FLY FISHING IN THE BALKANS (Haloween story)
A friend who knows that I like old fly fishing books gave me one that I had never heard of. It was printed in Belgrade in 1877. .He assured me that Google translation said that the Serbian title was FISH AND FLIES by Humberto Vlasic. Attempts to research the author were unsuccessful. I tried to translate the book using Google translator and found it totally unreadable.
Normally I would have just put it on the bookshelf as a curiosity and forgotten about it, but as chance would have it my nephew introduced me to his new girlfriend a few days later. Alejandra is lovely young lady whose mother is a Bosnian refugee. When I mentioned that I had a book written in Serbian she said that her mother would love to see it. It seems that Serbian literature is in short supply in small Midwestern towns and she misses reading her native language. I promised to drop the book at my brothers place in the next few days. Not wanting to ask her to translate the entire book, I asked if she could translate some fly recipes for me, particularly any that were supposed to be unique to the region or especially successful..
When I got the book back about a month later there were six sheets of paper, including three with fly patterns on them stuck between the pages, as well as nice thank you note. The flies were mostly similar to what you would find in any book from that period. Indeed, most were familiar patterns. One major exception was called a lycanthrope's hair fly. It called for a tail and beard of red rooster, grey duck quill wings, a tag of gold tinsel and a body of lycanthrope hair ribbed with gold tinsel. She had chosen to translate this one, and her note said, because the author claimed that it was infallible though lycanthrope is not a Serbian word and she did not know what it might be.
The final two pages were a description of the beautiful mountain streams near the author's home to the North of Belgrade. Alejandra's mother had particularly enjoyed this part of the book as it reminded her so much of the beauty of her homeland. I found myself fascinated by these two pages. I couldn't help wondering if the wild country they described was still unspoiled and full of big, wild trout. A bit of research showed that much of that mountainous area is still mostly undeveloped. Unlike in this country, it is all privately owned but access was possible by hiring a guide who was licensed by the owners.
Of course the whole idea was hideously expensive. Still I kept daydreaming about those mountain streams even when, maybe especially when, I was sitting in my cubical trying to be productive. After several weeks of this I began looking for an inexpensive trip to Belgrade and points north. I wrote to a guide who claimed to speak English for more information. When Marko Nikolic answered my letter it was clear that his English skills were rudimentary but still much better than my non-existent Serbian. It turned out that with depressed prices in the Balkans and the strong U. S. dollar at the time I could rent an out of season hunting cabin and fish for four days very reasonably. That left the cost of transportation as the only obstacle and in the end I decided that I should go. Marko said that the fishing would be at its best at the end of June so that is when I arranged for my vacation.
In the intervening weeks I tied many of the flies from my book, having decided to see if these old wet flies would still succeed in the mountain streams. Of course I couldn't tie the infallible lycanthrope hair fly but I was bringing a small tying kit and I hoped to learn more about this fly and maybe obtain the material after I arrived. The dictionary said that a lycanthrope was a werewolf but I believed that it was also a local name for some animal found in the forest there. I did not believe in werewolves. I didn't think that anyone who did believe would be willing to chase a werewolf merely for fly tying material.
Late on the evening of June 22 I found myself in a small town with an unpronounceable name after a very long day of airplane flights followed by a train ride and finally an interminable bus ride. Fortunately, Marko was there to meet the bus as he had said he would be. I was easily recognized by the several rod cases in my baggage even if both of the other two passengers who disembarked there hadn't been so obviously locals with only a couple of shopping bags and a briefcase between them. He was a tall slender man with one blue eye and one brown eye and short sandy hair, and dressed for cooler weather. On his advice I donned a jacket while he loaded the rest of my stuff into an aging land rover before we began the final two hour drive to the lodge. This seemed to mostly uphill and I was very glad for the jacket as we ascended the mountain. I had left Michigan overflowing with questions about the mountains, the rivers, the fish, and much more but now I wanted only to reach the lodge and sleep. Indeed I fell asleep on the road despite the scenery as we worked our way up into the wooded hills.
