Lešće on the Dobra - Antun Mateš: The enchanted angler

Lešće on the Dobra

Another birthday present, this time 11 kg, that I caught on the Dobra in 1983. My friend Krešo Pažur stands next to me.

When you reach Generalski Stol after the long drive down the windy road called the Jozefina road after Joseph II of the Hapsburgs, that links Karlovac, Duga Resa, Josipdol and other towns in the direction of Senj and the Adriatic Sea, take a right turn towards the Lešće thermal springs. Right after leaving the main road, you will cross the Globornica stream over a stone bridge. This fantastic stream used to be teaming with massive chub and nase that came here from the Dobra to spawn. Considering that for a time I would mostly fish using a mounted dead chub, I always stopped at this stream to catch my bait. The only problem was how to catch a chub smaller than 15–20 cm, as my white bread bait usually lured in massive chub, often to 2 kg. And so, equipped with the fundamentals for fishing, we would drive down the rough and poorly accessible gravel road to the town of Lešće, which has a lovely, stone bridge over the Dobra. The Church of St. George, which belonged to the Zagreb Diocese in the 16th century, was the backbone of Lešće due to its position on an elevated plateau just above where the canyon part of the Dobra ends. Nearby is the village Čatrnja, which contains many remnants from the Roman period.

This entire region was hit hard by the Turkish conquests in as early as 1408, almost 60 years before the fall of Bosnia after the battle near Jajce in 1463. Ownership over these parts was then held by the Frankopan feudal lords, and Prince Nikola Frankopan, who was seated in nearby Bosiljevo, began to settle the Vlachs from the Una area into the abandoned villages that had been left without residents, who had either been killed or taken into slavery by the Turks. The Vlachs who had escaped the Turkish persecution in the Turkish parts of Croatia near Bihać settled in these empty villages. Today, the village names suggest the origin of the emigrants, such as Bosanci, Bišćani, Klokočki (after the stream and village Klokot near Bihać), Vitunjski, etc. Nikola Frankopan bestowed upon them the deserted village of Gornja Dubrava and Ponikva near Trošmarija, and the Gomirje monastery. Following Nikola's death in 1647, the estates were passed into the hands of his brother Vuk Krsto and sons Gašpar, Juraj and Fran Krsto Frankopan. Chroniclers state that the immigrant Vlachs immediately attacked and plundered the local population, and so these relations were ended only with the strong and merciless hand of Count Herbertstein who, following the conspiracy of Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan, seized their estates. The misfortune of the population around the Dobra, though, was permanent, and the impoverished people emigrated to America, Canada and Australia, as seen in the records of 1820. The most recent wave of emigration took place after World War II, out of fear of Communist retaliation, where the main attackers were again the descendents of the long-since immigrant Vlachs around the Dobra, and on the right bank of the Mrežnica. Lešće did not have its own parish priest from 1945 to 1960, and the Communists had planned to transform the destroyed church into horse stables.

Diligently cultivated fields in the Lešće valley, right next to the outdoor swimming pool next to the Dobra in 1950, when hundreds of huchen could be seen in the river, and the river bed would turn black from the dense shoals of nase and Danubian roach.

With its position in virtually the mid point of the Dobra, Lešće became the central position for motorized anglers from Zagreb in the second half of the 20th century, as the old anglers would come to the Dobra by train and get off at Generalski Stol to go to Lešće or at Gornja Dubrava to go to Bistrac stream or Trošmarija. The distance was the same, with the last few kilometers covered on foot in about 90 minutes. Lešće was in an excellent position at the half-way point, and so you could start upstream and work your way down, or vice versa, moving towards the village of Lipa, where huchen could occasionally be caught.

My first big, 12.5 kg huchen from the Dobra.

It was here at Lešće that I caught my first large huchen, weighing 12 kg. It was a cold morning on 17 January, well below freezing, and the grass was white with dense frost. I took a good position just opposite the rock with the spring where the village women would wash out the intestines during the pig slaughter period, and here shoals of small fish would accumulate, which was always interesting for the big fish. After casting just a few times, I caught one. How happy and proud I was! That morning, Zlatko Jeren also caught a huchen not far from where I did, a smaller one, and so we both carried our catches high up the hill, followed by a handful of quiet villagers who had come down to the water to admire my fish. It was surely the scene of the silent column, like in Bergman's film The Seventh Seal, only the villagers thought about how they would stuff the fish into a pot, and I thought about how I would stuff it as a trophy. I did not have a camera, and so I thought about how to keep this lucky catch from falling into oblivion.

Old master Jura Hrastinski poses with my largest huchen

Several dozen large huchen over 10 kg have been caught around Lešće. Pažur and friends were fishing during an eclipse of the moon when they had excellent luck and caught three huchen. He told me that dusk had already set in about noon, and that the geese and the ducks had gone off to sleep, and the fish also thought it was nighttime, and those three huchen were caught in the dusk, exactly at noon. I still fondly remember how I drove to Ogulin to the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the local angler's society with a mounted 14 kg huchen as a gift, while on the way back, I caught my next huchen, a 10 kg specimen. After a few kilometers on the right hand side, after the angler breaks through the branches to fish in one position better than the last and where many large fish have been caught, there is a cliff that is almost impassible and which descends down to a lovely, small valley where the Globornica drains into the Dobra. This marks the end of the good fishing positions starting from Lešće, and the good fishing continues upstream from the mill in the village Lipa. Huchen can also be found further downstream, all the way to Gornje Stative near Jarče Polja, where a man named Cvetko once caught a 20 kg huchen. However, the main huchen fishing stretches are from Lešće upstream to Trošmarija.

A large huchen that I later stuffed and presented to the Ogulin Fishing Society as a gift on their 60th anniversary.

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