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Flyfishing in Bulgaria

Lake trout copy

 

(Probably where it all began… and still continues)

           

“IN HIS BOOK De Animalium Natura, Claudius Aelinus describe the process of fly-fishing early in the third century: “The fisherman wind red wool around their hooks and fasten to the wool two feathers that grow under a cock`s wattles and which are the color of dark wax.” It is not clear whether the hackle Aelianus mentions were tied as wings or, palmer style, down the body. Either method would serve its purpose on those “fish with speckled skins”. The river was in Macedonia, between “Beroea [now Stara Zagora] and Thessalonika.” There are still hill trout to be caught in the Rhodopi Mauntains of southern Bulgaria. “

Charles Jardine , The Sotheby`s Guide To Fly-Fishing For Trout.

 

It will be difficult for me to tell everything about fly-fishing in Bulgaria in such a short article and all I have seen, I have felt and experienced on our lakes, rivers and streams. Every fly-fisherman will understand me and will agree that it is impossible to describe, even in a book, something as vast as the places for fly-fishing in a country because every stream, every river in the world has its own individuality. That is one of the things that make us seek new fishing places. But we should always return to the places where we originally started fishing and where we caught our first fish. That’s why I will tell you about the most beautiful fly-fishing places in my country that will always have a special place in my heart.

I will give myself the liberty to divide those places in Bulgaria to high mountain lakes, middle-sized rivers, small rivers, streams and chalk streams.

Tiny blue lines…

My first fish I caught on a small stream near my house, which back then I called a river. I feel somehow connected to that stream as every fly-fisherman is connected with the water in which he caught his first fish. Norman McLeon has written a lot more about this connection between man and river so I won’t retell the story.

Bulgaria is a mountain country with plenty of small rivers and streams which on the map are like a web of tiny blue lines. Almost in each one of these streams wild brown trout have been swimming for years, mostly native fish with pure genotype. The brownies in these streams are not too big but one should always expect a surprise. The average size up to 30 cm, but everyone who loves to fish in this kind of water will appreciate every fish no matter of the size. Often these streams are desolate, even extreme which makes fly fishing so adventurous. I am sure that there are places where no man has set foot for years. Last year a friend of mine and I fished on a stream 2300 m above sea level. We used GPS to navigate and the river bank was overgrown with massive coniferous bushes. It was extremely hard to pass through but it was worth it because would get to fish in such virgin waters. We caught wild brownies which have survived in those hostile conditions and have coped with the nutrient deficiency during the winter. For me that is much more satisfying than any stocked fish caught in a fishery.

If you are driving through Bulgaria, I am sure that you will come across innumerable small streams in most of which you can fish for wild brownies. That’s how I have found more than one place suitable for fishing. I just choose a tiny blue line on the map, I then go there and fish it. I have always had unforgettable moments, because it is really exciting when you are on the bank of an absolutely unknown river and you don’t know much about the life in there, then you really need to befriend the river and its inhabitants – the trout.

Middle-sized rivers…

I am writing middle-sized because I don’t think that in Bulgaria we have big trout rivers. Probably river Vucha is one of our biggest trout rivers, but its level dramatically declines during the hot summer. Another reason why I am going to exclude the river from the list is because after few years it is going to be on the bottom of the biggest dam on the Balkan Peninsula. I regret to say that probably the most beautiful trout river in Bulgaria will vanish of the map…sad but true.

The rivers in Bulgaria flow into the Black and Aegean seas. The middle-sized rivers are quite a few. They their sources spring from mountains Pirin, Rila, Rhodopi, Vitosha and Balkan mountain. One of the biggest rivers is Iskar which springs from Vitosha mountain and is 368 km long. Brown trout inhabits most of its feeders and its upper current. Another river suitable for fly-fishing is Struma which is 290 km long. The population of brown trout in this beautiful river has increased rapidly during the past few years and nowadays it is one of the most perspective fishing places in Bulgaria. Rainbow trout can also be caught in these waters, but they are less in numbers.

