Corsica Flyfishing for wild brown trout in a forgotten gem of mountains and rivers
An email arrived with a tempting invitation; would you like to visit Corsica and write about the walking and adventure sports that the island has to offer? I thought long and hard for about 5 seconds and then said Yes please.
Within a few seconds I was ranging through the search
returns on Google and trying to discover what Corsica was all about.
My knowledge was a little limited and I could only recall that Napoleon
Bonaparte was a son of Corsica and the GR20, one of the worlds toughest
mountain walks, ran across the Corsican peaks. I also knew that Corsica
had some great rivers.
The information from the Internet started to give a picture of a beautiful island with a culture that encompassed colonial France and patriotic Corse to create a unique breed of people. The desire for independence from France is still much in the thoughts of the Corsican people and the central region where we stayed was a very Corsican place to visit. Graffiti calling for independence from France adorned many walls
Our destination was Corte, the capital of old Corsica, and our hotel was in one of the most spectacular locations in Europe. Home for the week was to be Le Refuge Hotel in the Gorges de la Restonica. The hotel is perched between the narrow road and the raging Torrente Restonica, which pushes several thousand gallons a minute down the granite bed of the gorge. Great food is the order of the day at Le Refuge and we could see the pounds pile on after the first meal.
Although the main part of the trip was to focus on the walking activities and mountain sports there was no way on earth that I would arrive in Corsica without my travel outfit. The images of rivers on the few websites that I found were too tempting to ignore so even if I could only manage a few hours fishing it would be the best fishing ever! Things did not quite turn out that way.
Sometimes it is only when sipping a glass at home do you get a true picture of what was good, bad and indifferent about your fishing exploits. I am still going over the Corsica experience and probably will do so for years to come or until I can get back there and apply the lessons learnt on this trip.
Arriving at a new destination with a complete absence of local knowledge can be challenging. Even finding the fishing shop in Corte took three days!
We saw lots of dry riverbeds even in May before the summer heat kicks in. Spate rivers make up the majority of river forms and they tend to be highly seasonal. The waters tumbling down the Restonica could be seen to be falling through the week we were there in spite of late snow on the peaks. Sadly there are no fish in the Restonica; it would have been wonderful if there had been any.
No fish - No problem, I checked my list of possible venues and found that there were three rivers that were noted on the French websites The Tavignano was first up and it was not too far from Corte. The roads on the island all follow riverbeds so doing a visual inspection is quite easy. The Tavignano is a gem of a river with several Genoese arched bridges still in use as the road follows the river from Corte to the coast at Aleria.
We travelled the whole length of the river and spotted
a couple of likely places to wet a line later in the day. Lunch was
from a boulangerie in Ghisonaccia on the busy N198, which runs along
the eastern coastline.
My partner laid out the sunbathing gear and settled to
watch my efforts. A quiet walk along the 80 yards or so of easy bank
fishing gave me some concerns. Once again there was no visual sighting
of any fish. The river was in great condition and crystal clear until
it fell away into the depths of the main pool.
I put my travel rod together and selected a small, black dry to try and mimic the local flies that could be seen here and there in the margins of the river. My first few nervous casts were clumsy but I have done worse and still caught fish. The result was nil. Over the next 90 minutes I went through my full repertoire of emergers, dries, nymphs and lures to no effect. The river seemed to be empty. I could not see anything apart from water.
It had been stated on one of the websites about outdoor activities on Corsica that although the rivers were in great condition there was a huge amount of illegal poaching. We cant back this up but this was not the first blank to arouse some suspicions about where the fish had gone. In spite of a poor start we had received a taste of what Corsica could offer and the next destinations promised something better.
The Gravona, Prunelli rivers and Lac de Tolla
From Vizzavona the road tracks down towards the Gravona
Valley and the coast.
At one point I was able to walk as stealthily as I could
for about half a mile along the river. Passing by some good pools and
shallow riffles as well as past huge granite boulders in midstream.
I returned to the car in a state of serious disappointment. It seemed inconceivable that such a beautiful river could be so devoid of fish. Yet we had looked with care at four different sections and seen nothing. I was all for giving up and returning to Vizzavona to do some walking and cover some of the other aspects of our visit. My partner would hear none of it and insisted we continue and drive up the N196 then onto the D3 and up the Prunelli valley to Lac de Tolla.
Lac de Tolla
We sit on the balcony of the only bar in town and examine
our choices. The drive back is about 3 hours and we have arranged to
meet some friends for dinner. It is red hot and the fishing is likely
to be as bad as the rivers. Take some pictures and then turn for Corte
seems to be the best bet. As we get ready to go a car arrives and two
smiling Corsican fishermen get out. A decent Pike in lovely condition
is brought from the boot of the car and ourselves, the barman and a
few others gather to congratulate the fishers skill. This is big
news in a place as small as Tolla!
That statement made up my mind, Liz would stay and read
her book and I would just manage to get about 90 minutes of fishing.
