Part V.: The Last Ringing

The third October weekend attracted me again to the Sumava Mountains, because the weather forecast was still very optimistic. This time, I set out as late as Saturday morning and I didn't regret it. On the way, views of hilly, forested countryside with a touch of light morning mist opened ahead of me. After arrival at my weekend house in Stogerova Hut near Volary, I wanted to pick plums from the two trees in the garden, but there was nothing there. Unknown “helpers” had already managed to harvest them right before me, exactly like the year before. Never mind, climbing trees is not as big a hobby for me as it used to be when I was younger.

Growing fruit trees at an elevation of 850m is difficult anyway. As the locals say, nothing really grows here. I must agree with them, although every now and then some exceptions occur. About ten years ago, I planted a peach tree in a calm place, hidden from the wind by the south wall of the house, and tried to make it grow along the wall. Nothing happened for a long time, but then, about four years ago, I found one peach under the window the size of a man’s fist, and one year later there were two full buckets of them. Since then – again nothing. The water rats permanently harm my apple trees, with the possible help of black shrews. Frost damages the cherry trees, and birds enjoy the fruits of the rowan tree. The only thing that does well here is grass, but nobody seems interested in it.

Right by the house is the Jedlovy (Fir) brook, with two mountain ponds serving as breeding grounds for brown trout and sometimes grayling as well. At the beginning of the 1980's, the Jedlovy brook was straightened quite insensitively, so the water rises quickly after rain and runs down to the Vltava. Trout sometimes appear in the brook – especially when they escape from the ponds located higher. Once I stocked fingerlings, and the brook was full of small trout fry which stayed until the following year and then disappeared. Most probably an otter had gone through there and the brook then remained fishless.

The Jedlovy brook used to be fairly good breeding waters for the Volary fishing club of the CFU before its straightening, but today it's a long lost stretch which can be returned back to life only by a demanding revitalization or maybe by another fifty years of natural redevelopment. People would need to stop cutting back the bushes along the banks, whose root systems would manage to break the straight path of the brook, and so widen its flow and decrease its too-rapid drift. Almost all the Sumava brooks are such, stigmatized by human activity from the times not too long ago.

When we were buying the cottage at the beginning of the 1980's it was almost in ruins, and Mr Cada from Volary told me to just turn a bulldozer to it. I think he only wished us the best, but I didn't have enough money to pay for such a machine or to buy enough construction material, and so we cleared away the years of dirt and started reconstruction. At that time, extensive amelioration of some large wet meadows below the house had just started. The bog had been turned into a field, but it had only yielded stone anyway. Today, it's a more-or-less well-kept meadow, but mud leaks from its amelioration structure into the brook, which then takes it into the Vltava and the spring seasonal waters then take it down to the Lipno reservoir.

Of course such ameliorations did not only occur at Stogerova Hut, and thus it is possible to see a rapid rise of water level in the Vltava after rains, and also a drop in water when good weather comes. How much this intervened in the lives of the fauna at that time we will never know. Some of the fauna did survive, most probably in low numbers, which we can infer by the presence of the reddish Sumava viper in the lower meadow by the Jedlovy brook and sometimes in our garden too.

There were times when not a single grasshopper could be heard here, but today they hold cheerful concerts again and fireflies blink under the linden trees in the evenings. So now it is only the road salting by our house that worries me, because after last winter a snowberry shrub by the fence was seriously injured. I know the road freezes in winters and not long ago two young lives were lost here, but I don't think it was the linden trees' fault.

Saturday afternoon passed with me deep in thoughts of this kind when Vladimir and Iva came by. They wanted to enjoy some fishing and soon set out for the water. I tried to clean up a little bit in the barn, and then had a quick lunch and began to think about where to go. The morning had been clear, but some clouds had appeared over the Zlebsky pass and after lunch it was really overcast, leading me to choose to go to Dobra again. Since there was free space by the farmhouse, I parked in my favourite place and set out across the meadow for the water.

When I reached my “decision point”, the choice was clear - I set out downstream with a light wind in my back, because I was attracted by the big fish which I had lost one week before, in a pool with a large boulder by the right bank. It was about a kilometer walk to this place, so I had enough time to see which kind of fly they would take on. Upwings were scarcely visible, and there were also few grayling rings on the water surface. What happened to the times in this season when after two o'clock in the afternoon, the surface almost boils with rising graylings? Today, there must be at least as many of them.

I walked through places well known to me, and from time to time caught a smaller or a medium-sized grayling on a Beige Dun and size 16 hook. In a prolonged shallow flat near the forest I saw two bigger fish rising, but I can't have been invisible either, because the rings vanished and so did the fish. This is common behaviour for graylings here, which often move and are not as strictly stationary as they are in other rivers in our country, which may be related to the clear water in this river.

That rising boil mentioned previously was often caused by only one or two graylings that wouldn't even drop to the bottom but stayed on the surface catching duns in a meter-circle. It's a kind of behaviour typical for graylings standing in a pool where there are carpets of olives around them. There were some of them rising by the bank. However, they were only taking emergers and very small upwings which were floating in a strictly defined flow-line. They refused to take anything from the surface that drifted even a couple of centimeters off this line.

