Italy may be known for olive oil and pasta, for Chianti wine and Michelangelo and the Roman Coliseum, for Florence and Venice and the Renaissance- but not so much for trout rising to the dry fly.  By chance or Providence, while fishing through the web I was surprised to stumble upon a site describing the latter in glowing terms.  Pretty much everyone has heard of the River Tiber that flows its murky way through the city of Rome, where it is said that the gladiators were tossed after losing their fights in the bloody Coliseum, a river that has seen a good deal more human history than the Henry’s Fork or the Madison.  But few would think of that river as a trout stream, and rightfully so.  But far up that river at its source in beautiful Tuscany, a pioneer by the name of Luca Castellani has converted that clear tailwater into a world class fishery.

I wasted no time in contacting the gracious and forthcoming Luca, who is the prime fly fishing guide on the River Tiber, or Fiume Tevere in Italian.  He responded by describing the fly fishing in the Tevere, and the nearby Nera as very good, and September would be a fine time to come. We arrived in Florence on September first.

After a delightful visit to the great masters Michelangelo and Botticelli and Caravaggio in Florence’s Uffizi and Academia museums, we motored down to the lovely village of San Sepulcro in the green and mountainous Tuscany region.  San Sepulcro is an ancient town that by legend was founded in the Middle Ages by pilgrims who had brought a stone from Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre Church, and famous for the Renaissance frescoes of Piero della Francesca, who was born and died there.  But there were no trout in the nearby Tevere in his days, or he might have included them in his frescoes.

The trout were the brainchild of Luca and his friends some nine years ago, who are also part of an elite Italian bamboo fly rod association that meets annually in San Sepulcro, at the charming PodereViolino guest house.  This is a country inn that was a former farm dating back to the 11th century, and would be the accommodation for our stay.  For my wife there was the horse ranch with riding, and a splendid swimming pool on the premises, weather permitting. We arrived in the afternoon, and I would catch the evening fishing on the Tevere, a mere mile away.

Luca, who would meet us at the inn in the morning, had directed me by mail to a fine stretch of the river, which I found after a bumpy drive along a pocked dirt road.  The broad and long pool beneath a cascading low dam framed on both banks by thick forest, was perfect fly water. And a few dimpling rises blessed its surface. On my second cast a nice brown trout rose to my parachute Adams and came to net, then gently released.  After just one more I knew this was slated to be a good trip, and returned to my waiting wife.

Luca showed up at nine in the morning, a big man with a warm Italian smile. We had planned to fish the Nera, but Luca informed me that unfortunately work was being done on the dam, and the water was now high and unfishable.  I was disappointed, as the Nera contains some large trout, but Luca assured me that the Tevere would not disappoint.  We climbed into his van and headed to the river.

Luca brought me to a beautiful deep run of slowly flowing and very clear water, where trout were dimpling the surface.  My guide informed me that wild brown trout had all been brought here from the Nera nine years earlier, and had now become self-sustaining in the Tivere, dwelling together with the native grayling (though I saw none of these Ladies of the River during our stay).  Using a frail 7x tippet (which Luca said is an absolute must- if not lighter), I cast the CDC that my guide had tied on into the rises until, at the slightly faster water above the deep pool, a trout rose to it and I landed a beautifully-colored brown of about thirteen inches.  Luca exclaimed, “Bravo!” and, after the release, stuck the fly in my hat as a souvenir.

“I do not understand it,” said the guide, whom I now christened Lucky Luca, “normally there are fish rising all over this run.”  Being strictly catch-and-release, there is a very good stock of fish in the river, some running very large, which I would see later.  We climbed into the van and headed to another spot.

Here was a narrower stretch and faster water.  At the skillful lead of Luca, I made a tricky cast into some fast water above a tangle of bushes.  The fly floated into an eddy and a big brown leapt from the water and engulfed it, beginning a furious battle.  I managed to guide the trout down from the bushy lair, and held him as strongly as I dare from diving into the streamside foliage, Luca making a video of the action.  Everything held and the hefty brown came to net.  “Bravo!” said the guide, and filmed the victory.  I released the perfect and well-colored seventeen-inch trout.

At yet another run Luca tied on his “Fish Counter”- something like a big chartreuse Chernobyl ant, a foam body without any hackle or legs, perhaps the ugliest fly I had ever seen.  I looked at him and hesitated at this ugly rendition. “We’re after the monsters,” said the expert, “not the little ones.”  I cast it out and, to my surprise, fish took it greedily.  But not the monsters.

Then Luca told me about a monster called “Pisa”, a name given due to the trout’s tendency to sit leaning to one side, like the famed Leaning Tower.  We went to try and find the prize, which with any luck would be in a large plunge pool upriver, nested against the bottom of a high wall.

We very quietly approached the pool and Luca gazed down from that wall, making the gesture to remain silent, pointing down to where the fish lay.  I looked over the wall and saw the big brown trout that he said ran twenty-three inches, but I would have given it twenty-six.   Then Luca, visibly excited, gestured for me to climb down below the wall to where I could reach the fish with a long cast.  He stood as spotter up on the wall, pointing down to where the fish lay, and I worked out line to the estimated distance and cast.  The big caddis fly lighted next to the wall and began to drift, and I saw a snout come up and a big mouth open, but could not really see the fly at that distance. I lifted and the fly came back at me, settling sadly on the water. Luca shrugged. Pisa was gone.

There were other trout caught in that pool, but nothing grand.  So we moved on to some prime water upstream.  We waded into a long slow run and Luca again exclaimed that normally fish were rising all over here, but today very few.  There were two good fish feeding along some brush at the far edge of the run, and the guide slowed me down to wade more quietly and carefully in the slick run.  Here Luca tied on an 8x tippet- not exactly a fortress of strength- and a super-fineness that I had never before attempted.  With some remarkably accurate casting, after several tries, I managed to drop the dry fly above each of the rising fish, who were stationed well within boundaries of overhanging brush.  After changing flies several times- both larger and smaller- I did manage to get both to rise, and missed both of them. Luca shrugged and said I probably would have broken them both off anyway.  So it goes.

But I had no complaints whatsoever. I had even had a shot at Pisa the Grand.  There was plenty enough action, even on what Luca called a bad day, perhaps due to the fact that cold water had apparently been released from the dam into the river, dropping the temps.  And there was a good pasta dinner waiting at the inn’s restaurant, with my pretty wife.  I would call it a quality day with a fine guide on a very high quality water in the unlikely and outlandish thought of trout fishing in Italy.