Not willing to step in last year’s shoes, have decided to kick into a new season at one of the mythical waters of Balkan Peninsula – River Gacka. The Chalk stream of dreams - has seen mayor transformation in latest decades - from the holly water for fly fishing addicts throughout Europe, where big names of European fly fishing scene have honed their skills in the seventies and eighties on the notoriously selective big brown trout of Gacka phenotype.
To having fallen on its knees during the civil war in Croatia and nowadays only slowly recuperating on its path to past glory. At least that is my hope for Gacka’s future. Hmmm, to be honest, this is my hope for the remaining trout waters world-wide.
For those of you that have not yet heard of Gacka. It is a mighty spring feed River – 30 karst springs - with relatively constant water temperature and astonishing biomass index. The easy glides would have you thought the rivers is slow, but all this is a detour, as the river velocity mid river is mighty in all books, even at normal water levels. Meandering through the Gacka karst valley, is providing favorable conditions for growth of brown trout. The extensive agriculture and grazing culture are sustaining the pristine river.
The grand opening organized by the manager Gacka Ltd. is not something, I am willing to endure for a kick-off into a new season. Though, hands down appreciating their effort and good will to organize an opening day on the water for a fly fishing community.
After decades of breathing fly fishing, this day marks the new beginning for me and feels sacred to my soul. No fan of crowded rivers, am enjoying it “selectively”, in a company of hand-selected few! Coming back to the matter of this post. Changing weather and higher than average daily temperatures, in their high teens, had me fixing the second weekend in March for two daily exploration of the river. Would avoid weekends otherwise, but the forecast for next Monday was rainy and decided to start earlier.
Friday has seen me traveling around Slovenia and driving back to our Mayfly Lodge late in the evening. A friend already awaited me at nearby pub and after a cold beer, we made a strategy for next days. Saturday morning has seen us packing and driving direction Licko Lesce. Arrival at Valley at 9:30 AM, prospecting the water at bridge zero - Covici, driving upriver and switching into waders.
Me decided to rig the One 4100 and SLX line with long leader. The sun was already high on the sky, temperatures rising to 18 degrees and all was fine with me. Water level low for this time of the year and crystal clear – you could count pebbles on the bottom – in short, picture perfect. We started on the upper stretch, where my plan was to get in touch with few wild brownies. Admittedly, my first plan was wild 20 incher… But, let’s not overdo it at the start.
A colleague has stayed at the upper stretch, me going just 80 meters below, to stay in the eye-distance. Few blind casts later, still keeping on the size 14 Gammarus, but changing the strategy. It took me 10 minutes to locate the telltale shadow on the bottom at plus two meters. Cast was aimed 15 meters above the position and the Gammarus was drowning. The first drift, no success. Waited for a few minutes, always watchful of the shadow, seeing only the white of the mouth here and there. Active. Next cast. This time a tad more to the right… Seconds were rushing by, totally in control – time slowed down - seeing the fish deflecting the right direction. Tightening of a long leader, just shy of 7 meters (27"), and then… all hell broke loose. Fish rushing downriver, me letting it loose… Lifting the rod high above my head and fish running wildly. A loud: “Yeah!” made a colleague aware, what is going on. A big smile on my face, was saying everything. He shouted to me: “Is it a fish?”. Internal joke in our neck of the woods, as only brown trout and marbles deserve the nick (real) Fish. “You, betta”, was all I could muster. Playing the fish slowly, as didn’t wanted the dream to end-up prematurely. Fish began to roll in the undergrowth, me trying to steer it clear of green. Slowly lifting it to mid-water and already knew all is heading the right direction. Gacka obliges you to use the net to land the fish, especially as there are only few places where you could step into water, its banks cut deep into the limestone tissue. Lifting it up and all world turned still. A solid built brownie, non-Gacka strain, but beautiful nevertheless. Just shy of 20-inch mark, but hey, a good start into a day. Few clicks latter, she bumped into the blue.
The strategy turned right, as only a quarter hour later, the next shadow had been observed on the bottom. If it hadn’t moved a bit too much, would be walking by, no chances of seeing it. Similar plan, only this time the intersecting currents pulled the ladder higher. It took me few casts to make the drift right and only the third one was intersected by fish. This one, was more educated – running directly into underwater castle of green and starting its dance. “Ohhh”, was I all could muster… She went loose in next seconds. Rightly so, she was having an upper hand in her world. A really good start nevertheless.
