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A Little Piece of Essex Found in Switzerland

If you are a regular reader of the blogs on Essex Anglers, you may recall the many blogs my son Joe has written over the past 18 months or so. Unfortunately, both of us have now “partially” moved away from Essex although we have both moved to completely different locations. Joe went off to University and now resides in Lancaster and I relocated to Switzerland almost a year ago for work.

First of all it needs to be said that if you’re not familiar with the geography of Switzerland, the country is landlocked, surrounded by Italy, France, Germany and Austria. For a predominantly sea fisherman like myself, that provides a very unique challenge as the sea is many, many hours away.

But I wanted to fish. Therefore, my choices were to either reduce my fishing exploits considerably or adapt to what many people reading this blog see as their only form of fishing – freshwater. So that’s what I did. It’s not that I’ve never dabbled with freshwater fishing. Before coming to Switzerland I would regularly go with my son Joe, who prefers freshwater fishing to sea fishing. But unbelievably, I’d never actually been freshwater fishing by myself.

I arrived in Switzerland in late November 2020 in the middle of a country-wide lockdown. The weather was dry but bitterly cold, hovering just above freezing most days. I was temporarily living in Zurich, about a 2-minute walk from Zurichsee / Lake Zurich (more on this lake soon) but due to the cold weather, I never actually saw a single person fishing at the lake.

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A map of Lake Zurich and the surrounding area.

A few months later, I relocated to a small village about 30 minutes from Zurich and was now about a 15 minute bus ride from lake Zurich. The weather was still cold in February and 45cm of snow soon fell and stayed around for weeks. Fishing was still some way off. During this time, I started to investigate the local area for fishing locations, tips etc and found the available information on the Internet to be absolutely woeful. No one talks about their fishing here and no one tells anyone else where to fish or what to use.

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Snow! Snow! Snow!

The one thing I did discover from my searches was the biggest challenge of fishing in Switzerland is that it’s heavily regulated and each canton (like a county) has their own unique rules and laws on fishing. In the canton of Zurich, they do allow a person to fish without a licence. But the fishing is limited to a single rod and only natural baits such as corn, maggots, worms or bread allowed. In addition, all rivers are rented by fishing clubs who will refuse anyone outside the club from fishing them. (It’s a shame because the rivers are absolutely teeming with life. I’ve seen stretches of river with stacks of 5lb+ Chub in a small 50-meter stretch!)

Fishing without a licence is possible, but its limited. You are unable to use lures, plastic worms, spinners or even pellets/boilies. There’s also a very strict law that every canton will follow – there’s virtually no catch and release. What you catch, you take! This law is alien to us but is in place to ensure that a fish doesn’t go through the same stress twice in its life (they are very big on animal welfare).

Even considering all of the regulations, I decided that I would go through the process of applying for a fishing licence. In the UK, we can apply and pay for a licence online and in a few minutes, fish completely legal. Well, this is Switzerland and nothing is ever simple here. You can’t actually apply for a fishing licence until you have completed an exam that goes through all parts of fishing, water management etc. The exam is called a SaNa and this must be completed and takes an entire day to complete – no exceptions. Once you have the SaNa, you can then apply for a licence. All of this costs money, quite a lot actually.

So, a few hundred quid in and now that I have my licence, I was able to fish without too many restrictions. All I needed now was some gear. Considering most things in Switzerland are super expensive, tackle is not and is either on-par with the UK or in some cases about 10-15% cheaper. The only downside I’ve found is that Switzerland absolutely love all forms of lure fishing and so the tackle shops cater for this in a huge way and general carp or float fishing tackle is contained to a small corner at the far end of the shop. Very different to the average tackle shop in the UK which is the complete opposite.

After buying what I needed to try my luck at lure fishing, I set off to Lake Zurich in the hope of a Perch or two. I was told by the tackle shop where to fish and what to use and what to expect. Apparently, Perch above 40cm come out of the lake fairly regularly with the odd 50cm fish each year! To most UK fishermen that target Perch, this is the stuff of dreams so I was hopeful lady luck would sprinkle some pixie dust on me. Those hopes were very quickly dashed. I think I blanked on 4 trips before I finally caught my first Perch which was about 10cm, not 40.

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My first fish from Switzerland. (If you don’t count the frozen fish from the supermarket)

But by now the weather was improving and the lake was warming up. I’d spoken to a few locals who told me that most people only fish from May-Oct when the water is at its warmest. When it’s cold, the good fish go deep, very deep. Lake Zurich has an average depth of about 80 meters and is about 120 meters at its deepest. Casting out just 40 or 50 meters into the lake is like shore fishing in the UK. The lead hits the water and then continues to take line for sometimes upwards of 15 seconds. Not what I was expecting in a freshwater lake.

I persevered with artificial worms using both Carolina and Texas rigs for several more weeks with some very limited success, catching plenty of small perch but nothing to ever get excited about. I’d never fished this way before but was confident that eventually I’d have the success I was hoping for as this was a method I was seeing used by virtually every local that lure fished.

