Author: Karel Krivanec

2011-in-praise-of-quils-01_tI opened this year’s fly-fishing season on the Warm Vltava River on June 6 when I went there for a trip with participants of  the 2010 Czech Nymphing Masterclass. We had beautiful Spring weather and clear skies with only a small cloud from time to time. The water level was elevated prospects for very good fishing. Rob and I went to my beat located a short distance from Dobrá village; However, although we caught several fish, the catch was by no means as good the previous year.

After about an hour trying various methods we decided to climb the right side of the river and to move to another goodsection of river that flows through Schulze’s meadow. The bank is relatively high and descends steeply into the water. I cast nymphs from time to time as I moved along the bank, but I could not catch anything. So, I reverted to my tried and tested Summer rig with a small goldhead black nymph on the point and a small beige Czech nymph on the dropper. Suddenly it seemed to me that a small circle had appeared on the water surface at a very good place, only a short way from the river bank. I could not swear on it but I stopped and observed the water attentively. I sat down on the bank and thought whether I should change to dry fly. But it was still long before noon, and so it seemed too soon to me. The biggest grayling stay in those places and I did not want to alarm my possible catch. I waited for another rising, but nothing happened.

After approximately five minutes, I could not wait any more and lowered my nymphs into places where the small circle had probably been. The small point nymph was on a nylon with an average of 0.10 mm and the small Bobesh had the “tie” only two hundredths stronger nylon. I held the spiral strike indicator in chartreuse colour closely above the water surface and waiting what would happen.

2011-in-praise-of-quils-02It probably only seemed to me, I thought and cast the line again and brought my nymphs just to the steep and stony bank. The indicator hovered above the water motionlessly and I rose the rod tip only a bit and then struck blind. And it did not go. My size 3 Sage XP rod bent and its tip pointed into the stream. Nothing happened for a while, and so I pressed a little harder on the rod. Double wiggle was the response, and then the completely stretched indicator started moving slowly upstream. It is there!

The fish kept track of the bank for a while more and then it started moving through the strong stream across the river. I had to loosen the fly line to it, because even increased pressure on the rod did not force it to rise from the river bed. I was very tense and waited for the grayling to emerge near the surface. For a long time it did not emerge, but then the purple fish emerged several times below the surface and I saw the huge dark red dorsal fin of an old Vltava cock.

That alone could have been enough for me to be happy because it was obviously a very extraordinary fish. But I wished very strongly that it stayed for a while more on my barbless hook. Therefore I called Rob who observed everything from a distance, and after several tries I finally pulled my camera from my vest pocket. The Dutchman had my old Olympus in his hands for the first time and it was not easy for him to understand my instructions quickly because its mechanism has its bugs already. Rob took some snaps quickly and then waited for me to pull the fish out from the water.

I had to observe both my catch and the photographer, but I managed it. Finally I pulled the tired grayling to the bank and tried to grasp it with my free left hand because I have not been taking the fishing net to water for a long time. I did not succeed for a while, and then the hook of the dropper nymph cut into my finger and the fish nearly came off the fine end nylon. So I pressed the grip of the rod in my armpit, pulled the hook out of my finger with my freed right hand and then lifted the grayling above the surface with my both hands.

2011-in-praise-of-quils-03But my feet slipped and I slid into the water almost up to my waist, but I did not let the fish go any more. Using my rod as a guide, I estimated that it was 43 cm longand returned the fish to the water. Rob took several photoss and  told me that he had not seen such a big grayling in his life. I was happy to believe him.

With only a month remaining to the end of Summer, I mowed the grass at my cottage at Stögrova Huťand thenspent the afternoon mushrooming in the woods under the Jedlová (Fir) Mountain, but without much success. I almost got stuck there when the foresters locked the barriers forcing me to undertake a difficult alternate track out that was normally only used by tractors. I had to drive ”by feel” while the bottom of my Ford scraped the high points in the middle of the path. I fully expected to get stuck or to puncture the oil sump, but emerged safely.

Delighted to have completed the day’s “rally” my mind turned to trout. I’d almost forgotten how good a brownie could taste, so  I set out to Lenora to catch one. It was shortly before seven p.m. when I stopped at the confluence of the Teplá Vltava and the Grassy Vltava rivers. The sun was still above the hills and a balmy evening was on the cards. The plan was simple. I would first test the fish with nymphs and, when the evening rise started, I would change to dries.

