The Una Huchen - Antun Mateš: The enchanted angler

The Una Huchen

Pešo Grgić with a massive Una huchen.

The Una can be divided into three parts: the upper river, from the source to Ripač, the middle river from the confluence of the Sana at Bosanski Novi, and the lower from Bosanski Novi to Jasenovac. The waters of the Una pass through several depressions, which surely were lakes initially, but over time the water broke through and created the Una. The first valley is situated near the source by the village Donja Suvaja, and can be reached via a steep and windy road down the slope of Mt. Čemernica from the southwest. In that valley, several small tributaries, the Dabašnica, Lalinovac, Srebrnica and Sredica, meet with the main waters from the source, and their waters together form the Una. This marks the end of the Suvaja Valley and the beginning of the canyon where the Krka drains. The next depression is the Rmanj Valley, near where the Unac drains at Martin Brod, and where the first large waterfall is seen. Downstream follow the Vakuf, Bihać and Krupa Valleys. At Rudica or Adrapovac is the end of the rocky, limestone type valleys and the Una becomes a lowland river in the Pannonian plain, the remnant of the dry bottom of Lake Titis. The fishing grounds that seem to compete amongst themselves in terms of their beauty and attractiveness for huchen fishing begin beneath Bihać, right near the waterfall in Kostela and the dam of the local hydroelectric plant. I must say right away that I have divided the huchen section of the Una into three parts, based on my personal experience. The first, most interesting part, is the area under the Ostrošec Castle, where the attractive canyon begins and later ends around Bosanska Krupa and Otoka, from which point the Una continues to compete with itself for the beauty of its waterfalls, rapids, deep eddies and old mills, right up to the confluence of the Sana in Bosanski Novi. The second part stretches from Otoka to the village of Bačin under Kostajnica. In the first two sections, the huchen is always found and caught, while in the third section are only transitory fish, found here only in winter. The first section in the Una canyon I consider to be the most attractive part of the Una, and rightfully so. One waterfall after another, travertine, rapids, undercut banks and rocks that have fallen off the high cliffs into the river, thus providing safe shelter for large fish.

Here, near the railway station, lived a man named Islam back in the 1950s. Like a burlak pulling boats along the Volga, he would use a thick rod to pull out 15–20 kg huchen on mounted grayling that he kept in formaldehyde. He showed this skill to the old anglers from Zagreb, among them Friedrich Karafiat, who in turn demonstrated the zopf, unknown in those parts, to the amazed Islam. On his first throw, he hooked a massive, 20 kg huchen

A large and stout huchen caught over the New Year's holidays at the village Tanac in 1984.

There is no doubt that the continuous war conflicts between these three groups over the centuries was also religious in part. When the Turks invaded Bosnia, part of the Catholic Christians and part of the Orthodox Vlachs converted to Islam. The Croats there were then called Ugri after the Catholic Hungary, just as the Croats in Eastern Herzegovina were called Latin, after Venice. They wrote in the Bosančica script, and spoke the Ikavica dialect, and even today, some villages such as Bile Stine are reminiscent of that period. In Krupa, the Croatian noble family Badanjković converted to Islam and became fiery enemies of the Catholics, just as the Serbian local ruler Omer-pasha Latas was particularly dangerous and cruel towards his Orthodox brethren. In 1627, the Krupa military leader or dizdar, Safir-aga Badanjković, the primary hero of the Muhammadan of that region, wrote a letter challenging Vuk Mrnjavčić, captain from Sredički na Kupi to a duel. In his work Memoriae regum et banorum, Ratkaj stated that they wrote in the Bosančica script and spoke the pure Croatian Ikavica dialect, he described the duel, The time for the duel was set at Sredički near Krupa, (likely Kupa, author's note) where Vuk Mrnjavčić came out to duel with the young Safir-agi Badanjkoviću, who was esteemed for his courage among both Turks and Christians. A terrible sight occurred in the duel, first Vuk Mrnjavčić seriously wounded the knightly Turk on the back, and then, when the Turk bent over towards the horse's head in pain, Mrnjavčić cut off both his head and the horse's head with a single swing of his sword. The Turks were so taken by fear by that event, that no one ever challenged the hero Mrnjavčić to a duel again. The Turks also had their own great hero, about whom heroic poems were written, buljuk-basha Mujo Hrnjica from Velika Kladuša, whose head was taken in ambush by his cousin Mego Katarica, as the traditional saying goes: Who will whom, if not he his own. The Vlachs or Serbs were never far from expressing the greatness of their Prince Marko, who, after all, was a Turkish vassal.