The following week I was trying to catch some pesky Perch under a jetty freelining with a worm when a South African came up and asked how I was getting on. “Shocking” probably wasn’t the answer he was expecting but I’m British and we say it how it is. We soon got talking about all things fishy in our own countries and 30 minutes later, he had returned with 2 rods and we started fishing together.

My luck had been pretty poor until that day but over the course of the day I finished with 2 pretty good-sized Roach and a few very exotic looking fish called Pumpkinseeds. These are an invasive species and there is a law in place that dictates all Pumpkinseeds caught must be dispatched and not returned to the lake. Seems a shame but these fish are causing havoc with the native fish and out competing them for food, so something needs to be done.

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A pumpkinseed

Paul, my new South African fishing buddy is passionate about carp and other large specimen fish. Back home he lives 6 hours from the coast so the only fishing he has really done is in lakes and rivers. It was interesting to see the differences of tackle he uses to catch carp. One interesting looking piece was a hair rig set up, but with 2 completely separate hooks baited separately which was designed to improve the chances of catching (like he was sea fishing). Can you imagine what people would say if he were using a 2-hook rig on a lake in the UK? Paul and I fished together every weekend for a few weeks more, having moderate success although he did catch a large Bream from the lake by himself.

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Paul, my South African friend, with his huge bream.

Mid-summer came and with it, so did my wife and Joe my son for their summer holiday. They spent 10 days with me and I think we limited the fishing to about 3 days, which is quite good for us. Joe had reached out to someone on Instagram before he came over to enquire about fishing venues. By chance, the young lad (Aaron) had roots to Essex. His dad was born and raised in Burnham but had lived in Switzerland for 25 years (he still had a bit of the accent). What’s the chances eh? Well, this proved to be a good connection.

Aaron is an avid fisherman (as well as being a Swiss international Rugby player) with a preference to carp fishing. Unfortunately, as I have discovered carp fishing is very limited in Switzerland. He has a number of venues to fish, but unlike Essex that has dozens and dozens of venues, the local area to Zurich has very few. He took us to one lake in the middle of a wood which appeared more like a British lake. The lake was created by a river that had been dammed about a hundred years before and by all accounts, the ancient riverbed in the middle of the lake was where most of the big fish hung out. Being about 3 acres in size, casting into the fishy ancient river bed was possible.

The fishing tactics were simple and recognisable. We were either using method feeders or hair rigs with PVA bags. As we all had licences, boilies were permitted and handfuls of these were thrown out with a baiting stick to get the fish feeding. A few fish were coming in here and there but nothing too large.

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First fish of the day for Joe.

Only Aaron myself and Joe were fishing this lake and after about 3 hours, Aaron and Joe had both caught a few fish and started ribbing me that I was still blanking. I told them I was waiting for the biggest fish of the day, not the most. Little did I know what was about to happen. Just before lunchtime I caught two fish in quick succession. A small carp and a little tench. Joe had lost a fish on his feeder too.

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Tinca Tinca

We decided that it was time for lunch. The sun was hot and we had a belly full of meat from the BBQ (permanent community BBQs are regular sight in Switzerland).

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The Grill. These can be found all over Switzerland on hiking trails and around lakes.

All of a sudden, my alarm screeched and the line took off. I lifted my rod into the fish and was happy that it was definitely on and hadn’t spat the bait out. I was only using a light method feeder rod so the fish felt big, very big. I was worried about the light rod so a loosened the drag off a little and the fish took off. It was zigzagging all over the lake, taking line all the time. I was only using 10lb line so needed to manage this fish accordingly. Eventually, it stopped dead but was not coming in. Was it in some weed or maybe behind a fallen tree? I couldn’t tell, but it was still on and just sitting there somewhere deciding what to do next.

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I don’t think my rod could bend much further!

After a further few minutes, the fish suddenly started moving again. He was still taking line but was now moving which gave me some confidence that I would win this particular battle. After about 2 minutes he finally started to swim towards me and I was able to retrieve the line he had taken. Eventually, he came into the net and I could see it was a very solid looking common.

Strangely, it wasn’t as big as it had felt on the line and weighed in just shy of 10lb. (I honestly thought it was double that) But make no mistake here, this wasn’t some fat, lazy lake carp we get in the UK that’s been caught a dozen times. This was a wild carp. Living in an ancient, river fed lake that is rarely fished. It’s quite likely that this fish has never been caught before in its life as most fish including carp are taken and eaten. It may have been a small 10lb fish, but on very light gear it fought like a stallion and was an absolute joy to land.

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You can see why it fought so hard with a tail that size!

Now, according to the law of land, this beauty should be dispatched and taken home! Imagine my shock when it suddenly jumped out of my hands and landed straight back in the lake. What are the chances of that eh?

The day ended with a few more small carp and tench. As I had predicted earlier, I may not have caught the most, but I did catch the biggest.

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