Gilly Bate, southern chalk stream guide and Fly Odyssey UK Director…
Mark Windsor has just returned from a weeks grayling and brown trout fishing in Bosnia. His report follows …….
Being a saltwater fly fishing fanatic makes the thought of chasing a Grayling or Trout seem a little tame. However I decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and challenge myself which is exactly what I did on a recent trip to Bosnia. Never mind 60lb tippet and 4/0 hooks what about 2.4lb tippet and size 20 and 22’s !!
Bosnia… what a place and what a challenge. From the off I flew direct from Heathrow direct to Zagreb (Croatia) with one other fellow fishermen and then the rest of the party joined us from Manchester where they flew via Munich. Zagreb airport by the way has recently been replaced with a lovely clean new one which was opened in April this year. No problems at the airport and we were met by Milan our transfer host who has perfect English and was courteous and generous. We arrived ahead of the Manchester flight by 2 hours so we enjoyed a coffee and a chat about the locations, the rivers, fishing and general pre fishing stuff transfer times etc. Once the rest of the party joined us from Manchester we piled into the smart new mini bus and set off for a 3-4 hour transfer allowing for a quick beer stop for us that is not our driver. The border from Croatia into Bosnia Herzegovina is about 90 mins or so from the airport and can get busy with weekend ttraffic. However we sailed through and enjoyed a pleasant drive through beautiful scenery and open countryside before heading up into the hills and to the first river we were going to fish the Ribnik.
Accommodation is in smart wooden chalet style lodges set either side of the river banks. The rooms are clean and smart twins with en suite facilities and plenty of room to hang your waders and store gear. An elevated wooden pathway links the chalets to the complex where there are fly tying facilities and the restaurant. The Ribnik is a delightful spring fed river that is gin clear and I mean gin clear and it is stuffed with fish. I cannot remember ever seeing a river where there are so many fish. We were targeting Grayling but of course there are plenty of trout as well. What is interesting is that you can see fish in the river but until the hatch starts you have no idea how many there are, when the action starts the water literally boils. We had quite dry sunny clear weather for most of our week with low water so a lot of the hatches happened during the late afternoon and evening when fish seem to be rising everywhere, I have never witnessed anything like it. Then it a question of matching the hatch. So, out with the fly boxes followed by the usual shaking of heads however our guides Mieta and Renato who speak good English and are great company and fun to be with, know this river like the back of their hands. Ant hatch ! and out comes the size 20’s ……mmm nothing like that in my box. Tying on a 20 or 22 is a challenge in bright sunlight but try when the light is falling and the fish are on the feed. But we succeeded and we caught fish we lost fish and sometimes the fish missed the fly (yes the fish can miss the fly).
Sometimes the flies look so close to the naturals that you couldn’t tell whether the fish had taken your fly or the natural so strike anyway just in case !
I learnt so much, sure the usual upstream dry fly but what about downstream dry fly techniques, dealing with fast and slow currents, dead drifting even downstream. Short drifts controlling the fly and accuracy. Targeting specific fish and working your way along the river. We often only fished quite small areas due to the sheer numbers of fish there was no need to move a lot other than to keep your feet warm because the water is cold and you need good thermals and warm socks. I also learned how to fish really small flies and if you like technical fishing, light lines, small flies accurate casting and lots of fish with some very big fish in amongst them then you will love Bosnia and especially the Ribnik. Of course it wasn’t all dry fly fishing, we did turn to the dark side and use nymphs on many occasions when there was no obvious hatch.
How to fish the upstream nymph, read the current and speed and flow of the river and judge where the nymph is and what weight nymph to use. Also the downstream nymph with long drag free drifts. All very challenging and very rewarding when you make contact and we did.
Lots of the fish we caught were in the 3/4lb to 1lb bracket with larger fish taken, with some smaller ones but there are trophy Grayling to be caught and some of my fishing colleagues and guides showed us how it was done. So there was great sport and action all round.
After three days on the Ribnik we headed off on Thursday morning to the second location and the river Pliva which is about a 90 minute drive up into the hills and again through some magnificent scenery. Forests, rivers plateaus and winding roads. We tracked the height we climbed in the van to 957metres above sea level before we descended down to about 620 metres to the lodgings for the next three days. A delightful village and what is almost like a mountaineers, hunters and adventurers lodge. Surrounded by wooded hillside that are the home to wolves, wild boar and I understand the occasional Wolverine ! Sadly we didn’t see any of these wild animals but the air was clean and from the mountains.
The Pliva is a different river to the Ribnik, it’s bigger, wider and deeper. Like a larger version of the River Test. But the water is just as clear as the Ribnik. Spring fed and full of fish and some of them are very big. We used the same techniques as on the Ribnik however it is fair to say that the Pliva is a harder river to fish. The river is more open and you need to cast further. If the wind blows it can be hard work controlling the fly and drift but not impossible and every fish that you catch you feel that you have earned. The river was low and whilst dry flies were hatching and fish rising the nymph was probably a better option. I spent an hour targeting a group of very large Grayling 3-4lbs plus using a heavy nymph and a dead drifting technique. I was almost about to give up when one of the fish took the nymph, almost a sip, it took the fly so gently I almost missed it but I set the hook and the 4# rod simply bent double and I could feel the weight of the fish. Heavy and deep there was no splashing it simply dug deep and took a little line from my reel. I was thinking that this fish is going to take off shortly and I could see myself having a photo of holding up this trophy Grayling when the hook hold gave and my heart sank. This not only happened to me once but twice and it is fair to say that it is always the fish you lose that haunt you. But it highlights the need for good technique and the Pliva doesn’t give up its trophies lightly you have to earn your wings. However we did catch fish some good sized Grayling and some nice trout. But there are some really big fish in that river and I for one will be back to take on the challenge and experience the amazing hatches of flies the Plum brandy that was readily available, ‘Sljivovica’, the warm and wonderful welcoming hospitality of our hosts and guides who worked hard to make the stay enjoyable and successful.
We all agreed the amount that we learnt was staggering and it has changed the way we will fish the rivers in the UK whether after Grayling or Trout and for me there is no question that it will improve all my fly fishing even in the saltwater and I how I tackle the fly fishing challenges that lie ahead.
Another well organised and successful fly fishing journey and a big thanks to Mat Mchugh and the Fly Odyssey team.
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