The lower region of the Kupa, from the mouth of the Krušnica to the mouth of the Vojskova stream in Rudice, and a little further down, the confluence of the Una with the Sana marks the end of the elite huchen fishing reach of the river, and is a zone where huchen can only occasionally be caught. Earlier, I stated that this section was in fact excluded from serious fishing, except ledgering, due to the thick and disgusting black, cellulose filled water, in which large quantities of plastic bottles also floated. But now, after a long and bloody war in which the cellulose factory in Prijedor was destroyed, the Una is again clear and continues to flow, a little wider and with deep undercuts through this reach, around the villages of Divuša, Zamlača, Unčani, Kozibrod, Kuljani, the town of Kostajnica and the villages of Rosulje and Bačina. The third part includes the region from the mouth of the Mlječanica Stream, the town of Dubica and a single line of houses along the embankment at Tanac and Uštica at the very confluence of the Una into the Sava at Jasenovac. The Una huchen vary in form and appearance, depending on where they are caught. In the upper reaches of the Una they have the usual torpedo-like appearance, like the beauties from the Dobra or the Kupa. Those caught at the end of the calendar year in the lower course are stockier, with full bellies and a more rounded form. There, the average catch of big fish is well over 10 kg, while in the upper course, the smaller fish are most abundant.

Front cover of the fishing magazine Ribolov, which aroused a great deal of fuss amongst my envious colleagues.

The not so pleasant walking aspect of the fishing here aside, the local population on the right bank of the Una were kind and sympathetic. They were quick to make friends with the anglers from Zagreb, and the occasional theft of gear would be attributed to the remnants of the Ottoman age, which nurtured robbery and theft as a a higher form of social reputation: the greater the thief and cheat, the more respectable he was. Even the national tales and songs told of the legend of the hajduk (engl. = outlaw) thieves and frauds of any religion, …our people are as proud of our hajduks as of our heroes. They wear silk tassels on their heads, silver balls on their chests and as weaponry carry a long hajduk sabre and two short rifle-pistols. It must be admitted, with these weapons they also cause harm to their own people, they plunder the houses, but due to the Turkish evildoing, the people both love and mourn their hajduks.

It is generally thought that the Turks did the most evil, which can be accepted given the fact that they were the conquerors. However, the Christians were not far behind in their share of doing impermissible things. It was with great interest that I red the original letter, written in the archaic Croatian Ikavian dialect in 169, in which Mustaj-beg Badnjević, of Bihać sandžak (Turkish administrative unit, county), complains to Colonel Ivan Andrija Makar, commander of Bosanski Novi, of the actions of the Ugars (Croats) who were ambushing the Turks and robbing them, selling them into slavery, or tying them up then cutting them with swords and axes. … causing a great deal of trouble, ambushed by the Novi Ugars and their horses and goods stolen; they had thirty horses, which these took for no reason. And Elkas from Stina, we know not why but you plan to cut them or sell them, who knows for what shame… And the crimes committed against Emre harambaše, he was not cut down on battlefield, but tied up in his bed, which is not a heroic feat.

