The Dobra and its Huchen - Antun Mateš: The enchanted angler

The Dobra and its Huchen

In the centre of Ogulin, the Đulin ponor abyss attracts numerous visitors and locals who look down from this small viewing platform.

When the water of the Dobra drains into the belly of the mountain through Đulin ponor (Julia's abyss) in the middle of Ogulin, its waters begin to flow through one of the longest cave systems in Croatia. Passing along the tunnel of the hydroelectric plant, most of its water, together with the water of Zagorska Mrežnica accumulate in Bukovik Lake, and again surface just before the village Gojak, where the river is called Gojačka Dobra. The large tunnel of the hydroelectric plant of the same name was built in toiling labor by political prisoners who were, in fact, not sympathizers of Tito's Socialist regime. Several hundred meters from the point where this second spring surfaces, the Dobra is intersected by the Bistrac stream, so that here it is only a few meters narrow. This well known spot, called Sastavci, was a favorite destination for Zagreb anglers fishing for the big grayling found in the Bistrac stream, and this also marked the starting point for huchen fishing. Some said that the huchen would come to spawn in this place, but the main spawning grounds were upstream from the bridge in Trošmarija, where one Easter I watched the love game of a large male playing around a female busy clearing the gravel.

Just before sinking again, the Dobra is virtually cut in half by the Bistac stream near a place called Sastavci.

This stretch of the Dobra was full of huchen, and my friend Milan and I would regularly observe a shoal of about 50 fish, from little ones to big ones of 18 kg. What a sight to see! In addition to the large shoals of nase and Danubian roach that covered the rocky river bed, thus showing the excellent symbiosis of the numbers of white fish and their predators, the occasional grayling could also be caught here, almost as more of an afterthought. Above the bridge, to the left, the village of Trošmarija stands on a plateau. This is a phonetic adaptation of the German name Marija Trost. Here, the small sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes was built, with a church dating back to the 18th century, 300 m from the old sanctuary that was torched by the Turks in the 15th century.

After passing through the underground for several kilometers after entering Đulin ponor, the Dobra springs up again from the cave near the village Gojak, and here is called Gojačka Dobra.

Two or three large bends in the river later, equally rich in huchen, we reached my favorite place, the village Grabrk. This village was first mentioned 435 years ago, on 8 March 1574 in the list of the priests of St. George's parish in Lešće. Here, I was fascinated by the beauty and wonder of construction of the long and windy road through the canyon, fabulously walled, built for the village to bring their wheat to the mill just under a high cliff, or to drive their cattle to the watering hole. A boat was tied here, and was very useful to the residents of the neighboring settlement of Duga Gora on the opposite hill, who would occasionally sail across the river and tie their boat to an iron cable, something Vilim Mršić described.They say that it was often a problem that the boat would always be tied on the opposite side, so they would have to call out loud to the residents of the neighboring village to come down the steep cliff and unhook the boat. At this point, the Dobra is very deep. One summer, I dived in out of curiosity to see the extent of the depths, where huchen could always be caught every season. After the shallow section, it suddenly opens up into a darkness several meters deep, which made me shudder so I quickly swam back to shore. This entire karst area abounds in caves along the river banks, and similar deep undercuts, where huchen can hide, are found along the entire length of the river. The attractiveness of this spot always lured me back, regardless of the weather conditions and difficulties, as in times of deep snow it was very difficult to reach the river along this lovely walled, though steep road.

My favorite fishing spot, under the village Grabrk on the Dobra.

Looking down the cliff was terrifying, but there is no barrier great enough to stop a mad fisherman.

Winter ambience of the Dobra canyon near Podumol will soon disappear under the water of the new reservoir.

Once I was returning back to this spot straight from the attractive Una rapids near Bosanska Krupa. My instinct did not fool me, as I quickly caught a lovely, 5 kg huchen, and then I sat under a rock to rest my legs from the long walk in heavy boots, and to take a brief respite to enjoy the magnificent autumn colors of the beech leaves. While viewing the famous hall of old maps in Madrid's Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial palace, I was amazed to see the village of Grabrk marked on a map several hundred years old, while many larger towns only marked their existence much later. A miller named Jarnević once told me that his largest huchen, weighing in at 18 kg, was caught at the dam of the mill, right under the terrifying 20 m high cliff which I crazily, in my angling rapture, traversed by feeling my way in the night, as there was no other way. An even greater challenge was how to get back after catching a large huchen along this dangerous goat trail which, over time, I cleared with a machete and marked. Unfortunately, the mill was knocked down, but I took home a cogwheel made by a blacksmith as a memento, and later would use its weight to press graphics in my studio.

A fairy tale like photograph of the bridge across the Dobra near Trošmarija, which will soon disappear under the deep water of the reservoir.

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