Oct 7, 2015

Looking for Trout Behind the Velvet Curtain by Dale Mertens

(Buses, trains, taxis, trout... Getting there is half the fun...)

"English?" I asked the taxi driver.

Whitewater chute?!
"A little," she replied.
"Vltava River," I said. "By Rozmberk. Fishing." I held up 5 pieces of dissembled fly rod with reel attached.

She smiled. "No problem. We go one or two kilometers past Rozmberk."

The paved road wound through dense forest as it hugged the river. We passed campgrounds full of tents and saw lots of plastic rental canoes floating down the river. As taxi drivers are prone to do, mine turned the twisting road into her very own F1 track.

After about 25 minutes, I loosened the grip on my fly rod and my seat edge. We slowed as we passed through the small town of Rozmberk and underneath its castle. In another two minutes, I was standing with trout rising furiously in front of me. And I was wondering if - in the middle of the Czech Republic - I had chanced upon a taxi driver with both F1 caliber driving skills and a fly fishing guide's knowledge of the Vltava River.
Vltava River

In 1989, when the former Czechoslovakia peacefully swapped communism for democracy, this non-violent shift came to be called the Velvet Revolution. Though no longer behind the iron curtain, the relatively young Czech Republic is not the first place that pops to mind when venturing to Europe and - despite the emergence of Czech nymphing - not the first place that pops to mind when fly fishing for trout. What brought me here actually happened in Spain about 20 years ago…
I was backpacking through Europe with a rail pass. Back then, I thought that truly visiting somewhere meant sampling the local fishery. (I still subscribe to that train of thought.) The internet was in its infancy and a parade of faxes had booked me a couple days at an Austrian pension, complete with a day ticket to fish the local stream. The only hitch was my rail pass wouldn't quite get me there; a rental car was needed for the last 50 miles.

Before reaching Austria, I was strolling down a fairly well touristed street in Madrid around 11 PM. The crowded squares were behind me but I was still surrounded by high end hotels. Then I noticed three young guys walking towards me and the closest was addressing me very loudly. Since my Spanish is non-existent, I offered the standard, "No gracias," and started to angle around the three hombres. At that instant, I noticed the talkative one had a knife - a big kitchen knife that could have come from his Mom's kitchen. There was about six feet of space between me and Mom's knife and it took me about one millisecond to toss my wallet towards it.

What was I thinking as I watched my wallet tumble through the air? "If these guys want my money belt, my whole trip is toast." What was I thinking as I watched them take off down the street with my wallet and I had a few seconds to think? "There goes my driver's license and my fly fishing..."

For the most part, my travel plans recovered quite nicely from that little incident. Within a half hour, courtesy of the traveller's cheques in my money belt and an inebriated hotel clerk's liberal interpretation of exchange rates, I actually made back the small amount of cash I lost. Courtesy of the nice folks at AMEX, I had another credit card the next day. My passport and more traveller's cheques were still around my waist in my money belt. But, as I realized earlier, my European fly fishing itch was not going to be scratched.

And it remained completely unscratched until earlier this year, when my girlfriend and I starting planning a railway/backpack trip through Europe. After we picked out our major stops, I couldn't help myself and started Googling the fly fishing possibilities for each. The Vltava River turned out to be major trout fishery right in the backyard of Cessky Krumlov, a picturesque town on our itinerary.

Getting to Cessky Krumlov is a bit of an adventure itself. Because trains in the Czech Republic can't resist stopping at every little town, we took a bus to the Czech capital of Prague. We sat in the front row on the top level of a double decker bus with a floor to ceiling window in front of our nose. It was like a fish bowl going at 70 miles per hour. The view ranged from exhilarating to unnerving. It swung to the unnerving part of the spectrum when our driver snuggled in behind a dump truck before passing it and a large mass of steel filled our field of vision. Without the window, we could have laid out our coffees on the edge of the dump truck. 
Cessky Krumlov
From Prague, we threw ourselves at the mercy of the Czech rail system and squeezed ourselves on a train towards Cessky Krumlov. As the train pulled up, a crush of humanity emerged from a seemingly calm railway platform. (Pardon the obvious fly fishing metaphor…) We wedged ourselves on the train and somehow managed to find seats. Every bit of available floor space – aisles included – was occupied on that train.

After about an hour, we did the same thing in reverse because we had to transfer trains. But there was an added adrenaline rush because we only had about a minutes to make our connection; sprinting through crowded train stations with a backpack is definitely an athletic endeavor. Not finding a train that matches the one on your ticket and jumping on one - with seconds to spare - because some local says you should is definitely an act of faith. But that’s what we did and in half an hour, we rolled into Cessky Krumlov.

The town was beautiful – a maze of narrow streets and old buildings with a river flowing swiftly right in the middle. (To a fly fisherman, any town with a river automatically goes up 2 notches on the picturesque scale…) After about an hour of sightseeing, I decided I better go get my license for the evening fishing I had planned.

