The tourist, who reaches the Gacka valley from the road leading from Senj to the parks of Plitvice and then goes on towards the capital Zagreb, cannot imagine the beauty that unfolds as a wide and lush valley surrounded by the Velibit Mountains shines before his eyes. Here, in the central region of Croatia, flows the river Gacka, which gives its name to the plain, to the region, both very green, and with lots of water and enchanting relaxing views.
The river Gacka, which is the destination of our trip, flows near the town of Otocac. This is one of the most famous rivers for trout fishing in Europe and rightly so as its waters are very rich in fish, especially considerably sized trout to challenge even the most demanding anglers. They say that several tourists who were fond of fishing had already put themselves to the test with the big trout of these waters at the beginning of the 20th century. However, real mass tourism only began in the sixties of the last century, since then quite a lot of anglers have approached these waters, thanks also to the construction of the mythical Gacka Hotel (later destroyed). Anglers from all over the world stayed here and this went on until the beginning of the war of independence in Serbia in the Nineties.
After this bad period, the situation has been brought back to normal both socially and economically. Since 2007 the firm which manages the river has been trying to make up for lost time. Its intention is to re-launch the image of the river among European anglers and tourists by means of important economical investments, and thanks to the cooperation of the European Community and of the Croatian Ministry of Tourism as well. Between 2007 and 2008 4500 kg of fish of varying sizes and about 20000 brown fries measuring 12/15 cm, as well as 3500 graylings from nearby Bosnia and measuring 30/35 cm, will be thrown into the river. We hope that this will contribute, along with a good number of fishing wardens, to a substantial improvement in the fish stock of the river.
The river rises from a big karst source near the village of Tonkovic Vrilo and placidly flows through the meadows for about 61 Km as far as the lake in Gornje Svicko in an uncontaminated environment. There are very few buildings and houses along its course, this quiet environment allows the angler to really enjoy nature, and fishing along its whole course, where there is only grass, livestock, meadows and trout.
At the beginning, the river is a little 4/5 metre long chalk stream with a depth of one to two metres. Then, as you go downstream and after the biggest tributary, called Little Gacka, has flowed into the main stream, some kilometres away from the source, the river gets bigger. It reaches widths of 15 to 25 metres and depths of 2 to 5 metres. Of course, as you go downstream, the river gets bigger and deeper, with holes reaching the depth of 7/8 metres.
The water level is steady throughout the year. The flora and fauna of the river are very rich. The aquatic vegetation is luxuriant owing to the favourable temperature of the water, which varies from 9 degrees in winter to 12 degrees in summer, thus allowing a rich production of microorganisms, which feed the fish all year long. The trout also grow considerably in a very short time. A 3-year-old trout already weighs 1/1,200 grams. In the river Gacka there are autochthonous brown (salmo trutta) and rainbow (oncorhynchus mykiss) trout, the latter native of North America and introduced here at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as graylings (tymallus tymallus), brought here recently. The fish reach considerable sizes; fish weighing 2.5/3 kg are not an exception. The fish even reach 6/7 kg thanks to the quantity of food they find, a challenge for all fly fishers.
You get the best results with a nymph or with a wet, because the fish usually feed underwater, where they find plenty of biomasses such as gammarids or baetidae ephemeroptera. On the contrary, the fly is less advantageous, as it is only effective when the trout feed afloat, which just happens in a part of the day and in the holes with faster currents.
We recommend you use 9/10 feet long rods and n°7/6 tails, because this allows you to oppose bigger fish, also facilitating the cast and helping you when there are big grass meadows in the riverbed. The length of the end must be 4/5 metres, minimum terminal 0.16; you fish with dry feet, as it is impossible to stay in the water, so a good pair of boots allows you to follow the whole route.
You cannot always see bites by violent pulls of the mouse-tail or by sudden movements of the tip. Often we know that it has bitten our imitation because we see the white mouth of the trout or the side of the fish reflecting underwater as it is swerving away. It is a demanding type of fishing which requires much concentration, but it is very exciting. The best months for fishing are April, May, August and September. For those who like to fish with imitations afloat or with the dry fly the best month is August.
