Where do I start? Fortunately, I made it across a busy airport to get my last ﬂight in Paris but my bag did not. Arriving in Zagreb, I had that sick feeling you get when you realise everyone has left the terminal, the carousel has stopped and no matter how long you stare at the plastic ﬂaps, your bag is not coming out!The ladies in the "bag ofﬁce" were lovely although there were a lot of them! Lost bags are clearly quite common in this part of the world. The last and only time I had previously lost a bag was ﬂying into Dublin from London many years ago. I was going to Galway on the opposite of the country to ﬁsh Loch Corrib without any gear! I was extremely upset and trendy to give the guy behind the counter a piece of my mind, how could they lost my luggage on such a short ﬂight when, having literally ﬂown around the world eight times, it had never happened. Upset! Upset! I was pissed! I stormed into the ofﬁce and started smashing on the bell, waiting for service. With every second I was getting more and more angry. Finally, with my mind made up that I was going rip someone's head off, a 25 year old Irish girl with the biggest eyes and longest eye lashes in the world walked around the corner and the devil turned into a puppy. "Excuse me, there seems to have been a very unfortunate incident in that my bag doesn't seem to have arrived. I know it isn't your fault and it is really no bother but I was hoping you could help me." What! What was that Christopher?! Weren't you about to kill someone? Not so on this occasion in Zagreb. I am older and not as easily upset. It was decided that my bag would not arrive until the same ﬂight ﬂew in the next day and by then, we would be in Bosnia... or so we thought. The Croatians were prepared to drop my bags off at the border but would not take it into Bosnia. That was of no help to me at all. We decked that they would ﬂy it to serajavo and then the Bosnians could deal with it and have it sent to our accommodation, six hours from the capital.
Staggy was at the airport with our local driver, Tom, who took us around Zagreb to the hotel where the rest of the team were sitting in 35 degree heat, relaxing. Nobody was looking too stressed but all short on sleep. We ate, some drank and ﬁnally our captain arrived as he had been delayed in Vienna. Bed time was welcome but it was only then that I remembered my insulin was in my bag, sitting in Paris. Oh no! Not being able to take my insulin would interfere with my sugar levels but this could not be helped as it was now too late to get any.
Morning came and we headed to the airport to pick up our ﬁnal team member, manager, Peter Butcher. At that time we were also to pick up the hire cars and Vern, jimmy, Peter and I were to be the designated drivers. I have never seen the process of getting hire cars take so long! They were pre booked but we didn't know they had to build them before we could take them! It took hours before we left the airport and headed for the hotel. In spite of multiple pleads from Vern and I to get a Sat Nav, the powers that be decided that "following their nose" would get the back! I don't like to say, "I told you so", but an hour and a half later, I was sitting next to Pete and I said, "I told you so". We did have a wonderful tour of Zagreb and certainly saw many things and places that we would not have, had we had a Sat Nav! Structurally, Zagreb has some wonderful lines to it, is easy on the eye and although, like everywhere, there are some old parts, it is one of the most eye catching, head turning and beautiful places we have been and everyone agreed. And that was just the ladies. As for the buildings, I am really not quite sure. We are not back to the hotel until after check out time and the boys were outside, ready. They had been for a while. The decision was made that as we were running late and it was now lunch time, we would eat and then drive back to the airport to get my bag (it was on the way to Bosnia) and head off across the border. While at the airport, Pete decided it would be a good idea to get a Sat Nav. Why the hell didn't we think of that earlier??? When my bag arrived, there as relief all around as I had attempted to get insulin earlier and was told that I had to go to the hospital, get a script and then go back to the chemist. At the rate we were getting lost, we wouldn't make it to the competition in time if we tried that. Finally, we were heading to Bosnia. I was driving one of the vans and Jim, the other. On the way to the birder we had convinced Vern that they would likely want to strip search him and in this part of the world, cavity searchers were. It uncommon. As it would be done in alphabetical order, he would go ﬁrst. I have never seen someone so nervous as we handed the passports over to a very seriously looking gentleman who was not to be messed with. "Don't run Vern, it will make it worse", we told him. You could see the sweat running from his brow. "He is looking at you in the back now Vern, he has your passport. Don't look guilty. Keep your eyes ahead mate. Don't speak." I have not laughed so much in a long time! The relief..... He hasn't stopped smiling since we crossed into Bosnia but we have reminded him that there will be a return trip! Driving out of Croatia and into Bosnia, it is common to see houses shot to pieces. Bullet holes everywhere! Many have been re rendered but every second house is totally abandoned and was used for target practice with people still inside. Tragic. A war that started in 1992 and ended four years later. Typically, religion was the main reason for the slaughters that took place. Now, unemployment is at 60%! Our guide in Bosnia, Amir, was in the war and fought the Serbs. Some of whom are now his friends. He has two children that he has been trying to put through university while his income is thing ﬂies. His wife runs 100 chickens from which they get 50 eggs a day which they sell. That is it! If that isn't bad enough, he was shot twice during the war. The ﬁrst time was in 1993 when he was shot in the left left from one kilometre away by a gun designed to shoot down aeroplanes. It took him months to recover and soon after resuming services, he was hit in the stomach by shrapnel from a bomb. The shrapnel mostly passed right through him but he explained in broken English how the food he had eaten was coming out of him amongst the blood and internal organs. Perspective on my lost bag was quickly regained.