A Czech fishing license only comes in a stereo version. In other words, two licenses are needed instead of just one. A general license is valid anywhere in the country and it allows you to buy the required day ticket for a particular water. Through various emails, I learned that general licenses were available at city hall in the modern section of Cessky Krumlov, which was far removed from the scenic old town

Thus began the first of four cab rides that day. Our hotel set me up with all my cab rides and they did a bang-up job. That first driver played in an American blues band and spoke excellent English. When we got to the city hall, he offered to accompany me inside and act as a translator. A few queries led us to our target office deep in the bowels of the building. It was small and non-descript and stuffed with file folders. Buying a license was a transaction conducted entirely in Czech. The license clerk and the taxi driver worked it all out and I supplied info as needed. After about 15 minutes – and who knows how much on the taxi’s meter – we were back in the cab headed toward the hotel.

I tipped my cabbie like crazy and had a quick supper. Then it was off to tourist office just across the town square to pick up the day ticket. Luckily, the staff spoke excellent English.

At that point, I met up with the F1 driver/fishing guide. Like I said before, when she dropped me at the river, the trout were rising furiously. I picked through my miniscule box of flies and pulled out a small Irresistible. Usually, I carry tons of gear and flies with me but a small backpack for train travel had forced me to go minimalist. It had been painful but my entire tackle bag was reduced to a tiny chest pouch. I had no waders – only quick-quick drying nylon pants and a pair of wading shoes.

Brownie
It made no difference to the trout. My first cast to a rising fish was rewarded with a solid take. A very-spirited brown trout of about six inches came skittering toward me with the hook set. It was small but meaningful. I had never travelled such a long way for a fish. And so it went… Every third cast or so was eaten by an eager brownie just like the first. Some of them were incredibly stealthy and sucked the fly under without any surface disturbance whatsoever. It was like the fly had just decided to sink until I raised the rod to recast and felt the weight of a fish.

The fish were holding on a small, shallow flat with a very gentle current. Just beyond that, the main current – and a steady stream of plastic rental canoes – poured briskly past. The trout seemed impervious to the rental canoes. Every now and then – as if to give the trout a bit of a rest - a chub with remarkable orange fins would take my fly.


After a while, I headed off upstream, probing the main current where it grazed the shoreline boulders along a steep bank. The river was actually quite featureless. It was a like a continuous riffle of dark water surrounded by forest. I was hoping for bigger fish but the river kept enforcing a six inch size limit. At the end of that run, and with a little exploring, I found a fairly deep, calm pool and switched to a streamer. My muscles tensed with the expectation of a bruiser. However, the army of six inchers once again found my offering. 

Soon it was dusk and I met the F1 driver/fishing guide where she dropped me off. If someone had made a pilgrimage to a big name trout river in North America and caught nothing but six inchers they might be slightly annoyed. But I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. For the amount of money I spent on cabs, I almost could have hired a drift boat on the Madison or the Yellowstone. I probably only spent two hours fishing but catching a trout – even a six incher - in a far off land is a worthwhile experience as far as I am concerned.

After a while, I headed off upstream, probing the main current where it grazed the shoreline boulders along a steep bank. The river was actually quite featureless. It was a like a continuous riffle of dark water surrounded by forest. I was hoping for bigger fish but the river kept enforcing a six inch size limit. At the end of that run, and with a little exploring, I found a fairly deep, calm pool and switched to a streamer. My muscles tensed with the expectation of a bruiser. However, the army of six inchers once again found my offering. 

Soon it was dusk and I met the F1 driver/fishing guide where she dropped me off. If someone had made a pilgrimage to a big name trout river in North America and caught nothing but six inchers they might be slightly annoyed. But I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. For the amount of money I spent on cabs, I almost could have hired a drift boat on the Madison or the Yellowstone. I probably only spent two hours fishing but catching a trout – even a six incher - in a far off land is a worthwhile experience as far as I am concerned.

The next day, my girlfriend and I were back on the river as part of the plastic hatch. Bombing down the continuous riffles in the rental canoe was definitely fun. Narrow, man-made chutes diverted us around the odd control dam. These chutes were like tobogganing on water and are probably the highlight of the river for most people. (Take a look at the accompanying photo.) Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about the trout that might be in swirling water at the base of each chute.


Dale Martens


Dale,
Thank you for the very interesting article. Like you, I don't think I could pass up the opportunity to fish in Europe even if the catch is far from trophy. I'm thankful for every fishing experience and your adventure certainly qualifies as an experience...lol
Many Thanks, Travis Duddles

No comments :

Post a Comment

Stay up to date: Free Newsletter Sign Up

  © 'and' Steelhead.com Mike Prine 2009-2014

Back to TOP