Author: Roman Heimlich
From September 6 -12 of 2010, the 16th European Fly Fishing Championship took place near Banja Luka in Bosnia. There were 17 teams and 5 individuals registered. Four rivers were chosen for the competition - Sana, Sanica, Vrbas, Janj and Plivské Lake.
The Czech team consisting of Tomáš Starýchfojtů (captain), Martin Grün (manager) and competitors Jája Šram, Ivan Vančura, Luboš Roza, Filip Apjár and Roman Heimlich set off on Tuesday, 31. August with a several day head start so as to have enough time to get familiar with the local rivers and fish, and to try out the best tactics and lures.
We chose the little village of Ribnik for a practice base, where a beautiful river of the same name flows through it, full of cautious trout and graylings. There is a lovely B&B located on the banks of the river where we stayed throughout the entire time of our unofficial practice. The village of Ribnik is about 70 km from Banja Luka, so it was quite easy to get to nearly all the training sections of the competition rivers.
After a 12-hour journey, we reached our destination at about 8 p.m., so after dinner we still had time to see plenty of rising fish and two fretting fishermen in the river below the parking lot in the gin clear water. This gave us an indication that it wouldn’t be easy here. During the next 5 days we practiced on all the sections except the large Vrbas River which was the furthest away, so we left it for Tuesday’s official practice session. We got a very strong impression here of the differences between fishing in Bosnia and the Czech Republic.
River fishing was very difficult, especially regarding access to the fish. I had never seen such skittish graylings before. We more or less managed to get by with a dry fly. We definitely needed to lengthen the leader by at least 3-4 meters and smooth it as well. We mostly used thoroughly degreased fluorocarbon of 0.08 mm thickness. This of course meant being extra careful when playing larger fish. We didn’t manage to net everything we caught in the overgrown rivers, but the percent of takes significantly increased thanks to the fine leader tippet. Small olives worked the best, especially when tied like a shuttlecock.
When it came to nymphs, this was more difficult. When we got to a nice flowing spot for nymphs, patern with tungsten worked well (gold, silver, and copper bead proved the best) in darker and lighter body shades and on a French leader. Over the course of the training, everyone was evened with one single fly which the rules had laid out for this championship. The problem, though, was in the quieter and shallower parts of the rivers. It was practically impossible to catch fish with the French leader in these sections because they knew about us, and with the exception of a few individuals, they simply didn’t let themselves get caught. This is why we started gradually trying out long nymphs against the stream – this turned out to be the only possible way to catch these timid fish on a single nymph in shallow water.
During the training, I tried casting the nymph against the stream with varying types of fly lines, but the best turned out to be the classic floating line with a more matte colouring and a tapered leader which we had used when fishing with a dry fly. The problem, of course, was in registering the take. One week wasn’t enough to get this method down, being used very rarely at home, and so this technique will require more time to fine tune. It seems to me that this method hides plenty of other possibilities that could be used in our conditions.
As far as the lake was concerned, the water was very clear and the fish were cautious. Three flies were permitted here. During training, we had some catches with a sinking line Di 4 – 5 on more natural patterns, sometimes in combination with a stronger lure on a top dropper. We also got a tip that rainbow trouts had been filled in the lake, which later proved true. We knew, of course, that the lake offered no guarantees, especially in the first period.
On Monday we moved into the official hotel in the very nice town of Banja Luka, which is already looking better after the hard times of the recent war. Following a morning survey of the competing section of the Vrbas River, we returned to our parked Transit to find that the driver of an Austrian KIA sports car had lost control on the slippery road and was stuck between our van and the guardrail. The ceremonial opening was in the afternoon, but about a third of the teams missed the introduction, including our team.
The official practice was planned for Tuesday, and we wanted to try out the largest river, the Vrbas. Seeing as how we knew how tight it would be on the short official training section, we agreed that Martin, Tomáš, and Ivan would to test the flies and techniques somewhere outside the official practice venue on the same river. The rest of our team opted to miss the training and spent the entire day tying the remaining flies. In the evening there was a captain meeting, the beats were drawn, and we could all feel the anticipation in the air.
HOW THE COMPETITION WENT
On the first day, I drew the smaller Sana River, then Plivské Lake in the afternoon. Arriving at the site, the beat itself didn’t appeal to me. The protracted shallow pool promised nothing simple. I did notice, though, that a few smaller graylings had gathered before the beginning of the stream, so I immediately pulled out my size 3 rod with a dry fly. The site actually turned out to be very good, and our tried and tested shuttlecock olives worked on the graylings reliably. Three hours of fishing brought me 54 fish, and I held 1st place in the sector. My Slovakian colleague Mišo Leibiczer held 2nd place with 20 catches, so my beginning looked very promising.
Next came the transport to Plivské Lake, which I feared the most. Martin was already waiting for me at the landing-place and was able to give me valuable information, since he had been monitoring the competitors all morning. Ivan Vančura caught the first one on Plivské Lake and struggled with it well, finally catching two fish and earning sixth place. Ivan caught both fish on natural black lures with a sinking line, so I immediately attached two black streamers. After an hour of fishing, a worthy take swam up along the bottom to the edge near the shore, but the ca. 40 cm brownie got away shortly after hooking. There was another swirl later at the boat, then nothing.
