I had an appointment with Václav Liska before lunch at Stögrova Huť, on Saturday October 3th 2009. Despite the fact that we have known each other for several years, and he had published my first book (Stillwater Fishing Basic), this was the first time that we arranged to go fishing together. Václav brought the last proof-reading of the latest Czech-English book on flies (Secret Flies of the Czech and Slovak Fly-Tiers) with which I helped him to prepare for today’s adventures. It was a sunny and very windy day, and the water in the Vltava was very low. We parked our cars near the Soumarský Bridge and walked upstream. Václav chose to start out with a nymph on a French leader, while I would be fishing with a dry fly.
After a kilometer of strenuous hiking through the dense forest, we split-up and went our own separate ways. Václav entered the river and slowly worked his way upstream, while I walked further upstream to a location where larger graylings can usually be found. In this special place, the river flows from the wetland through the forest and eventually returns back into the wetland couple of meters below this location. The surface was void of any surface activity or rises, so I shortened my flat leader, which would eventually prove to be too short for these conditions. The shorter leader did however make casting between the limbs of the trees and shrubs far less complicated. I wanted to try some new CDC dry flies that I had received from Slavoj Svoboda. The five patterns were tied without hackles and had the CDC wings tied onto the sides of the body, which formed a broad V-shape on the tiny, size no. 16 hooks.
For the final portion of my leader, I used Stroft nylon tippet material that was 0.10 mm in diameter. I constantly degreased the tippet with Fuller’s Earth so the nylon that was nearest to the fly would instantly break through the water’s surface and sink, rather than floating upon the surface, and thus, spooking the graylings. I placed a couple of casts into the places where I would typically expect to find the larger graylings, but there were no takers. I spotted a log that was lying half submerged in the water near the opposite bank of the river. I made a cast and watched as my flat leader and fly flew effortlessly through the air and fell gently upon the water’s surface, with the fly landing on the water just a split-second before the leader. The first drift was fruitless, but the second presentation raised a fish that took my fly with great enthusiasm! I struck and successfully set the hook. After a short, but hard fought battle, a 35 cm female grayling came to my hand. I was pleased by the fact that it had been attracted to this rather large dry fly.
There was very little surface action, so I decided to move a bit further upstream. Under an old birch tree I saw a fish that was rising in the shallow water. I tried Slavoj´s grey fly, but it failed to raise the curiosity of the fish. I cycled through my flies until I finally found a fly that appealed to the grayling. A grayling rose and took the fly, but it was not the monster grayling which I had been hoping to encounter. Although this fish was fairly large for a grayling, it was roughly 15 centimeters shy of my largest recorded fish for the Warm Vltava, which I had caught nearly twenty years ago. As I worked my way towards the confluence of two pools I caught another grayling of similar size and beauty. I walked thirty meters further upstream and caught another fish with the same fly.
As the day wore on, there was no sign of rising graylings, even though there was a constant stream of large, light upwinged flies that were floating on the water’s surface as they deposited their eggs into the water. I tied on a pattern that looked quite similar to the natural insects, with a thick parachute hackle. I began fishing blindly, casting into the locations that offered the highest probability of holding fish. I cast into a fairly shallow stretch of water that looked very promising, when all of the sudden, a large grayling broke through the water’s surface to take the fly. I marveled at the sight of this beautiful fish taking my fly, as I instinctively set the hook! It used the power stream’s current to its advantage during the battle, which only served to prolong the struggle. The fish swam about, zigzagging within the currents as its large dorsal fin waved and flexed alongside its body. When it finally came to my hand, I estimated the fish to be just an inch shy of the 40 cm mark, as I prepared to release it back.
I gradually worked my way back to the place where I left Václav, who was now fishing with a dry fly, and just about to release a nice grayling when I approached his location. He told me that he hadn’t been very successful while fishing with nymphs today, so after two hours he switched to the classic style of dry fly fishing. I moved past him and caught several small grayling along the way, before I spotted a small ring on the surface of a long, narrow pool. I was aware that the smaller fish are far less likely to hold in this sort of water, so my hopes were high. After covering the water with several casts, I only managed to entice a few half-hearted rises for my fly. I thought that perhaps twenty meters below this fish there might possibly be another grayling, so I focused my efforts on that stretch of the river, and sent one of the Slavoj´s novelties into that general vicinity. A forty-centimeter long female grayling took the Light Gray Dun on the very first cast, and made several hard runs before it finally surrendered and came to my hand. After releasing the fish, we made our way further downstream. Václav, being my guest for the day, was given the honour of leading the way, as I followed closely behind him.
The right riverbank was reinforced by the walls of an old stony dam. I often wonder about the individuals that built these ancient structures that time seems to have forgotten, and how the hardships that they must have encountered. Under an alder tree that grew next to the dam, I hooked a magnificent grayling that was hiding amongst the shadows that were cast by its branches. I quickly landed and admired the fish as it sat momentarily in the current before making a mad dash back into the shadows. Gradually, the sight of the larger fish rising became fewer and farther in between, until the smaller fish seemed to be the only willing participants. I continued working the water with great confidence, as I knew this stretch of the river very well. Near the head of the deep pool I managed to persuade yet another large grayling to take my fly.
We left the comfort of the river and arrived back at the Soumarský Bridge just slightly before 5:00pm. This had truly been a special day for me personally, as the vast majority of the fish I caught for fairly large dry flies, which is rarely the case while fishing on the Warm Vltava. While packing our gear into the cars, we discussed the day’s fishing, and both agreed that it had been very productive and most enjoyable in spite of the windy conditions.
The next morning I spent my time by repairing a fried power box in the electrical circuit, and replaced some of my roof tiles in preparation for the upcoming winter months. I also pruned the branches of a peach tree that grows on the south side of the house. I started harvesting the plums, which would eventually be put into the barrel and distilled over the winter months to create a delicious, plum brandy. After my chores were done, I was absolutely famished, so I decided to treat myself to a fine meal at the pub “Grobián” in the nearby village of Lenora, where they are famous for the excellent delicacies that they prepare from venison.
I left the Restaurant at about 1:30pm – full and very satisfied, as I still had a few hours left in the day to dedicate to my fishing. At the barn in Dobrá there was a dark green Volkswagen Transporter van parked in the usual parking area, so I drove a kilometer further down the road and parked near the forest. I quickly unpacked my gear and set out across the meadow and down towards the river. In the grass I spotted the occasional, brown-black hairy caterpillar. Where once there were once millions of them – now only a few remained. I considered that perhaps they were entering their pupal stage - in preparation for the oncoming winter, which seemed unimaginable as this part of the country has been experiencing summer-like weather conditions, and record-breaking, unseasonably high temperatures.
I made my way to one of my favourite testing areas on the river, armed with the dry fly gear. When I arrived at the spot, I noticed that another fly fisher was already working the water with his hand and rod stretched forward. I walked across the meadow and headed immediately to a different location where I expected to find two larger fish rising, both of which I failed to hook when I last fished this spot, back in August. My feeling was right. As I had predicted, they were in the exact same locations and as my luck would have it… they were both actively feeding!
Upon a closer examination, I didn’t observe any insects actively moving about in the water or hovering above the river banks. I considered my options, tied on a Newborn Olive, size no. 20, and cast it toward the nearest grayling. After several drifts the fish rose and took my fly but shook quickly shook free of the hook, as its needle-sharp point had failed to penetrate the flesh surrounding its mouth. After several more failed attempts I repositioned and began targeting the second grayling. I cast my fly to its location, and struck without success, as it rose on to take my fly. Several minutes later the first grayling began rising again, but neither of these fish would accept my offerings. It almost seemed as though these fish were taunting and teasing me. I tried changing my patterns and tactics for about another hour. The fish continued to rise, and although I struck several times, I was still unsuccessful in spite of giving it my best effort. I think that at some point in our angling careers we have all experienced a similar lesson in frustration, while a less patient (and perhaps wiser) fly fisher would simply choose to move along and forget about those fish.
For the remainder of the day there were very few rising fish to be found, which I would have likely missed anyways, as I was specifically targeting the older and much wiser fish. As I waded through water I had absolutely no idea as to which pattern I should use. I spotted a large upwinged fly, that was the same as the ones that we saw yesterday while fishing upstream of the Soumarský Bridge. Armed with this new revelation, I confidently tied on a Light Para Blue Dun in size 16, and began covering the water, even though there were no obvious rising grayling… not even a single dace. Despite this I kept on fishing, keeping a watchful eye for any sign of an actively rising fish. I slowly worked my way to the outflow of a pool and cast my fly into very shallow water at the edge of the pool. I watched the water with one eye while the other remained focused on my fly and how it was skating across the water’s surface.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something move in the shallow water. I instinctively lifted the rod. The resulting tap that was transmitted through the tip of my fly rod instantly woke me up. The fish held its ground, but started moving as soon as it felt the weight and pressure of the fly rod. I couldn’t believe my eyes, as I realized that something quite exceptional had just happened. The fish was quite heavy and stayed on the bottom, as it refused to reveal itself. There was little doubt that this was indeed a much older and mature grayling! However, the more pressing question was: just exactly how big is this fish? I lead the fish, as it ran upstream and into the comfort of the deeper water of the pool. Several times the surface of the river literally exploded, as the grayling leapt clear out of the water.
The grayling arched its back as it jumped, but straightened its body and thrashed its tail harshly against the water’s surface. Fortunately the hook was firmly fixed into the grayling’s mouth, as the tight line led the fish, against its will, beneath the tip of my fly rod. Unwilling to surrender, the grayling gave one final run, as it tried to return to escape into deep water. It eventually tired from the struggle and laid on its side with its mouth fully opened, gasping for oxygen. It was difficult to estimate the exact size of this fish, and I regretted that I hadn’t brought a tape measurer. The fish was well over the dreamy 40 cm, so I took couple of photos before I gently released the fish…
After this weekend the prolonged Indian Summer of 2009 came to an abrupt end, as masses of arctic air moved to Central Europe and caused a calamity on Northern Bohemia and Moravia. In places there were meter high snowdrifts, which were very abnormal for this time of the year and unprecedented. The cold air also hit Southern Bohemia, but fortunately without any significant accumulations of snow.
I was at my weekend cottage for only five minutes, when Vladimir called me from the transformer in Dobrá, to inform me that they were there and wanted to know if they could stay overnight with me. This was good news, because I had already been planning to stay overnight and had plenty of heat in the furnace to keep us all warm and cozy.
Even though the four of us struggling with the cold water, I felt that I had enough time, because I had planned to be on the water by around one o´clock. I spend the entire morning considering my options and where to go. A check-in call before lunch confirmed my suspicions. The river was high and the fish would likely not be taking flies very well, only the smaller graylings would take the nymphs. I looked out through the window and into the heavy snowfall, which looked very uninviting, so I settled back into my chair to read my newspapers by the warmth of the furnace. I pondered what I should do and decided to go somewhere that where there was little water, which hopefully I would find near Lenora, just downstream from the confluence with the Grass Vltava.
In the confluence pool behind the football pitch I had no takers, so I worked the upstream end of the pool near the bridge with small nymphs on the French leader and was rewarded with a single grayling, which corresponded to today´s prognosis. Somewhere in these waters there should be something much larger, I thought. Just then I had a hit, and brought in a beautiful, two-year-old grayling. Suddenly, I saw a small ring on the surface, just before a large rock that laid in the water near the right bank. After several casts my line suddenly straightened and began to peel off of my reel. It was a large male grayling that appeared to be just slightly less than forty centimeters in length. The fish took my beige goldhead nymph that had a brown collar and was tied on the golden Gammarus hook size 14. Water was very cold and therefore the fish was quite lethargic and as a result, it came to my hand rather quickly.
From under the foot bridge I caught five smaller fish, and then decided to walk a little further downstream. In a shallow stretch of the river, right under the bridge, I caught another grayling and hooked another only second later, near the right bank. Quite to my surprise, I caught two nice brownies and had a third one break my line just as I struck to set the hook. I fished the entire pool and hooked several other graylings and brownies. All of the fish were taking the same beige nymph, while I caught another fish with a bloody goldhead nymph. In a faster part of the stream near the island I took three more graylings that were around thirty centimeters in length. For about the next 300 meters or river there was absolutely nothing happening.
When I reached another shallow stretch of river, it fished quite well, as the grayling and trout were rising quite regularily. I went to the beginning of the long pool, upstream from the covered foot bridge, where I was certain that I would find something much bigger in its waters. I removed the Bloody Nymph and tied on a winter Czech Nymph, which was tied with purple and orange coloured materials, on a size 14 hook. I cast toward the opposite bank, into the deeper water, and started to raise the tip of my fly rod. The spiral indicator suddenly stretched! I struck instantaneously, and felt the force of a rather large grayling shaking its head and tugging on my fly line. Because water was so cold the fish gave very little resistance and came to my hand quite quickly. I was quite disappointed with the battle (or lack thereof), as I freed the grayling, which swam very slowly back toward the shelter of the deep pool. Twenty meters under this place, and after a few more casts, I caught another grayling, but this one was quite a bit smaller and a year younger than my last fish. The fishing slowed down significantly as my time on the water was coming near an end, so I packed up my gear and started my journey back to the warmth and comfort of my cottage.
Back at the cottage there was heat coming from the fire, which was blazing within the furnace. Pedro along with Kaďas and Jája stood silently in front of the house, smoking their cigarettes. This was a good day for me, as I had somehow managed to be in the right place at the right time, which is critical at times when the larger graylings are rising. Jaromir told me of success and the two, forty-centimeter long graylings that he had caught with a dry fly. The other two gentlemen stood in total silence as they listened to his stories. It was rather obvious by the look on their faces that they envied his angling success, as they had not been quite so lucky. After hearing of their results over an entire day of fishing, I was quite satisfied with my own results, as I had been fishing with a nymph for only half the amount of time, and I still managed to catch those two of the larger grayling. After dinner and we sat down to sample and enjoy a fine bottle of nut brandy that we won during the springtime in Weiswampach, while we were at the Grand Prix Luxembourg. The brandy was very smooth and went down rather effortlessly, for when I awoke in the morning the bottle was empty.
As the morning passed, we laughed and joked about the events of the previous evening, but eventually our time together had to come to an end. Pedro was the first to leave, as he had to meet with his family in Zlatá Koruna. Kaďas departed for Lipno Lake shortly afterwards. Before he left the cottage, Šeďa (Vladimir) cleaned-up and washed the dishes, which is one of the many qualities that we all love him for. He and Jája were making their way to Vyšší Brod to the Vltava, where they had some unsettled business with some very large rainbows, but were unsure if Lipno´s friend would indeed be there.
The weather was cloudy and very unkind, so I was waiting until the afternoon before heading out. I was once again faced with the dilemma of where to go fishing today. Around lunch time the sun began shining and after an hour or so the snow was gone. I drove not far downstream from Dobrá, and before I reached the water around two o’clock in the afternoon. The river was still high and rising, due to the inflowing waters that resulted from the melting snow. Over the next two hours I caught seven smaller grayling and one dace on nymphs. Spending the rest of the day in this icy-cold water just didn’t seem to make any sense.
I set out on the way back, which coincidently brought me to the place where there used to be a building that was inhabited by expatriated Germans after the Second World War. Today this building can barely been seen due to a high wall of nettles and absinthes that consumed and concealed its foundations. Not only had I driven by this area numerous times without noticing it, but today I noticed an old apple tree, that was still producing some very large apples. I plucked one of the apples from a lower branch and I bit into it. The apple was surprisingly good - even if a bit sour. I instantly got the idea that I could save this apple for the future. I must get there for grafts in the winter and transfer it onto the prepared barren trees in Stögrova Huť. I also thought there might be more of these trees in the surrounding area, which could provide me with an activity for my retirement, which I will be preparing for in January.