A few words exchanged with a fellow fisherman and moving upriver. Activity has been seen close to the other bank, me slinging few switch casts right to the other bank. Bang and fish down. These things don’t hold long and the activity went down for next half mile. We were slowly moving up-river and prospecting the likely looking water/bottom. The wind was picking up.
A colleague hasn’t had a fish yet, therefore my plan to let him fish first. We have seen only few risers and few Baetis’es hatching. He was casting to some visible smaller fish, but also those were rather uncooperating. One of the casts landed close to the next bank and have observed a bigger shadow shifting position. Just few meters above me. An easy target, but... Called to colleague and asked him: “Don’t you see the fish?”. “Be careful, it’s lying just below your position.” That is all he needed. First cast went unspotted. The second one did the trick. The black form has started head banging at the bottom. Watching the fight up close, saw the fish having no real chances… All it took was: “Should I net the brownie?” And in next minutes the fight was over. A beautiful dark olive brownie, with big red dots – Gacka type. Pretty slender from the winter, but she will get the weight on. Left in the water for a minute to get recovered for a few obligatory photos and off she went. Life was good!
Going up-river, catching an odd fish here and there, but the sun was coming behind our backs and visibility went low. No big fish came to our hands. Colleague having more success with heavier nymphs. Turning back direction car and changing location – “Marshes”. At the location seen the odd fish rising, but all went numb from there on. No fish for both of us. Two fishermen just upriver were trying to catch their luck with no avail and they called it a day a good quarter hour later. We awaited the red sky to went black and finished the day. Calm waters bathing in red light; a memory imprinted in my brain forever.
Headed direction Bistro Ribic to finish off the day and wash it down with a pint of beer. We meet good company of likely minded people and another round of beer exchanged the tables with sweet chocolate pancakes supplementing it. A good night sleep cradled us to the next morning…
Awoken before seven, took the shower and readied myself for another day fishing. Even the web forecast promising the upcoming cold front and a windy afternoon couldn’t have ruined my day. Gacka field is notorious for being exposed to wind gusts that can kill your fly fishing day. Therefore, we chose the location that was at least partly protected of wind. We started to fish the upper River. Seeing a lonely riser sipping spent midges near the bank – size 22 to 24. A cast went down and so did the fish… I stood no chance. This time decided not to cast blindly, but rather observe the potentially looking lies for big browns. It didn’t take long till I spotted the queen. A solid brown parked in the deep hole at the bottom. Another try with the Gammarus has not come out productive. Resting the position and changing fly after fly, hasn’t brought any success. A good 30 minutes later, I was forced to call it a quit. The wind picked-up. After looking around I was seeing shadows taking their position - hatch was on. We took the odd rainbow and smaller browns by moving upstream. Casting here and there and catching mostly smaller fish.
Then it happened. The colleague casting to the other bank scared off the school of fish of all sizes and we rested them for few minutes. The countdown began. Colleague breaking off a good-sized fish on the first cast, taking another nice brownie of app. 16 inch and then I moved into position. The second cast resulted in a red-tailed brown – beau of just over forty (17 inch). Another few casts produced fish after fish. The wind picked up and we were able to fish only few river spots, that were partly covered. Another handful of brownies and few last year’s put-in rainbows were closing the noon session for each of us.
Moving to a downriver position and deciding to finish off the day at 4 PM. A good feast we had at one of the streamside tables, washed down with another pint of beer. No luck on a good-looking stretch of water, therefore changed the tactics to OPST Skagit head and sink tip for a deep work. The tip was on a short side therefore had problems with keeping the anchor on water, but still a nice opportunity to test it in the extreme windy conditions. Mean machine for mean flies. I could overhand cast 25 meters with one backcast. Not bad at all… another half an hour later, colleague was approaching and I knew, that was it for this day. No fish for the afternoon session for both of us…
What could I write more? Vivid memories of Gacka will stay in my head till the next outing. Preliminary plans for the end of March are kept in my diary. But all could change after the London Fly Fishing Fair, March 21 and 22. If you are around, please come and say hello at Fishery Institute Slovenia boot. Go Fly Fishing representative will be awaiting you and we may exchange the fish stories and have a word or two of what Slovenia offer fly-fishing wise.