There was only a half hour left until the end of the period and I was still fishless, just like my Irish boat partner. We decided to use the last few minutes and move over to the cove at the other shore. On the way I managed to exchange my natural dropper fly for a large orange lure, which landed me two rainbow trout in the last 10 minutes, putting me at an average ninth position. Upon arrival back to the hotel I learned that my friends had drawn bad lots for their venues, putting our team at 9th place with plenty of loss in the medal positions. But there were still 3 rounds ahead of us, leaving lots of room for plenty of results. All was certainly not lost.
The second day of the competition saw only morning fishing. I drew the lot for the Vrbas River that day, and when I got to my number I was very pleased by the beat. A nice stream created the upper part, flowing out to a widened dog leg and another current leading into a deep dark blue-green hole. Tomáš and I worked out our tactic, and the contest began at nine o’clock. I caught my first brown trown on a nymph in the deep hole after 20 minutes, but this unfortunately turned out to be my last fish, something I certainly hadn’t been counting on. I made an honest effort to fish all possible locations with a nymph, dry fly, and streamer, but the fish simply did not come. One grayling, over thirty centimeters long, came to take a look at my upwing fly sometime about halfway through, and about ten minutes before the end I saw a decent brown trout a few meters ahead of me. I made my way slowly towards him and after a few casts I had him on my line. Unfortunately, I lost him after about a minute of struggling, resulting in my placing just one step from grade vinners among the individuals. This round gave me a single fish and a bad position at number 14. I wondered how my teammates had turned out.
As bad luck would have it, everyone, except Filip Apjar who kept to the agreed tactic on the lake and ended at fantastic second place, drew bad lots again which of course showed up on the overall results. When I saw Luboš Roza shivering from the cold, having no other way to get to the fish from his beat on the Sana River than to swim across the freezing water to the other side, I was deeply saddened by the imbalance of the beats. I wouldn’t dream of making excuses only based on bad locations, but it is true that we all caught more fish than our contenders, but still there were so many miserable spots that after three rounds, our efforts landed us only at an average 8th place. Nonetheless, we still hadn’t lost hope for the medal.
My program for the last day put me at two smaller rivers, the Sanica and Janj. It started to rain heavily on Thursday evening, and this weather lasted all throughout Friday’s competition. I had a short spot for nymphing on the Sanica, while the rest was for a dry fly, which wasn’t the most ideal in such rainy weather. Finally, I caught 6 fish using a long nymphing against the current, while I caught the other 14 in the rain using a dry fly. I couldn’t fully compete against the flowing nymph locations using a dry fly this time, however, so I placed at number 4 with 20 catches. An excellent young Frenchman placed first this time, catching 25 fish on the nymph.
In the afternoon I had a very good spot on the Janj River, where a lot of fish had been caught in the previous rounds. I began with a nymph, but the brown trout were very careful and with a few exceptions only approached the nymph. I occasionally saw some fish gather in that rain, so I decided to try a dry fly, and it worked. This ended up with 15 fish with a dry fly and 10 on a nymph, so with 25 fish I landed first place – the young Frenchman took 2nd place with 11 fish. On the way back to the hotel I thought over how it had all worked out, knowing that my teammates would also have good catches providing that they drew good sites, so our position would have raised somewhat. I saw the results on wall poster when I returned to the hotel.
After 5 rounds we finished at 5th place with a total placing of 184 points (245 fish), and I think that we could be satisfied. The Italians caught superbly and placed first with a significant point difference (130 / 242 fish), the Spanish at 2nd place (168 / 239 fish) which, given the local conditions (gin clear water, cautious fish, and dry flies) suit them perfectly, the French were excellent at 3rd place (172 / 252 fish), and the local Bosnians and Hercegovinians finished at 4th place (175 / 206 fish).
In the individual category, the title of European Champion went to a local competitor fishing for the Bosnia II team, Prpic Željko (15 / 61 fish), second was the French Yanick Reviere (18 / 65 fish), and third place went to the starting Croatian Miroslav Katicic (21 / 39 fish). I ended up best among the Czechs: 13th place (29 / 102 fish), Filip Apjár at 17th place (29 / 32 fish), Luboš Roza at 21st place (33 / 57 fish), Ivan Vančura at 25th (37 / 31 fish), while the most experienced of our team, Jaromír Šram, who really did have bad luck drawing lots, finished at 68 (63 / 23 fish). It’s a pity that he didn’t draw at least one good beat, because we would have made enough for the team medal. I’d also like to add that during the preparation, Jája thought up several good patern that we all used during the entire championships, namely the Shuttlecock Green Quill, Quill nymph with orange tag, and the Gold Labrador Nymph for the great Vrbas River. We all also used Tomáš’ Orange Tag Nymph with success.
In closing I would like to say that I was very pleased by the collective cooperation of all team members during the entire preparation and championship and would like to thank my teammates for that. The captain work was very important when establishing competition tactics. I’d also like to thank the tem manager who took excellent care of all organization matters so that we could concentrate on the fishing. It was an honour to fish with such a great bunch.