Every year since the early 90’s, Fraser (David Stuart…you know what public schoolboys are like) and I have taken a flight somewhere and gone fishing. Included in our destinations has been Scotland (three times), Ireland (twice), USA (twice), and Canada, but mostly Iceland (some nine times).
There is no question that the Laxa in Iceland is our favourite. We have made good friends over the years of Lalli and Siga, and Hodda and Huddi, as well as the Warts (a whole story in itself), and the fishing is outstanding, with a plentiful head of strong fighting wild browns.
The lodge in Myvatn, once run so smoothly by Hodda, has passed to new management after a group of all the riparian farmers sold all the fishing rights for the whole eight miles, or so, to a Rekyavik consortium for a multi year deal, and replaced Hodda, who ‘is’ the Lodge ! Consequently, and after raising prices and installing new management, not only have many of the ‘regulars’ from the Nordics voted with their feet and relinquished their annual ‘week’ but the incomers are described as characterless, and the Lodge is not the attractive place it was.
Normally, negotiations between the two of us for the next year’s venue begin just some few weeks after our return. Fraser knows what he likes, and that is familiarity. But for this year, it was clear that we had to break the Iceland cycle until reports from Huddi signaled some improvement at the Lodge. So, Montana (“the rattle snakes swim and bite your ankles”), Sweden (“the fishing is crap”) were floated but did not work, but the poor boy does like pictures, and with the snow capped majesty of the Julian Alps on Kevin Smith’s website, plus the suggestion of monster fish, (the indigenous ‘marble trout’) and I had a ‘take’.
The downside was a RyanAir flight to Trieste from the inconvenient Stansted, but all else was attractive including the promise of comfortable accommodation, good food, and every day guiding from Kevin, who has nine years experience of the country’s streams.
Most of the organization was done through his wife, Rosalie, at their home in Southport. And after Lalli and Huddi decided they could not join us, but Rob Pickering (aka Pick) could, she helped ensure everything fell into place, and monies paid, flights booked, the venerable threesome met landside at Stansted, and all was set after Pick reorganized his luggage to comply with RyanAir’s ridiculous baggage policy. A seafood snack meal and a bottle of Reserve Chablis and we were together as if Pick had never left our shores for dual living in Dubai and Tarn.
Kevin was there, dutifully to meet us in Trieste, and after loading up his atrociously dirty and moderately ancient 4-wheel drive Toyota, we, hungry, asked him to take us to the nearest decent restaurant. It was through an easy lunch of exceptional calamari, I decided that we had landed a ‘good guy’. A musician and fisherman, he regaled us with tales of sessions with names we had heard of, and Pick was in his element, switching topic constantly from the size of marble trout he was likely to catch, to Strats, to leader length, to unusual cord sequences on obscure albums by artistes Fraser and I had never heard of, but recorded at the Marquis Club (which I have heard of, and visited more than once as a late teenager). And so went the journey out of Italy, stopping only on the Slovenian border to load up with enough Uncle Jack for the ‘initiation’ that we had warned Pick he was required to endure to join our ‘fishing gang’, as well as for our usual nightcaps.
My first impressions of Slovenia were supported by what we saw through the week. Evidence of Soviet constructed infrastructure abound (the railway system, an enormous cement works on the banks of the Lower Soca) but also successful attempts to throw off the shackles and dullness of years of Communist rule, and move to a democratic and meritocratic system. New retail parks abound outside the towns we passed. There is a café society. Houses are painted in bright pastel shades and we see colourful window boxes, galore. Cars are small but new(ish) and people are well dressed. The early signs of prosperity are there. I wonder what we shall decide of their work ethic?
We drive for over an hour toward the mountains and as we climb the temperature seems to climb with us and moves to 31c, which is a worry since the sky is bright, and we begin to wonder!
On arrival in Ciginj, we find the Blue House Hotel and are greeted by Valentino.
Beroomed, but only after some fast negotiation by all to secure the biggest/best/brightest/quietest…Kevin suggests we go and look at some beats on the nearby Soca.
We arrive at a wide braided stretch near Kamno, where from the road bridge some twenty feet above them, we watch two anglers nymphing for rainbows holding midstream and oblivious to all offerings…we can all do better than them, we decide! It is difficult to restrain an impatient Pick who has not cast a line for trout for some four years and is gagging to get at them! A couple of beers, an early dinner and after a Jack (or two) it was off to bed.
Pick can’t find one of his new boots, one of each of which Fraser and I put into our hand luggage at Stansted to reduce the weight of his > panic stations! Kevin offers to lend him some and we leave the Blue House at 930am and drive for what seems miles, and was, stopping to peer into the Soca (pronounced Socha) at several spots, with we, wondering whether we would ever wet a line. But, we are all in awe at the majesty of steep sided mountains of the Julian Alps which rise to a thousand feet above our road, and we climb and climb until arriving at the village of Lepena at about 11am.