After a while, I descended to the stretch where Jaja had been very successful the week before. Today, I only managed to surprise a thirty-fiver and two slightly smaller graylings, but the mammoths were not interested in my very small dries. About twenty meters farther down the stream I glimpsed a ring above deep water. I went down, but the fish didn't show up again, so all I got was two smaller ones by the opposite bank.

It began to be clear to me that it wasn't going to be the right day, for which one usually needs to wait a long time. Not to mention the fact that a lot of big fish had been hooked in the previous days, and that is not so easily forgotten. Almost no insects were gathering, so I fondly tried to remember the time when the river was full of water buttercups among which clouds of small mayflies would hatch, with nice graylings rising to the surface after them. Today this plant with a lantern is hard to find. The water level is low, partly due to the missing buttercup, which normally blocks its flow and raises the surface. Increased water tourism – especially canoeing in the summer - and low water flows may be why it’s vanishing from many places along the Tepla Vltava.

I stayed until the absolute end of the allowed fishing time, but wasn’t rewarded with any special bonus. I only got a couple of smaller and medium-sized fish, but I enjoyed myself even though I knew this was one of the last of the beautiful days of this year's incredibly long Indian Summer. My anticipation crested at the pool where I had a nice fish on for a while the previous week, but today it didn't show up. When I finally got out of the water the sun was still over the western horizon, but it lacked its usual strength and I felt on my back the calm of the coming autumn.

Vladimir and Iva were already waiting in the pub „U Nemecka“ in Dobra, and they were visibly satisfied because they had done pretty well with nymphs. Iva told us about a big fish - supposedly from the five-year category, and her boyfriend, in addition to graylings, hooked two forgotten rainbows that managed to get here from Lenora. In the Vltava 33 fishery, rainbow trout are not allowed to be stocked because the river here runs through the Sumava National Park, but the higher-elevation waters in fishery 34 are located in a Nature Reserve where stocking is allowed. Just try to explain to fish where they may and may not go while riding on their fins.

It's just silly myths that divide fish into native and non-native species, and it will still take a lot of time for the authorities to understand and view these things differently. Which species are native to our country and how long does it take before a fish that has wandered here is recognized as a native species? Of course these things have their reasons, but in cases when something really dangerous expands into our region we always fail. What is the danger from a fish which can not even really effectively spawn under our conditions?

I looked at the menu and decided on goulash with dumplings – an original side dish in our country – while my friends were enjoying schnitzel with non-original potatoes, arguing about something silly. They reminded me of our politicians a little, who think differently but can't stand to be without each other, and each of them wants to win any argument. And because there was beer and soda on the table, I knew in advance how it would finish. Iva arrived alone at midnight and her partner came in the morning on foot. I knew he felt a little ashamed, because he started to plane an unaligned door, as he had promised me the day before…

When both of them left, I started winter preparations for the house, particularly insulation of the water pipes which tend to freeze. It didn't go too well, and I was happy that there was nobody around to see me. I looked over the house with a critical eye, and promised myself that next year I would find a mason to put it all in order. I will also have to do something about the grass – there's too much of it for me, but I thought of some good plans for this as well.

Sunday afternoon was the last chance to go into the forest over Soumarsky Bridge, so I took advantage of the opportunity. The small parking site across the bridge was empty and I set out along the railroad up the stream. I used to be a frequent guest here, and have caught a couple of really big graylings in the area. But since the first zone of the national park was divided by a kilometer-long heating gas piping, I have lost all my longing for this area.

I somehow can’t get over the fact that I could easily get a fine for taking a step in the wrong place, while someone else was allowed to scrape a long and deep ditch here that will be a scar in the countryside for many years –all with the consent of the authorities. Of course it was the most direct and the cheapest way to bring progress to this region, and maybe it was supposed to be a cheap source of energy for the local glassworks. They didn't manage to survive anyway, since no investors wanted to take on the risk due to the big ecological burden from the past. And so for now the burden lies there and the smokestack reaches for the sky like an unspoken reproach.

Near an old bunker, which is today hidden in a mature spruce forest, I wondered how much money our grandfathers must have paid for the defensive wall around the First Czech Republic which still today spreads along the borders, and I asked myself a silly question – how many pyramids could have been built instead? Pyramids would at least attract crowds of tourists, while these old memorials just quietly remind us of our national philosophy and the agreement in Munich.

The Olsinka (Little Alder) brook running under the fortress was suddenly somewhat bigger, and by the time I walked down to it from the elevated railroad tracks I hardly managed to wade it. In a minute I was able to answer the question of where so much water could have come from. During the last big flood two years ago, the Vltava broke one of its meanders and led some of the water into this brook just to unite again after about 100 metres.

The connection between this loop in the Vltava and the brook was blocked with a heap of logs and debris, so it took quite a lot of work to cross over and wade it without tearing my waders. Now, when the river was low, most of the water ran through the old riverbed where graylings were, barely showing themselves on the surface, making their circles…

Right at this new fork, I caught two average fish on a Beige Dun, and so, with great hope, I looked towards a deep pool in the bend past the fork junction. Nothing showed up on the surface, so I quickly took off the end tippet with a dry fly and I dished out two grayling nymphs. How deep they declined!

It was good for nothing anyway, because I managed just one common-sized grayling from the pool, and it was clear to me that most of the fish were still in the shallow currents where they had to be taken on a dry fly.

In the next set of riffles by the bank about 150 m upstream, I lifted and caught two more average fish, proving my assumptions right. By the right bank, the stream turned into a deeper pool full of fallen leaves and foam, so I couldn’t really see my little Gray Dun in it. To make sure, I raised the rod a little in the best place, and on the surface a beautiful grayling rolled. If I had struck a second later, it could have been mine, but this way I only surprised it, sending it down somewhere in the deep stream.

Just about 10 meters above, the stream runs into a pool, and right above the inflow a thick branch lay in the water where graylings could gather. And of course they were there. Two average ones under the branch caused no problems, but I struck twice in vain above the branch. I put on the smallest that was at hand – the miraculous Slavoj's Dun - and carefully sent it to the stream. The grayling rose and was mine. It twisted on the 0.08 mm nylon and wanted to head for the branches, but thanks to my size 3 Sage rod I managed to lead it out of their reach without losing it. It was already in violet garb, even though it lacked two centimeters to forty.

I had two more good quarries in difficult places by the left bank, and I slowly approached a place with fallen broken spruce - known as the place where the biggest graylings gather. The clear sunny sky was not the best invitation for catching, but shade from the high forest ruled here. I trusted myself, and knew I would catch one of the fish grandfathers. I only regretted the fact that I had just run out of the last length of my favourite 0.08 mm size nylon, and had to change to 0.10 mm. I had been expecting this already for some time, and it came at the least suitable moment.

I bent a little by the left bank and fine-tuned the end-tippet when a big grayling rose, followed by another not far above. I tied on the Miraculous Dun again, and cast it on the water surface not far from the place where the first fish had risen. A small speck of wings floated on the water with the clearly visible tippet alongside it. Suddenly, the dun disappeared in a grayling circle and I struck carefully thinking for sure that the hook would be set, but it wasn’t. The big grayling recognized the trap at the last moment, and my second attempt ended the same way. It came up to look at the dun two more times, and then lost interest.

I was sure it was due to the 0 .10 mm nylon, and regretted I didn't have my size 2 rod with me that day. I had left at home because I had been thinking about some nymphing, for which the thinner rod is too gentle. I pulled out my reel of size 0.06 mm nylon and tied it to 0.10 mm nylon from the same recognized manufacturer. I didn't want to lose Slavoj's nymph, not to mention that it had already become pretty well known to the fish. So, I tied on a tiny CDC Para Dun and sent it again to the fish, which had calmed down a little bit in the meantime. Right after the cast, a take came so unexpectedly that I struck a bit more than gently, and the line tore like it was made of paper.

„So, we have this down“, I thought and moved squatting to another experimental grayling. But there was no way to get it to take anything. It would rise from time to time, but didn't react to duns at all. Finally I dug a size 20 Orange Tag out of my box, which always worked great with the biggest fish here. The sun was shining and the beams were falling through the trees into the pool, so I suddenly saw a big, long fish under my fly, which suddenly stopped about twenty centimeters below the water surface before disappearing in the dark. It was another 40 cm sized fish, which had come to see what was floating there and recognized the possible danger in time. I walked a little upstream and wanted to try the 0.06 mm nylon again. It still tore like paper even with a lot of much smaller fish - I put it away as it was usable only for bleak.

Behind the next bend I came across two more nymphers and when I walked around them and started back to the water I noticed one more. I toiled again through the high sedge fields and came back to the river in a place suitable only for nymphing. I tried for a while, but the desired results didn’t appear. I continued on to some places where there are usually no giants, but sometimes a surprise occurs. One of them is a prolonged pool which has a shallow part in its lower section, divided from the pool itself by a low rapid. There are graylings everywhere, but just average in size and today wasn't any different.

Halfway down the pool a rising fish was traversing, but I was so careless that I didn't read it right and it didn't do me any favours. It was a forgotten rainbow trout and it broke through my 0.10 mm nylon like a raspberry. I managed to outwit two graylings by the left bank and so I arrived at the beginning of the pool, where something was rising in an unusual place in the depth behind a branch. First, I focused on smaller graylings at the mouth of the pool and I managed to get two of them. I didn't really feel like drying my nymph with miniballs, so I sent it as it was just behind the branch, where the fish took it right under the surface. It was a nice dace, and in a short while I took about seven of them from this place on a sunken dun.

Five o'clock was just around the corner, and there was no sense in walking further on up the water. It was something over hundred meters to get to the next big grayling pool, and I didn't want to get there at the last moment. Maybe I will get there next year, we'll see. I set out back down the water and cast only at a few places which were easily accessible. This brought me one 35 cm sized fish and a couple of smaller graylings. Then I realized that I hadn't come across any brownie this year. It must have been because I had mainly fished below Dobra, where they only rarely show themselves. Even so, after a couple of bad years, it was an autumn like one from the old good times. If only the number of little duns had risen…