Following the winding road away from the lowlands and up through meadows into the forested slopes of the Krušné hory (Ore Mountains) in Western Bohemia, we were but a few miles from the German border as we sought fishable waters in this quiet corner of the Czech Republic.
Following the winding road away from the lowlands and up through meadows into the forested slopes of the Krušné hory (Ore Mountains) in Western Bohemia, we were but a few miles from the German border as we sought fishable waters in this quiet corner of the Czech Republic. We were high in the watershed of the River Rolava, washed out of fishing further downstream thanks to days of constant rain.
Local guide and British ex-patriot, Tim Baldwin, assured me that he knew a location high up on the mountain that even if not immediately fishable, would have plenty of play as soon as the weather broke and the water started to drop. As far as I was concerned, I had come to fish no matter the weather, so on we went!
During my previous visit to the Czech Republic, I’d fished for wild brown trout and grayling in beautiful streams lower down in the mountains, but the goal of this first day’s outing was a U.S. import - brook trout!
The first time I’d fished in the Czech Republic, the weather was cold and dry, but we still caught some beautifully-colored grayling that had tints matching the autumn colors in their dorsal fins – absolutely magnificent! On one stretch of the upper Teplá, we fished alongside an old blacksmith’s forge whose wood-smoke haze drifted along the river creating one of the most esoteric fishing scenes you could imagine. On that occasion, there were high water conditions and it was quite wet; still we caught plenty of wild fish. Brook trout, brown trout and grayling do indeed seem to be plentiful despite the fact that most of the locals catch to eat. Few fly-fish, however, so maybe this is the reason there is still much sport to be had as not all fish are willing to fall victim to spinners and worms.
When I arrived in Prague the previous day, Tim met me at the airport for the ride out to his base in the little spa town of Františkovy Lázne. It’s there he runs Czech Coarse & Fly Fishing, the only native English-speaking guide service in the country. Travelling west through the rolling countryside, we passed the fields of grain used to brew the famous local beers. Along the roadsides were stalls of freshly picked mushrooms straight from the mountains, as well as other vendors selling bottles of a pale brownish liquid that turned out to be a local favorite – a lightly-fermented grape juice. I was also surprised to see a variety of small, brightly-colored garden statuettes and gnomes selling like crazy, especially to the German tourists passing through.
When It Rains, It Pours
From the moment I landed, and all through my first night, it rained which did not bode well for our excursion. Our first stop to check out a usually slow and peaceful glide on the River Rolava, revealed a torrent running stained and high. That’s how we wound up working our way up the mountain. Just past the little riverside hamlet of Novy Hamry, full of picturesque little houses described by some as “village vernacular,” we pulled off onto a dirt road crossing just above a fork in the rushing river.
First glance at the river showed a heavy flow still, but there were also enough boulders and pockets where a trout could find some relative respite from the current, so we decided to tackle up and give it a go. We set ourselves up with weighted nymphs that were needed in order to get down quickly in the current. Tim had tied on a pair of flies, while I stuck to a single gold-fritz bodied nymph with a split-shot for a head. We then proceeded to fish, not surprisingly, in the Czech nymph style!
Holding the rod high while allowing the nymphs to bounce under the rod tip on a short line makes for an intense fishing experience. The slightest twitch of the line or sudden stop gives cause for a strike, so we had to pay close attention every second. We only managed a couple of tentative bites, thanks to the raging torrent, but we were at least encouraged before deciding to stop for a lunch break at Novy Hamry. After a hearty meal of local venison washed down with some fine Czech beer, we returned to our spot to find the sun creeping through the clouds and a slight drop in the river from before.
Deciding to work upstream rather than down as we had done earlier, Tim and I leapfrogged each other from pocket to pocket and before long, Tim snagged a trout. While not natives, these fish are wild in the truest sense of the word and the little brook trout that came to the net would not have looked out of place in the Adirondacks. A miniature marvel painted in swirls of green on top, leading to flanks of yellow spots on dark olive punctuated with vivid red spots outlined in royal blue and then those distinctive white edged fins - looking for all the world like an artist had just applied them as a final flourish – the brookie was a beauty!
This first catch boosted our morale as well as our game. Between the two of us, we landed nearly two dozen small wild brookies, finding them tucked behind boulders, under cut banks and in longer deeper pools where they were obviously starting to feed on the insects being washed their way. The water had dropped half a foot by the time the sun was setting, so we decided to return back along the riverside track. In better conditions, I’d bet this little headwater would yield quite a catch!
Grayling, Czech! Brown Trout, Czech!
Bright sunshine greeted us on our second day out as we trekked to the River Svatova just outside the town of Sokolov. Again, the stretch Tim wanted us to fish was running high, but at least it was much clearer now. I decided to fish a small olive klinkhammer with a lightly weighted corixa pattern tied dropper duo-style to the bend of the dry fly hook. With the current so strong, I cast close to the bank and was rewarded almost instantly with a feisty little brown. There was an abundance of red spots on this particular fish contrasting to his golden sides and the other usual large dark spots, making him an interesting catch. But our success was short lived in this section, so we walked upstream to a deeper, slower pool where I waded out to a gravel bar and started seeing some action close to the bank.
I was missing takes on the duo, so I switched to a tiny little black dry fly with a white wing to aid visibility. That made all the difference in the world. A succession of small but perfectly formed maidens of the stream came my way. A shoal of young grayling had obviously taken up residence in the pool to escape the faster water elsewhere and were eagerly sipping small flies off the surface. In addition to the grayling, an occasional brown trout swam into the mix. While Tim took over the spot, I grabbed the camera for some pictures.
