"Ja, very good," he said. "If it rains, you get your money back. If the river is too swollen, you just come back and we'll give you a refund." That seemed reasonable, and I thanked him and left.
I went home and picked up my wife, who was as excited as I about our expedition into the countryside. Although we had lived in Vienna for three months, we were not prepared for the beauty of the surrounding region. Mountains loomed beside the road, and green pastures were dotted with farmhouses.
We arrived in St. Leopold am Wald the night before my license became valid. Friends had recommended an inn in the center of the village, and I had phoned for reservations. Cowbells sounded as we climbed out of the car, and the chilly air smelled of laurel and summer fields.
We had dinner at the inn's restaurant, which specialized in wild game. A man in lederhosen played an accordion and sang Austrian ballads, and after dinner the innkeeper gave us each a glass of schnapps. We fell asleep under large eiderdown quilts, as a wind from the mountains called to the inn.
The next morning I said goodbye to my wife, who planned to spend the day hiking, and drove past Waidhofen and the villages of Gstadt and Opponitz, until I picked up the Ybbs. I saw no fishermen. Instead I saw farmers riding tractors into their fields and women out early feeding chickens or hanging laundry. In the corner of every field I saw deer blinds, built like small tree houses six or seven feet above the ground. Each blind commanded a clear view of the spruce forests, from which deer emerged and browsed at dawn and sunset.
My license permitted me to fish between G�stling and Lunz am Zee, a section extending about 15 kilometers. I parked midway between the two villages, not too far from a railroad crossing, and worked my way down to the river.
The Ybbs turned out to be about 30 yards wide, fast moving and clear. The water appeared to be five feet deep, not more, although the river was slightly swollen from the spring melt. The water moved too swiftly to make upstream presentation feasible. I tied on a sinking Muddler Minnow, a deer-hair streamer that can be mistaken by a trout for a grasshopper or a sculpin minnow, and began to roll cast.
Back home in Rhode Island, I would have stepped into the water wearing chest-high waders. But here, with boots only ankle high, I had to stand on the bank and roll cast under clumps of maple and linden, and I was not graceful. I snagged a cast on the bushes behind me and rolled one directly into a submerged log. I lost the first Muddler, tied on another, lost that one on a willow sapling by the side of the river and then switched to a Royal Coachman streamer, because the Muddler seemed a bit too willing to take to the trees.
On my third cast with the Coachman I had a strike. It was very tentative, and at first I wasn't sure if I had actually felt a fish on. I let the fly drift through the entire pool, but nothing else happened. I brought in the line and cast again, this time making sure the fly drifted through the swirls at the bottom of the run. As sometimes happens with trout, I could sense the fish was going to hit an instant before it did. The strike was hard and fast. The trout took the streamer and shot off downstream, bent back and jumped. It jumped again before running straight away, back to the swirls. Playing the line by hand, I let the fish run until it weakened. I needed a minute or two to land the trout, a rainbow.
Austrian regulations prohibit taking rainbows before May 1, so I released it. I moved down the bank and cast up and across, again making sure the fly would drift through the swirls. This time the fly was taken before it entered the spirals on either side of the main channel. At the first jump I saw I had a grayling.