The place in which we are staying is in an amazing setting. Quite incredible really. It is situated on the banks of the Pliva river with the water running directly behind the rooms. The river is crystal clear and we can see grayling from the lounge. Literally! The mayﬂy hatches are extraordinary but unlike at home, the ﬁsh do not seem actively feeding on them. The water is bloody cold and fast. Very fast. Gradients are extreme but with the obvious limestone countryside and sink holes in paddocks, the clarity is indescribable. I am in a house with Staggy, Peter and Amir. When Yannick arrives, he too will be in with us. The rest of the team are a few doors down. As we situated right in front of a raging rapid, we go to sleep at night to the sound of roaring water. Amir is a wonderful ﬂy tier. Staggy thinks he is as good as anyone he has ever seen and that is a compliment. He takes his time to get things right and is proud of his ﬂies. He should be. Yesterday was our ﬁrst day on the water. It started on what is best described as a ﬂat, fast, chalkstream. Every ﬁsh can be polaroided from a long way away. The brown trout seem very easy to catch and not fussy about much but the grayling are not as helpful. Josh caught the ﬁrst trout and grayling and ﬁshed well throughout the entire day. Luke caught some good ﬁsh and had a particularly good afternoon while Mick was consistent throughout the day and managed both trout and grayling in tough conditions. Vern, still recovering from his scare at the border, is starting to put that behind him now (no pun intended) and had both the dry and wet ﬂies working to great effect. Staggy was his usual effective self and wrinkled ﬁsh out here and there while Amir also landed a couple of ﬁsh. All in all, we did not catch hundreds of them, but simply ﬁshed difﬁcult water, changing approaches regularly to try and work out the strategies. The evening rise did not really happen but I was fortunate to enough to ﬁnd an occasional nose sticking out of the water and every ﬁsh that rose ate the ﬂy well. A highlight for me was the polaroiding of some large grayling which ate ﬂies well. A far cry from most that we saw! All in all, everyone was a little concerned at lunch time with the difﬁcult nature of the ﬁshing but after more practice and a few think tanks, things were falling into place. By night time, we were conﬁdent in everything but Petes driving. Jimmy is well on top of things in his ﬁrst year as captain of the world team. Nothing is a problem for him and he stays positive even in adversity. A spade is a spade and that's fantastic. He has not quite learned which side of the road to drive on and we have had scone close shaves. In fact, every time we leave the hotel, we give a few hedges a close shave! Vern decided that jimmy needs All Terrain tyres on one side of the car and Slicks on the other! The banter is fantastic between the guys and the trick will be to keep this going when the pressure comes on later. It would not be surprising to hear that I was the ﬁrst person to fall in. I actually fell in while getting into the river for the ﬁrst time! I then went for a swim again later when the gravel was disappearing from under my feet when I was running on the spot like a cartoon character. The water is freezing. We were warned that it was so cold that it would have somewhat of a "shrivelling" effect if we fell in. You can tick that box! By the end of the day, Vern had also joined me but as we have already had children, it was not that tragic. We have to keep young Josh dry!
The rivers are also very dirty. I am talking about plastic bags, toilet paper, the lot! I am not sure they care. The rivers are postcard material but you would have to photoshop out the milk crates. I am sure it won't be the last time I mention this. I need to make special mention of Josh. Rowdy! The Mouth! He sat in the back of the car from Zagreb well into Bosnia and may have said one word although most think it was just a burp. This is his ﬁrst trip to Europe and ﬁve hours into the trip just after we checked his pulse, I asked him what he thought of Europe. His answer was, "there are lots of trees". Wow! This place has left an impression! Finally, I decided that we would have to purchase a deﬁbrillator to ensure that his heart is still actually working and that he isn't simply a card board cut out. All jokes aside, he may be quite but he is ﬁshing very well and catching a lot of ﬁsh! Something that strikes you when driving around Bosnia and the border with Croatia is the number of brand new cemeteries. I Have never seen so many pristine grave stones. It gives the place an awkwardness that is hard to describe and impossible to get away from.