Some of the most amazing rivers pass across the Rhodopi Mountain. Such rivers are Devinska and Trigradska. These two rivers merge together to form river Vucha. Years ago the population of wild brown trout used to be incredibly large, but nowadays their numbers are dwindling. Nevertheless, you can still have a good day on the river if you spend some time to get to know its waters. Other rivers that are good for fly-fishing in this region are Arda, Kanina and Iugovska rivers. The Rhodope is an incredibly beautiful mountain in which rivers and springs are not a rare sight. You can just choose one on the map and visit it.

In Balkan Mountain there are many middle-sized rivers inhabited by brown trout. Those of them which I love visiting most are Beli Vit, Cherni Vit and Vidima. The average size of fish in those rivers is not too big but their quantity is higher. In the upper current of river Tundja I have also caught brownies during the last two years, but they are stocked. River Eleshnica and river Vidima also have a lot of fish and are perfect for dry fly-fishing during the summer.

In Rila Mountain there are also some good rivers. One of my favourite is river Rilska which is 51 km long and has trout all along its length. It is one of these rivers that you can just sit on the bank and watch the flowing water and the surrounding landscape.

Two other trout rivers which are worth mentioning are Erma and Dragovishtica. Located in the western part of  Bulgaria and very close to the border with Serbia those two rivers are a very attractive fly-fishing site. Trout in their waters are very beautifully coloured.

Chalk streams…

Chalk steams in Bulgaria are among the most beautiful rivers and most frequently visited by fly-fishermen. Unfortunately, they are just too few. The two most famous chalk rivers are Zlatna Panega and river Iskretzka. Zlatna Panega is the bigger one and due to its proximity to the capital Sofia, about 80km, it is more attractive. That is one of my favorite rivers and I have spent a significant part of my life there. Several years ago an endemic trout species called Panezka trout was found in that river. This species is presently considered extinct. But many people, including me, still believe that this species can be found near the source of the river, because it is almost impossible to fish and something like a lake is formed there. The river is inhabited by brown as well as rainbow trout and record sized fish are caught there. Insects and other food resources are abundant in the river’s area. Zlatna Panega is a river that never “sleeps” and it is always interesting to fish it.

The other chalk river is also close to the capital and is an often visited fly-fishing site. The natural surrounding is extremely beautiful. It is smaller than Zlatna Panega, but its water still has enough brown and rainbow trout. The river is being stocked every year by fishing clubs, which helps to maintain the quantity of fish.

There are two more chalk rivers in Bulgaria, one in Rhodopi Mountain and the other one, near the town of Razlog. The second one is short – 3km and forms a lake.

Lakes…

There are hundreds of lakes in Bulgaria. Most of them are with a small size. The most suitable lakes for trout fishing are situated in Rila and Pirin mountains. During the last 6 years I visit some of them every year. In my opinion the lakes in those mountains are the most beautiful places to go fishing in Bulgaria. That’s why I spent most of my time there during the summer. They are found 2000m above the sea level and almost half of the year they are covered with ice. Nevertheless, most of them are inhabited by brown trout and char. Some of the most renowned and most frequently visited lakes in Pirin are Popovo lake, Vasilashki lakes, Valiavishki lakes, Bezboshko lake, Kremenski lakes, Vlahini lakes and Tevno lake –one of the highest lakes on the Balkan peninsula, 2512 meters above the sea level.

The biggest high mountain glacial lake on the Balkan Peninsula is locacted in Rila mountain and is called Smradlivoto lake. Other famous lakes in Rila Mountain are The Seven Rila Lakes, Maliovishki lakes, Ribni lakes etc.

Rila and Pirin are among the most beautiful mountains in Eastern Europe and in my opinion the high mountain lakes located in them are in no way inferior to those in France and Scotland. The fish in their waters reach enormous size but are difficult to catch because of the extraordinarily transparent water. Sometimes the bottom can be seen at 5 meters depth. Fishing in those lakes is a real challenge for the fly fisher who seeks something rare and different.

I hope, with this short and modest article, that I succeeded capturing the readers’ attention. And I believe that it has been a pleasure for you to learn a bit more for one country not so famous for its flyfishing, which in its nature is not inferior to any European country and is unique. Bulgaria is a country with ancient traditions and history, in which flyfishing culture nowadays is getting more and more popular and I am sure that many foreign colleagues will cast a glance towards Bulgaria, because there is so much to be seen on so small territory!

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