The drive has been both inspiring and full of eager conversation as we probe Kevin for more ‘how to’s’. We spend 59 euros for a licence and proceed further up river to find anglers there ahead of us, and fishing in bright sunlight and 30 degrees of beautiful summer. We are in the headwaters of the Soca, and the river whilst cold, is fast running and crystal clear, and we know the fishing is going to hard in such stunning weather, and the day has brought a myriad of distractions, including canoeists, and Fraser is not happy.
We begin the day with a ritual, and we pay tribute to the River Gods by making them an offering of a handful of Kelloggs, secreted from the hotel dining room without Rob knowing – he is fined therefore, and his initiation has not started well. But we have discovered the mystery of the missing boot – I, in complete innocence, or ignorance, have put it on the floor in Room 4 , much to the bemusement of the young lady guest who found it, and a happy Pick (in Room 2) will be reunited with his new Simms at the end of the day!
We fish hard and move to different beats, and eventually I take a brown of about 1lb on an Elk hair caddis, from the surface of a deep pool forged by the current to the right of a gigantic boulder in the middle of the stream. But its only one fish, and all day I have tried nymphs, heavily weighted nymphs, and dries, aimed at fish I can see but are not feeding. There is little fly life and the weather, as we thought, made this difficult, but I have a Slovenia trout on day one…from beside that rock!
This is a complete adventure. We are off to fish the Sava Bohinjka which is 31kms in length and flows from Lake Bohinj to join the River Sava Dolinka near Radovljica. But to get to Bohinj we drive to Most na Soci and await the arrival of the car train which will ferry cars and passengers the 12kms or so through pretty countryside and many tunnels, and along the river Baca for the early part. The station is a throw back to days gone by, looks like a war movie set, and it was no surprise that our train was christened ‘von Ryan’s Express’.
To the local fishing shop, sparsely stocked, and 42 euros later we were licensed, plus a few more euros, for some flies I never used !
I was the impatient one this day, and arriving on the river first, in very clear water over a gravelly bed, rainbows could be seen well off the bottom and moving side to side and rising to…what? There were no duns visible nor obvious fly life, so on with an olive Klinkhammer, and two casts later, just as the others arrived I netted a fish of about 1 lb., and then another. This got their juices running and whilst Pick (who had forgotten his Kellogg’s) and Kevin crossed and waded downstream, Fraser waded to the middle a spent most of the morning fishing the deep runs on the bend where we entered, but I set off upstream.
It is a great beat. And to make life more interesting, there is a special aquatic species to interest us…’kayak-us blue-us’.
There was, in colour, an obvious channel running along the length of this stretch for some 200 yards, or more, to the next bend, and a couple of hours slowly making my way along it proved very constructive, and six or seven came to the net. At the top end, there was a fallen tree, and behind this was a pod of twenty or so fish. Two came quickly ( one, a fish of 2lb+ which felt as though WW3 had broken out, once hooked) and then another. But this fought differently, though, and as it came close, and in its struggle for survival, I was reminded of the aggression and predatory behaviour of bigger rainbows, as I watched two chase and stab at it in glee….lunch! It was a Whitefish, and of course, a (non game) salmonid !
The afternoon was punctuated, not by fishing, but drinking beer. I was working my way upstream in the aftermath of the sunbathers, swimmers and rafters who put Fraser off completely, and passing a noisy bunch, was (not) surprised to see him beckoning to come up and meet his new best friends with whom he had spent most of that period chatting and bantering total nonsense, for only one spoke English and his Slovenian is lacking. But what a fun lot, most of whom would benefit from a trip to Mervyn (as Sue would observe).
At the end of the day, and with the sun going down, the monsters who are there, were coming out of their shadowy bankside protection, to play. Along the whole midstream there was a succession of submarines…marble trout, and as ominous as attack craft they looked. Dark, brooding and threatening predators, and we had to leave to catch von Ryan’s last train back! Next time!
Eleven rainbows ….a good day, n’est-ce pas?
Pick’s boots now his, again…his initiation was confirmed at supper (what goes on tour, stays…)
The town of Idrija is about 25kms south of Ciginj, and gives its name to the river which flows through it, and we fished the Idrija, on a 90 euro ticket, between Spodnja and Idrija town.
The river runs alongside Route 102 and is noisy, and the whole area is little ‘urban’. The river bank is littered with rusting steel car bits and mining debris, but the water is clear and full of fish, but, too casual an approach, and they spook from at least twenty yards away in the bright sunlight. The 200 yard stretch I concentrated on had a riffle and run, at the head of a long pool, which additionally was fed below the riffle by a pipe bringing waters, under the road, discharged from a mine, high in the surrounding hills.