At the confluence pool I was surprised to find a new notice announcing that no fishing was allowed there. Somebody had managed to get the authorities to ban Summer fishing in for a kilometre above the confluence, including a third of the beautiful pool. I did not like the restriction too much but I did catch some small and medium grayling there nevertheless.

2011-in-praise-of-quils-04I had pinned far more hopes on the pool below the small bridge; the trout were nowhere to be seen at the time and II only caught some small grayling and dace there. Wating for my time to come I moved downstream. The sun had already set, but, since visibility was still very good, I stuck to my nymphing tactics, catching the odd small trout or medium-sized  grayling.

I was some 800 meters under the confluence, having passed the point where the river bounces from the rocky bedrock to the left, when I saw a nice circle just before a stone near the opposite bank. The river is only some 10 meters wide there and deep just to the knees, so you must be very careful not to alarm your fish. I quickly climbed the left bank, changed the reel with floating line and was about to change the fly. But the nylon had a diameter of 0.14 mm on the end of the leader, and that was too thick for that situation.

Suddenly it started getting dark and I could not find the nylon twelve in my vest pocket; I could only touch the ten. It could not be helped; I had to put the nylon 0.10 mm and tried to tie it together with the fourteen on the end of the ready leader. A young boy would have succeeded right away, but the fingers of the young pensioner did not want to obey, and my eyes refused to obey in the dark as well. I raged noiselessly and repeated the well known procedure again and again, and constantly had to return to point zero. I do not now how long it took, but it seemed like eternity to me.

I had the only comfort in that the fish rose regularly before the stone and did not stop even when I had the knot finally made. Now the question emerged which fly to tie. It was very dark already and I did not know what the fish was just eating. I would not succeed in hackling a small mayfly in such darkness, so I took a Hairy Caddis on a size 14 hook from my box; it had a bigger eyelet. I succeeded in passing the nylon on the third try and making the knot with about the same speed.

2011-in-praise-of-quils-05I waded two steps into the water, set my rod vibrating slowly, measured the distance and put my fly on the surface carefully. It swam less than half a meter away when my fish sucked it with trust. I stroke cautiously and a nice trout jumped out from the water. I fought it very carefully and tried to calm it down somehow, but the trout did not like it and it started to swim against the water. When I managed to stop it, it started to float downstream, just between my boots. It tried several other tricks, and then it was mine. It is the brownie I came to catch, and that is why I had to kill it! I felt like the creation master and completed the work of destruction.

The river surface opened suddenly and hundreds, maybe thousands small caddises flew out of the water. Those near to me were slapping my pale face heartlessly, punishing me for my preceding crime. Another fish rose under the stone, only the circles were much finer. I offered it my fly under incessant cannonade of flying caddis flies, but it did not react. It probably was a grayling grazing on small olives, but it was not the fish I had come to catch. I got out of water and the caddises suddenly stopped swarming, just as if somebody up there waved a magic wand...

At the end of August, Slavoj Svoboda, the first Czech world champion in fly fishing (in Belgium 1986) called me announcing that he would like to come finally to the Teplá Vltava River this year. We had arranged it for several years already, and now it finally seemed dead cert. He wanted to come for several days, together with the president and secretary of the Moravian Fishing Union. After some vain tries, the arrival of the gentlemen from Moravia was finally fixed to September 28, the name day of Saint Václav, the patron saint of Bohemia. I was looking forward to see Slávek very much because his fishing and particularly fly-fishing aura always brings me a lot of news.

But then Jirka Klíma, ex-captain of the Czech team called me unexpectedly in mid-September telling me that our friend Slavoj had had sudden brain stroke, and it was immediately clear that all plans were completely thwarted. So I went to my cottage near Volary for the weekend; I had to repair the roof and I also wanted to go to see my beloved Vltava. I had to communicate it gently that it probably would not see Slavoj this year either.

But after arriving to Stögrova Huť, I discovered that I was missing a metal tube with my rod that I had left at home at my chaotic departure. After years of tries and searches I had finally come to the conclusion that the nine-feet rod Sage XP 3 was the best choice for the river here, and now I had only a twenty-year old fibreglass rod Century 21 available, which I had piously deposited for good into my private “Hall of Fame” short time ago.

2011-in-praise-of-quils-06So it could not be helped, I had to equip the grayling rod with reel again and to set out to water with it. I stopped at the transformer at Dobrá and walked down to the river. It was after three p.m. already, and so it was clear that I was there only for a short while. The weather still looked like summer, the sun was agreeably warm and the water in the river was very low, so I went right to the small plain a short way before the Doberská foot bridge. The water is deeper there at the right bank and beautiful grayling is hiding there.

