedmont. Here the river is wide and well populated with trouts (brown and rainbow). Big grayling are also present but from my experience, in this stretch at least, they are a bit an exception.

Between March and April - before the phenomenon of the melting snow - mayflies hatches are frequent. Knowing this and being in the mood for some dry fly fishing, on a sunny and warm day of end of March I decided to head there.

As I arrived at the river I started fishing with a weighted nymph pattern, inspecting some riffle currents and walking downstream for a Kilometer or two. Then I came to a part where the river, here about 50 meter wide, was characterized by a long stretch that ran with flat water and uniform current. The strecth was then changing direction 90 degrees, becoming narrower and with fast current.

In the 100 meter before the rapid current, the water was dotted with enlarging rings. Small dark mayflies were drifting on the surface like small dark sailing vessels. I changed immediately my heavy nymph, mounted a tinier leader, chose a pertinent dry imitation and cast.. but nothing, even though numerous trout were in frantic activity. In the picture a Baetis dun that I collected during the hatch.

After several unsuccesfull tries with the dry fly I took time to observe the rings and the way the fish took the insects. They were "nymphing" just under the surface and not bothering the many winged drifting insects. I changed my dry fly with an unweighted small dark nymph. I repeated the upstream cast and let the nymph drift with the current, exactly where I had seen a fish rasing a few seconds earlier, the fish took the nynph at once and after realising the deception jumped out of the water to then try to gain the faster current. It turned out to be a nice rainbow of about 1 kilo.

After a while the fishes became even more selective or warned about my presence. I decided to walk downstream, for I remembered that the lower part of the reserve, close to a small dam, offer usually good opportunities. As I walked by the bank I observed the clear waters and the stony bottom, covered with waterweeds. Big water snails crawled almost everywhere.

The opposite side of the river was grown with trees creating shadow areas, where every now and then I heard some splash of jumping fish. I had alsmost decided to wade and have a closer look to that activity on the other side , when suddendly in front of me, where the water was a bit deeper and emerald green, I saw plenty of rings rippling the water.

There I came across another good hatch of mayflies. It was 2 PM, the sun was shining, the sky completely clear, by examining the surface I found mid sized dark brown nymph and duns drifting.

The rings here looked different then the ones of the previous pool. They were perfectly round and a small bubble of air often lingered in the mid of the ring for a few seconds. The fishes were undoubtly feeding on winged insect. I mounted a matching dry fly and at the first cast I could see the trout rising from the bottom, directly to my imitation. I could observe it in slow motion as she approached and opened the mouth .. strike .. no.. I was too fast and the fish bit only the surface. In spite of the first (half) success and the many fish rising, it was damned difficult now to convince them to take the fly again.

In the pictures the detail of a dun that I collected during the hatch, a genus Rithrogena of the Heptageniidae family, typical of the Dora Baltea in this period of the year. This specimen had problem to get rid of the exuvia and its right wing got damaged, normally an easy prey for the trout.

The hatch went on for a good hour then it started to fade and so did the rising fish, time to move on and explore furhter. In the small picture a nice brown trout caught before dusk. The river hosts also very big trouts, and exemplars upto 5 kilos are sometimes reported.

The reserve is long around 15 Km. UPDATE: The private stretch does not sell day permit anymore since 2010 (this article was issue in 2007). From the Mazzé Dam (not shown in the map above) to the Natta Dam (diga Natta). Downstream the diga Natta fising is allowed only to owners the yearly permit. Outside the private area, from the village of Rondissone till Saluggia, it is also a very good place and only the Italian generic permit is required.