This ‘inlet’ must have been bringing in food because there were twenty of more fish congregated there and feeding freely.
It is satisfying when you have fish rise to your dry fly because you know you probably have the right imitation tied on. But it is frustrating when they spit it out and you don’t have a take, and that marked the morning, with a Klinkhammer not doing the damage, until, in consolation for a hard morning’s work, a brown succumbed in the riffle at the head of the pool just before lunch.
We avoided the afternoon session by lunching well and exploring the chalkstream, the Unec, but headed back later to fish the ‘evening rise’ and I took on the same beat. Fish were rising and an early grayling of 2lbs, and then a brown which both fell to a CdC Olive, and then nothing until darkness fell. In between, I witnessed what you can when only on, and in, a river.
The cooling evening air pressed warm air closer to the colder river waters and a ghostly mist rose like wisps of aerialised cotton wands which floated, drifted and eventually disappeared, as temperatures balanced, then evaporated after a mesmerizing period which somehow made the catching irrelevant …………..when it did I had take after take, miss after miss, but then another grayling and another brown, in what was the greatest fun session, and strangely magical session, I have ever enjoyed, and in darkness.
On his beat, Pick fished through an exciting spinner fall for three browns, and that night he out fished Fraser, who blanked – a rarity for him.
By now we realized that the day fishing was unlikely to be productive and a visit to the War Museum in Volce, and a long lunch preceded by a celebratory bottle of Taittinger from Fraser, and it was back onto the Soca upstream from Ciginj near to Kamno.
The river here is wide and braided, and very easy wading over a pebbly bottom, and there were fish were lying in the slightly deeper runs. Before dusk the magical mists appeared and the river became a mysterious place and Fraser and Pick kept disappearing and returning as the mist swept around them. As dusk fell, Pick left the water and as Fraser was too, the rise began and he had not seen it. I called him over and for 15 minutes we cast manically towards a cauldron of risers, and brought up fish after fish, had take after take, but my Klinkhammer only managed to bring one grayling of 1 1/2lbs to the net. We laughed as we waded back to the car…
Day Five and our last!
….and so, we returned to the Idrija, which was perhaps our favourite and left Pick to fish the ‘swimming pool’ from which, undistracted (!?), he hoped to repeat his take of his last visit, and Fraser and I went downstream, me a little further.
My first few casts were speculative because nothing was rising, and nothing was taking!
But ahead there was a run angling towards the road and carrying fast water diverted by a stony ledge, and towards the road bank. Bushes hung down into the water, and if there were fish about they would have been sheltering in such a lie, secure from predators like me, through the sunny day. I cast into the run which diverted my Klinkhammer into the fast stream. Another cast and my fly settled into a path right under the biggest bush, and WHANG, a take of such force, I was stunned. The fish screamed downstream, jumped three times to reveal its rainbow flanks, and then was off my hook to live to feed again. My guess is that it was 3lb+, and maybe several +’s!
When I retrieved the line, the hook had snapped on the bend….damn it!!
Walking upstream, I saw a sight for sore eyes. Fraser was fishing in style, casually casting from a sitting position in a deck chair, with rod in right hand, beer can in left, and a few spare cans keeping cool in the water in a plastic bag by his side, for his mate! Relaxed, or what ?
I stayed on a rock watching (Fraser luxuriating) and waiting. It was getting dark, and I knew what that might mean on this stream. As night closed in the rises began, and I soon took a brown. Casting now blind and into the bank, but just able to see the parachute white of my fly, I was into a good fish….this one fought like no other I had hooked….up, down, up again, and with just enough tension to stay in control for it was obviously well hooked. I was so excited, and this was a super experience in the dark, and I realized what sea trout anglers must feel when into a good but invisible fish straining against their 8-weight, but mine was just a 5, and straining!
In time, I released my net when I thought it was tiring but what was the point when I couldn’t see it? Edging backwards to the stony shore with a beaching in mind, I saw for the first time what I had been playing for at least ten minutes, but only, in relief. It was very dark, almost black, it was a ‘submarine,’ at least in my imagination, and, as it struggled against the stones, it slipped off, and back into its own domain…but I think I had had a ‘marble’….and even if it was…it was too dark to photograph, and in any case, I had no camera to prove it, for my camera was lost somewhere in the grassy banks of this river two days before….but, I know…I know !
1 Do any readers of this extract need an inexpensive Oil Rig ?
2 Kevin is a good guy
3 Valentino and Gianni are the most gracious hosts
4 If you have not been to Slovenia…go!
5 Love your mates!