January 30, 2019

Hooked on His Job

Waldviertel reservoirs and the creatures who dwell there have fascinated Bernhard Berger ever since he was a boy. He fishes all year round, whether it's beach weather or when a thick blanket of ice first blankets the water. That's when Bernhard heads out to go ice fishing.

Ottenstein and Dobra reservoirs

The Ottenstein and Dobra reservoirs in the Waldviertel region are natural gems. Meandering like fjords through the picturesque landscape, their banks are flanked by dense forests, as if they were the proud guardians of this unique lake landscape. And once you've discovered these jewel for yourself, they will likely continue to fascinate you for a lifetime. As they did with reservoir fisherman Bernhard Berger. He grew up here and knew even as a child that this was where he belonged and would always remain. As early as age four, he was interested in nature's secrets and mysteries, and eager to venture into the woods and out onto the lake with the grown-ups. But it wasn't hunting from the deer stand that had captured his heart, it was fishing. "Out here, even as a kid I could hold a fishing rod and catch a fish, something I obviously couldn't do when it came to hunting with a rifle."

“If there's one thing we know about local fishing, it's that we know almost nothing about it. There’s a different recipe for success every day.”

“We’ve got to maintain the waters in their current condition and optimise them where necessary, while allowing Nature to take her course.”

When the key to success hangs on a hook

He never forgot his calling and, after graduating from university in Vienna, returned to the lake as a marine biologist. But in spite of all the knowledge he has acquired, he hasn't had a dull day since, which never fails to bring a wry smile to Bernhard's face as he concludes: "If there's one thing we know about local fishing, it's that we know almost nothing about it." Exactly why the fish respond one day and refuse to the next remains a mystery. "There’s a different recipe for success every day." It comes down to having both a reliable gut feeling and the necessary instinct. Sustainability play a role, too. " We’ve got to maintain the waters in their current condition and optimise them where necessary, while allowing Nature to take her course." That’s something which all users of the lake seem to agree on. Power plant operators and biologists alike. Which is a fine state of affairs and something which perhaps characterizes the native Waldviertler: "We may be a bit peculiar and though it sometimes takes us a little longer, in the end we all pull together in the same direction." Or on the same fishing rod. After all, his guided fishing tours attract not only fish, but also visitors from both far and near.

Passion for fishing, fascination for ice fishing

Bernhard tailors his full-day programmes to the needs of the group, whether the participants are beginners or pros. Rather than counting fish caught, the focus is on the experience itself and the level of enthusiasm and confidence that the group brings to the table. Apart from the techniques he shares, Bernhard is also keen to get his personal message across: "We need to act sustainably with the resources we have. It's relatively easy to drum up publicity for the sport, but the hard part is achieving and maintaining a healthy level of visitors for the local economy. And the quality shouldn't suffer as a result. Look, it would be pointless to build a ton of fishing piers; it wouldn't make the reservoir grow any bigger, but only serve to increase the number of fishing tourists." What can be counted on to grow, on the other hand, is winter ice. Once it has reached a safe thickness, Bernhard and his group venture out onto the frozen lake to go ice fishing. Wearing spikes on their soles, carrying an ice claw for safety, and hauling standard fishing gear, though augmented by a hand drill. To drill a hole. "In this season, different fish species make an appearance, white fish such as bream. Everything is a tad calmer and quieter, and the fishing experience itself stands in stark contrast to that of the summer. Simply unique."

“Without fishing something would simply be missing in my life“

Top-notch catch

Be it summer or winter, fish make a popular meal and those caught in the reservoirs are guaranteed to be of the best quality: "Our fish have never seen a hatchery. We protect the small as well as the large ones, and only take so-called edible fish." The water quality of the Waldviertel reservoirs also speaks for itself; waters with such fish stocks are seldom found in Austria. Add to this the backdrop, the pristine natural landscape, and Bernhard doesn't need much more for his peace and quiet. "In fact, when I'm alone on the lake, there are times when I don't cast my line at all, but simply observe nature. No cell phone, no hustle and bustle, just a sense of serenity surrounding me, that's where I find my strength." He is often asked why the water exerts such a strong pull on him. "For a lot of people, the fascination for fishing is a bit incomprehensible, but without it, something would simply be missing in my life." That and the thrill of making new discoveries is what keeps him coming back. When a fish suddenly nibbles the bait on his line, Bernhard doesn't fail to get a new rush of adrenaline. Only the moment counts. "If I were so jaded that every fish I caught was just another tick on a list, I think I would have lost sight of the most important thing. Sometimes we all need to be reminded to live in the present."

Bernhard Berger offers a range of courses and fishing adventures in Lower Austria. He lives in Jagenbach, Waldviertel.

Bernhard Berger on facebook

More information on fishing in the Waldviertel region: https://www.waldviertel.at/en/reservoirs

Translated by: Theodore Snydal