Dateline: May 27, 2012 – Bad Laer, Germany
Sometimes, my fishing research is accurate, up-to-date, and well-informed. On other occasions, I head out purely based on rumor. Not even good rumor. More like wishful thinking, really, and so it’s even more astonishing when it all works out.
Two years ago, I made a trip to a very promising lake in northwestern Germany, only to have my hopes dashed when a heat wave put everything off the bite. http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/liederhosed-a-ruffe-weekend-in-germany/ Our target – the European Sturgeon, or “Stor” in German, which were rumored to be a lake near Osnabruck called the Waldensee. Jens Koller, ace guide and all-around fishing genius, put in every effort he could. Andreas and Claudia Risse, the owners, were kind and generous with their time, but it was not to be. I did catch a small Ruffe, a triumph in itself, but the mighty Stor remained a mere rumor.
I found myself in Germany for business in May, and I was happy to set up a trip with Jens back to the Waldensee. I looked forward to learning some new ways to abuse opposing drivers, and it would be great to get on the water with an old friend. We would head out on Saturday morning.
Jens and Steve with Steve’s first fish in Germany, February 2008. It was a balmy 19 degrees in Mannheim that day.
On Friday, the trip had a narrow escape from tragedy. Jens’ wife, Birgitte, called me and told me he had been in a car accident. He was bruised up but otherwise OK – he had been hit by a “Ghost Driver” – someone driving the wrong way on a freeway. (It was probably Guido on his way back to Serbia. ) With Jens’ history of verbal abuse toward bad drivers (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/hansel-and-grundel/,) I can only imagine what he said to this guy. (My guess – “My those are bright tail lights. Why are they getting bigger? Oh #%$@!@%#%!!!”)
With Jens OK but not mobile, I quickly explored other options. Renting a car was too frightening, even with Jens off the road. I was NOT going to let Guido drive again so soon, and he is obviously cursed with bad fishing juju. This left the train as my only choice.
In Italy, this would be a disaster, but in Germany, the trains are amazingly organized. It took me 5 minutes online to set it up. A co-worker dropped me off at the Mannheim Central Station Friday afternoon and I was on my way to Osnabruck, where Andreas would pick me up. I could relax, do a few emails, and watch the historical cities of northwestern Germany go by. Andreas got me without a hitch and we got to Bad Laer in time for a late dinner. By the way, I did some research on the internet and was relieved to find that “Bad” actually means “Bath” or “Spa.” For much of my childhood, I thought these places were just “bad.”
I didn’t get much sleep because the hotel was hosting an event, either a civil disturbance or a Polish wedding – it’s hard to tell. We had a beer with the celebrants, and one of the bridesmaids, who was flat-out pickled, kept leaning onto my shoulder and mumbling “You speak such beautiful English.” I told her we study it in school.
The hotel in Bad Laer. It wasn’t bad.
Morning came early. Andreas picked me up at the hotel, and off we went to his private lake, the Waldensee.
The Waldensee (Lake in the Woods) in early morning.
The weather boded well for our mission – clear and sunny but not oppressively hot. I fished one rod for Sturgeon, baited up with a halibut pellet and in a slightly deeper corner, which they called the “Stor Corner.” I also set up another rod with a float, for smaller fish, to keep my limited attention span in check.
The smaller fish turned out to be good fun. I caught a couple of trout immediately, including an unusual golden color morph of the Rainbow Trout.
This is actually a Rainbow Trout, not a Golden. For the painful tale of catching a Golden, see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/the-cottonwood-death-march/.
I amused myself watching a group of goslings go up and down the shore pilfering snacks from the fishermen. They were adorable but could tear open and devour a bag of chips in 20 seconds.
The goslings get a drink after they ate my Pringles.
Mother Goose was always close by, keeping an eye out for stray Pringles and Rottweilers.
My other amusement was Abby, the Risse’s Rottweiler. Abby is a lovely dog, but she is not an obedient dog. Her favorite games are “Tug of Arm” and “The Goose Must Die,” and Claudia’s optimism that Abby will learn to behave is charming but misplaced, like when my mother always hoped I would get through at least one family holiday without embarrassing her.
