Trout in South Africa constantly feel like they’re a moment from death. This fragility just distinguished the appeal for me. You may call them “wild” if their tenure has exceeded a specific timeframe, but they just never seemed right in non endemic waters to me (I’m excluding New Zealand Gerhard and Ryan).

I had generally written off Salmonidae, until two almost simultaneous events occurred;

1) While in a Patagonia store, I picked up a book called A Temporary Refuge.

It was the only fishy title on the shelf of environmental activism, camping and surfing titles. I read a single page, and it absolutely hooked me. This book got me really thinking about the intelligence of this family of fish.

“Both steelhead came up almost vertically, and they lifted their eyes well above the surface. They then slide back down on their tails which made their surveillance silent. Both fish did a wide, slow, counterclockwise cycle throughout the lower end of the pool and finally ended up in the same place…I am reasonably sure that the fish were checking the place where Sis had been. I find it interesting that the steelhead didn’t start their rising until Sis was retreating from the edge of the water”

2) I began working in the Baltics.

Alone, this probably wouldn’t have been enough. Until I found a forum proclaiming, “there are no big fish in Latvia or Lithuania or Estonia. Don’t waste your time”. I just couldn’t understand this. Google Earth showed some phenomenal looking waterways. And then I uncovered a bit of an undercover cult…and found that there are enormous Salmon in the Baltics. It’s just not spoken of.


I walked into the little fly shop, as I usually do when traveling, looking for novel items. From tackle to fly tying. Few things in the shop surprised me more than the enormous foam mayflies. I’m generally not one to spark conversation, but I had to ask.

“Do you guys actually get mayflies this big?”

Oh yes, much bigger than that. Where are you from?

*much confusion about what a South African was doing in Eastern Europe followed*

Well, glad to have you here. There are 7 fly fisherman in Lithuania, now 8.

I know now that was a joke, but it was delivered dry, and so I didn’t know to laugh or not. Lithuanians are incredibly hospitable and friendly people when you get to know them, but humour sometimes takes a bit longer than this.

The next day I returned to the shop. I had my fly tying kit with me and we continued our conversation from the previous day, me enquiring about any potential fishing opportunities or guides. I was passed a brochure with a fishing camp for kids, and another on a reserve in one of the national forests. I didn’t know at the time, but both venues were run by the owner of the fly shop himself, Ernestas.

“Why don’t you fish here?” I asked, gesturing to the brochure of Dzukija

Oh no, I only fish for Salmon. Summer sucks.

And there it was, the first hint of obsession. I can’t say I understood yet, but I was intrigued.

“You only fish for one fish?”

Well, sometimes I’ll catch a pike, but yes.

“How big?”

Oh, we get very big Salmon.

Take that internet.

Salmon fishing is an odd division in the world of fly fishing. I cannot think of another fish that swims in the ocean that has more single-species dedicated literature, tackle, or anglers. As little as I knew about Salmon and those who pursued them, I always knew that. I decided my part time hobby while working these stints would be understanding this. There was however a problem…it was summer.

I ended up finding Ernestas in the Dzukija forest, and he welcomed me into his country home with hospitality you would find in few places. Decreasingly so it would seem.

The plan was some light-hearted fishing, although I did want to catch a Chub on a ridiculous foam dry. A species Ernestas scoffed at.

It’s just…you can catch Chubb anywhere. In the city, in the canals. They just don’t appeal to me anymore.

He did however agree to indulge me, and we’d be drifting the Merkys river casting tight under brush with a pronounced “plop” in the hope of attracting a hiding Chub. In a style that seems a lot like the recently popularized Red Kaloi fishing in the jungles of Borneo. You can’t not love that style of fishing.

I didn’t quite know how to approach the subject of double hand casting. Ernestas is an extremely talented and well rounded angler, and so his personal Salmon obsession was not as immediately obvious, hidden under layers of fly fishing obsession.

Over the next few days we drifted on float tubes while nymphing for Grayling, did some drift boat fishing for Chub, fished dries for Browns under overgrown banks and drank far too much (or too little) beer.

At the time I did not know, but a friendship with Ernestas would open the door and my eyes to so much of the Baltics outside Estonia. And to a level of creativity and beauty seldom found outside the rural corners of the world.

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