The Czech Republic is a rather densely populated country, and it is not easy to take a day out fishing in the wild. There always seems to be a busy road or some other distraction around, depriving a fly fisherman of the proper contemplative solitude. One of the exceptions from this rule are the Sudeten Mountains.
This mountain range separates the Czech lands from Germany. The land has been greatly affected by the tumults of 20th century European history, the consequence being, that vast stretches of once populated countryside now lie barren and provide an opportunity for excellent fishing far from the crowds.
The mountains were since time immemorial inhabited by ethnic Germans, who in the run up to WWII supported neighboring Nazi Germany. After the war millions of them were evicted, but their lands were never fully resettled. As the communists took over they made the area bordering Western Germany a no-entry zone. They even kept the defense line of concrete bunkers Czechoslovakia built up in the late 1930s in good repair, in case the capitalists decided to strike again. After laying barren for decades the hills reverted to their earlier form and nature took over. Only in the 1990s has the country been opened again to visitors.
In this deeply scarred, but charming country runs the river Vltava. It gently meanders through mountain meadows, and bunches of willows trees. The riverbed is composed of hard gravel and the river is slightly brownish in color from peat bogs in the headwaters. Huge growths of ranuncul support a variety of insect life. This environment makes for a great grayling fishery, and its remoteness greatly enhances its charm.
One of the aspects of beauty of fly-fishing for grayling is that this species of fish are in their peak condition in the Autumn, when the rest of nature slowly puts itself to sleep. Their usual season is September and October, with the really best fishing around the time when overnight temperature start to drop below freezing. In the high country this usually happens in mid October.
By then the fish have sufficiently recovered from their spawning efforts in late spring and know that the time runs short for them to store fat reserves to last through the upcoming winter. Luckily for them, and for the fly fishermen, at about this time the second generation of Baetis mayflies hatches. These mayflies, also known as the Blue winged olives, or BWOs, live in great numbers in the ranuncul growth. They hatch on the river surface, with the duns spending some time drifting down and getting warmed up before they take on wing. At this time, when they resemble a fleet of tiny sail ships sailing downstream, they are at their most vulnerable and the grayling know it.
They pick them one by one on their drift mercilessly, with only lucky few mayflies able to escape the onslaught and begin a new generation. In this the grayling resemble diminutive dolphins, gracefully taking the duns with a sinuous movement, flaunting their dorsal fin like a freshwater sailfish.
They present a unique set of challenges to dry fly fishermen: they are shoal fish, and as such they are not easily scared. They will keep rising even when they are being targeted from up close. On the other hand they are very picky about what they put into their little mouths and have no problem with ignoring a fly they do not like. The thing they abhor the most is drag, and at the slightest hint of a fly dragging, they stop rising and take cover.
Whole tales have been told about specimens of 50+ centimeter fish, who kept rising while a fly fisherman watched them up close and showed them the full content of his fly boxes to no avail. The tales (exaggerated as fly fishing stories usually are) often end with the poor fisherman hurling his fly rod & reel after the fish in an act of utter desperation.
But even the elusive big guys can be taken on a fly, the key usually is a long and limp tippet to minimize the even the micro drag. Grayling are not a hard fighting fish, so very fine tippets of 0.10 or even 0.08 mm are OK. Overall the whole grayling fishing setup should be geared towards finesse û very fine tippet, a fine leader, a 4 or 3 AFTMA class line and a short and willowy rod. Bamboo rods work the best but are not entirely essential, although the old-fashioned grass rod certainly enhances the experience of grayling fishing.
For the fisherman who appreciates the fragile beauty of this very feminine fish, (in the UK they have for them very fitting name the lady of the stream) one who approaches them with respect and in the spirit of Catch & Release, the grayling present an interesting challenge and great sport. The rough beauty of èumava mountains in full Autumn colors only adds to the experience.
Author - Jindra Lacko lives in Prague, the Czech Republic. An accountant by trade he seeks solace from the world of modern finance in pursuit of wild fish in wild places. Unlike many Czech fly fishermen he is more comfortable with a bamboo rod and a dry fly than with “modern” nymph techniques. Jindra recounts his fly fishing and fly tying pursuits on Grayling on the Fly.