Over breakfast in the morning I asked some of my questions and told Marko about how I had come to fish in Serbia. He had never heard of Vlasic's book but recognized the flies I showed him. He was agreeable to guiding me with them though he did say that we might need to use some more modern flies. It was only after a morning of fine fishing, as we sat on a rock eating our lunch that I brought up the matter of the lycanthrope fly. Marko took a long drink from his wineskin and looked at me for several seconds before speaking.
"The materials are mostly correct, "he said, "but the rib must be real gold. I have such a fly and it will always catch fish for me. For you it will catch nothing."
Over the course of the next two days he proved to me that he could invariably catch fish of any species with his lycanthrope fly. I also proved that I could catch nothing on it. Not even when the trout were actively feeding and taking my other flies indiscriminately. I watched him carefully to determine how his presentation varied from mine but all I could see was a standard down and across cast. Marko would catch whatever fish he targeted with the fly, even when I had just offered it on the same line and leader. I was catching a lot of nice fish and had nothing to complain of but I became fixated on the lycanthrope Fly. It was not until we were once again eating our shore lunch on my final day that Marko explained the Secret.
"The lycanthrope hair fly is always good but it must be tied with your own hair"
It took me a moment to realize the implications of this. "You're a werewolf?"
I didn't know whether run or express disbelief. Marko passed me the wineskin and began to talk more than he had over the last three days. He told me about the Serbian werewolves or more properly the vilkacis. They are not Hollywood monsters. They are the warriors of the gods. They received their charge and their abilities from the old Teutonic gods It is their duty to patrol the borders of hell on nights when the moon is full, on the equinoxes, and at other times when the borders between the worlds is the thinnest. On those night the pack patrols the borders of the underworld turning back that which would terrorize and destroy mortal men. Once a warrior would be flattered to be asked to join their ranks but those days have been gone for many centuries. Marko took back the wineskin and drank again before going on.
"The fly is a thing we discovered a long time ago. No one understands it but it works. Would you like to have such a fly", he added. "If you would become one of us it can be so. The moon will be full tonight and I will go to battle on the edge of the night. Tonight, shortly after the rain begins leave your cabin and look in the mud by the great oak tree in front of the lodge. I will stand there tonight while I am changed. If you drink the rainwater from my spoor you will become one of the vilkacis." Then he stood up and began walking back to the river.
That night after dinner I packed my luggage to leave early in the morning for home and went to bed shortly after dark. I lay there thinking about what Marko had said. I was certain that he was having some fun with the foreigner who was gullible enough to believe in a werewolf fly. I had no desire to become a warrior for some forgotten gods anyway. If I went out there and drank from a mud puddle Marko would be telling the story in the local taverns for years.
Finally I pulled my pants back on and went to look under the ancient oak tree. I just wanted to see what kind of wolf track Marko had come up with. Under the rustling leaves with a dying flashlight the story seemed a little less fantastic. In the mud near the great trunk was a better paw print than I had expected. The huge doglike track was quickly filling with rainwater. O.K., I would give him his story. I knelt to the ground and sipped the water out of the track. When I arose and spat the mud out of my mouth nothing was different. I went back to my cabin and my bed wondering if Marko had taped me being a fool.
In the months since then my life has gone much as it was before. I go to work most days and fish the others. I had to give my dog away. She kept running from me and growling when I approached. My right eye has turned from blue to brown. I have a fly that always works and I am never home on the night of the Full moon. If you would like a fly that never fails come and drink from my tracks this Halloween. I'll stand in the bare dirt next to the garage.
This started out to be a Hollywood werewolf tale. Blame the change on the Internet. Looking for a way to kill a werewolf without a silver bullet I found the legend of the Serbian vilkacis. Drinking from the track of a werewolf was one of traditional ways to become lycanthrope.