We just finished off our summer with a brilliant fishing trip to the Gradac river in Serbia. I don't get out fishing as much as I used to, but a trip is to a wild, beautiful river like the Gradac in western Serbia, is well worth the wait. The Gradac is a world class trout stream, equal to any in Wyoming or Argentina, and although not as famous as other Balkan trout streams such as the Soča in Slovenia or the Gačka in Croatia, it doesn't get as crowded as they can. We usually fish for trout in Slovakia, so this was a great excuse to visit Serbia. Hungary is not a trout fishing paradise. The main target for fishermen here is carp. I do not do carp. I do not like carp. Carp are the Donald Trump of fishes - fat, rich, arrogant, dumb, piggish - but they do great in the polls among the uneducated. Carp grow huge in Hungary's weedy, shallow lakes and irrigation ditches. "Rough anglers" pay to fly in from the Netherlands, Britain and Italy to haul out a big, fat, Hungarian carp, take a snapshot, and release it to continue its life mucking about inhaling other fish' eggs. Although there actually are trout near Miskolc in the Garadna and Szinva creeks, they are hatchery cloned fish dumped in for the weekend crowds. And there is the Jósva, Hungary's only healthy limestone trout stream, right along the Slovak border - inside a National park basically closed to fishing. About fifteen years ago my buddy Claude and I were on a picnic with friends from the old Sixtus Kapolna Pub, and we sneaked off to fly fish the Jósva, which was off limits to all except dozens of local poachers who sold the trout to local restaurants. Claude - who is a lawyer and thus has no respect for the law - knows that poaching isn't just a way to cook fish, and so we each took our first Eastern European brown trout.
|Representing La Belle France, Claude takes a Gradac brown trout.
Saša Bencun runs a small fishing lodge near Lelić, which sits on a hillside two minutes walk from three great pools on the Gradac, and he has a lifetime of experience fishing the Gradac. He knows the fish and their habits intimately, and puts that into practice as a fly tier who has won international awards for his skill at tying hyper-realistic mayfly imitations that - he claims - actually catch fish. In reality, these are collector pieces, and most of the time Saša fishes classic flies from his own tying vise for the wild brown trout in the river.
|Too pretty to fish, too small for an art gallery.
Balkan tiers love big streamers with heavy cone head weights to sink them into the deeper pools where big trout tend to hog the best feeding lanes. The largest flies I use are about half the size of Saša's Wooly Buggers seen above. I have been tying flies since I was a Boy Scout... and I still do. I tie because it has always been a compulsive hobby for me - I give most of my flies away for free to other fishermen. I probably have the largest secret stash of elk hair in Eastern Europe. I have two tying vises. I remember the puzzled face of my friend Yankl - an Orthodox Jew - as he handed me a bag of furry tanned rabbit faces I had ordered from the USA for tying hares' ear nymphs. I can appreciate the perfectionism that Saša puts into his flies.
|Master fly tier at work.
|Fly fishing in paradise.
|Frustrated by tiny animals.
|Giant trout that attacked my fly with the ferocity of an alkaline AAA battery.
|Serbian lunch: nobody goes away hungry.
|Mina, Kali, and Hani: non fishing fun.