The dappled sunlight breaking through the canopy overhead combined with the early shades of autumn made for a reminder that this part of Europe is still relatively untouched. Since most visitors tend to either stay in Prague or wander only as far as the big spa towns such as Karlovy Vary or the medieval castle towns such as Loket nearby, this area is completely unspoiled. Many an angler would be wise to drink in the atmosphere of such special places we often encounter with rod in hand.
Talking of drinking in the atmosphere, the bite fizzled after a while, so we decided to move on after a welcomed lunch break that included the world’s first lager - and one of the best - Pilsner Urquell brewed in nearby Plzen. We had now travelled a little way east, past the aforementioned Loket to the River Teplá just outside of Karlovy Vary. This area was quite rocky which made wading difficult in the high water conditions. Later on, I saw a photo of this stretch at its normal height, just a few inches, with large boulders strewn about all over the river bed. Now I know why I was stumbling around and busting my shins every other step. Still, the brown trout were responsive and a little larger here.
Again, we found classic lies behind obstructions such as boulders. A good sedge hatch was under way, too, and clouds of flies - backlit as they danced in the late afternoon sun - were cause to stop and watch a couple of times just for the spectacle of it all.
Tim crossed to the other bank and was working one particular hole surrounded by a ring of protective rocks when he suddenly let out a yell. I looked up just in time to see a good bend in his rod and then the sickening sight of it recoiling back to its upright position. It had been a big grayling, perhaps pushing a couple of pounds. It’s nice to know they are there, as of course, Tim does. He puts anglers on them all through the summer months when the rivers are at their normal levels and has a nice photo library to prove it. That’s reason enough for me to return for another visit next year and find one or two for myself.
Paul Sharman recently suffered an enforced move back to his native England after eight years based in San Diego. He is editor of the British online journal www.fishandfly.com, which gives him a great excuse to mix business with pleasure while also carrying on the art of Gyotaku (a traditional form of Japanese fish printing) and freelancing.
Bring Your Camera
Apart from the obvious sights of Prague, take time to explore some of the small picturesque side streets and search for different viewpoints over the city from the fortified walls of the castle. The small, vertical windows made for firing arrows out but not letting them back in make for interesting frames. Also, look for architectural details to zoom in on, especially on the older buildings. For example, there are some beautiful little sculptures on the gates of St. Vitus Cathedral revealing scenes from everyday life.
Out in western Bohemia, the architecture and bright colors of the spa towns, centered around Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázne and Františkovy Lázne, provide ample opportunities to either take in the grand scale of the surroundings, parks and boulevards or hone in on specific details such as colorful flower boxes or mosaic work and statuary. The latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, used locations in Prague, Karlovy Vary and the medieval town of Loket, my personal favorite, and it’s not hard to see why.
Loket is a must-see, and easily visited as it is on the way to some of the fishing spots. An absolutely classic medieval castle town, it is perched high on a rocky outcrop above a horseshoe bend in the River Ohre below. The castle, which dates back to the 14th century, has remains of an earlier fortification within and the rest of the small town, particularly the main square, is replete with vivid, gothic façades.
Bohemia boasts world-famous spas that are extremely popular with German, Austrian, Russian and Arab tourists. Visitors come to take in the waters as well as the many treatments the spas offer, and reservations are usually required.
A land of more than 100 castles, much of the countryside remained relatively unscathed during the war years, as did Prague itself which explains its popularity as a major tourist destination. Prague has beautiful architecture in the form of palaces, cathedrals and the famous Charles Bridge which is over 600 years old. One of the statues that line the bridge is of the country’s patron saint, John of Nepomuk, and rumor has it that if you rub the brass plaque at its base, you will one day return to Prague.
Prague Castle, perched up on the hill overlooking the old town, is the largest ancient castle in the world and is reached by crossing the Charles Bridge. The old town square is within walking distance on the other side of the bridge and come evening time, is a popular place. You should try and get an outside table at one of the restaurants to see and be seen. You can also treat yourself to a boat cruise on the River Vltava before relaxing in one of the many wonderful street or riverside eateries.
Where To Toss The Bags
You will find a wide range of accommodations available from simple no-frills pensions to luxury hotels, particularly in the spa towns and in Prague. Tim Baldwin also runs a tour business, so he can arrange a whole package for you if necessary including, accommodations, sightseeing and fishing, and even see to it that non-fishers are entertained while you’re out on the river. He can also provide everything you need in the way of tackle and waders so you can travel as light as you wish or just carry a favorite travel outfit with you, which I personally found to be a great bonus. A four-, five- or six-weight rod works just fine on the smaller streams.
Františkovy Lázně in its heyday saw visits from Beethoven and Goethe so you would be following in good footsteps. If you want to look
around yourself, then check out these first-class lodgings (be sure to click on the English translations): The Hotel Savoy (www.franzensbad.cz), Hotel Centrum (www.spahotelcentrum.cz), Grand Hotel Pupp (www.pupp.cz) and Hotel Riverside Prague (www.riversideprague.com).
Without a visa, U.S. and Canadian nationals (and many others) can visit the Czech Republic for up to 90 days, but your passport must be valid for at least six months after your expected departure date.The best source of travel information is the Czech Tourism office www.czechtourism.com or you can contact the U.S. tourist office directly (212.288.0830). Contact Tim Baldwin, Czech Coarse & Fly-Fishing www.czechflyfishing.cz (202.470.0109) for booking information.
Other Notes Of Interest
The Czech Republic
Visit the U.S. State Department’s web site for more details about the Czech Republic: www.state.gov/p/eur/ci/ez/