My Greys waistcoat, travel rod and a small folding net are gathered
from the boot and off we go again. After the lack of fish in the rivers
I did not really expect to see a thing apart from water. Mistake. I
stood close to edge of the water at a small bay. A watersport centre
was starting to prepare canoes and kayaks for the coming season. In
the margins I could see several deep-bodied Brown Trout cruising in
the deep, weed free water.
As I looked for a suitable spot to start my campaign a
little black dog joined me. He seemed to grasp what I was about and
would not go away. As I got ready for my first cast he was watching
where the line went and had seen all this before. He examined my technique
without comment but got slightly agitated with every new cast, settling
down as the line was retrieved. It was good to have a companion to help
After a dozen casts the line tightened and a minor fight
ensued which brought me a tiny brownie that although heavily outgunned
still fought to break my rod. The dog went berserk and barked like mad
until I had the fish in the net. I should have taken a picture, as this
was my first brown trout and my first fish on Corsica. I had aspirations
of the bigger specimens that still cruised past every 10 minutes or
so. The little brownie was carefully returned to fight another day.
And that was it, not a sniff of anything else. I tried the buzzer variations
and then started to go through the menu changing positions
and tactics every 20 minutes or so, my small, black companion always
As I tackled down the fishing dog realised that the days entertainment was over and scooted away up a path toward the village. I trekked back and told my tale before throwing all the gear in the boot and starting the return journey.
Lac du Tolla held much promise and a visit of only a couple of hours is not enough to even scratch the surface. The lake is wide, long and deep and is holding some fine fish. This is where a return trip to Corsica started to be planned!
Casting a nymph in the Last Chance Saloon
There lies another tale. In the run up to the trip I had built up a small selection of wet flies, nymphs and bugs to make my fishing a complete success. Sadly that particular box of flies was still sitting on a corner of my desk while what I had in my vest pocket was my all-purpose UK, Stillwater fly collection. I cannot blame my lack of success on this one fact but it was one of those stupid mistakes that will always be remembered with deep anguish stupid sod that I am.
Liz agreed to me having a casting session if we could find a place to fish. Otherwise we would continue to the west and enjoy a day at the beach. I would find a place to fish this river if I had to Dynamite a path myself. I did not need to worry; someone had already done that for me.
About three kilometres away from Ponte Nouvo the new road winds its way along the gorge, just before the road starts to climb is a small mustard coloured hotel and a hundred metres further is the remains of a small access road that was constructed to aid the new road building. We parked here and the pathway led to a flat section of riverbank about 300 metres long. This section of bank had been supported with huge lumps of rock to stop the river undercutting the new road.
The water was clear and flowed steadily into the curve
of the bank. Liz and I watched a dozen fish of all sizes rise to take
at the surface and just below it too.
Game on! An hour was my allowance so I carefully put my
thoughts to the problem of getting my first Brown Trout from a river.
Floating line, floating braided leader, nine feet of Fluorcarbon and
my best guess at what these fish would find interesting. My error with
the fly boxes left me with very little choice. I had a couple of wets
and the best one to me, not that I eat them myself, was a gold beaded
nymph. My only though being that it was a big one.
My first cast went right across the flow of the river, good cast but too far. The fly sparkled in the water and I tried to judge the depth. The water is so clear that it could be three feet or thirty!
I started to reduce the amount of line and then stopped
for a while to study the river and the fish. A large brownie had taken
station at the shoulder of a huge, submerged boulder. An even larger
head kept appearing from the furthest side of the boulder and I decided
to try for one of them. The line went out a couple of times before I
realised that I should reduce the leader. In it came again and I took
off three feet and replaced the gold beaded what-not.
This time the line went out perfectly. The current brought it in line with the far shoulder of the rock and I watched as both fish sighted the bright sparkle of the fly coming towards them.
The smaller fish was higher in the water and came forward to the fly. The larger fish showed more of himself and then turned away never to be seen again. The smaller of the two fishes took his chance and turned to the fly and then quickly turned away to take station again in the current.
That was the end of the fishing. Time had almost run out and in spite of changing the fly a couple of times there was no interest from the fish.
Wrong menu, spooked fish or whatever, it was time to pack up and consider a return match in the spring of 2006, late April seems about right.
We drove to the beach, a tiny place called Aghione, which we found by accident down a sidetrack. A small beach café served a great meal and we looked out across a bay that was several miles wide with only thirty other people for company. Elba was visible in the veil of the heat mist and I wondered if Napoleon could have seen his home from his exile there.
Corsican Fishing Dog!
A visitors fishing ticket is available but we could not find out where one could be purchased so we fished anyway.
Our visits to the various rivers did not exhaust the islands potential by any stretch of the imagination. there are dozens of other rivers that could produce some great fishing. The coastline is also another area that is largely uninhabited and undeveloped. You could spend months exploring Corsica and still not see everything.
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