And Where Are The Marble Trout?

And Where Are The Marble Trout?

 

In the summer of 1987 Stane, then president of the Angler’s Club of Tolmin (Ribiška družina Tolmin), gave me a call. He told me that in the middle of August two special fly-fishermen would visit the Tolminska (the Tolmin region). Men who had written books about fly-fishing from all over the world and reports in the biggest angler magazines. They were to fish in the waters of Tolmin for a whole week as they wanted to see the fabled marble trout for the first time. Stane was keen to find a good fishing guide that could lead them along the Soča and its tributaries. Many members of the club were good fishermen, but the problem was language. Besides Slovenian, most of the older members spoke only Italian, while students in the post-war schools had not learned many foreign languages. But Stane knew that my work took me to many countries and that I also spoke English. I immediately agreed to help when he asked me.

 

I had been a passionate fisherman since my youth, but by 1987 I had been working in Nova Gorica for several years and had little time for fishing. I also lived in Nova Gorica during the week and only came home to Tolmin on Saturday mornings. I could only fish on the weekends, so I keenly accepted Stane’s invitation as it meant I would be able to fish all week. I quickly arranged my vacation and was set.

 

With Stane we arranged for me to come to penzion Šterk at Most na Soči directly after work on Friday evening. There I would meet these two famous fishermen and we could make a plan for the rest of the week. I came indeed, but saw that there was another gentlemen present whom I had not met before. This was Mr Marjan Fratnik, born in Most na Soči but a resident of Milan since the end of the Second World War. I greeted Mr Fratnik and both famous fishermen, but Mr Fratnik immediately began questioning me. Where was I from? I quickly saw that he was asking because he had noticed my surname and when I told him, he revealed that in Gorica he had been a classmate of my eldest brother. He was thrilled. He told me how well my brother Vladimir had done at school and how during the holidays he would visit our house in Nemški Rut. Vladimir liked to hunt dormice and my Grandmother cooked them for the two of them and they both enjoyed eating them. I was very surprised by this news, as no one had ever told me much about my eldest brother. He had been born 24 years before me and died young, long before I was even born. Later Mr Fratnik would tell me tales of him many more times.

 

Mr Fratnik was the first to bring well-known fishermen from the developed Western countries to the Soča. Slovenia was then part of the communist Yugoslavia and Western tourist fishermen did not like to visit. The exceptions were the Italians, for they were our neighbors, and their fishermen had begun coming across already in the 1960s — but they were not very numerous. But Mr Fratnik always came and was also a member of our Angler’s Club. Before the Second World War his father had had a lease on the river Bača and there Mr Fratnik had already caught his first trout when he was 16 years old. He was already a fly-fisherman and there were few of them in those days. Later, while living in Milan, he fished around the world, met many famous fly-fishermen and himself became famous. He created the well-known F-Fly, which helps when no fish would take the bait anymore.

 

That evening I also became well acquainted with Mr Price and Mr Martin. We spent most of the evening talking of the marble trout and both gentlemen could hardly wait to meet this famous trout. Mr Fratnik was very sorry that he would not be able to fly-fish with us, for he had to return to Milan, but promised us that he would be back at the end of the next week to hear about our experiences on the rivers.

 

The next morning I took the Englishman and the American to the Soča. We caught greylings and trout, but none of the trout were marbles. I felt quite upset that we could not catch them. I did catch a smallish trout that had something of a marbled pattern, but she was a hybrid like most of the others. Even more of the fish we caught were brown and rainbow trout. The next day we headed to the Soča canyon and the Bovec area. Again, we caught many beautiful fish, but no marble trout. Mr Martin and Mr Price both enjoyed the river and the nature, but I could tell that they were becoming more and more disappointed at not seeing any of the elusive marbles. To distract them from their disappointment, I constantly talked of local particularities and quite a lot about the history of the Tolminska. When we stood atop the Italian charnel house in Kobarid I pointed out the Soča and the First World War Soča front (Isonzo front). I mentioned that Ernest Hemingway had been on the Italian side and that the experience had inspired him to write his book, “A Farewell to Arms”. Mr Martin enthusiastically told me that he would write his own book about fly-fishing on the Soča and title it, “On the Trail of Hemingway.”

 

Every evening we would dine late into the night at Šterk’s in always president Stane would join us, as well as often the fishing rangers Mr Fischione and Mr Gorjan. Both rangers were also excellent fishermen and gave me recommendations where we should go to try and catch some marble trout. I spent all my time translating from Slovenian to English and back. In this way Darrel Martin and Taff Price learned of many fishing adventures, but we had the loveliest time when Fischione and Gorjan started to sing. They sang well, and both Slovenian and Italian songs. I felt rather embarrassed that I was quite tone deaf. In the middle of the week another Italian fisherman from Firenze joined us and proved pleasant company.

