Croatian Association of Sports Fishing Societies - Antun Mateš: The enchanted angler

Croatian Association of Sports Fishing Societies (HŠRS) 1935-2005

One year after the foundation of the first Zagreb Fishing Club in 1893, later renamed the Zagreb Fishing Society, other fishermen in larger towns throughout the southern part what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire began to establish their own societies. These were modeled after the Zagreb society, as the number of fishermen was constantly climbing and order needed to be established on the waters. Societies were established in Ogulin, Slavonski Brod, Varaždin, Sarajevo, Mostar and everywhere else there was a desire to see progress in fishing. Indeed, the number of societies already established by the end of World War I opened the opportunity in the newly established country for their association into a single body, in order to synchronize breeding activities and ensure progress. On 22 August 1926, the Association of Sports Fishing Societies of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was established. Its initial members were the Slovenian Fishing Society from Ljubljana, and societies from Celje, Maribor, Sarajevo, Osijek, Karlovac, Varaždin, Gospić, Čakovec, Brod na Kupi, Ogulin and, of course, the most influential society, that of Zagreb, as was worthy of the most modern city and its citizens. The first session was opened by Dr. Walter Weber, who spoke to the authorized delegates using carefully weighed words of welcome, and getting straight to the point. He said, “By neglecting the waters and fish breeding, the greedy and grasping exploitation of the fish in those waters, and the immense number of fish poachers has degraded what were once beautiful and rich waters, and has turned them into empty, ravaged waters”.

As such an esteemed angler as Dr. Weber, he was immediately appointed the first president of the Association, while the first vice-president was Dr. August Mund from Ljubljana. But, just to be on the safe side, yet another vice-president was appointed, Dr. Branko Žegarac, the chief of police from Sarajevo, just to make it clear who was really in charge. As such, Dr. Weber became president of both the Zagreb Fishing Society and the newly established Association. He only further confirmed his reputation in a speech which I joyously re-read and which could be a universal fisherman's pledge, “Let us prove by our personal and social manners, that we, angling sportsmen, who carry out our noble, healthy and joyous sport in the divinity of nature, the fresh air, with joyous hearts and tame thoughts, with rod in hand, are men of sterling quality, who have a sense for greater and better things, than the philistines and the narrow-minded general and undisciplined masses can imagine.”

Weber's huchen, caught in the Dobra in 1925.

Of course, the Fisheries Act of the Kingdom was applied in different measures throughout the land, depending on the way of life within, as even then there was a great difference in the standard of living between, for example, the Drava Banate or today's Slovenia from the Vrbas Banate, which presents what they call Bosnia. Nonetheless, orderly fisheries contributed in many ways to the development of spawning areas, improvement works to river banks and progress to fisheries as a whole, particularly to sports fishing. According to the archival material, such as fisheries magazines, the main problem was poaching. Poaching in that original Balkan form, the likes of which were unknown in Western Europe. Dynamite was regularly used in the local waters, and caused damage on a massive scale. Oh, if only Alfred Nobel could have seen how his invention was being abused for the capture of fish, he would have certainly left a recommendation to his foundation to create an ecological Nobel Prize for the preservation of waters and fish. Numerous articles and photographs of large fish killed, not to mention the small ones, shows that this epidemic was of unimaginable proportions and that fish were a kind of animal to be attacked with all means. It is surprising that they managed to survive at all

Dr. Walter Weber, president of the Zagreb Fishing Society and first present of the Association of Fishing Societies of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, with his two huchen caught in the Dobra. As befits a sophisticated gentleman and secretary of the Swiss Consulate in Zagreb, the elegant suit is an appropriate dress for such a rare catch.

Large huchen killed by explosives while spawning, and seized by the Financial Police when the angler tried to sell it.

Dynamite fishers caught. Paramilitary police sergeant Martinović caught fisherman throwing dynamite into the Lašva River. Such culprits require a serious approach. At the request of the paramilitary police that they stop and hand over their fishing “gear”, they dived into the water and began fleeing to the other bank, over the shallows. The officers promptly dived in after them and captured these savages, who received the penalty they deserved before the central police chief in Travnik. A second article, with the title Penalty for dynamite fishing, states that a certain Vlado Lađević and Đuro Šurlan were fined 500 and 200 dinars each for the use of dynamite on the Una near Dobrljin. Each issue of the fisheries magazines regularly featured stories about the many different capers by those using dynamite on all the rivers of the Sava basin and all the way to the Drina. The rouges continued their ways, and one article tells of how they assaulted state warden Risto Lubura. The event is reminiscent of the adventurous tales by Jack London about the first gold diggers in Alaska. It reads, In order to meet customer demand, there was an innkeeper on the source of the Bosna who was forced to get fish in any way he could, when he could no longer buy from the fish farms. Various smugglers and poachers took advantage of this fact and brought him fish for sale from all sides. Risto Lubura, fishing warden, knew of these suppliers and waited them out until 3 a.m., when they arrived with a cart full of fish. Lubura ambushed them and demanded he inspected their load. Also in the cart were Marko Kegelj and Mirsad Laco from Lepenica, with the cart driver. The cart driver, instead of pulling the horses to a halt, whipped them to run, and Lubura pulled out his official shotgun and pointed it at them. One of the men pulled out a revolver and pointed it at Lubura. According to Lubura's statement, the revolver failed to fire, but they attacked Risto in an angry rage, took away his gun and began to beat him with blows of the revolver to the head, causing fractures. It is questionable whether Lubura would have survived had there not been witnesses present.