This tradition of deceit is so deeply set and lovingly nurtured that in Yugolavia, a Plenčin document, as called by the local newspaper, was found which accused the former UN General Secretary and then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim*40 for crimes at Wermacht that were not proven. After the discovery that the Plenčin document was nothing but a fake, the man who created it, a member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts and journalist of a Belgrade newspaper that even sold this phony document to the German paper Stern for a handsome amount, experienced a great jump in his social reputation. Even the great leader Tito had a prized judicial guideline, “Comrades, we need not hold to the law like a drunk to the fence.” I must humbly admit that I personally was not fond of this backwards traditional value, particularly when some loyal friends from the right bank of the Una deprived me of ownership over my brand new HMG Fenwick fly-fishing rod that I bought in Munich at the famed Stork fishing supplies shop, and that I paid more than a full month's salary for. Then, in 1975, this was the first dark red Fenwick in Zagreb. Immensely proud, I rushed off to the Una where I proudly flashed that beauty about, despite it being winter when fly fishing rods are not used. I was obviously very successful in bragging about my gear, as the thieves noticed by expensive rod and certainly thought to themselves, Look at the fool, and bragging too!My beloved rod disappeared from my car while I was happily and proudly dining on a Bosnian meat patty in abun with some old onions in a tavern across the street from Javornik. I only discovered the loss later, when I returned home in Zagreb and went to bring my gear in from the car. What followed was multiple searches of the car, until I realized that I had been robbed, and that hit me so hard that I was instantly frosted by my first grey lock of hair, at the tender age of thirty

Summer huchen fishing in the Una canyon.

The terrain beneath Dvor, near the village Unčani was particularly prized during those times when the cellulose factory was undergoing maintenance, and the Una was somewhat suitable for fishing. Gravel was being extracted from the river bed with a massive excavator that had piled it up to the middle of the river, and had compacted it into a temporary road for a dump truck to take the material away. Of course, when the excavator changed positions, the gravel bank was left behind, which the river could bring down, but those essential deep holes where the huchen could hide remained. During periods of higher water, Rudi and I would launch in a boat under the bridge in Žirovac and slowly scope out the terrain, either with a zopf or a mounted dead chub. In Bosnia, this method was called zipper fishing, and they would say how the huchen's powerful jaws could easily turn a triple hook into a double hook and, of course, get away. Here, near the gravel separation, I caught a lovely huchen, a metre long and weighing 10 kg. Of course, I didn't stop fishing then, but Rudi and I continued by boat towards the Bosnian side and I caught another 7 kg huchen.

This double catch was interesting for several reasons. Firstly, because the fish on the Croatian side is called a glavatica, and could be fished from 1 October to 15 February, while the same fish caught on the Bosnian side was called mladica, and it's fishing season opened on 15 June. This example shows how the manner of fishing, fishing seasons and the names of fish were totally different, and on the same day, one could fish normally on one bank, while passing over to the other bank of the border river between republics meant poaching. Rudi and I, happy but freezing, returned the boat to the dock and began photographing the attractive fish. Of course, I foolishly waved my catch about, as such a catch is not so commonplace, and so I offered one particularly attractive photo to Dragutin Horkić to publish on the cover of an angler's magazine. Had I been a little wiser, I should have said that we had caught these together, but I was inexperienced then. Like the sensible, artistic soul I was then, I believed that everyone would rejoice together with me over my catch, just as I rejoiced when my friend Jeren caught his first huchen of 11 kg, but that was not the case. I had completely forgotten the fable about how the dear Lord was travelling the Earth incognito and arrived in Croatia. Tired and thirsty, He stood by a house and asked a villager for a glass of water. The villager offered Him milk and cheese, which greatly impressed the Lord, and so He introduced Himself and told the villager He would fulfill any wish he had. The villager thought about it, and wished that his neighbor's cow would drop dead. The avalanche of criticism against me, launched by envious anglers forced me into a mouse hole, as my fishing colleagues paid no attention to the fact that I had caught each fish in a different regime with different rules. Only many years later, when preparing for this book, did I realize that I was then a true Mother Theresa compared to those fishermen who attacked me most and wrote letters against me, though they had had themselves happily phothographed with their daily catches, many times more numerous, just like I did with mine.

Jan Janković with his trophy huchen, caught just upstream of Bosanski Novi.

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