High Viz Midges, Grasshoppers…and Lost Opportunities

I have been here in Theth for nearly 3 weeks and still cannot believe it. The scenery is spectacular, the visitors are never-ending, and the trout are still elusive. I remain determined to catch one, and have narrowed down to three flies that the trout are attracted to. If I could get quick enough to actually set the hook, I would at last land one. A few days earlier, on the lower Shala, where the canyon opens up to a broad, flat rocky plain, I was granted an entry into the very private world of the speckled trout. I stood on a VW-sized boulder and cast a bright yellow stonefly midge (the correct terminology would be “Flasher Yellow Pupa”). From the shadow beneath a boulder, and into a faint boiling pool, came two dark speckled trout. I kept my cool as first one , and then the other chased it down and then swam back to the shadow. This feint and retreat went on all afternoon. I went from pool to pool, boil to boil, and had nothing to show for it but a serious tan from the unrelenting Balkan sun. I had hiked the roughly 7k long road, up and down until settling onto a meadow at the point where the gorge peels away from itself on the western side.

The dance has gone on for three weeks now, and I have come to the conclusion that if we are going to bring fly fishing to Theth and Valbonne, it is better left to the local guides, with their flies and the local techniques they would practice. I have decided that there is no chance that I could guide outside fisherman, owing to the fact that I don’t have the knowledge of the local bugs, and I have only now begun to “crack the code” with the trout in the Shala River.

The Speckled Trout are rising to the only two flies that I have left, and after pitching all the flies in my arsenal, it comes down to two Chubby Chernobyls. The large Wooly Buggers (size #8) draw only passing interest, and anything else that’s “wet”, has to have at least a bead-head on it, or the fish will turn away immediately.

The most galling part of this experience is the fact that I can draw the trout out of the boils and eddys, pull them into the light, tempt them to hit my fly, and be ready for the strike – but it all falls apart as they close in. These gorgeous trout, speckled like swimming leopards, are equally confused by all of the dry flies that have hit the water above them. My “can’t miss” Adams, Parachute Adams, and all Blue Wing Olives are lost on my swimming quarry. In the end, it is the Chernobyl Ant, and the Chubby Chernobyl Hopper; they are smaller (size 10 to 14) and activate the fish.

At the end of the day, I will persevere; I know the fish are here in this river, and I finally understand how to find them. They lurk in the boiling waters behind massive rocks that stand like sentries in the fast moving bouncing flood of this gorge. I see them where the gorge opens into the flat plain heading down and out to the Koman Reservoir, and then into the Drina River to fill Lake Shkodra. From high up in the Albanian Alps, in peaks shared with Montenegro, fall the water. I hear this ancient watercourse at night through my open window as it lulls me to sleep, filling my dreams and at times haunting me. I am reminded of my favorite line from Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It”: “Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters…”. Since discovering fly fishing and trout at an early age, I have been eternally held rapt by their lives in the moving liquid, clear in my mind as thoughts, as cold as a body can stand, and always luring me from the places that I dwell. I credit my Grandfather and my Brother John, and my dear departed Brother Steve for incubating the love and curiosity in me for fly fishing.

I will be leaving Theth, and the Shala in two weeks to cover my obligations in Tirana. This will be my last post regarding fly fishing, and I just want to assure the few dedicated readers that have been following this journey – that I will return to things perhaps more interesting to them. I love fly fishing as much as reading, writing, or playing the drums. For me, fly fishing makes me feel a bit perspicacious, simply because it is dually complex and simple in practice. My senses and mind see and process the difficult, and unobvious aspects of this life. It allows me entry into a focus on the circle of my existence, and involves moving meditation on my part. All senses are cued to the wind, the water, the sounds of life around me… and images and visions that are availed as a result of it.

Thank you all for joining this wonderful adventure. In my next post I will try and recount some of the highlights of my trip to this point. While here at Bujtina Polia I have met the cream of this world, people from far and wide, taking part in the best coffee/dinner conversation I have had in many years, and along the way I have been enlightened. I have been deeply gifted. Please take care of yourselves and each other.

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