Picture this: Daybreak on the shores of a ginormous South Bohemian pond. Dozens of commercial fishermen have already been hard at work for several hours, and their barrels are brimming with pike, tench, catfish, perch and, of course, tons of carp, that illustrious freshwater “delicacy” that has a starring role in the holiday season here. Most of us are accustomed to seeing large pools of live carp pop up around Prague at the beginning of December as people scurry to prepare their Christmas feasts. However, the whole process really gets underway about two months earlier on the banks of hundreds of so-called fishponds scattered throughout South Bohemia.
Výlov rybníku – loosely translated to mean “fish harvesting” – dates back to the Middle Ages, when many of these ponds were first built by monasteries to breed carp for Lent. It took a couple of hundred more years, however, to turn fish harvesting into a serious business.
Today, this beloved tradition is a much-anticipated fall cultural event with many commercial fisheries eagerly encouraging residents to come survey the action at their ponds – a misleading term as many of these “ponds” are actually several hundred acres wide. The fun typically includes refreshments (many fisherman are reportedly partial to slivovice, so plenty of that is usually on offer). There are also small markets set up along the shore where you can buy handcrafts or pick out your holiday meal – dead or alive.
But the big draw of these events continues to be the tireless stream of activity surrounding the harvesting ponds. Despite the mud, the cold temperatures and rainy weather, výlov rybníku events never fail to attract hoards of delighted spectators.
“The fishponds were built hundreds of years ago by our ancestors and create beautiful scenery,” explains Václav Milota of the Blatenská fishery. “Simply put, these ponds are an integral part of the Czech landscape.”
Blatenská, ones of the largest fisheries in the Czech Republic, will hold a number of harvesting events in the coming weeks that are open to the public. The first will take place on October 19 at the Podkostelní Putim pond near Písek. A second harvest at the the Buzický pond near Blatná will follow on October 28-29.
“The actual pond harvesting begins very early in the morning, when it is still mostly dark outside,” says Milota, suggesting that 7:30am would be the best time to venture down to the ponds to see the fish hauled out of their shallow waters. To which we can only breathlessly exclaim, 7:30am on a Saturday?! Is the man nuts?!
For those who sleep late on weekends, there is good news: Fish harvests are generally all-day affairs. So regardless if you roll in with the sun or way past lunch, there will still be a lot to enjoy. In fact, some of these ponds are so large that it can literally take anywhere between a couple of hours to a couple of days to completely drain them of fish, according to Milota.
“If you come early you can really see how amazing it is to catch fish, and you will see a lot of fishermen in their traditional dress,” says Anička Mrázová, who has been attending Czech fish harvests for years. “The reason I attend these events is the atmosphere – early morning, cold hands with hot tea, the amazing work of the fisherman, fresh fish and so on.”
The carp earmarked for the Christmas rush are carefully trucked to special nurseries to await their debut on the streets of Prague and other cities around the country later this year. Carp is expected to cost around 75 CZK per kilo this holiday season.
The Czech press has been wildly speculating about how this year’s disastrous floods could impact the fall harvest. Local fisheries, however, are downplaying the situation. They’ve acknowledged that some of the fish that have been netted so far were average or below average in weight. But harvesting runs until the middle of next month, and fisheries say they’ll wait to pass judgment on this season’s success until every eligible pond in the region has been thoroughly drained.
While the largest fishpond in South Bohemia – Rožmberk, which covers 1,598 acres – was harvested earlier this month, there are several others biggies located near the city of Třeboň that are still on the upcoming lineup. Horusický velký, which was established in the village of Horusice in 1512 and measures 1,082 acres, will be harvested October 21-24. Meanwhile, one of the region’s oldest fishponds, Bošilecký, which is located in the village of Bošilec and dates back to 1355, will get its turn from November 11-14.
If you’d like to check out a fish harvest in Prague, you’ll find one in Uhříněves on October 31.
A special thanks to Václav Kinský for the photos, taken at Podkostelní rybník v Putimi.
Tell us, do you plan to go fishing with the big boys this year?