Abby the Rottweiler spots a goose and is ready for action.
Abby helped me learn lots of new German words. This ranged from basics like Komm her! (Come here!) and Komm her! Jetzt sofort! (Come here right now!), to more esoteric offerings like Behinderter Hund! (Idiot dog!), Lass die blöde Gans allein! (Leave the goose alone!) and the classic Leg das Kind hin! (Put the child down!)
The big rod was untouched during the day, but Andreas told me to be patient, as the bites usually took place at dusk. So I waited, passing the time by drinking endless Pepsis, watching Abby run off with unguarded sausages, and catching all manner of fish on the float rod.
A solid Roach, landed on a light float rod.
I enjoyed a wonderful lunch of grilled sausages, and the afternoon wore on. Andreas kept coming down to check on me – “No Stor? Wait for dark. There are Stor at the corner.” I considered explaining the English expression “Corner Store,” but thought better of it.
Afternoon settled into a pleasant early summer evening. I checked my bait and recast, and just as I was tightening the line, it twitched. I jumped up, full of adrenaline. The line twitched again. I dropped the rod tip down, and slowly, but definitely, the line began to swim out. I waited until it was tight and set the hook hard – the fish stopped me dead and shook its head back and forth, while slowly swimming along the point. I knew it had to be my Sturgeon, and so did Andreas, because he appeared out of nowhere with a net.
Acipenser sturio – the European Sturgeon. Like the American Sturgeon, but more sophisticated.
It was my beast – not an enormous one, but a solid fish. The rumors had been correct. I was thrilled and let out a whoop of joy that could be heard across the lake - a number of other anglers came over to shake my hand and look at the rare fish. That evening, we drank a toast to the Stor, and also to Jens’ speedy recovery. After all, he was the real founder of this trip – Herzlichen Dank, my friend!!
I got out onto the lake early the next morning, because the only thing more fun than catching one Sturgeon is catching two Sturgeon. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention, because I had accomplished my mission, but I could hardly miss it when my ledger rod launched itself out of the holder and headed for the water. I leaped and grabbed the pole, holding on for dear life as something pulled hard on the other end. It turned out to be a solid Tench, only my second one ever. (The first one is something of an epic story, for another time, but Roger Barnes was involved and rules were broken and rude gestures were made.)
A lovely Tench from the Waldensee. This species tormented me for years until I got my first one with Roger Barnes in England.
Lunch with Claudia and Andreas before I got on the train for Frankfurt.
Andreas drove me back to Osnabruck station to catch my train to Frankfurt airport and then my flight to London. I thanked him many times for his kindness and hospitality, then began a very scenic path through Northwestern Germany. I needed to head from Osnabruck to Koln, then change trains for Frankfurt. The area is gorgeous, and I went from seeing sweeping gorges and forests one moment to looking at some beautiful old German towns the next.
The green farm fields of northwestern Germany – a lovely view on the way back to Frankfurt.
It was on this train that I experienced a fine example of the well-known German love of regulations. I was the only person in the first-class coach. I got up from my assigned seat and moved to a table to work on my computer. At Wuppertal, a gentleman boarded the train, walked up to me, showed me his ticket where he was assigned the seat I was in, and very, very politely asked me to move. I looked around the empty car, but figured it wasn’t worth any discussion. I moved. He thanked me – as I said, he was certainly very polite.
Just to be spiteful, the Fish Gods hit me with one more inconvenience. I was supposed to change trains in a place called “Koln.” Thus, when the English announcement for “Cologne” came on the PA, I thought nothing of it. Several stops later, I figured out that just as the Germans know Munich as “Munchen” and Sauerkraut as “dietary fiber,” they also know Cologne as “Koln.” Luckily, the station agents had handled this before and got me to Frankfurt in plenty of time to make my flight.
As I settled into my seat on the jet that would take me to London, I recalled that moment at the lake, as I held the rare fish in my hands. Before I released him, I held him up and looked at him admiringly. “European Sturgeon.” I said out loud. The fish looked back at me and said “No, that’s just water from the lake dripping off me.”