Day two on the water was spent on the Vrbas. This is a comp venue for the up coming championships. We had a look at some of the competition beats and ﬁshed a part of the practice water. It is the most disgusting water way I have ever ﬁshed. Amir said that if the Comp was not there, you could not pay him 1000 euro to ﬁsh there. Ironic really considering we had to pay someone else to ﬁsh it. The waterway looks very ﬁshy with glides and runs, pockets and currents. The problem is the ﬁlth that continually ﬂoats past you and into you while you are trying to ﬁsh. Coke bottles abound with plastic bags still being the main issue. Sewage drains appeared to run straight into the river, making changing ﬂies quite challenging. You have to keep your hands away from your mouth which is difﬁcult when juggling multiple rods, line that has been in the water and old ﬂies. The river bed is a little slippery made all the more dangerous with the constant destructions of people walking along the footpaths. The ﬁshing here was extremely good. Fish were rising regularly and every technique we tried was successful. The Grayling were large and plentiful while the trout were smaller and had that distinctive curved tail tip that is indicative of "stockies". Consequently, they were very easy to catch and we soon headed off to another area after lunch to ﬁnd water that would be closer to the competition water.
The location for the second half of the day was certainly tougher. We all managed to catch ﬁsh but the numbers were closer to "normal". A few stockies still turned up in the catch and the grayling remained large. Of slight concern is the fact that we have been told that they are no longer going to stock the water way and that all of the stocking has taken place above the competition water in the practice water. They are expecting the ﬁsh to migrate down the river. The stocking took place a few weeks ago and somehow they have extrapolated that by the time the Comp comes around, these ﬁsh will be equally present in the beats 3km away as they are in the beat closest to the town / stocking point. Oh dear! None the less, there should be some grayling present and avoiding the blank is always a good thing. Having said that, the beats also seem to differ quite a lot in the type of water you will get to ﬁsh. Some are very deep next to the bank and wading will be impossible, while others will be able to be ﬁshed in their entirety. This sounds like a lottery but you just have to catch the ﬁsh that are in front of you and at the end of the comp, from a team perspective, it will work out to be fair. The winning team will still has. To deal with bad beats. On a less serious note, we had a few more swimmers today. I actually managed to stay dry for a change which is rather nice. I should try it more often. Pete was the ﬁrst casualty as he was trying to make his way out of the water for lunch. We were all watching him and it was like a slow train wreck. He fell again later in the day but only Jimmy was there to see it. The tsunami was felt downstream and has probably helped the dispersion of those stockies. Staggy had a good fall in front of Vern. I wish I had been there to see it because I don't think I have ever seen 'the heron' fall in. Finally, Vern has become a repeat offender. I was ﬁshing away downstream when I heard him screaming and thought he was into a good ﬁsh. As it turned out, he went A over T and one of his ﬂy boxes had been swept down the river. It went raging past Staggy and I and I eventually managed to get hold of it a few hundred meters downstream with a lunging net after running through a farmers paddock to try and keep up. Of major concern here was that it was a perfectly clear, compartmentalised ﬂy box containing ten of his favourite patterns. Basically, every ﬁsh in a few hundred meters of river was covered by his favourite ten ﬂies and none of them rose to eat the box! He is currently at the tying vice.
Today's ten points of note:
1. If your luggage is going to go missing on a ﬂight, have it happen in Ireland.
2. Deﬁbrillators are much more handy than I originally thought.
3. If you want to scare Vern, put on some rubber gloves.
4. The safest place to be when Pete is driving is in the other car.
5. Stockies will eat a Royal Humpy stripped under the surface like there is no tomorrow.
6. For any ﬁsh stupid enough to eat a Royal Humpy stripped under the surface, there should be no tomorrow.
7. Josh is a mute.
8. Only when a river is totally full of rubbish should you start to use a rubbish bin in Bosnia.
9. Vern needs to be more steady on his zimmer frame.
10. Grayling are beautiful no matter what the surroundings you are catching them in.
Finally, Yanick Rivierre arrives tonight and will be with us for around ten days I think. He is apparently our "technical advisor". What does that actually mean? Soon we will have a psychiatrist and a physiotherapist! Actually, I could do with a back rub and probably a few session with the psych! Yannick will be a massive help to us in in,coking some of the grayling secrets and we are all excited about his arrival. He too can not wait to get involved and was talking madly about it when I was ﬁshing with him a week ago. As he is the worlds biggest practical joker, I am expecting a little mayhem in amongst the serious ﬁshing stuff. That's enough for now. I will try and write again in a couple of days or if something out of the ordinary happens such as Peter driving in a straight line, Vern standing up straight or Josh saying his ﬁrst word! Dadda.
Rainbow Lodge Tasmania
To see more photos of the trip to Bosnia please click below: