In the middle of October, the fishermen begin to fish out the ponds, which lasts until the end of November. Southern Bohemia is famous for its fishponds, with more than 7,600 of them, covering a suface area of 27 thousand hectares.
Raising carp has a long history in the Czech lands. The first written accounts
of fishpond construction date back to the 11th century, when monasteries
maintained the fishponds for raising carp, which was an important food for Lent. But the greatest upsurge of fishpond cultivation came in the 15th and 16th
centuries, when most of the ponds in Southern Bohemia came into existence. During that period, the names of two of these fishpond cultivators in the service
of the Rozmberk family were celebrated widely - Stepan Netolicky and his successor, Jakub Krcin of Jelcany u Sedlcan.
Stepan Netolicky designed a system of fishponds, the hub of which is the 45-kilometer long Zlata stoka (Golden Drain). How does this unique system of South Bohemian fishponds, which still work to this day, actually look? At its lowest
elevation, the fishponds' builders made it possible that the river, stream, canal, or drain supplies the pond with water and when it is fished out takes it
away to a different pond.
The biggest fishpond in South Bohemia, and thus in all the Czech lands, is Rozmberk (489 hectares). Here we have a report on the recent fishing out of a different Czech fish-pond - Talinsky Pond - which is well known primarily due to a folk song entitled "Uz se ten Talinksky rybnik nahani" (Now the Talinsky Pond is
being filled), as well as to it's shape, which unlike most ponds is not shaped
like an oval, but a half-moon crescent.
"Teacher, they gave me a carp for free." "Me too, but it's a little one," yell
the children standing on the bank of the Talinsky Pond who came to Southern Bohemia from Prague on an excursion. The usually abandoned embankment was crowded
on this Monday morning with locals and visitors to the area, and the path leading to the emptied pond was lined with parked cars. All of them had one thing in
common: a plastic shopping bag for the carp.
The fishing out of a pond is like a theatrical production. Early in the morning,
thirty fishermen appear on the scene in rubber suits to spend the whole day pulling one carp after another out of the icy water in front of dozens of onlookers.
"Round-up, the round-up will start in a little while," calls one of the fisherman from the bottom of the embankment and this ripples through the crowd. The moment of tension is then replaced by chatting among the onlookers, as this kind
of "round-up" isn't something that takes a few minutes.
"During the emptying of the fishpond, the fish are concentrated in the water and in the end are in the deepest part of the pond, in the so-called hunting-ground below the banks," explains the director of the Protivin fishery, Pavel Chromy, to the children patiently. For the second time today. This morning he was taking care of ninth-graders from Rakovnik and this afternoon he's sharing his experience with fourth-graders from Prague. The children listen for a while,but then their attention slowly returns to the fishermen. His next words are listened to attentively primarily by the teacher (and me).
"During the round-up the "walkers" spread a long net between them, those are the fishermen on the shore, and the "rangers" are those fishermen in the boats. The net is weighted on the bottom with lead weights and on the top you can see floats", continues the director. "And what do they have those poles for?", asks one of the little kids from Prague. "They sort of push off with them, that's obvious," answers his classmate quickly. "No, no," the director contradicts this hypothesis. "The poles have hooks on the end with which the rangers hold the net to the pond's bottom so that the fish don't swim under it. The walkers slowly
pull the net tight, which is really back-breaking work, because in the net there can be up to thirty tons of fish. Finally the net is drawn into a circle, which the fishermen in boats then gather round," Pavel Cromy finishes his description of the round-up of thousands of fish and the children run off to the stand
to buy carp for their families. Right on the bank, the carp go for 60 crowns per kilo (in Prague they might be 100 per kilo). Who can resist?
Now the fish are trapped in the net so all that remains is to transfer them into container trucks. A technician assists the fishermen with this. The fish are
pulled out of the net by a mechanical landing-net, which dumps them into the culler, a table with vents on which the fish are classified according to weight
and size. The small ones fall through vents into special vats, while the fishermen pick out the larger ones by hand. Occasionally a different kind of fish than carp shows up on the table, which is noticed by the visitors, who immediately
begin to argue about what it was. "It was a pike. I'm not blind," argued one of
the locals to his friend. "I think it's a candát," insisted a South Bohemian who knew fish. Similar disputes are resolved for a while, however, because the fishermen bring the "different" fish to the bank, where everyone can look them over up close, or even buy them.
"So children, now I'll show you what all swims in our pond," calls Director Pavel Chromny by the tubs with several types of fish. The children start to jostle
around him and some of them take out cameras. To begin with, the director shows
them an ordinary carp, which he follows with a "bald" carp. "Ninety percent of
the carp in Talinsky Pond are the ordinary kind, while the other ten percent are the bald kind. These don't have scales and are in great demand among are western neighbors, where we ship them."
But the children are looking forward to more exotic kinds of fish, which are yet to be seen. The director puts on a glove and the children have an idea what's
coming. Carnivorous fish. The first predator Chromny shows them is a common barbel, which hunts smaller fish at night, so it has tiny eyes like pinheads. "The
barbel has to be held by the lower jaw and only with gloves," he warns.
After the barbel, the children get to look at a pike and a candát
(a pike perch, similar to the American wall-eyed perch). This ends the review of Czech predatory fish. Two fish are still left in the tub, however - a tolstolobik and a white grasscarp. "The grasscarp has better meat than the carp, because it eats only plants. But I say that every fish is good if it's prepared well," he finishes the review and hurries toward the machines in the fishery under the embankment, where he will pronounce two adepts fishermen.
"In the name of the right of the fisherman's
guild, a very serious fraternity,
Today I pronounce you
pike, wall-eyed perch and carp
let them be your brothers,
now Cochtan the water sprite
takes you into his protection,
for he along with Krcin,
is our great patron,"
recites Director Chromny, as some of the fishermen pour ice cold water from the
pond over the fisherman's guild adepts. "More," yell the children on the bank, which is too much for the two drenched, newly-dubbed fishermen. The afternoon passes and slowly it begins to get dark. The fishermen are in a hurry to finish emptying the net before dusk. The crowd is dispersing and the majority of the netted carp are already in the fish-hatchery, from where the vendors will take them out before Christmas. The price of carp is up to them, because the Protivin
fishery sells the fish to them for 55 crowns a kilo. So we'll just be surprised.