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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
Saving Slovenia's angling paradise
By Tom Fort
In Slovenia

For those of us with a passion for that most tranquil of pastimes, angling, there are places which remain forever precious. Some belong to childhood, some are newly discovered. Some are just down the road, others on the far side of the world. What is common to them all is the way they call to us, drawing us back.

One of my special places is tucked in on the far side of the mountains that fill the horizon as you drive east from the northern Italian city of Treviso.

There is a little town there, with red-tiled, pale-stuccoed houses, lovingly cherished vines and fruit trees and energetically maintained vegetable gardens, all clean and neat and extremely quiet, but for the bell at the top of the slender church tower, sounding every quarter, night and day.

It is called Most na Soci, and it sits on the confluence of two rivers, the Soca, which flows down from the north, and the Idrijca, which comes from the east. It is a pleasant enough watering-hole, and its setting, among green meadows sweeping down from high wooded hills, is utterly delightful, though we fishermen do not traverse half a continent just to look at pretty scenery.

It is the rivers that matter, and these rivers of Slovenia have a quality all of their own. They flow through the purest white limestone, and the minerals give the pools a strange turquoise tinge, suggestive of spearmint. Yet the water is as clear as a pane of glass, quite unnervingly so. You can spot fish that seem close enough to touch, when in fact they are six feet down.

I was introduced to them by a Slovenian called Marjan Fratnik. I had written an article about an extremely effective trout fly which he had invented, called the F Fly. He wrote to me, enclosing several dozen of them, tied by him for me. And he urged me to come to Slovenia.

Pride

Mr Fratnik was born in Most na Soci and caught his first trout there almost 70 years ago. Now in his mid-80s, he has lived for many years in Milan. But his heart still belongs to the town of his birth and to the valleys and streams around.

These days, the country is independent, stable, comparatively prosperous, poised for membership of the European Union
For several weeks each summer he is to be seen about the place, a small, upright figure with a fuzz of white hair and a close-cropped white beard, walking slowly and stiffly, constantly attended by visiting fishermen, anxious for access to the wisdom he dispenses in a harsh bark of a voice in any one of half a dozen languages.

For all its tranquillity, the Soca Valley has seen its share of violence. Not far upstream from Most na Soci is Kobarid, the Caporetto of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. There in October 1917, amid the most atrocious slaughter and suffering, the Italian army was routed from its mountain strongholds in a blitzkrieg offensive spearheaded by a young German lieutenant, Erwin Rommel.

Twenty-five years later, once again occupied by Italy, the area saw extensive partisan operations, paving the way for Slovenia's post-war incorporation into Tito's Yugoslavia.

These days, the country is independent, stable, comparatively prosperous, poised for membership of the European Union. All of this is a source of considerable pride to its people.

There is a pride, too, and with equal justification among those who fish the sea and its tributaries over the exemplary and far-sighted way in which these state-owned rivers are managed by the local angling club, based in Tolmin, the next town up the valley.

Exquisite streams

At the moment, there is a proposal under discussion in faraway Llubljana to sell off the country's waterways, so they may be exploited for profit. The Tolmin Angling Club has vowed to fight it and, I would guess, there will be no shortage of volunteers foreign and local ready to defend these exquisite vulnerable streams.

Of all these streams, the Baca, where he caught that first fish, remains Marjan Fratnik's favourite. It has also become mine.

"Go to the station at Grahovo," Marjan barks, and you go. And you find a railway line that threads its way through tunnels and along dizzying gorges. And you follow it a while, then duck away through the beeches and willows until you find yourself beside the Baca.

Sunlight filters through the foliage onto the crystal water. Peer into it, and you see the trout and grayling, wild fish all of them. And you begin to cast, and the time flows by, and you are aware of nothing beyond the sound of the water and the occasional rumble of the trains, the flash of a kingfisher, the sipping of fish at insects, the hiss of your line in the air.

Suddenly you realise it is lunchtime. And you sit in the shade cast on the meadow grass by a walnut tree, drinking beer and devouring chunks of mountain cheese and sausage and fresh bread.

Did I use the word paradise? In my view this could be the nearest we get in this imperfect world.



SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Slovenia
13 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Eating in two countries at once
27 Jun 03  |  Europe


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