Anyway, last year, Farlows had an evening showing a screening of ‘Una - The One’, a film highlighting the issue of building hydropower dams on the Balkan rivers, especially the Una. If you get the chance, watch it, because it’s a fantastic film - the footage is amazing and I was stunned by how beautiful this river looked, and upset that there was a risk it could be dammed. One of the fish that would be affected by these plans were the Huchen, a fish that attracted anglers from all across Europe to fish the Una for. It was the first time I’d seen Huchen on film, and underwater footage showed these mysterious fish in all their glory - and in good numbers too. I went away from work that evening captivated and with an ambition to one day fish for the species. Here is the trailer for the film:
One of the people featured in the film was Anes Halkic of Una Discovery Pro Guides, who guides on the river. I contacted Ani and after picking his brains about the fishing and good times to visit, we decided to book a week’s fishing there for the first week of December.
We were picked up by Ani from Zagreb airport in Croatia, before embarking on a two and a half hour drive to Bosanska Krupa, our base for the week. We arrived at around lunchtime and joined a group of 6 anglers from Germany, Italy, Holland and Switzerland (some of whom had already been fishing for a week) at a restaurant beside the river, who were taking a break after fishing that morning. This would be our stop for breakfast each morning and where all the anglers would regroup for lunch, before heading back out for the afternoon fishing.
There isn’t a lot of information about Huchen fishing in English (most of it is in German), but when researching Huchen fishing back at home, Dad and I were surprised at the size of the lures and flies anglers were using for them. They certainly like a big meal, in fact the smallest lure we fished all week was a Salmo Hornet 9, but most of the time the lures we fished were between 18cm and 25cm in length. The primary diet of the Huchen in the Una river are Whitefish, Chub and Grayling, and our lures were imitating these fish. As some of these lures needed to be rigged on heavy jigheads to get down in the strong current, we each brought along with us a Fox Rage Terminator Big Bait Spin - 8’10” 40-160g rods, as heavy as some of the outfits we use for Pike back at home! Our 4000 and 5000 sized reels were spooled with 60lb braid, and a 44lb fluorocarbon leader, although Ani suggested a leader wasn’t necessary, so one of us tied a heavy snap to the end of the braid, which the lure was clipped on to.
As it was getting dark, and the snow was falling heavily, I’d made a cast upstream and was just about to lift my 18cm Pro Shad out of the water, when I was taken by surprise as a Huchen of around 85cm emerged and engulfed the whole shad, almost leaping out of the water in the process! It all happened in the blink of an eye and unfortunately, the hook didn’t set, but to give you an idea of how aggressive the take was, the splash was so loud, Dad, who was about 20 metres downstream, thought I’d fallen in! It was great we’d seen a fish so early on our trip, and we were now both desperate to see one on the bank!
We woke up on the second morning to a thick blanket of snow, which made for a very scenic backdrop. However, the river had risen and coloured up even more overnight because of the rain before the snow. On the plus side though, if it stayed cold enough, the snow wouldn’t melt and the river would drop faster, and so would the colour. In the morning the conditions were at their worst, but by the end of the day the river was starting to clear. After a biteless morning for all the anglers, we regrouped for lunch at the restaurant before Ani took me and Dad to an area that has produced some very big Huchen over the years.
It was now just about dark, and at the time I was fishing with a Salmo Hornet 9 over a sandy bottom, when I felt some resistance. It felt a bit unusual, a bit like weed so I half-heartedly struck, when I began to feel some very wide, heavy headshakes. I’d hooked a big Huchen.
The fish tore off downstream, then after two more heavy headshakes, it threw the hooks. Huchen have very bony mouths and I hadn’t set the hooks properly. Ani and I were both gutted, probably Ani more than me because he knew I’d just lost a fish that could have been over a metre long. Then, just a matter of seconds after I lost the fish, the prayer calls from the Mosques echoed all across the valley. Obviously the timing was just a coincidence, but the fact it happened just after I’d lost, potentially, the fish of a lifetime, made for a very surreal experience, like I’d been beaten by the fish Gods!
As the river level dropped and the clarity improved as the week went on, the fish holding structures in the river became more visible, making it easier for us to see where we needed to fish our lures.
Despite the river conditions continually improving though, I went the next two days with no action at all. Dad, however, had a take on the third day in the dark (which messed up the Pro Shad he was using), but it was on the fourth day where he came the closest we’d come to a fish so far.
We’d just been looking at some trees that had been gnawed at by some Beavers, when our guide for the afternoon, Firduz (who is Ani’s brother), spotted a fish on a sandbar from quite a long distance. I didn’t actually see the next part happen as I was fishing further upstream, but Dad cast to the fish and it took his Pro Shad head first. He’d played it for a little while but I heard the voice of Markus (one of the anglers we were with) yell a word I can’t repeat on here! Firduz and I ran round and found Dad and Markus both staring at the ground in disbelief. Dad had just lost a dream Huchen, possibly over 110cm. Dad and I have targeted some difficult fish species over the years, but this one was really testing us both.
For the duration of the week, there was a handmade jointed crankbait sitting on the dashboard of Ani and Firduz’s van, and Firduz suggested I should start off using it that morning.
As an Italian angler had told me earlier in the week after losing my big Huchen, if I felt something unusual, strike, and strike again! After half an hour or so of drifting downstream and swinging Firduz’s crankbait across pools, I had what felt like a proper take, and struck hard, and struck again!
The heavy headshakes began. I was praying that this one wouldn’t come off, and I managed to steer it through an area of strong current flowing through the middle of the river, to where the boat was positioned in the slack on the opposite bank from where I’d hooked the fish. I brought the fish up to the boat and Firduz grabbed the tail - I’d done it!!!
I was shaking with excitement. It was by no means a monster, but I was finally able to appreciate this mysterious predator in the flesh. The markings were stunning, almost like it had been sprinkled with grated pepper-sized black specks.
After a few quick pics, we lowered it back in to the water, and it soon gave a strong kick of its tail and zoomed down in to the depths. And, just like that, the hunt for a Huchen was over!
We met the other anglers from the group back at the restaurant for lunch and it turned out that my Huchen was one of three caught that morning, the most prolific fishing session in two weeks. We had high hopes for more Huchen that afternoon, and I was really hoping Dad would be able to land one.
For the last couple of hours we visited the canyon where the Una becomes quite narrow compared to the rest of the river. The pace of the river here was still very strong though, so we returned to the areas we'd been fishing earlier in the week.
The conditions in the afternoon were the best we'd had all week, but such is the unpredictability of Huchen fishing, no one in the entire group had a single bite all afternoon, which was strange as all of the bites and fish caught throughout the week (apart from on the last day) had come in the afternoon. But that’s Huchen fishing! I felt gutted for Dad, but the week had been a huge learning curve for us both and anybody who’s fished for Huchen will appreciate that targeting them is not as straightforward as it seems!
That evening, we were all invited to a big party that only takes place twice a year at the restaurant. There was free food for all so I’m not surprised that there were 2-300 people at the party - it was packed! Everybody had a great time - and drunk too much!
What an amazing experience it had been fishing for Huchen on the Una River. Bosnia is a beautiful country and Ani, Firduz and the guides at Una Discovery Pro Guides gave us a trip to remember, so a massive thank you to them! We’re already in the middle of planning another trip - Dad has unfinished business!