Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Short Essay

Tito's Trout

I subscribe to the notion that fly fishing can shrink the world. Find another angler anywhere on the planet and you can hold a conversation. Speaking the same language is only helpful, not necessary. Heck, I even got the Austrian version of the "one that got away" on the banks of the Pitten river chatting with a local fellow sporting an amazing bamboo rod. No English required. Travel with a fly rod and you will find adventure, friendship, and inspiration. It may even change your view of the world.

Outside the capital of Slovenia sits Brdo near the town of Kranj. This site is the former residence of President Tito the Communist/Socialist leader of what was once Yugoslavia. Brdo, a nature preserve, is made up of lush lakes, streams, and holds breathtaking views of the Alps. A true paradise; no wonder the dictator kept it for himself.

By chance, our group had the pleasure of staying at a hotel near Brdo. A free day on the itinerary, I had learned of several outstanding trout rivers nearby. Though impossible to secure an appropriate license on short notice, the hotel clerk informed he would arrange for a man to take me fishing ($35 American). How could I go wrong? In a classic "how the hell did I end up here" kind of moment on a sunny Sunday morning in the hills outside of Ljubljana we set out. More of a driver than a guide, we set off into the preserve. Through a few gates, over dirt roads, past postcard quality scenery we tried to make small talk. Mostly smiling and nodding as we drove past several small lakes dotted with remarkable log hunting cabins. After about 30 minutes we stopped next to a crystal clear lake fed by a small stream. Surprised that he was leaving me, I struggled to communicate what time he should come back. A problem solved by drawing a clock face in the dirt; and just like that, I was alone.

I could see foot-long rainbows cruising near the lakes edge feeding in the current. A bright blue sky sprinkled with a few soft clouds shot up from the green horizon. The snow covered Alps across the border in northern Italy sat jagged in the distance creating a framework for the blue sky. I tied on a size 16 prince nymph and started to work the trout. It was like a dream. Several soft strikes followed by some aggressive takes. Soon silvery red rainbow trout a world away from my home danced across the gentle blue waters on the end of my line. It was achingly beautiful. Blue sky. Blue water. Solitude. I felt a sudden and wondrous sense of freedom.

Then it hit me. The freedom that I felt must hold special meaning in such a place. These trout were the descendants of fish that were under the rule of a dictator. Tito's trout. I hope they were treated better than the citizens who dared disagree with him. Did Tito cast a fly into this very lake? What other of his comrades had enjoyed such a place? Had Stalin broken bread, drank wine, and fished in these waters? I guess it didn't matter. This northern corner of Yugoslavia was spared the destruction that lay waste to most of the Balkans. Out of the darkness and brutality that divided a country, there is democracy in Slovenia. On a sunny day one August, I felt my heart stir with excitement as another rainbow danced on the end of my line. These trout are now caught, and let go, by free men. Blue sky. Blue water. Solitude. Freedom.

Andrew P. Winterstein. All rights reserved.

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