Part IV.: A stag party

It was already the first half of October, but the coldness of autumn hadn't yet come, and Indian summer still ruled in the Tepla (Warm) Vltava valley near the village of Dobra and the Soumarsky bridge. For many years we have organized grayling catching expeditions where many friends reunite and throw a stag party, in the Stögerova Hut.

Local anglers are never happy about it, thinking many graylings won't survive, but the truth is different. These are nothing but anglers' tales and sometimes also unpleasant slanders which are so hard to fight. I could tell stories about that, but not today - this is the time for the beautiful countryside and a knightly joust with a fish which will remain in its natural habitat even if the angler wins.

It was after lunch on Thursday October 14th when I set out from Ceske Budejovice, loaded with kitchen supplies for the weekend-long reunion of flyfishers and friends of the Upper Vltava. The first group had already arrived earlier in the day, and I also decided to set out for the water after a week-long break.

This time I went through the village Ktis and avoided the horrible detour in Prachatice. It's my favourite route anyway, as it runs through the Sumava foothills on a road constricted by forests and with very low traffic. The journey didn't bring any unpleasant surprises, so I could take pleasure in looking at the vivid colours of the alleys of leaved trees, blazing in all shades from yellow through brown to crimson red. This day was certain to have attracted plenty of other anglers, so I headed up all the way down to Lenora, near the Travnata (Grassed) and the Tepla Vltava junction.

I stopped near a playground at about three in the afternoon and the sky was as blue as in mid-summer. There was really little water in the river and, in addition, the canal of a former glassworks had been taking plenty of water for its small water turbine, euphemistically called the "small hydroplant".

I don't know the reason, but whenever I go to Lenora and pass over the little bridge over the canal, there's always enough water, while the river itself is full of dry places. There are mumblings among the anglers that something is wrong with this, but nobody wants to burn their own fingers and so they do nothing but swear about the conditions over beer in the pub.

I stepped into the water below the junction and instantly, near the right bank, caught three small brownies between 20 and 25 cm. They must have mistaken my upwing with those just being newly hatched. I walked under a footbridge that had been reconstructed after the floods, and saw circles of rising fish in a shallow area below. Under an old alder, three graylings were rising and I managed to catch all of them. They were no giants, but belonged in the 30 cm category. There were some confused daces near the right bank and there was also one passing fish which didn't let itself get outsmarted, knocking down my confidence as an angler a bit.

I went on up the wider left shoulder of the river along a small island, because I expected nice graylings which regularly wait there for drifting food. They might have been there but they didn't rise and I didn't want to change to a nymph. I would have more quarries, however, in the place where both of the river shoulders joined. My small sparkle dun disappeared in the current, and I waited for a while before lightly raising the rod to test if it was really a strike. My intuition was right; the rod arched and on my soft leader was a male grayling, slightly bigger than the local average. After a while I had added two more 30 cm long individuals, but that was all.

Therefore, I moved to a stretch of little currents and pools with pits; from each I got about two or three graylings, but didn't come across any bigger fish. I tried a nymph for a while, but with no better luck, so I returned to the well-tried small CDC duns. Time passed, but still no bigger fish appeared. It was already clear to me that I hadn't picked the best spot, but on the other hand I was happy to see what it looked like there that day since I hadn't been there for a couple of years.

Moving on, I reached a place under an alder-tree, where there used to be a small hole where the biggest graylings rose. Once, at the end of November, when small flies floated on the water, an already-caught 38-cm male escaped from me after coming back to life in the basket on my back. It raised the lid with its tail, jumped out, and before I could do anything it swam away. But that's an experience maybe fifteen or more years old.

Today there was more water than normal, which may have been the result of the fact that the weir under the roofed Lenora bridge was higher, and the flooded water also reached higher than in other years. I also outsmarted a few graylings here, but still no real action. There were a couple big fish rising by a big stump near the left bank, but they showed no interest in my dry flies.

In desperation, I used a tiny olive nymph with a gold dropped compact weight and started to draw it against the water in the pit near the stump. On the third cast the line stretched, snapped, and everything was over. Suddenly I understood - those weren't graylings but a passing rainbow trout and my sized 0.10 mm nylon was no match for it. It was about six in the evening and I decided to go back.

The first participants of our stag party had called me on my mobile which I had left in the car. Fortunately it was only about 10 minutes by car to the house, so I didn‘t have to take off my chest waders, and I set out right away to put them up and feed them...

On Thursday there were only five of us so we had a chat, made a fire in the stove, cooked and looked forward to the Friday's fishing because the weather forecast was still good. But mice also felt the approaching cold and they had begun to move into the house - this year there were more of them than ever! Every now and then a trap clapped in the hallway and then we could hear the mouse trying to run away on the old paving stones.

There were both of our main kinds of mice among my catches - common field mouse and yellow-necked mouse. By coincidence, I also managed to find the ideal bait - smoked cheese tied in thin bunches sold under the name "korbacik". Believe me, I have caught a number of these rodents and there's nothing better. We chatted and drank from the supplies we brought. None of us really wanted to go to bed, and so some didn't get much sleep.

On Friday morning the weather was beautiful again, so the gentlemen left one by one, while I got down to some chores by repairing the fence. It was slow work, and working on my knees I felt streams of sweat running down all over my body. After 11 a.m. the first cloud came out above higland village Ceske Zleby and an hour later there were many of them, but the sun still prevailed. It looked like an ideal day which needed to be taken advantage of. Before 2 p.m. I was on the way to Dobra, to get to the water by two. It was calm in the pub at this time, so I continued on as far as "U stodoly"(In the grange) and headed on foot across the meadows to the Vltava.

When I reached the place where it's necessary to decide whether to go up or down the current, graylings were already circling. I tested my flies and it looked like they would take on size 16 paraduns and beige bodies. I set out against the current and didn't regret it. The day was still warm and tiny insects swarmed more than they had in the previous days. I was at the end with my size 0.08 nylon and only a couple of coils were left on the spool. Being so busy the day before I had forgotten my size 2 Sage rod at home, and so I had to be much more careful - fishing with a size 3 and holding the tip of the rod almost over my head so as to not tear the grayling off on the strike.

It was clear that beige duns hadn't been used here before, and even 38cm sized fish readily took it. I got about three or four such fish and a lot of smaller ones, but I still believed that I could get something bigger. This was also the reason why I didn't stay too long in one spot, and went on against the current. At about three o'clock I came to a pool where I caught a couple of bigger graylings but it still wasn't what I was after.

I passed along the right bank and stopped across from a place where there is a boulder at the left bank and behind it two back currents that require that the fly be sent in very naturally. In the lower one a fish was rising and in a minute it was mine, but again, only size thirty-five.

A few casts to the upper back current showed only that I wasn't doing it the right way. There was a thick bush behind me, so I had to walk a couple of meters up against the water to get enough space behind me for an accurate cast. I waited for a while, and when I saw a circle I sent there my beige dun, which the fish swallowed instantly. I was disappointed with its size, but when drying the dun I glimpsed another small circle in front of a rock near the bank. "I know what might work", flashed in my head and quickly found the miraculous Slavoj's "nobody" dun in my fly holder.

As I was tying the fish rose again, so then I carefully flicked the rod and sent the fly to the stone. The first cast was just a test and thus too careful and far from the bank, so nothing happened. Now I was sure I could place the dun so it would float in an ideal track from the bank. Two or three false casts and may the will of the Lord happen. I held the rod up waiting for the take, which really came. I still had enough time to strike lightly and slowly, and the fish was there! It ran away through the water, swam around the stone and began to twist along its axis.

I saw a long, violet body and so I was very careful - this was the grayling I had been waiting for. I thoroughly enjoyed the fight, during which the fish started down the river three or four times, making me follow if I didn't want to lose direct contact with it. Not even the barbless hook gave this beautiful hen fish a chance, so I was able to view it from up close before letting it go. It was certainly about 41.5 cm, but I didn't want to torture it with more accurate measuring.

When I arrived at the house at about half past five, there were eleven of us and everybody was praising the day‘s fishing. We toasted our reunion and chatted for a while. I contributed my fish story and then somebody asked what new thing I had. I was a bit taken aback, but then I showed them my miraculous drying balls, which was followed by suddenly silence. It was clear that nobody much believed me. They must have thought, like I had before, that they could get by without it. But that's what life is all about, distrust is simply in us and everybody has to see for themselves. To break the silence I shared my fresh experience with the "korbacik" and wanted to put some in the traps, but it was impossible. Vladimir already had them in his belly and just nodded his head in quiet satisfaction.

Our half hour of calm was finished and it was necessary to start working. Volunteers began to cut wood, somebody started splitting logs and I took care of the cooking. This was only bread dumplings, since chicken soup from a whole chicken and goulash from a 3.5 kg beef shin had been ready since the day before. I estimated six packs of dumplings would be needed for the dinner, and at the end there wasn't a slice left. The court brewer tapped a bigger keg of beer and we also drank coke and rum, fernet, gin and whisky.

Martin amused us with a new story. He had caught a grayling near Lenora when suddenly a thirty-something year-old angler rushed over to him, wading five metres below him, completely trampling through the water and asked if he was fishing a wet fly even though Martin was obviously using a dry fly. Then he started to say that he had been there for three days and couldn't get anything but size forty fish. He said he was from Rozmberk but he didn't fish there as there was no fish - that „Mr Skrivanec“ put sh.. there. Martin let him talk for a while, and then told him he was at that Mr Krivanec's weekend house, which managed to get rid of this champion. Stop at the height of things - that's my rule for such moments, and I stick to it, so I went to bed a bit after midnight, while some hung out till three in the morning.

Saturday morning was drizzly and the sky was covered with thick clouds. It stopped raining at about nine and that was the signal for all my guests to leave the house. The gentlemen headed for the water and I paid good attention to where to go and where not. I went to Volary and in the square I found a big exhibition case full of different trophy cups. Believe it or not, they belonged to the local casting team and there were also trophies from the European junior championship! Who would have thought a couple of years ago that here, in the Sumava, it would be possible to bring up such good young anglers and achieve such results with them. Maybe one day the senior world championships will be held here.

I bought some supplies - a newspaper and a replacement axe handle which hadn‘t survived the previous day‘s work, and went back to start dinner preparations because we had a goose and two ducks with cabbage and dumplings on the menu. I nailed slats in the fence and this still progressed very slowly, but finally only the last part remained, which I put off for Sunday morning. I didn't much feel like going down to the water as I thought it wouldn't be easy on the surface and I didn't really want to nymph. I may be getting to the age of the now-deceased Franta Drdák, who would sit on the bank of the Malse river below Rimov and wait for the hatch, while we were in the water nymphing fish by fish.

At first I wanted to go into the woods above the Soumarsky bridge, but in this weather only the meadows seemed acceptable. It was clear at "U stodoly", so I stopped here again and headed for the same spot as yesterday, and decided to go ahead down to the water. Circles on the surface were caused by small fish and they didn't pay much attention to my fly either. After half past two it started to rain a bit again and also an unpleasant wind came up. Below a little ripple, the water fell into a pool with an alder-tree over the water near the left bank. A beige dun disappeared into a quick snout, and one size thirty-five finally brought some excitement to this peacefulness.

This day I had my size 2 rod, which Jaja had brought for me yesterday, and so I got the idea to try a size 0.06 mm nylon tippet. There was nothing else to do, so I had to try it. To tie sizes six and eight in rain with blood knot was almost impossible - it took me maybe five minutes and I needed twice as much time to run the end of the line through the eye of the fly to make the most common knot. Everything stuck to my fingers and acted like it was alive, so I only managed to finish it using all my willpower. However, a size sixteen CDC dun was too big for this tippet size, and while casting the line it became so completely twisted that everything was now pointless and I didn't feel like trying another attempt. I left it for another day.

I went down along the current and in the next pool I had three takes from larger fish, but I didn't manage to strike any of them, so I decided to make the fly a bit smaller.

Meanwhile Vladimir passed by from a spot lower down the current, and boasted about a big grayling and an almost one kilo-heavy rainbow trout which he had caught on a nymph. Obviously, he had let them go. I cast against the current and suddenly the dun dropped and I struck. The fish started an incredible run against the water, so I couldn't do anything but loosen the line.

First it looked like a rainbow trout, but the fight was slightly different. The fish stayed on the bottom and at first I had no idea what it was. It turned out to be a male grayling about 38 cm long, with my little dun hooked near the root of the first dorsal fin ray; fortunately I had size 0.10 mm nylon at the end so I finally managed to overcome it. I tried fishing for a while more, but because the weather didn't look like it was going to get better, I figured it would be of more use to finish the poultry in the warmth rather than being out in the rain and cold.

When the gentlemen started coming back from fishing on the Vltava, the house was already properly heated and full of the smell of dinner. We made so much cabbage that it filled the sink, but half of it was left over as well as a roll of dumplings. The poultry, however, vanished instantly and I was happy to be able to try a piece of the second duck because we portioned the goose first and I had no chance to get any. Also, Jirka from Volary came - last year he wouldn't stop talking and suggested that I had pulled down my weekend house and built a supermarket instead. This year he brought four packs of wood chips for making fire, drank only cola and was a completely different man.

We also talked about the visible decrease of olive mayflies in the Vltava, but nobody could figure out what the cause was. There might be multiple causes - maybe the obvious decrease of the water crowfoot population as a result of rampant water tourism, little water in the river, communal pollution or drainage from ameliorated land? We didn't find any certain answer, so the topic of conversation spun like a compass needle at the pole. It seems some concerns are exaggerated, but how long will the fish remain in the river without their common everyday food? And if there's no fish in the river, there will be no kingfisher and also no otter...

On Sunday morning I got up after seven and I began making breakfast. The guys from Vyssi Brod helped me make the fire and then everybody got up. We cracked thirty-five eggs, chopped onion and ham and the kitchen smelled so good that even friends from remote parts of the house appeared. After breakfast and coffee, a big cleaning spree broke out and everybody got involved; some were very happy that their wives couldn't see them as they would have certainly been dumbstruck with amazement.

Nobody shirked and so we made a group photograph after ten o'clock, then the guys stuck one fly each into my collection hanging in the room and headed for the water. The weather was better than the day before and the sun even came out from time to time. I finished the repairs on my fence, trimmed the branches on the trees and made a record in our anglers' chronicle.

It was past one and I started to get ready, but again there was a dilemma about where to go. Two cars were parked by the Soumarsky bridge, so I struck out through the woods. There was another car by the sign below the camp, so I went again to Dobra. I stopped about a kilometer below the grange and somebody was there too. I saw two anglers nymphing down the current. I wanted to go above them but just then they turned and pushed me on ahead.

Further on I found a nice spot where I got a couple of nice graylings, when Jaja passed by on the bank followed by Vladimir. I hadn’t recognized them in the distance before. Now they were heading for places where I knew were really big graylings. It was overcast and an unpleasant wind was blowing, obstructing my work with my size 2 rod. I hadn't been in this area for many years so I slowly got reacquainted.

Fresh otter slots could be seen on a sandbank. The otter is a common inhabitant of the river here. There are so many fish in the main stream that the otter doesn't interfere, but when it makes a trip into one of the tributaries, it becomes a fright for all living things there. These brooks, which serve as trout breeding areas, suffer the most from otter raids and are often decimated.

I hadn‘t yet managed to photograph the slots when an emerald green kingfisher flew past me. The otter and the kingfisher are in a way food competitors, even though the quarry of the kingfisher is mostly fingerlings of grayling and dace. The otter, on the other hand, can also enjoy the young of these birds and some even claim that half of their nests can be destroyed every year.

In a deep pool with a bush near the left bank I found two spots where there were graylings and I got five of them. These were fish of around 35 cm and all of them were enticed by little grey duns. I then moved on a short stretch and in another pool graylings showed themselves near the right bank. I pulled out two of them and then noticed that behind a rock near the opposite right bank a small circle had formed. It was typical big grayling habitat, so I tied a size 0.08 mm nylon tippet on the end of the leader and took a "nobody dun" out of my box. The first cast was exceptionally good and the fish took the fly without hesitation. I struck and it was clear that it was nothing small. The rod arched and something slowly headed for the middle of the deep pool.

My joy didn't last long though, and I didn't find out why the grayling got off the hook. Of course, for an angler a lost fish is always from the biggest category, and this case pointed to the probability that the grayling hadn't been hooked in the mouth. I recollected a many-year-old story, when I, not far from the Lenora crossing, hooked a fish on a little fly and the fish remained still for maybe half a minute in one place at the bottom and then got off for no obvious reason, leaving just one scale on the hook.

A short distance above me I saw Jaja, who suddenly appeared there like a ghost, caught a nice grayling and vanished again. As I found out later, he had discovered my spot with big graylings and got some on a dry fly. I, in exchange, caught one more bigger grayling right in the spot where my friend had disappeared ten minutes before. I didn't feel like going on and so returned to the stretch where I had seen guys out earlier in the afternoon, and I really liked it there. In one spot a big grayling attacked my fly but I somehow didn't manage to set the hook.

It was about half past four and the rising stopped completely and so I wanted to try a nymph. My first cast to a deep pool in a bend under a bush was rather just a test, but such a fierce take came that I lost my top nymph; after thinking a bit I was almost sure it was a forgotten rainbow trout. I hadn’t had luck catching them this year and had lost all of them on thin tippets. Another half hour of nymphing brought just one little grayling, so I assumed it was completely fished out there and had no choice but to leave.

By the time I tottered from the water, made it to the car and changed into my normal clothes, the sun had set. It was a beautiful weekend; there aren't many such weekends in a year these days. I stopped at the pub "U Nemecka" where all my friends were sitting, shining with satisfaction, especially since they could cool themselves with some beer. Nemecek's huge dog begged food from the guests, and smelled very well that in my basket I had some smoked ham which Kadas had cut into pieces that morning without giving it a thought. I secretly gave everyone a slice of meat with a piece of bread and felt like St. Peter feeding his disciples...