The Dobra River – Grayling Reaches - Antun Mateš: The enchanted angler

The Dobra River – Grayling Reaches

A large, 51 cm grayling is trying to outwit me. I was holding the fly rod in one hand, and taking this photo of this battle with the other. The grayling, surely in a panic, could not have known that after the battle it would be safely returned to the Dobra.

The Croats sure knew how to recognize noble waters when they named this river Dobra (engl. = the good one, the good girl). This rapturous river springs from a small spring just below Skrad, which competes with the Curak stream on the opposite western side which crashes in a magnificent waterfall into the bottomless pool called Zeleni vir (Green Eddy). It is certain that both springs are in fact a collection of connected reservoirs that divide at the springs, but join up again 100 km later, the approximately length of the Dobra, just below Mahično and above Karlovac. The Dobra, still a mountain stream, joins up at the village of Gornja Dobra near the old Karlovac – Rijeka highway with the Bukovska Dobra stream to form a small river in which brown trout happily swim all the way to Vrbovsko. A little more to the south, below this lovely mountain town, the attractive Kamačnik Stream, a beloved destination for nature lovers, drains into the Dobra on the right hand side, parallel to the railway line. It was right underneath these two joined waters near the waterfall on the Dobra, that Dr. Pažur and Mr. Kolić introduced the grayling some fifty years ago, by bringing several dozen fish from the Kupa. By the time the multi-year fishing ban was over, the Dobra was filled with large grayling. The local anglers, who usually fished for small trout using the bubble float technique, had no chance of catching the sophisticated grayling, and so for years, Pažur and I were virtually the only ones fishing this grayling Eldorado.

Lovro trying to outwit a lovely grayling.

Without any real predators, the grayling of the Dobra have solidly multiplied. Furthermore, the average catch was between 40 and 50 cm long. Every single pool, even the smallest, was teaming with beautiful, large fish. The riparian area, with its overgrown banks, further benefitted the fish's security, as the local anglers were not so successful in fly fishing, but only lifted the occasional fish bubble-floating. This was usually in the early evening, when a multitude of trout and grayling would take the dry flies on the surface. The entire grayling stretch extends downstream of the mouth of the Kamačnik to Ogulin, but its most attractive part are those few kilometers from the bridge near the source of the Cetina in the village Luka, where the train from Rijeka often encountered bears in the tunnel above the bridge. Of course, the big bear would usually not survive the encounter.

The fishing was excellent upstream from the bridge, next to the meadow where the only resident of the area at that time, Trbović, would let his few cows out to graze, until you came to the only dam of what had previously been a large mill and now a mini hydroelectric plant that produced electricity for the only house in the area, that belonged to one Mirko Frković. Just above this dam, the Dobra was deep with many large grayling, more than 50 cm long.

In this pristine nature, where the old beech trees covered with moss on the slopes of the hills were toppling over with age or due to a lighting strike, it was virtually impossible to fly-fish. But I had to pass through here to the upper positions where some lovely fly-fishing was possible, and along the way, I was always excited to see the large grayling, swimming up and down under the roots of the trees, eating caddis larvae off the bottom. Powerless due to the countless branches that prevented any form of casting flies, I would barely penetrate through just to rest and watch these grand grayling. On a whim, I somehow pulled my rod through the bushes and simply dropped the nymph until it touched the bottom. I had only just begun to lift it, when a large grayling swam over at lightning speed and took the fly with a strong bite. I had set the hoo well, but I had to step into the waist deep water, well over my boots, if I wanted to land it. Due to the summer heat, it was a pleasant, refreshing feeling. Of course, without a landing net, I battled long and hard with the grayling and when I tried to grab a branch so that I could reach the fish with my other hand, I was terrified to see a horned viper just 10 cm from my hand.

A 51 cm long grayling that I returned to the river.

But meeting with the Europe's most venomous snake, the nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) is another thing alltogether. In order to avoid the fate of the four men killed by this snake's venom in just the past two years, I was forced to act against my conservationist principles.

What now? I thought. The viper was staring me down and was signaling with his tongue that it was ready to strike. I had no other choice but to cut it in half with a machete with one hand, while still holding onto the grayling on the line with the other. Due to my great excitement over the unexpected catch, when I was coming out of the water, I banged my head hard on a large beech branch, when an idea came to me, not unlike Archimedes, and I almost yelled Eureka! And here in this dense wood, I discovered a new kind of fishing that I called catapulting. The technique was in the use of a small, flexible rod, with a small reel and very thin nylon, 0.15 mm), on which I tied a weighted nymph, which I cast very precisely and far off. The great advantage of this technique was not only in that I could cast anywhere through the bushes, but that the trout or grayling were not frightened off by the reflection and fall of the fat fly-fishing line. This technique was so effective that for years I hid it from my fellow anglers so as to avoid them catching all the fish.

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