By: Dale Martens
Tallinn, Estonia is the quintessential setting for a Mission Impossible scene. It has those beautiful, historic sights that Ethan Hunt loves to careen around. Not on the typical tourist radar – and part of the former Soviet Union – Estonia is somewhat of a secret. And so is its trout fishing.
On the other hand, Estonia is a progressive nation and a world leader in information technology. So a quick Google search revealed estflyfishing.com, where Estonian guide Vahur Mur thoroughly describes some interesting opportunities. Perfect! My partner Deb and I were planning a trip through Eastern Europe; my personal philosophy is that EVERY vacation should be supplemented by at least an evening of fishing.
When we arrived in Tallinn, Vahur picked us up at the train station. He dropped off Deb at our hotel. She wanted to get a head start on exploring the city’s many nooks and crannies, while Vahur and I continued off into the countryside. Although it was 6 PM, our latitude was 59 degrees north and it was early July. Since we were further north than Juneau, Alaska darkness would not settle in until 11 PM.
We drove about 60 miles through a flat landscape of forest and fields and turned down a gravel road that lead into a nature preserve. This nature preserve also doubled as a training ground for NATO troops. We drove through the open entrance gate, soon passing the sign for the hand grenade range. Although that might tie in with the Mission Impossible comparison, it was definitely disconcerting. Vahur explained that the area was only open to the public if it was not in use by the military, adding that their activities always took place away from the river.
When prime hatches coincided with military activity, Vahur admitted to procuring special entrance permission and hiking in 6 miles from the nearest town, often with machine guns and artillery as background noise. Of course, I’m thinking that the hatches must be really good, and my guide is a very determined dude.
About 5 minutes after passing the grenade range, we stopped the car and rigged up. I had been carrying a travel rod on buses and planes for the past week, so it felt good to actually string a line through its guides. Vahur had a sturdy pair of waders and boots for me, and off we went to the nearby river.
Although more of a spring creek – judging by its 20 foot width, clear water, gentle flow, and healthy weed growth – Vahur called it the Potato River. It was surrounded by tall grass and wild flowers. There were fish rising in a couple shallow runs right by the bridge. Vahur had told me the river held brown trout and grayling that regularly ran from 12 to 14 inches and that the odd brown might stretch past 20 inches. Since the spring hatch of big mayflies had ended just a short while ago, he tied on a large parachute emerger. “The fish at this spot are usually on the small side,” he said, “But we’ll warm up with them and then try for some bigger ones.”
As you might expect on a spring creek, Vahur lengthened my 9 foot leader with 3 feet of 5X tippet and had me standing well downstream of the risers. I quickly learned that these grayling were bizarrely quick. At least compared to my reflexes…I must have had 9 or 10 strikes before I finally brought a couple of 6 inchers to hand. I also caught a similarly-sized brown. Vahur pointed out – and I could see this for myself – that a typical trout rises more deliberately than a grayling. But not deliberate enough for me, because out of all the strikes I missed, there were at least a couple of trout mixed in.
Regardless, Vahur suggested we look for some bigger fish, and I enthusiastically agreed. He strode off through tall grass and wild flowers at a military, double-time pace. Apparently, he had been a pole vaulter and decathlete in high school, and I struggled to keep up. I am happy to report there were no well worn paths; it looked like Vahur and his clients may have been the only visitors.
After a 5 minute hike, the creek narrowed considerably. In some places, the tall grass growing from the banks almost met in the middle. There were some small mayflies out and the odd fish rose. Vahur attached a smaller emerger to my leader and we started working upstream.
It was challenging, secret-agent style fIshing. I generally stood on the bank, hopefully hidden by the tall grass, and strained to settle casts a good distance ahead of me and as close to the bank as possible. Sometimes, the best cast landed the line in the tall grass and the fly floated along beside it, which made for some interesting attempts at mending and controlling slack. Inevitably, my casts gravitated too much toward the grass and got snagged.
The fish were quite cooperative and in the time it took me to lose 3 flies to the grassy banks, I had 5 strikes. They were definitely better fish than my initial catches. Just as it was time to go, a sizeable snout revealed itself about 25 feet ahead of me. We could see it well enough to determine that it was a brown and not a grayling. It was rising very gently and also very regularly. This was my chance to make up for all the missed strikes…
Vahur had me get right into the creek to stalk this one. Whoa! The water was about an inch below the top of my waders. I could see just how deeply undercut the banks were. If I had any doubts about the Potato River’s ability to support trophies, they were instantly erased by the trickle of ice water that infiltrated my waders when I leaned over a little.
To hit the target lane between the overhanging grasses – and even a couple of bonus shrubs – I drilled the cast down and forward. Ugh! The tip of the fly line smacked right down on the fish. It was gone, and we started another speed-hike back toward the car. The time was 10:15 PM and there was easily enough light to read read your favorite spy novel. In terms of fish to hand, the evening barely registered, but I was buoyed by the whole experience. It had been a fun challenge in a completely new part of the world.
In Tallinn, Vahur dropped me off a few blocks from the hotel, since the medieval centre of town was now closed to vehicles. As I bounced from corner to square to alleyway inside this historic labyrinth, I think I saw Tom Cruise sprinting down a dark cobblestone lane.
(Notes: 1. Vahur Mur is a fishy, pleasant, enthusiastic, and professional guide. He supplied the pictures of any fish bigger than 6 inches. 2. My travel rod was a Redington Classic Trout. It breaks into 6 pieces and is very affordable. The reel on it was a Lamson Guru, which is very light and tough enough to absorb the knocks dished out by any baggage handling system.)