Fly Fishing the (Wild) River Lech

// words and photos by Leonard Schoenberger

We set out to explore the upper reaches of the river Lech in Stanzach, Austria. Here the river is still young and can find its course in a natural riverbed. 

It is hard to find a free flowing river in Western Europe nowadays. Dams and hydropower restrict their course and turn them into man made waterways. The same holds true for the Lech unfortunately, one of the big rivers of the Northern alps region. After 150 miles it drains into the mighty Danube. 

Despite all the damming, the Lech is still home to huge Hucho Hucho (a close relative of the Siberian Taimen), also called Danube salmon. They grow to over 50lbs in this river. 

Further upstream, around the Austrian town of Stanzach, Tirol, the river Lech is still young and no dams hinder its way. 30 miles from its source around the small village of Lech, Vorarlberg, the river meanders beautifully through a wide valley surrounded by peaks reaching almost 10,000 feet. Each year after the spring floods, the river looks a little different and new pools have formed.

river Lech from the air
River Lech near Stanzach, Austria

Exploring the stretch around Stanzach

I had long wanted to fish the beautiful stretch around the small village of Stanzach. But high and murky water from the snow melt high up in the mountains, made fishing impossible until the last week of July. When a dry spell promised good conditions I decided to call my good friend Felix to explore a new fishery. 

Fly fisherman looking into the water
Exploring the river Lech

We got to the river in the morning and instantly liked the colouring of the water. It was only a fraction turbid and promised good fishing. Fishing a new stretch of water is always a little challenging as you don’t have any previous experience to rely on. 

fly fisherman in water
Working a long pool at the river Lech

For the beginning we focused on the bigger pools with strong currents. Our assumption was that it would be easier to hook a fish in the faster water since the mid summer sun was high in the sky already. After a few casts Felix managed to hook a first beautiful wild Lech trout. 

fly fisherman playing a fish
Fishing the river Lech: Landing a wild brown trout
a wild brown trout in the water
A wild brown trout from the river Lech

The fish in the river Lech are wild and wary. Yet, they take a fly if presented correctly, since the season up here in the mountains is short. During the summer months these fish need to feed a lot to be able to survive the cold winters in the Austrian alps. 

fly fisherman casting
Casting to a rising trout while fishing the river Lech

What struck us right away was the vast amount of insects along the river bank. Besides the usual stone and caddis flies that are common in this region, there was a wide variety of butterflies, flying ants, and terrestrials such as grasshoppers. 

Due to this large supply, it wasn’t always easy to pick the pattern that the trout were feeding on. We tried different techniques starting with dries since we saw a few fish rise in shallower parts along a thickly overgrown riverbank. 

fly box with flies
Which fly to pick?

Towards midday the action on the water slowed down a little which wasn’t surprising since the temperatures had risen to about 80°F. Felix and I decided to get rid of the waders and look for a typical Austrian place to have lunch. After a ten minute drive a little further up one of the side valleys, we picked the Gasthof Adler in Hinterhornbach. 

A Proper Austrian Lunch to Recharge the Batteries

We enjoyed a delicious lunch and a cold beer on their terrace facing the impressive peaks of the surrounding mountains. 

Fly fisherman in a river fishing
Fishing a fast stretch near Stanzach, Austria

After a substantial meal, we needed a moment to flip the switch again. Since we couldn’t detect any rises, Felix turned to a nymph setup. I used my neat OPST Micro Spey to fish behind him with a little streamer. 

Fly rod and reel at the river
OPST Micro Spey

Combined with the integrated Micro Spey line, this rod is a great setup for rivers that get a little wider. You can fish it single handed or double handed depending on your personal preferences. This rod doesn’t have any difficulties getting even bigger streamers to where you want them. 

The beat of the village of Stanzach spans over several miles. In the afternoon we fished the stretch towards the lower end. Here, the river meanders through a wide river bed forming deep pools where bigger fish hide.

Fly fisherman on the water
A deep pool on the river Lech

It was harder to find the fish in this area but in the end I managed to seduce a nice brown trout.

A wild brown trout at the river Lech, Austria
A wild brown trout from the river Lech

Since the weather can change quickly up here in the mountains, this trout was to be that last fish of the day. As we still had a little walk back to the car, we decided to call it a day before the nearing thunderstorm would reach us. 

It was a beautiful day in a breathtaking landscape. We are determined to return to this stretch of the river Lech in fall. Many stretches of the river look promising for a beautiful grayling fishery on cold, clear autumn days. 

More information on this stretch of the River Lech here