The Soca (pronounced Socha) River is one of Slovenia’s finest, unspoilt natural attractions, known primarily for its gin-clear yet ultramarine water colouration; it’s fast-flowing, gorge-routing power and its reputation as a trout-fishery, along with other leisure pursuits such as rafting and cycling/trekking along its 138 km length from its source in the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia to its communion with the Adriatic Sea near Montfalcone in northern Italy.
Bizarrely, Number One Daughter had it first drawn to her attention in Manchester, England by a work colleague to whom she just happened to mention that her parents fly-fished for trout – and we were recommended to a fishing guide –whose website, Troutbum.eu – whetted our appetite.
This was over a year ago and coincidentally perhaps, Her Navigational Highness The Trout Meister Of All She Surveyed was soon to celebrate A Rather Auspicious Birthday. As such, it therefore came to pass that Lovely Daughters Three bestowed upon her a theoretical voucher for a day’s guided fishing on the Soca River, as a very considerate birthday gift.
Incredibly, Troutbum was already fully booked for our anticipated dates but instead recommended us onwards to another guide, under the online guise of Slo-fly.com. So it was that we wound our way across the border out of Austria and along a gently hair-raising, hair-pinned route into Slovenia and the spectacular Soca valley – thence to the recommended Kamp site of Klim, nestling in a confluence of the Soca and Lepena Rivers.
On the rare occasion that we actually use an official campsite, I always find myself mildly amused by benchmarking our arrival experience against that of the official Camping & Caravanning Club’s lakeside facility on Derwentwater at Keswick in the English Lakes. Here, well-honed efficiencies, proficiencies and procedures are to be rigorously adhered to, as the arriving camper diligently queues in line behind the barrier; to then be greeted by a team of uniformed camp-site staff, any one of which – following your satisfactory suitability assessment and registration – is assigned to the task of escorting you to your allocated, numbered pitch, on a bicycle, which you are to diligently follow, please, without exceeding the camp speed limit, to park as directed in an orderly and considered fashion, thank-you-very-much and enjoy-your-stay.
Kamp Klim? Well, hey, yeah, just let me finish up serving this guy his beer and that group out there with all these coffees, and how many nights? Yeah, well just drop your passports in when you’ve found a pitch. Where? Oh, well anywhere you fancy really, just use this tag to get you through the barrier and – yeah, well, just – sort of anywhere you like really. Oh – and just pay when you leave, OK?
Which is why the camp is laid out in such wonderfully relaxed random chaos, with absolutely NO guys on bikes leading us onwards. Cars – numberplated from throughout Europe – with oversized tents as roof-racks – are just dumped haphazardly between trees; tiny canvas shelters rub shoulders with hulking great Germanic motorhomes where the occupants of each just glare at each other disapprovingly; classic VW camper vans have disgorged at least four times their volume of camping paraphernalia across swathes of riverside grass, making it impossible to pitch anything else within 100m of prime riverside site; smoke is curling from random barbecues; washing lines are slung at throttlingly dangerous heights between trees, shrubs and telegraph poles; mist is beginning to swirl from the rivers into low-lying areas so campers emerge, ghost-like, yet also on electric scooters; giant oversized Hummer-type 4x4s with bizarre and impenetrable graphics painted on both the vehicles AND their owners line up proudly for photographs; small, seemingly parentless children sporting half-shaved heads and the occasional glint of a body-piercing or two just tazz noisily about, invading what until then you’d considered to be your personal space and just stare at you provocatively; then . . . you begin to gain some insight into what could become a post-Brexit apocalyptic version of Keswick-On-Speed and – tbh – we know which we prefer.
But trout! You want to know about the trout! And why the bucket? Well, if you haven’t already guessed, fly-fishing the Soca river in the dog-days of August, with a knowledgeable, experienced and personable guide – should be on everyone’s Bucket List, regardless of whether fishing is your bag or not. The experience was exquisite. Meet at 08:00hrs with Gregor, your (Slovenian) guide, at Kamp Reception, where he’ll help you with the requisite licenses, was our only emailed instruction. So we did.
And by 9:00 o’clock, we’d been whisked to an upriver location in Gregor’s car; were donning our waders (a new and challenging experience in itself) at the edge of a deserted, mistily beautiful river’s edge and with rods in hand, were led into the shallow but surprisingly powerfully flowing, clear blue waters of the Soca river.
Neither of us had ever fished a river before, let alone one as unspoilt, crystal-clear or fast-flowing as this one. That was part of the gifted experience – to raise our experience above the often-muddy still waters of the UK, where it was usual that nothing could be seen beneath the water’s surface, least of all any waiting trout.
Here, it was a revelation. Cossetted from the nullifyingly cold mountain water by our hi-tech, breathable chest-waders and hefty boots, standing knee-deep on what tends to be called a ‘freestone’ river bed, not five metres in front of us, sinuously holding station with the merest of body-flexing in the powerful current, lay some very beautifully-sized trout. Feeding on minute water-borne insects, both larval and hatching river flies, our task was to mimic these tiny creatures, casting our weighted fly-lines upstream of the waiting fish and immediately having to adjust or ‘mend’ the floating fly-line as the current dragged it unnaturally downriver, while the artificial fly sank to a depth viewable by the waiting trout. The accelerated speed imparted by the drag of flyline on the surface made the art of presenting our flies even more of a challenge and whilst it took me quite a while to get the hang of ‘mending’ my cast line, wouldn’t you know it, The Honourable Navigating Troutess hooks into her first fish of the day within 5 minutes of setting wadered-foot into water.
And such was the pattern of the day set. We fished in several different locations throughout the morning, with Gregor quietly spotting and pointing out waiting, feeding fish, so much so that – with the aid of polarised sunglasses, we also began to spot the hitherto unrecognisable shapes of fish – either rainbow or marbled trout – hanging on the edge of gently swirling eddies or perhaps lying – with subconsciously primaeval instinct – in the lee of a big boulder and moving with such economic energy only to intercept a passing morsel of food – or our artfully tied artificial flies – sometimes taken immediately with surprising speed and energy and sometimes studiously ignored for cast-after-cast until Gregor’s experience suggested we change the type, colour, patter or size of fly – and try again.
The sun having dispelled the morning mists, it reached its zenith and – whilst the water swirling round our lower limbs remained numbingly cold – its rays penetrated the steeply-sided river gorge to the point were we decided to retire for a languid and shady outdoor lunch back at the campsite. Here, in the strict tradition of fishermen the world over, talked absolute bollocks to each other for a couple of hours (Gregor’s excellent command of English standing him in good stead amongst strong competition from the ‘away’ team) and then set off again for a further round of abject delight.
Strangely, as we fished into the afternoon, out of a clear blue sky above us, rain began to fall, pockmarking the river surface, turning thunderous and then just gushing down to soak us thoroughly while we fished gamely on. The rain passed, the sun re-emerged and although we steam-dried to a point, the temperature had fallen and by 6:30 pm, we decided to call it a day.
The final tally, typically (and uncharacteristically represented in the plethora of photographs accompanying this blog) was Head Navigatoress & Chief High Trouting Priestess – 5; Lowly Blog Author – 2.
But what the hell! We’ve both now enjoyably part-filled our Buckets.
It’s not a cheap exercise, this trout-fishing malarkey – the fishing licenses alone cost circa £60.00 per head per day, but this revenue contributes to preserving the river environment and fish-stocks. The marble trout, a species indigenous to the Soca river system, was almost wiped out through lack of water-management, so although we catch them, the fish are all returned alive with great care to the water, and our licence fees support the ecological balance and continuing purity of the river itself.