While on the Otava I had plenty of scope for observing my companions in their own fishing approach and also for experimenting by myself. I wrote about one of these fascinating episodes in Part 51 of my Frontier series in Fish & Fly. While on the same river, I had another hugely illustrative experience. It was on one of the most downstream sections of the Otava we fished. There was a long pool, very well defined by a run-in concentrated on the left bank, a slow middle section and a broad, shallow glide at the tail: in all about 75 metres in length, and, frankly, utterly perfect mixed trout and grayling water. Paul and Sue Sissons had fished this pool the previous day so I was eager to see the effect that their nymph (Paul) and dry fly (Sue) approach had had on the fishing potential here. They had both caught a lot of fish from this pool, with Paul taking mostly trout at the fast water of the run-in area, while Sue had caught mainly grayling in the lower half of the pool. I eased in right on the broken water of the tail and fished a plume tip to the rising fish (pale wateries), slowly wading up the entire pool’s length. On the far bank (left bank) were overhanging trees, and the most concentrated feed and foam lane, though there were grayling also away from the overhanging foliage. In all cases, however, I observed the need for supreme accuracy in order to have a chance of a particular target grayling rising to the plume tip. The trout, as always, came much more readily, even to a fly placed significantly off the rise area. In my first passage up the pool, over a period of perhaps half an hour, I caught two trout and nine grayling, all between 25cm and 38cm. I was aware of several, repeated rejections, entirely from grayling, to the size 19 plume tip. After a short break, just as I had done on the rapid, upstream, a couple of days earlier (described in the Frontier article), I repeated the fishing process, again entering at the tail, but this time with a size 21 plume tip. There were, unsurprisingly, fewer fish showing, but still a scatter of pale wateries. It all felt manifestly different now. In spite of the rising fish, one could sense the high state of ‘awareness’ of some danger in the pool. The rises were infrequent and very subtle, and almost exclusively in the most ‘protected’ lies, under the overhang or on tiny vagaries of the current which made presentation difficult. This second run up the pool produced five grayling, and curiously included both my smallest (20cm) and largest fish (40cm) of the session. It was altogether a fascinating reaffirmation of past lessons learned. Diminishing returns, certainly; but more how the trout will always be the first to be caught, and then become uncatchable, and for the grayling to become challenging very quickly, although they will continue to feed, even with the obvious, or recent, presence of an angler, but will become highly cautious in their rise and will also require supreme accuracy, both in terms of position on the feed lane and timing – because a grayling, particularly the larger fish, will not rise until it is ready to do so, even allowing several duns to drift past. This is quite unlike trout behaviour. On a healthy river like the Otava, the invertebrate populations are immense, and support surprisingly high populations of both trout and grayling. My companions mostly felt that there were more trout and grayling on this river, though I felt the opposite. Although the trout, particularly the rainbows, were generally first to be caught in a session, working the water, especially with a representative dry fly (of prevalent pale wateries) such as the plume tip, in all cases on the lower sections of river we fished, produced a dominance of grayling numbers as well as the larger fish caught by the group. The Otava is stunning for a fly fisher and many of us were reluctant to move on, though we had a date with Jan Siman who was going to show us his beloved Tepla Vltava. I was not alone in thinking that we would miss Otava, however, with its myriad possibilities of clean waters, its stream of pale wateries and enhanced, varied challenges for each of us. My own fishing over four days had given me almost 250 fish, two thirds of which had been grayling, upwards of 20cm, with a best fish, a grayling of 41cm. I had enjoyed enthralling ‘experimental’ sessions such as that described above, and generally fishing that had taken me by surprise. I could not have expected such rewarding fishing, either in terms of numbers, quality, size, or various challenge, and I know that my companions felt similarly, although several were keen to see just how the Vltava would compare.
I have recently returned from an incredible two week trip to Czech and the San River, in Poland. I have started to write about these in my Fishing on the Frontier series in Fish & Fly, and will fill in here with some further detail, because, frankly, there is so much to say! My great friend Wojtek Gibinski organised these trips and the first, to the Czech Republic, was essentially unknown territory for us. We stayed for the most part at the splendid Hotel Annin, hosted by the enormously hospitable Patrik Jedlicka and fished for four days over a great range of water types on the Otava, from a torrent water in the mountainous region at the top of the valley, to more sedate flows 40km downstream. On the upper river the quarry was entirely brown trout, while there was a mix of rainbows (both wild and stocked), brown trout and grayling (which dominated) farther downstream.
I could give almost endless superlatives and description of the Otava, because we all fell in love with it, but will refrain from doing so other than to say that this river is exactly how a mixed trout and grayling water should be; utterly pristine and protected, both in and out of the Sumava National Park, through which it flows, from industry, agriculture, forestry or, so far as we could see, any human activity whatsoever.
It might be argued, I suppose, that the introduction of rainbow trout could be seen as negative in this sense, although I wonder about this, having observed numerous European rivers where rainbows have at some time been stocked, and have become established. I have never observed an adverse affect on the grayling or native trout population and believe that all these species occupy essentially different niches in their habitats.
There are, apparently, also brook trout stocked into the Otava, although none of our group caught a single one of these, and with the group’s total catch of all species from the Otava, over four days, being in excess of a 1,000, we reasoned there could not be many of this char species present! For our last two days in Czech, we travelled deeper into the Sumava to fish the Tepla Vltava, tributary of the Vltava. Reminiscent of a chalk stream in northern France, The Tepla Vltava, for me, was a jewel of a river, even after the dazzling catches we had made from the Otava.
The revered Czech fly fishing master Jan Siman accompanied us on the Vltava.
The grayling population is colossal in these beautifully healthy rivers. It was fascinating to watch how each member of our eight strong group, along with Patrik and Jan, dealt with the fishing. At one extreme, we had the excellent nymph fishing abilities of Paul Sissons while at the other was my own dry fly approach, and everything in between, including two of the best all-round river anglers I have ever known; Tom Speak and Gavin Walsh. It is pointless, really, passing on the cricket score numbers of fish that we caught and I should really just recount particular experiences. Interestingly, the FIPS Mouche European Championship in neighbouring Slovakia was just ending as we arrived in Czech, and this was a discussion point, particularly in light of the very similar rivers that we were fishing, and at the same time of year.
England had slipped as usual to the ignominy of the mid-order in the championship (while, of course, the consistently great European teams such as Czech, Spain, Italy and France had taken the top spots) and, given that England undeniably possesses such first-rate competitive fly fishers as those in the current team, the conversations revolved about how this has come to be. My own opinion, based on time within the team, and having fished with so many other national team members in the past, is that it is not a problem with any of the excellent competitors themselves, rather than a mixture of the completely inadequate selection process, and then wholly inappropriate practice or training sessions, and almost no coaching whatsoever. The latter should involve development on championship-like sections of river, and the most difficult water therein. It is utterly pointless to practice on the easiest water that a river possesses. This is a huge weakness of all the lesser teams in international competition, among which, I am sorry to say, includes Team England. While in Czech several of us enjoyed rapid catches into the forties and fifties, before electing to concentrate on improving our approach on more challenging sections of river, or attempting to find the larger trout and, particularly, big grayling (which are always the greatest challenge in the single-handed fly rod sport).
I shall look deeper into the fishing experience on Otava and Vltava (and the awesome San River in Poland) in further posts – and also in the Frontier series in Fish and Fly.
In the meantime, for more information on a highly recommended visit to the rivers of the Sumava region, take a look at www.hotelannin.cz and www.siman.cz; both essential first ports of call for fishing in this incredible country.