Among all possible poaching methods, including nets and poisoning, the use of explosives took first place. Huchen like these could only rarely escape being killed.

Under such circumstances, and in an aim to better protect the water and the fish, the Association of Fishing Societies of Savska Banate, made up of Croatian fishing societies, was established in Zagreb on 27 January 1935. Obviously, it was this unfortunate poacher who stimulated the Croatian societies to come together and become better organized so as to protect their waters and fish. The rivalry between the older members, led by Dr. Weber, and the younger ones, led by Dr. Dande, was so evident in the minutes of the annual meeting, and could only hamper the relations between societies. And, as is usually the case, the younger members won. The next president to serve after Dr. Dande was Dr. Antun Jakovac, son of the founder of the Zagreb Fishing Society Antun Jakovac, and whose son Zlatko Jakovac caught a large, 16 kg huchen under the bridge on the Sava at Podsused in 1939.

Jakovac dynasty; the youngest member Zlatko caught a large, 16 kg huchen in the Sava just outside of Zagreb in 1939.

Truly sacred – the traditional fisherman's lunch. All the travel writers, like Mršić, Peić, Klašterka, Thaller and the old fishermen Daut, Hrastinski, Račić, Dr. Kopsa, Dr. Jakovac and I regularly carried such lunches on our trips to the rivers. Hunter's or garlic salami had true cult status, and never again, not even in times with a rich selection of foods, would I experience anything as delicious as the cheapest garlic sausage in those days.

And from the time of its inception and first president Walter Weber, many successful association presidents and secretaries would follow, working in the Zagreb office at 7 Palmotićeva Street Whenever I needed some historical fishing information, I was always happy to drop by the little office of the Association, overflowing with boxes of archive material and mounted fish. For many years, this was also the editorial office of the magazine Športski ribolov (Sports Fishing) which has succeeded to survive, despite many rises and falls and in the light of tradition, to the present day, where it is now created in a modern, professional, market-based edition. In Volume One, I described in detail the inception of the Ribarski list (Fishing Paper), launched by the Zagreb Fishing Society and editors Gjuro Kaitner, Vlatko Bartulić and Zdravko Thaller, a man who is certainly responsible for the development of sport fishing and who had a special talent for publishing fishing literature. With the establishment of the Association, Ribarski list became its main journal, and anglers from around Croatia made it theirs. Veljko Klašterka was editor of the magazine for many years and, in terms of the importance and number of books and articles he authored, he was second only to Thaller. He published a particularly popular handbook called Ribarski kalendar (Angler's Calendar) and wrote several excellent books on the topic. He also wrote the screenplay for the excellent black & white film entitled Tale of the Huchen from the Kupa. However, the editorial fate of such creative individuals as Thaller and Klašterka obviously aroused a great deal of envy and problems with most associates and colleagues, as can easily be seen by leafing through the articles of the fishing publications of the time. Both men were fired, and Thaller even faced prosecution in court. However, his works remain and no one remembers those who persecuted him, as these things usually end. After Klašterka, the federal magazine Ribolov (Fisheries) was well edited by literary writer Dragutin Horkić right up until the start of the war. Unfortunately, this would be the last time the postman would carry this prized publication to the homes of Croatian anglers, as the price of the magazine was covered by the payment of the annual fishing membership fee. Alongside Dragutin Horkić, the editorial board that marked the end of the romantic era of fisheries journalism was also comprised of Pažur, Glavač, Majorinc, Canjuga, Ševčik and Judge Vladimir Zobundžija from Osijek. The last issue of Ribolov was published in 1992, when the war in Croatia disrupted life as a whole, and many anglers went off to the front lines to defend their homeland.

This collection of flies made by Rikard Hafner from Osijek caught my attention in the early days of our trout fishing. Hafner made this excellent collection way back in 1958.

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