During the first week of September I received a phone call from my dear friend Martin. He told me of the fantastic fishing that he had recently experienced downstream of Dobrá village. According to Martin the skies had been overcast and water levels were high, but apparently the grayling were jumping clear out of the water to take mayfly duns. Our telephone conversation had really sparked my interest, so the very next Sunday (September 6, 2009) I set out on a fishing adventure to explore the Upper Vltava River, within the Bohemian Forest, in an area that the Czech people commonly refer to as “The Sumava Mountains”.
My day began with a leisurely hike to search for mushrooms in the spruce forest above the Stögrova Huť. A thick blanket of fog hid the scenic, countryside town of Volary, while in the background the sun began to illuminate the crest of the hill above the town and gradually warmed the crisp, early-morning air. Upon my return to the cottage I set to work mending a fence post. Once my chores and lunch were complete, I packed my fishing gear into my car and set off for Dobrá.
The sun shone brightly as I made my way down the pathway to the river. By the time I arrived at the river I was completely covered with sweat. The water level of the river was still quite high, but in my mind it was in prime condition and appeared as if it would fish quite well today. I sat down on the bank to catch my breath as I prepared my leader. I was feeling adventurous today and finally found enough courage to try a threaded flat Varivas leader that I had been carrying in my pocket for several months, but hadn’t found the right situation in which to test it. I shorten my leader to suit my 3-weight Sage fly rod, but left it a little longer than the actual fly rod just to be safe.
The flat, yellow/golden section of the leader was exceptionally bright and would enhance its visibility under today’s clear and sunny conditions. Its thin transparent tip (0.13 mm) was connected to an even thinner section of nylon. I used 0.10 mm Stroft for the final portion of my leader system. I picked up my rod and cast my fly line and new leader, which seemed to cast rather nicely. I watched as my Blue Dun dry fly gently fell upon the water’s surface. I let it drift naturally within the current and watched in anticipation of the moment when the current’s drag would cause the fly to accelerate and skate across the surface of the water. To my amazement the fly continued its natural drift longer than I had expected, which in turn allowed a prolonged and much more realistic presentation of the fly.
I noticed a smaller grayling that was rising for insects on the surface, but it was not with the same level of commitment nor enthusiasm that I had been hoping for. Although there were sporadic hatches of a smaller species of midge, I was extremely pleased to see that there was a significant increase in insect activity in comparison to the years gone by. Upon a closer inspection I counted and recorded approximately ten different species of midges, mayflies, sedges and stoneflies. The increase in insect activity and weed growth can most likely be attributed to the recent summer-time boating restrictions for this area.
I worked my way further upstream as not much had been happening – other than a large grayling that I had hooked and broken-off in one of the deeper pools. I felt that perhaps there might have been a knot in the leader, as the strike was very gentle. As I approached the next pool I observed a fish that was rising in very shallow water. I positioned myself at the opposite river bank and waded out until the water was up to my knees, and carefully tied on a Brown Quill. My first cast fell short of my expectations, but the second cast was right on target! The current carried the fly directly toward the rising fish, and a few seconds later I felt a medium-size grayling tugging and twisting as it tried to free itself from the hook.
I walked a few meters upstream, while closely monitoring the surface of the river for rises. The brownish coloured water was flowing quite fast, which churned the water in places and formed a series of isolated patches of white foam. At times these mats of foam provide an ideal cover for fish and a superb location for presenting a fly.
I continued working the water, but there was no surface activity or other signs of fish to be found. I reeled in my line and changed to a Gray Dun, which seemed to be a wiser choice, as it was much more visible under the current conditions. Within a matter of minutes I watched as a nice grayling rose to take my fly. I struck without hesitation and my rod bent over and glistened in the sunlight, producing a brilliant and radiant bow. The grayling fought for some time and eventually it came to my hand. I estimated it to be approximately 38 cm in length. I was certain that there was yet another larger fish somewhere in this same water, so I covered the water with numerous casts, but eventually set off in search of new waters when it failed to show itself.
By 3:00pm, I was still searching and hoping for a more significant grayling to rise. Until now I had only encountered medium and smaller-size fish, but what happened next just goes to prove that sometimes dreams really do come true...
