The River Vrljika
The River Vrljika originates in the northwest of Imotsko-bekijsko polje in Croatia. Shortly after crossing the Croatian-Bosnian border, it flows underground near the town of Drinovci. It comes out as the River Tihaljina, which is in its lower part known as the River Trebižat, the right tributary to the River Neretva.
We first visited this river in May 2004 on our way back from Montenegro. There we met Ante Mikulić, one of the leading members of the local anglers' club, who takes care of the fish population in the River Vrljika. According to him, the softmouth trout is the only salmonid inhabiting the river; the fish are much endangered due to poaching and could only be found in the upper part of the river.
When our friend Johannes Schöffmann was snorkeling in the river, he observed numerous fish of different sizes ranging from juveniles to really large adults of 50 cm in length or more. These observations suggested that there is a stable and healthy population in the River Vrljika. He also found two fish-traps of a design frequently used by poachers in the region. Interestingly, one of the traps contained three live softmouth trout that we released after taking a small piece of fin for genetic analysis.
In 2005, we carried out the second field trip to the River Vrljika, this time organized by Prof. Ivan Bogut from the University of Osijek. Electrofishing was performed by our colleagues from the Slovenian Fishery Research Institute. The main goal of this field trip was to obtain more samples for genetic analysis and a few for morphological measurements. We easily caught more than 20 specimens some of them ranging from one to two kg and more.
We last visited the Vrljika River in a frame of Patagonia World Trout Initiative in July, 2008. The main idea was to take pictures to be used in a booklet we are intending to publish about the Vrljika softmouth trout. This time, we were accompanied by our old friend Dušan Jesenšek from RD Tolmin, and master of photography Arne Hodalič.