Fly-Fishing In Poland

Most Americans imagine that the topography of Poland is something like that of Iowa, and thus most American fly anglers don t associate Poland with cold water fishing. Surprisingly, going back in history, Polish rivers and streams once teemed with salmon, trout, and grayling.

This actually makes a lot of sense. Poland s climate is a lot like Maine s, and many rivers remain remarkably cool all year round. Moreover, there are mountains in the south, and a number of limestone streams in the area around Krakow. Before the 19th century, when much of the country was covered by forests, conditions for cold-water species were excellent. Even with the industrial era, even up to 1960, Atlantic Salmon and sea-bred Brown Trout regularly ran up the Vistula River basin as well as into other rivers that drained directly into the Baltic Sea. During the communist era the condition of many streams deteriorated rapidly as a result of state-planned industrialization, illadvised flood control projects, continued population growth, the expansion of agricultural operations, lumbering, and other factors that lowered the water table, intensified run-off, and increased the level of pollutants in streams. Heavy stocking of fingerling trout and grayling in the 1970s and 1980s managed to maintain fish populations in some waters, but the level of stocking declined with the fall of communism and it was then that fishing pressure increased dramatically.

I fished the San River in Poland fairly regularly through the 1990s, and each year I found it a tougher and tougher stream to fish. During the height of the vacation season, fly-fishermen crowded a ten mile stretch of the river that was fed by cold water from a bottom release dam. There were so many anglers on the water in July, it looked like opening day on the Pennypack. The only good thing I could say is that this made you learn a lot about catching sophisticated fish. During low water times, there was practically no current on one stretch of the San I fished. You cast a dry fly to a rising fish, and then you waited and waited until fly actually drifted in range of the fish. The fish had all sorts of time to check out every aspect of your presentation.

This May I made a trip to Poland, and my wife and I decided to visit one of my friends who lives along the San. During the visit we learned that a portion of the river (from where the mouth of the Hoczewka River enters the San, upstream to the village of Zwierzyn) had been turned into special regulations waters catch and release, fly-fishing, barbless hooks only. What s more, a year long permit to fish these waters cost a whopping 1400 zloty (about $470) this, in a country where the average salary was about 2200 zloty a month! A one day permit cost 70 zloty.

I had long advocated such fishing regulations in Poland, seeing them as a way to reduce fishing pressure and fish kill, so I was eager to see the results. My wife and I took a walk down to the river, and we couldn t believe our eyes. Fish were rising everywhere, even in the flat shallow water up against the bank, and they were oblivious to our presence. These were not the super wary fish I remembered from before.

Two days later, I arrived at the river, fly rod and one-day fishing permit in hand. The fish weren t rising as they had two days before, but there still was a lot of activity. Over the next five hours, I caught and released a countless number of trout and grayling; most of them were of pretty good size --all but one on dry flies. I was the only angler in sight. The water down stream from the special reg section was crammed with anglers, who I learned also enjoyed pretty good fishing -- much better than what I knew from the 1990s probably the result of fish from the special reg section being forced downstream by overpopulation.

Later, I surfed the Website of the Polish Angling Association to learn more about what was going on with the San. I learned that both mature and fingerling trout had been stocked in the special regulations waters over the past few years. I also read that spawning of both trout and grayling in there had been significant this year.

Looking at other Polish angling Websites, I saw some encouraging signs. Polish fishing magazines and television fishing programs are beginning to advocate catch and release of all species of fish. This is a practice that contradicts European concepts of sport fishing; a practice that few Polish anglers were ready to accept just ten years ago.

I also learned of important efforts to restore and maintain cold-water fisheries being conducted by individuals and groups. On the Raba River near Krakow, once an excellent trout/grayling stream, there is an initiative underway that involves 1) stocking mature hatchery-raised fish and wild fingerlings netted from small tributaries; 2) guarding against possible poaching; and 3) enforcing laws that prohibit the removal of gravel and stone from the stream a popular practice among local people that has decimated holding water for fish. Though this effort to restore and maintain the Raba is connected with sustaining a private fishery along a certain portion of the Raba open to any fly-angler who is ready to pay for a one-day permit there also an action underway that is led by a volunteer group made up of anglers (Friends of the Raba), who seek to maintain conditions along a publicly accessible portion of the river. Though stocking is a major part of their activity, they have also conducted stream clean-ups and bank stabilization work, engaging the help of community groups and the Boy Scouts. Though I am unaware of similar activities on other Polish streams, I rather think that such action is taking place but isn t being reported on the Polish flyfishing internet sites that I have looked at. I would expect this, in particular, with those streams where there are still good runs of sea-bred trout and some remnants of spawning runs by Atlantic Salmon.

All in all, the fishing situation in Poland seems headed in a good direction much better than what I remember. There is hope that some of the great fisheries of the past can be brought back to life.

- Richard Ulrych

Author on the road to the San.

"This trout was caught in practically current-less water."

"Grayling don't have the same coloration when they are in the water"

"Nineteen-inch Brown Trout that has the characteristics of the sea-bred variety"

"Seventeen inch European Grayling: the popular name for the grayling is 'Cardinal.'"

Photos and article (c) by Richard Ulrych, June 1, 2007


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