Huchen, (Hucho hucho), also known as hucho, Danube salmon, sulec glavatka, mladica
Average: 30-to 35 inches
Trophy: 40-plus inches
IGFA All Tackle Record: 76 pounds 11 ounces, Austria
Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia
– Aggressive strikes
– Difficult to catch
– Found in the most beautiful of places
Huchen is a European taimen species, closely related to the famed Mongolian taimen (H. hucho taimen), and the Japanese taimen (H. perryi). Unlike its anadromous North American cousins, these fish spend their entire lives in freshwater, mostly in the rivers where they were born. Hucho require clean, well-oxygenated water and an ample forage fish base to thrive.
The huchen’s population dwindled in the 20th century due to the construction of dams on European rivers, and loss of habitat, and overharvest. In recent years, huchen populations have started to recover, thanks to the rearing of huchen fry in hatcheries, and protective measures—including limited bag limits and seasonal quotas—implemented by local governments. Stocking programs are in use throughout much of the huchen’s native range with a relatively high success rate. Populations in several Slovenian rivers have rebounded and are now managed under a put-and-take system. Most fly fishers, however, practice catch-and-release.
Huchen are ferocious ambush predators, behaving more like a musky than a salmon or trout. They rest behind boulders and other debris, and at the bottom of pools, waiting for prey to venture within range. They are the apex predator in the rivers they inhabit and feed on anything that fits in their mouths, including trout, grayling, carp, barbell, and even smaller huchen.
The huchen is an extremely difficult fish to catch. Landing a large huchen, known locally as “Defeating the King,” is a significant milestone for Balkan anglers . . . for good reason; these fish seem to have a sixth sense and are notorious for shutting down when anglers are working their pools. Huchen are extremely finicky, only eating under the right conditions, and they are able to go without food for an extended time. To make matters more difficult, huchen fishing is generally open only during winter, from October to February, which means anglers need to be prepared for some cold days on the river. It is said, the nastier the weather the better the bite.
To catch huchen on large rivers, anglers often swing big, weighted streamers down and across and close to bottom. When fishing smaller rivers, anglers get away with 9-to 10-weight single-hand rods matched with shooting heads, sink-tips, and nothing lighter than 16-pound tippet. In these rivers, anglers throw flies in the 3-to 5-inch range. Huchen are often found in deep pools and tailouts. Repetitively covering that type of water is how most of these fish are caught. This is not a numbers game—on a good day, a competent angler might get a few eats.
On larger rivers, big, two-handed rods are most efficient as anglers need to turn over heavy sinking tips while covering as much water as possible. Weighted flies in the 5-to 8-inch range are required. Fish congregate around seams, inflows, waterfalls, rapids, and tailouts. Locating and catching huchen in larger waters can prove difficult, but your efforts could be rewarded with a four-foot-long, 50-pound monster. In our minds, and likely yours too, that’s more than enough incentive to take on a major fly-fishing challenge.
Huchen are endemic to the Danube River Basin. The Danube is Europe’s second-largest river and passes through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea in Romania. Additionally, huchen are found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Poland, and Slovenia. Japan also has populations.
When young, huchen are extremely fast-growing, capable of putting on six inches in length a year for their first five years of existence. They reach sexual maturity at seven years old. From March to April, mature adults migrate upstream into small tributaries seeking shallow gravel beds for spawning. Larger females dig nests, or redds, and lay eggs in them. Attentive males fertilize those eggs. Eggs hatch approximately one month later. Larvae stay protected in the gravel for approximately 10 days while they absorb their yolk sacks. Young huchen feed on insect larva and plankton until they are large enough to prey on small fish. Unlike Pacific salmon, huchen do not die after spawning. Instead, they return to their resident waters post-spawn and bulk up on forage fish.
In large rivers two-handed, 8-to 12-weight rods in the 11-to 14-foot range, matched with 400-to 700-grain Skagit heads are the ticket. Sinking tips are preferred as they make turning over big, 5-to 8-inch long flies more manageable. On smaller rivers 9-foot long single-hand rods, and 10-to 11-foot long switch rods, are ideal for casting in tight spaces. For tippet, 16-to 20-pound fluorocarbon is standard, whether fishing smaller waters or large rivers.