 

After that we fly-fished on the Idrijca, Trebuščica, Bača and Tolminka rivers. The Italian fisherman joined us on the Tolminka. I do not remember his name, but at the end of this fishing holiday, he gave me his fly rod, which I liked very much and use to this very day. I took them into the Tolminka gorges, for I was sure that at least in that deep canyon we would be able to catch some marble trout. The gorges are very deep and it is impossible to proceed upstream by simply following the river; sometimes it is too deep, other times rocks do not permit passage. One has to return to the road over and over, walk a ways and then return down to the river. First I would take one fisherman down, then return to lead the second, and then the third, one after another. I explained to each that he must climb up to the road when he could go no further upstream. I would collect them all on the roadside at the end. The Tolminka demands a lot of caution, for the trout are very beautiful and large, but also very shy, and when they spot a person they immediately hide. One always has to fly-fish against the current and, if possible, while kneeling or crouching to break up one’s silhouette. Because of the refraction of light when it hits the water, fish cannot spot a fisherman at an acute angle downstream, for they always swim facing upstream.

 

Once I had arranged all the fishermen along the Tolminka, I calculated that they would be able to fly fish at least two or three hours. So I drove ahead and stopped just before Polog and went down to the river myself. I caught many trout, but released them all. Until then I had been in the habit of taking every fish that was large enough, and once I had caught the three permitted, I would stop fishing. All the fishermen I knew did the same. But on this fishing holiday I noticed that Darrel and Taff released all the fish they caught. So I also released all my fish, which I had never done before. Since I had been a child, the catch had been important to me and I liked eating the fish I caught. This had been the reason to even begin fishing! Well, now I saw that in the West even fishing could be simple sport and the catch no longer crucial.

 

After about two hours, however, I caught a large trout, more than 50 cm long. It was beautiful, but it was a hybrid. I spent a long time thinking about whether to release it, but in the end I killed it. I wanted the foreign fishermen to see such a beautiful trout and I also wanted to eat it at home. I returned to the road and as I drove back I picked up the other three fishermen. Already there they let me know that they had had an excellent sport, but alas none of them had caught a marble trout. I showed them my trout and they agreed it looked beautiful, but I could feel that the Englishman and the American look at me as though I was a bit of a barbarian. I did not get the same feeling from the Italian.

 

Before the last fishing day we spent the evening at Šterk’s in deep discussion about what to do. True, both Mr Martin and Mr Price had enjoyed a week of fine fishing, but they were disappointed that they had not found the famous marble trout. Even I was desperate. I don’t know who came up with the idea, probably it was Stane, that I take the two fishermen to the Zadlaščica. It must have been the first time I had heard that the Zadlaščica stream had only pure marble trout! They had been discovered in 1985 when Mr Fischione, on his initiative and with the permission of president Stane, took Dr. Ocvirk, Director of the Fisheries Research Institute in Ljubljana, to that stream.. This institute had by then already spent three years carrying out the first serious research project on the marble trout in its Kobarid fish farm. Broodstock marble trout were caught by electrofishing in the Soča, Koritnica and Tolminka rivers, brought to the fish farm and stripped of their roe. In 1985 these young marble trout were already big enough for Dr. Ocvirk to understand how they even looked and how marble trout grew. When Mr Fischione brought Dr. Ocvirk and his team to the Zadlaščica they caught around 80 trout and when the Doctor checked them, they realized that all were pure marble trout! By then they had already checked all the rivers in the Littoral (Primorska) and everywhere they had found plenty of hybrids but no marble trout. Fishermen had almost annihilated the marble trout by stocking brown trout in these rivers over the last century.

 

At that time, in 1987, when I was guiding Mr Taff Price and Mr Darrel Martin around our rivers, we could still fish in the Zadlaščica. I was excited to take the two famous anglers to the Zadlaščica and there was plenty to see. We caught marble trout, one after another, each more beautiful than the last. They were not large, but they were perfect and, most importantly, all of them were real, pure marble trout!

 

I was exceptionally satisfied to have saved the pride of the marble trout, the Angler’s Club of Tolmin, and not least my own. That last evening Mr Fratnik also came to Šterk’s from Milan and we celebrated our marble trout late into the night.

 

 

Tolmin 11.25.2016

Lucijan Rejec