Twenty minutes later - and a hundred meters further downstream - I noticed two graylings rising simultaneously within a lovely piece of water that was just below my location. I quickly (and cautiously) waded into position and cast my Brown Quill toward the fish. After nearly a dozen attempts nothing happened, even though it appeared as if this was going to be “a sure thing”. I moved three steps further upstream, and cast again. As my fly fell upon the water’s surface it attracted a beautiful grayling that sat in fairly shallow water. The strike was quick and efficient. The fish twisted and used the current to its advantage during the battle, as it wasn’t about to give up any time too soon. It was a beautiful, forty-centimeter, female grayling that had the typically smaller dorsal fin – in comparison to the male’s much larger and more beautiful dorsal fin. It attempted to escape by running upstream, but I managed to gain control over it when it reached the opposite bank. I played it with the utmost of care, and eventually it tired and revealed its lightly-coloured belly.
After releasing the grayling I tried to entice the second fish, but was unsuccessful, as it had been spooked during my battle with the previous fish. I heard a rather splashy rise come from a pool that was about fifteen meters further downstream. I slowly walked toward the pool, while closely monitoring the surface of the pool to identify the location of the rise. I eventually spotted a rise and quickly moved into position to cover it. I quietly set about making my preparations for “the perfect cast”. I peeled out what I felt was the right amount of fly line and leader to allow my fly to reach my target - while still allowing me to be in control of its presentation. I made one quick false-cast and gently rolled-out my line and leader above the water. The fly landed gently upon the water’s surface, about two meters above the location of the rising fish. I watched in awe as the grayling slowly and fluently rose toward the surface. I patiently watched as it gently sucked my fly into its mouth and dropped back into the depths of the pool. I paused and waited slightly longer than normal before lifting the rod tip to set the hook. Deep down within the shadows of the pool I saw a brilliant flash of the fish, which indicated that I had successfully hooked the fish!
I found comfort in the fact that the hook was firmly set within the grayling’s mouth. I savoured every moment of my battle with this beautiful and powerful fish, but the odds were definitely in the favour of the grayling due to several factors: the depth of the pool; the lightness of my tippet; and the diminished holding power that is commonly experienced when using a barbless, size 20 hook. However... the tiny steel hook was well placed within the grayling’s mouth and performed flawlessly. The grayling raced throughout the pool as it fought to free itself of the hook. On two occasions it leapt clear out of water, but after three long minutes it finally surrendered and the battle was over. It was a magnificent male grayling that measured forty centimeter in total body length. I paused momentarily to admire the beauty of its enormous dorsal fin before gently releasing it back into the water.
Below the pool the river flowed to the right and formed a large slack area. I had never managed to catch any large fish in this particular water, but felt that anything could be possible on a day like today. At the right river bank I saw a larger fish that was rising quite frequently. I quickly cast my fly to cover it, and as luck would have it… the fish mistook my fly for a natural insect and took it on my first cast! My Brown Quill had been working quite well today, which was largely due to the fact that a prolific hatch of red duns with long, fine tails was emerging and flying above the water.
Around the next bend in the river there was a very promising piece of water where the river turned and flowed to the left. I knew from past experiences that there is usually good numbers of larger grayling holding in the relatively quiet and slack water that was nearer to the right bank and within the tail-out portion of the pool that was just below it. I walked along the river bank to a shaded area of water, where the forest’s spruce trees had consumed the left bank. The water’s depth in this place had changed in recent years, as it was now deeper near the right bank, where in the past it was barely ankle deep. As I stood on the bank I noticed a large grayling that was rising beneath a branch that extended over the water on the far bank. The overhead branches made casting quite difficult and challenging. After several attempts I finally managed to land my fly near the spot where I had seen the grayling rising. It instantly rose and took my fly, but spat the hook before I could manage to set it. My next cast didn’t go nearly as well, as my fly landed approximately half a meter short of the branch that the old and wise grayling was hiding beneath. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the grayling move from its position and rise toward my fly with its mouth wide-open and then turn onto its back after it inhaled it. I paused momentarily before striking and was pleased when I felt the weight of the grayling.
I spotted another grayling a few meters below my location that was rising quite consistently to take the duns from the surface. This particular fish was so intent on feeding that it mistook my fly for the natural insect and inhaled it during the very first presentation. It attempted to correct its error by leaping over the water several times and tried a few other commonly used tricks as it attempted to shake free from the hook. But today luck was on my side, and a few minutes later the battle was over.
Around half past three the hatches as well as the surface feeding action of the larger fish came to an abrupt end. The larger fish disappeared to rest near the bottom, while only the smaller fish continued to feed on the surface. I knew that it was a complete waste of time, but I continued to try raising one of the larger fish regardless of this fact.
I was very impressed with my first attempt at fishing with the flat leader, as it had proved to be so effective. I decided that I probably use it again next time. “Probably?” you might be asking yourself, and when will be the “next time”? I have a simple answer for both of these questions: two weeks later on another sunny Sunday afternoon…
September 20, 2009. It seemed like an eternity since my last visit to the Vltava, so I decided that it was time to make another trip to fish and enjoy the pleasures of its waters once again. I made my way to one of the more popular stretches of the river that I enjoyed visiting from time to time. I walked across a sweet-smelling meadow that had recently been cut that eventually transformed into in a wild meadow that was full of dry grass, hidden holes and clumps of turf. My eyes were instantly drawn to an odd movement on the ground. To my disbelief I noticed a thick swarm of dark coloured caterpillars that were absolutely everywhere! I cautiously continued my walk to the river, while trying my very best to avoid stepping on the blanket of caterpillars.
We were still feeling the lingering effects of the hot summer-time weather, which left me completely dripping with sweat while trying to maintain my balance as I traversed the rougher terrain. For the past two weeks there hadn’t been hardly any rain, which left the river’s water levels significantly lower than on my last visit to the Vltava, The lower waters levels were less than ideal and would likely make today’s fishing much more challenging.
I finally arrived at one of the pools around lunch-time. I noticed a set of rings from a rising fish and quickly assembled my rod and leader. I gave my best effort, but I couldn’t convince the fish to rise to my fly. I looked into my fly box and saw that I had hundreds of grayling flies, but couldn’t manage to find a single Brown Quill, as I had forgotten to restock my fly box after my last fishing trip. I tried several other dun patterns, but they were not nearly as effective as the Brown Quill. I did however manage to fool a medium-size grayling while working an Iron Blue Dun near the edge of the pool.
I made my way to the area where Martin had experienced such great angling success on his previous trip. My confidence was high and I was hopeful that I too would find success in this same stretch of the river. I tried to cover a large grayling that was rising in a shallow ford nearby, but it refused everything that I threw at it. I tried a large Red Spinner pattern, but the hook it was tied on was too heavy, and it sank as soon as it hit the water. I eventually raised a fish and lifted my fly rod to set the hook. The rod bent over, but the thin tippet snapped under the weight of the fish as it turned and dove toward the bottom of the river. In hindsight I realized that perhaps I should have set the hook by gently tugging twice on the fly rod. This unfortunate experience also taught me that the fish had been selectively feeding on the mayfly nymphs as they were emerging.
My initial attempts were fruitless and had wasted the better part of an hour, so I began working my way upstream without any obvious clues as to my lack of angling success. As the wind began to blow through the valley, I started having problems with the control of my fly line and leader when it was both in front and behind me. To add to my frustration… every time I attempted to change my flies or reconfigure my leader, it took three or four attempts before I was successful. Unlike the last time that I was here - the fishing today was very slow and unproductive. If somebody had been watching me, they would hardly have believed that I would have had any luck at all on my last trip. I was truly fortunate and relieved that there were no witnesses!
Around three o’clock the larger, mature grayling began to rise, but this event was short-lived and lasted for barely an hour. I moved into position and covered some fish that were holding in a shallow riffle just upstream from a pool. Again I looked through my fly box and this time I decided to try a newborn olive fly pattern. After a few casts I managed to fool a larger grayling that was nearly forty-centimeter in length, and just barely missed a large trout that rose to take the same fly. For conditions such as this, I typically use upwinged fly patterns, as in recent years I have had very little success with olives in the Upper Vltava - while in comparison - they seem to work quite well for the majority of the other fly fishers that I have compared notes with.
The shadows of the forest’s trees gradually grew longer and darkened the water, which indicated to me that my time on the river was almost over. I tied on a classic Red Quill for what would be my final presentation of the day. I cast it onto the shadowy surface of the water, and as my fly drifted toward a bend in the river, the surface of the water exploded as another beautiful grayling rose to accept my final offering. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect and spectacular way to end yet another wonderful adventure on my beloved River Vltava.
The sun slowly set behind the majestic Stozec Hill, which signaled the arrival of another warm, late summer’s evening. Off in the distance I heard the sound of a lone red deer that broke the silence. I slowly crept along the pathway that led me through the wetland. The ground seemed to be alive, as it was now completely covered by thousands - or perhaps even millions - of fuzzy little caterpillars. They were everywhere, which made it was virtually impossible to take a step without squishing and trampling them into the ground. I gently picked-up one of the caterpillars and placed it in the palm of my hand. It immediately curled-up into a ball and pretended to play dead. I paused and thought what a marvelous sight it would be when they matured and transformed into millions of beautifully coloured butterflies. I would surely like to be present to witness that event when it happens!