The Kupa River - Antun Mateš: The enchanted angler

The Kupa River

One of my favorite photographs of the deep blue spring at the source of the Kupa, photographed in 1982 with my robust Praktica

Even at its source, the Kupa shows that it is something special in comparison to other rivers. Under some 300 meter high vertical cliffs, water of a muted emerald color pushes up from depths just as deep. In the upper reaches, the main resident is the noble brown trout, while the grayling appears downstream, about where the huchen stretches also begin. The source itself is home to grayling who have contested the historical right of the trout to the spring. Speleologists from Zagreb have conducted several studies of the spring, with specially equipped divers reaching depths of 150 meters in the vertical pit, but without seeing the bottom. The spring can be reached from the village Razlog on a steep road that leads to the dried up Krsičevica stream, which occasionally runs in torrents. Another way to get here is a longer but more pleasant walk, passing the marked trail from the confluence of the Čabranka stream into the Kupa, near Osilnica in Slovenia. Upstream from here, towards the source, new spots appear around each bend, each better than the one before, where great grayling and the occasional brown trout can be found. In his wonderful book from 1898 entitled Gorski kotar, Dragutin Hirc gave a very sensible description of this area and the spring. The path leads past an older house on the slope of the hill and then you arrive at the green source of the Kupa River. What a rare sight! The peak of Kupeški vrh rises up 300 m above the Kupa. When you look from hill to hill, there are no settlements to be seen, not a soul in sight, nowhere a human voice. The ear can distinguish only the sound of the dearly flowing water. How pleasant and lovely it is in this solitude. This is not the home of human evil, vileness, hatred, discord or envy, but is the home of peaceful souls, the home, according to the legend, of the mountain fairies. A man would leave the world, if that were possible, and move here, to live a blessed and peaceful life. The water in the spring at the source of the Kupa is dark green, turbid and completely calm. Only when a grayling jumps to catch a fly or a damselfly nymph, does its surface gently break. The water is icy, too harsh for the trout, which inhabits the Kupa downstream. If you stand in the water, it is as though you are in a live bed of coals, and when you come out, the pain makes you bend over, and jump in place to ease the pain.

Heading upstream to the first settlement called Kupari, your gaze stops on a large and deep lake-like pool right next to houses with a sheet metal roofs due to the long winters and the massive quantities of snow that fall here. The houses themselves, be they made of wood or bricks, are wrapped with chopped wood, as the inhabitants warm themselves through winter with a continuously burning fire. The entire area of the Kupa source is rich in springs and small streams, one of which enters this lake right by the houses. In it, near the bottom, are large grayling, and at dusk they eat flies off the surface with that specific grayling suction. The larger the circles on the surface, the smaller the grayling and vice versa. Here, I have had the opportunity of catching grayling before my amazed friends, whom I had asked immediately upon our arrival to build a fire for the barbeque, while the fish were still in the water. Oh, how I flaunted when I asked my unbelieving friends what size fish they wanted. My only condition was that we could eat as many grayling as we liked, but we would not take any home. In that lake, every grayling I set my eyes on in the depths would take my weighted fly, and I would put on a show by releasing the large ones back in the river, as they were too large to fit on the barbeque.

A feisty grayling from the source of theKupa.

The magnificent books Gorski Kotar and Lika i Plitvička jezera by Dragutin Hirc, in a mountaineering ambient, with hiking stick, backpack, compass and lantern, put together in honor of this naturalist and enthusiast.

This was the ratio of grayling to trout, shown on a massive coltsfoot leaf, near the source of the Kupa.

The Zagreb anglers were always happy to fish the Kupa, as the huchen was abundant enough to at least see a huchen every time, and the little ones often would play with the zopf right up to the anglers' feet. From the mouth of the Čabranka, the Kupa is a border river with Slovenia, and for years, the anglers worked together well on stocking and caring for the huchen and grayling. Downstream from Brod, the small Kupica stream drains on the right hand side, and its banks were also the site of many an excellent fishing tale. But the special phenomenon are the Curak and Jasle streams that merge just under the small hydroelectric plant called Munjara-Zeleni vir from 1921; from here it is called the Iševnica stream. This river is rich in trout and grayling and drains into the Kupica. Nature often creates places that are made for the staging of fantastic legends and imaginative fairy tales of dragons and wizards. The natural, mystical amphitheatre created where the 80 m waterfall of the Curak stream falls down a massive vertical cliff, in which of course lies a great, dark cave, is one such place.

Clover, purple mountain wild flowers, a good selection of flies and a 45 cm grayling sum up many happy moments along the banks of the Kupa.

"Oh, the magnificent wonders of nature! I am thankful for the extraordinary scenes that nature has given me, a mere mortal." It would be difficult to find a more suitable expression of gratitude when one approaches the waterfall of the Curak stream.

A well marked and maintained trail leads you along the cliffs, passing over dangerous passes through a dense, dark forest, with eyes cast upwards at the massive cliffs where the eagles once flew, all the while taking care not to slip on the moss covered rocks and tumble into the abyss below. But the effort is definitely worth it, as the thundering sound of the waterfall and the tiny droplets of pure water bring the observer into a state of ecstatic awe of the grandeur of nature. From the cavernous Zeleni vir, the clear water springs and flows right into the pipes of the hydroelectric plant, and so the terrifying canyon of the stream, of which Hirc wrote with great respect, is usually dry except in periods of high waters.

A few hundred meters downstream, the waters of the Curak stream are drained into the Jasle stream, which is known to occasionally swell and with its massive force, it expands the impressive cut through the granite rocks, aptly named Devil's Pass. Later this water becomes the larger Iševnica stream where large grayling can be found, just before it drains into the Kupica. The Kupica contains grayling and the occasional huchen, while downstream near Čedanj is where the main huchen part of the Kupa begins. In this canyon are many deep pools, where countless large huchen were found. This ten kilometer stretch of canyon is very isolated and can be reached from the Croatian side only on foot, and offers exceptional excitement for anglers, as many large specimens have been caught here.

But the village of Blaževci downstream of the canyon part of the Kupa is my favorite spot, and I came here frequently in early autumn to fish for huchen and grayling. Here stands the Vilhar family sawmill, and right underneath the Vilhar waterfall, between the travertine cuts, we often had some excellent fishing. The area called Ploče (engl. = slabs), after the flat rock of the riverbed, stands out due to the narrows in one part, where the Kupa narrowly cuts between two rocks and in its powerful and deep currents it was difficult to trick the larger grayling that used their pectoral fins to keep their balance while keeping their big eyes open for a tasty ant. Here I fought an unforgettable battle with a powerful grayling that had bit my line with a small red ant, and we fought a long and equal battle that I would ultimately win. As I usually did, I mercifully released the excellent fighter back into the river.

A large grayling, just before being returned to the river.

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