Finally, a piece of time for a piece of mind and some typing. It’s been a while since my last post and also 4 weeks since I’ve made a road trip from Paris to Slovenia to visit my family and of course to go properly fly fishing. This time pikes were the choice of fly fishing. I’ve done spin fishing on Krka River since I was 10, but never before I’ve tried to trick this tooth monster with a fly. Coming this year, I’ve geared myself with heavy duty machinery and toolset, which can handle these torpedoes and if needed also similar sea creatures. Being on the budget and first steps into heavyweight rods and lines, Guideline pike set seemed like a good value.
Armed with 9wt and flies of my own “newbie” pike design, I was on my way to check out Ljubljanica, slow-moving Karst River that is still today hiding an ancient, roman, and Slovenian history of the last tens of thousands of years in its ever-changing river bed and under its banks. With such ancient riches, Ljubljanica, between cities of Vrhnika and Ljubljana, is by its abundance, quality, and expressiveness of findings considered as one of the most important and threatened cultural heritage site in Slovenia. Only a few months ago, the underwater archaeologists lifted from the river bed what might become the world’s largest 2000 years old wooden dugout canoe and it is the largest discovered in Slovenia. Although the canoe was discovered in 80’s of the previous century, the multiphase project of scientific sampling started only in 2001, planning, and lifting it on the surface in July this year and now undergoing the conservation process.
Ljubljanica, the river of seven names, that flows from Prezidsko polje – Prezid Karst Field to Vrhnika via surface and underground caves, changes its name along with its journey to the confluence with Sava River, just downstream from Ljubljana. A green jewel, rich with history, culture, and abundance of fish.
But not to do everything rookie style, I’ve known that just going fishing just about anywhere on Ljubljanica won’t catch me any fish. So I’ve searched around for some local, really local, help – guides that would know the river like their backyard. And there are some guys that run fly fishing guided trips, targeting specifically pike. You have to know that fly fishing for pike in Slovenia is as old as morning’s milk, only a hand full of people are doing it and fewer can brag about some experience and success. These guys are Urko Fishing Adventures, with Uroš as the founder and team leader, members of the guiding company are more than known in fly fishing world of Slovenia. Uroš is also a pro-guide for Beulah fly rods in Europe and along with Marko, president of Angling Club Vrhnika, and Andrej-aka-Lupo, who are all also fishing guardians in Angling Club Vrhnika. Most respected of guiding bunch is Vladimir Mikec-Miki, a fly-tying legend, fly fishing writer, and for many years a member of Slovenian national fly-fishing team.
Still far from the date which we arranged for my afternoon trip to Ljubljanica, Uroš constantly provided me with precious information on river level and patiently answered to all my questions about the line type, fly patterns and these weird details that we, fly fisherman, always want to get a hold off, before we walk waste deep into our wet dreams J
Supplied with all the intel, I’ve somehow packed all the stuff together and headed to Slovenia, 1300 km of road, a business meeting in Munich in between, with mandatory Octoberfest evening visit, I’ve arrived to Slovenia. Marko, “el presidente”, was my guide for the afternoon and he updated me two days before heading on the water because the weather seemed to part with our plans. Luckily the water hasn’t risen too much and in the morning Marko said it is just “pike perfect”. The coming afternoon we met at the House of Angling Club Vrhnika, where we loaded ourselves into the boat and headed upstream.
Marko gave me really valuable information on the river bed morphology so that I could read the river at least a bit as we free drifted with the flow. This info along with tactics of where the fish usually hangout was truly useful. And it proved to be on the spot only 10 minutes into the action. Bhhaaaam, the first pike smashed the fly! And quite deep in the water column, somewhere around 1-1,5 meters deep. It wasn’t like those takes you see on slow motion’s scenes, where the pike almost flies out of the water with the fly trashing around her jaws. No, this was a surprise attack as Marko almost promised me it will happen. The curtain of green grass right off the river bank provides the ultimate coverage for these ferociously fast and aggressive fish. “Just throw downstream along this curtain and try to strip the line up the stream along the edge of darkness and open water” Marko’s instructions echoed in my brain. Having 35 kg strong leader and steel wire before the fly, this 4 kg pike teenager was out and in my hands for a quick photo in no time; and in no time we have released it back to green depths.
First pike on the fly… The feeling was different, more intense about fish’s movement than with spin rod; I was hooked and sure that every fish should be fished with a fly rod and a fly. It is more challenging, but at the same time also much more rewarding, especially when you catch it on your own pattern, your own perception of fish’s preference to eat that very moment.
When passing the House of Angling Club Vrhnika, which seats directly on the bank of Ljubljanica, Uroš came to see us and we exchanged the news on the pike that we have fooled. We quickly parted or ways as Marko and me still had some water length to work on before the nightfall.
As we continued our slow and quiet drift with the speed of slightly rising level of Ljubljanica, we’ve encountered a couple more pikes that wanted but haven’t made that final decision and bite. And sometimes these moments are even more exhilarating as you watch the fish follow your fly and you try to strip the line in faster to stimulate an aggressive take, and at the end, you strip the line all the way to your boat where the story ends as the fish re-thinks and shows you her back tail. When thinking about it later, I sometimes remember those chases even more vividly because the adrenaline levels are picking up but you don’t reach the moment of complete chaos in your brain when you have a fighter at the end of the line.
We must have drifted for about 3 hours before it got dark, quickly pitch dark and moisty, with soft white layers of fog covering the water level and deafening the sounds of nature. During the entire afternoon, we have been afloat in solitude and fishermen’s stories, especially Marko’s stories of pike on his home turf. Although he is enchanted with fishing the Danube salmon, I became hooked on Ljubljanica and its pikes. It seems I have no other choice but to return again.