If you want to stay and sleep in the Gacka valley, you have many places amongst which to choose. There are many B&Bs (bed and breakfast hotels) in the area or, if you like, even two small hotels managed by hospitable families who will do everything they can to make you feel at home. Simple but comfortable houses set in the green countryside offer accommodation and traditional cooking based on grilled meat, sea-fish and fresh produce. The price of accommodation on such farms goes from 15 to 22 euro per person per night including breakfast, the prices of restaurants range from 20 to 30 euro according to the menu. Euro is welcome here too; the Croatian currency is Kuna and the exchange rate is about 7/8 kune to a euro. It is highly recommended for all those who enjoy a relaxing holiday surrounded by nature and peace.
The daily license costs 35 euro. You can fish from the source to the fifth bridge. The only area in which you cannot fish is the no kill tract, which is about 2.5 km long, and begins at the confluence of the little Gacka and ends at the first bridge near the village of Liko Lesce. You can just keep one fish a day, a brown trout measuring 50 cm or a rainbow trout measuring 30cm. The fishing season lasts 6 months from 1st March to 30th September and you can fish with just one artificial, preferably using a hook with no tongue.
To reach the Gacka from Italy the fastest means is by car (it is 650 km from Milan).
Take the motorway as far as Trieste, and then continue along the road, which crosses Istria up to the town of Rijeka (Fiume). There are then two possibilities: you can go down the coast as far as the town of Senj and then go up the mountain pass of Vratnik in the direction of Plitvice, Zagreb. Once you have reached the pass, after 40 km you will come to the town of Otocac, which is your final destination. As an alternative, you can take the motorway from Rjecka, in the direction of Zagreb and, once you have reached Arsina, you can continue driving south towards Split: after the long Pelvica tunnel crossing the mountains Velika and Mala Kapela, you will find the exit for Otocac.
In the Gacka area you can see not only the villages with their millenary history (important archaeological finds were discovered in the entire Gacka region), but also the characteristic mills, an example of traditional architecture on the water and witnesses of the rural working life of old times.
The Plitvice Park (which has been in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979) is just 50 km away from Otocac. There are in total 16 falls and lakes fed by the rivers Bjela Rijeka and Cerna Rijeka (white river and black river) and by underground springs linked together: you can visit them thanks to a well-marked network of paths and 18 km of footbridges. For those who travel in Croatia, this is a destination which you must not miss.
The small town of Senj is very typical too: it is just 35 km away from Otocac, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, with its characteristic medieval walls, with its beautiful bays with transparent water where you can bathe for a wonderful swim and eat in its restaurants and inns, which offer very good fish dishes.
As you see, you have too much to choose from for a pleasant and relaxing holiday.
Milan Stefanac, nicknamed Cicio, is the most famous Croatian fly-fisher. He was born in Otocac in 1932. His father Josif, who had already been fly-fishing in 1920 and had rented the river for many years, had taken him fishing ever since he was a little boy. Thanks to decades of experience on these waters, he has caught thousands of fish with a nymph, among them trout above 3 kg by the tens (his record is a 5.8 kg brown trout).
For years he was the director of the reserve, a reference for thousands of foreign fishermen who went fishing and stayed at the Hotel Gacka, as he gave everybody precious advice and also invented many nymph dressings.
Today he has been retired for many years and wanted to write and leave a book which collects his life and fishing experiences. In this text, you can find history, advice, short stories, and descriptions of the fishing river with many photos and maps of the river.
Contents THE CHALKSTREAMS OF GREAT BRITAINMODERN TACTICS ON A CHALKSTREAMTHE EQUIPMENTREFRESHEDTHE PRINCIPLE CHALKSTREAMS IN SOUTHERN ENGLANDRIVER TESTRIVER ITCHENRIVER AVONRIVER
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