Although the water surface was still calm, I tried dry Slavoj’s no-hackle CDC upwings with wings tied in V-shape. I caught several small grayling on them when quite good fish started rising finally at half past three. I changed about five different Slávek’s patterns for it; the grayling came to see them several times but the strike went always into air. The error consisted probably in the fact that my upwings were tied on hook No. 16, and the fish probably considered it too big that day.

I sought in the box with grayling flies something small for a long time, and I had to open even my other box, before my eye fell on the only black fly crouching somewhere in the corner. It was Black Midge on hook No. 20, and I pinned all my hopes on it now. I tied the small fly on the end of the Stroft line size 0,10 mm, degreased carefully the whole end of the leader tippet before the fly and aimed the rod on my catch.

2011-in-praise-of-quils-07The flat Varivas leader came down onto the water surface slowly and the black dot virtually shone on the shiny surface. My grayling did not resist and snatched at that new bite without hesitating. I let it rest for a while more and then I swished softly my old parabolic rod and cut the small fly into the impatient mouth. Nothing happened for a while and then the surprised fish started jumping and twisting, before finally setting off downstream through the centre of the river.

It seemed to me that I had again managed to neatly solve another problem, and so I gave the fish a good loud talking to and made fun with it, enthusing about having outsmarted it finally after its half-an-hour resistance. But the old grayling did not like it at all and it pushed against the rod so that I decided to wade to the shallow water at the left bank.

Suddenly something cracked and I saw the grayling disappear into deep water. It took several seconds for me to put my thoughts in order and to grasp what had happened. The whole leader including the braided connector was missing from the end of my line; I saw it float on the water surface like a small cork. I finally recovered my composure and made several quick steps to grasp the connector. My rapid movement alarmed the old grayling, however, and it set out towards the other bank with several meters of leader in its mouth, the small float quickly disappearing under the surface.

I combed the area  minutely, butcould not locate the broken-off leader and fish. This brought Milan Janus to mind; he had a similar experience twenty years ago during the  World Championship in New Zealand, losing both a rainbow of some four kilograms andthe World Champion title and a medal, because, without that fish, he came fourth.

On Tuesday, October 5, I set out to the Teplá Vltava River under Dobrá after a break of three weeks. Conditions were cloudy with a light wind and a few periodic drops of rain. Two fishers were busy on my test-stretch, so I walked across the sedge fields and meadow to a pool further up with a group of dry aldertrees on the right bank. The water was still very low and clear. It was after one p.m. and so I fished with a nymph for about twenty minutes before I saw the first rise.

2011-in-praise-of-quils-08As the nymph was unsuccessful on that day, I then changed reels, to a small one with #2 line and a dry fly. I could see a fish was rising under the right bank so I cast a size 20 Olive Quill towards it. The large grayling was easy to persuade but I had it under control for a short time only and after several seconds of intense resistance it threw the hook. I then caught a medium-sized grayling with a Black Quill of similar small size and had a long period of fruitless attempts to tempt nice fish that rose near the left bank opposite the dry alders.

Around two p.m. beautiful fish started emerging in the deep pool under the dry trees. There were large rise forms and several grayling broached the surface. The Black Quill did not interest them, but finally I grasped it. They wanted size 20 Olive Quills and the 10x Stroft tippet had to be submerged. A damaged and half drowned quill was the best. In fifteen minutes I caught two forty centimetres long and two slightly smaller fish. The big grayling which had been sipping mayflies at the surface had a damagedtail; almost all of the lower part was missing. I caught all of them including the one that had resisted me for so long, which only moved after I waded after it towards the left bank.

My confidence rose to new heights in the rainy sky and I concentrated on a group of grayling rising in shallow water near the tail of the pool. It seemed easy at the beginning, but I was mistaken. I tried everything I could but the result was only some aerial strikesr.

After half an hour I gave up and went further upstream. Time passed quickly with nothing extraordinary happening. It drizzled and it started getting dark, although it was only shortly after four. A long pool with knee to waist deep water faced me. I had caught a nice fish of forty cm at the left bank a while earlier; I had cast maybe five times towards a small rise near the bank when a lazy mouth emerged and engulfed my fly slowly. I managed to contain my nerves and wait for the right moment to strike. The fish was by far the best jumper of the year but it finally had to give up.

