Fishing in Croatia
Check out the last paragraph in this story concerning the potential for excellent fishing in Croatia. This appeared in the March 23, 2003 New York Times. John Kraljic
March 23, 2003
Seeking God's Fish, a k a Tigris Trout
By JAMES PROSEK
he little-known trout of the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in eastern Turkey present a fascinating evolutionary puzzle for trout biologists. Both of these rivers flow to the Persian Gulf, where trout were never native. It is generally accepted that trout evolved from ocean-going relatives, so if they did not get to the headwaters from the sea then where did they come from?
Toward the end of the last ice age, about 13,000 years ago, when the glaciers were melting and retreating north, a lot of excess water was flowing off inland areas and the trout had routes available to them that no longer exist.
It is thought, therefore, that trout invaded the Tigris and Euphrates basins from headwater streams of the Mediterranean, Caspian and Black Seas during postglacial times (or as a result of other natural phenomena that created a connection between river drainages). Hence, these fish should be some kind of genetic hybrid of the three oceans or isolated populations of each. No one had really studied them, so nobody knew.
The only published information on the Tigris trout was in a paper written in 1954 by the Italian biologist Enrico Tortonese of Torino University, entitled, "The Trouts of Asiatic Turkey." The single female specimen he observed was from a stream he called Sitak, in southeast Anatolia, which is most likely a village and river called Çatak.
My friend Johannes Schöffmann, a baker from southern Austria and a fanatical trout fisherman, thought it might be interesting to go there and find them. So we organized an expedition to southeast Turkey six years ago.
The word for trout in Turkish is alabalik, incorporating the prefix, ala, which can mean either a scarlet shade of red, or speckled, and balik, which means fish. I wanted to think that alabalik meant God's fish, combining Allah, or God, with balik, fish.
It made sense to call this trout God's fish because it was one of the few, if not the only, native fish in Eden. The historic location of the garden was said by some to be the headwaters of the Tigris River. John Milton wrote in "Paradise Lost" that the Tigris bubbled forth near the Tree of Life itself. The trout and all fish were favored by God; after all, he chose a calamitous fate for man, the flood, that would leave the fishes temporarily displaced but ultimately unharmed.
In the summer of 1997, Johannes and I traveled overland from his home in southern Austria to eastern Turkey. Our goal was to look for native trout in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. After catching some native trout in northern Greece and in the coastal streams of the Black Sea in Turkey, we made our way to the Euphrates basin and its small tributaries northwest of Mount Ararat.
Finding trout to be more or less abundant there, we headed south toward the Iraqi border and the headwaters of the Tigris. Because so little information existed on the trout of the Tigris, we were especially curious to see how distinct they were from other brown trout. These were, after all, the native trout of Eden.
But the garden was not so easy to enter again. Southeast Turkey had been occupied for many years by the Turkish military in an effort to keep the Kurds from separating and establishing their own nation, Kurdistan. For this reason we — an Austrian and an American in a Land Rover — had trouble gaining access. The members of the military warned us of Kurdish guerrillas in the hills. They told us we could be kidnapped and taken hostage, but we were persistent. Army personnel searched our vehicle to see if we were a threat, but at last we appeased them with cartons of cigarettes. They laughed and started to believe that we actually wanted to catch alabalik.
A van of police officers escorted us to a stream near the town of Çatak, about 25 miles from the Iraqi border. We were allowed three hours to fish in a swift and freezing cold river and caught nothing. It did not look promising. Hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles lined the road as the army prepared for a military operation in Çatak that evening. We abandoned our mission and headed west again toward the Mediterranean coast.
Johannes was disappointed by our first effort but not deterred. He returned to southeast Turkey with his wife, Ida, in September 2002, when he convinced the military to let him go where he wanted, paid Kurdish militia members to guide him to the streams and caught six specimens. The red and black spots on the native Tigris trout were jagged and irregular like cracked peppercorns, and they had unusually large and rounded fins. Johannes believed that the large fins were an adaptation to living in such fast rivers.
Now the trout in this region face a new threat: war. How the trout will fare only time will tell. In desperate times local people use explosives, bleach, nets and all manner of scurvy techniques to snare the fish for food. In other cases, however, the trout are the beneficiaries of war.
Johannes and I saw this in Croatia last summer, where stream banks like those of the Zrmanja River were mined so heavily that native people are afraid to go there. The trout in such Balkan streams have been left untouched for more than 12 years. Their populations are among the most healthy of any trout stream I have seen; a fantastic fishing opportunity for any anglers willing to risk their lives to catch a beautiful native fish.