That day the situation was completely different. There was considerably less water and no action near the bushes. However, from time to time there were small rises, probably, I thought, made by dace, in the middle of the long pool. I thought that I would not catch anything more, but I still did not feel like going home. I decided to use a finer line and added a piece of  0.09 mm fluorocarbon to the tippet. There was free space enough around and so no likelihood of contact with a branch, which might damage the line; besides, the flourocarbon should sink more readily than the size ten Stroft nylon. Nevertheless, also I regularly degreased a long section of line in front of the fly.

It took a while to find a fly that took the first dace. He refused the Black Quill, but immediately reacted to the Olive Quill. To my complete surprise it was no dace but a beautiful grayling. I had not caught anything on that stretch before, although I had fished there quite regularly. It started raining lightly and the wind dropped completely. Several small rises appeared on the surface before me and I was no longer sure that they were made by dace.

During half an hour, all my previous theories that big grayling could not be dry-caught in such late afternoon time were completely falsified. I walked slowly through the middle of the pool, cast towards fish emerging from time to time and caught three graylings of forty cm and two a little smaller. All of them were readily deceived by the semi-drowned CDC Olive size 18-20 Quills. I must add that both successful quills are models coming from the San River in Poland, and their efficiency was quite unbelievable on the Teplá Vltava that day. My quills did not disappoint me the next day either, although the olive colour did not work at all then and the fish were interested only in dark patterns.

I pretty well fell in love with the Polish quills made by Arek Wyrošlak and I wanted to enjoy them again a week later, on Tuesday, October 12 too. From ten a.m. the day was sunny, cloudless, with a light wind and the thermometer at nine degrees centigrade. I was at Malá Niva (Small Wold) between the Soumarský bridge and Lenora and the grayling enjoyed both quills in turns. I usually caught the fish at their first strike, but only grayling around 35 cm. However, I was not alone as there were two other fly fishers ahead of me; but I did not mind because I had my secret weapons.

I caught about fifteen grayling that afternoon, including two of about 38 cm. One big cock was caught after he sucked my fly under the water surface; I responded with a careful strike after a brief delay, and it was there! Both small quills were excellent again and they worked for me until the end of my fishing trip because I caught my last grayling of 35 cm at quarter to five. But it was essential to degrease the end of the tippet and to cast so that the tippet end descended in a puddle on the surface or circled the fly and sank down.

I slept in my cottage at Stögrova Huť and in the morning I completed the repair of the roof on my old barn. It had been warm overnight and the sun started shining at ten a.m., so it was about ten degrees centigrade by noon. The repair of the roof took quite long and, although I had less than two hours for fishing, I did not hesitate. I went to the same place in the woods over the Soumarský bridge where I had finished the day before. A small stretch where I had not been able to go because of the two other fishers.

I arrived at quarter past three and I was correct to do so. Several fish were rising. I caught my first grayling at the same place as the day before, and I was very surprised by the pattern on its head. It was also about 35 cm and it was undoubtedly the fish from the day before with the same bright design on the head; this time it swallowed my Dark Quill.

I caught about 10 grayling including two nice ones of about 38 cm in less than two hours. The fish had been very wary the day before because the two fishers had waded through them, but this day I caught all of them. I also caught yesterday’s hen fish, recognizing it by an old healed wound in the right corner of its mouth; it was at its favourite place behind a branch again. I caught my last nice grayling at five p.m.

Back in my cottage, I set my small quill box under the lamp and inspected the flies under my biggest magnifier. They were perfect copies of the small local insect. Two small tails on the back were made of red cock hackles and the body was created from the finest stripped peacock eye herl. The olives bodies were covered with fine olive thread and the stripped feather created fine ribbing, while the Dark Quill had the feather wraps closer to each other.

The impression of wings was created by a fine bundle of about twenty or twenty-five  dark CDC feathers coiled into a thin ring of hackles made of the tiniest feathers from around a cock’s beak in front of the eye. The feather had light olive colour for the olives and the finest black and white grizzly cock hackles were used as legs for the other pattern.

I stoked the stove with wood and feasted my eyes on the small white box with tiny quills. The room was pleasantly warm and so I filled my glass with white wine andre-lived about my latest fishing trips. I was very satisfied with them, although I have not mentioned all of them. What else could I wish? Maybe slowly close my newly completed “book” about grayling and the Teplá Vltava...