Europe has several wild and unspoilt areas that are a paradise for nature-lovers. The Baltic states and Poland with their abundant water and forests have among the best examples of such areas, which attract people from near and far. They come to interact with nature, to walk, gather mushrooms, hunt, and above all to fish. The three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, are each blessed with a coastline along the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Riga, or the Gulf of Finland and plentiful inland waters in the form of lakes both natural and artificial, and rivers. Between them the three countries boast almost 10,000 lakes and several hundred kilometers of rivers all of which provide fertile fishing grounds for anglers. Fishing for sport is a well-established pastime in the Baltics. In Estonia, for instance, more than 300,000 people go fishing regularly and for a further 90,000 it is a major recreational activity. Those with an interest in angling thus represent almost a third of Estonia’s population of 1.3m
Despite their similarities and geographic proximity, angling in the three Baltic states is governed by regulations that vary somewhat from country to country. In Estonia everybody has the right to fish with a simple hand line for free. This can be done without a specific fishing permit, but only in public waters (lakes, rivers). Of course, any other regulations in force must be respected, for example, temporal and spatial restrictions. These limits are usually introduced to protect the fish in spawning times, or to regulate the number of specimens of specific species. Fishing with a simple hand line is easy and at the same time fun.
In every water body there are different kinds of fish, which are not only tasty to eat, but offer the thrill of the catch. For more serious fishing, an angler can consider tackle with up to three hooks. For this the fisher must buy a fishing permit, which allows the use of a wide range of fishing tackle. The definition of hook gear includes spinning, handline, troll line, fly rod, hook, bottom line, trimmer, bottom set longline, drifting longline, surface longline, spoon bait, mormyshka, reel, and jig. For underwater fishing an angler may use a harpoon gun or a harpoon. When a fisherman uses some of the fishing tackle mentioned above, he must pay for the fishing rights. Buying a permit is a very easy process which can even be done on-line at www.pilet.ee, or also with a mobile phone linked to the Estonian GSM net.
A permit can also be purchased the oldfashioned way from points of sale, such as post offices, which are widely distributed in the country. The sales receipt and a personal ID are needed as proof of purchase.
Fishing is free however for certain groups; pre-school age children, students under 16 year of age, pensioners, and the disabled, subject to proof. Fees for fishing are modest: EUR1 per day, EUR3 per week, EUR13 for six months, and EUR20 per year. Fishing in Järvamaa county in central Estonia requires a special license, which costs EUR6 per day. This can be bought at the local environmental administration, which is located in every city.
Interest in fly fishing especially for carp is increasing.
After obtaining a fishing permit, the next question is what to fish? In Estonia this is no problem whatsoever. All the biggest lakes and rivers are full of pike. Pike is one of the biggest predators and can reach weights exceeding 20 kilos. Catching such a fish can be a challenge, but smaller pikes also give lot of satisfaction.
Perch in the Gulf of Parnu is also a possibility. A good spot can deliver a very good size specimen, and not just a single individual. Perch usually swim in schools and one never knows how many will take the bait. Other options are roach and bream, which can be caught using ground fishing techniques. Peipsi lake is a remarkable place for fishing. This lake has abundant fish resources that will delight any fisherman. And in winter it is at its most attractive. When the ice cover is thick enough, fisherman from neighbouring countries come to Peipsi lake to catch perch. Often a day’s fishing will yield more than 10 kilos of perch – which are delicious smoked or baked. In the spring, when the ice cover starts to melt, roach can also be fished in the lake. One of the main targets for anglers in Estonia is brown trout. The main season for brown trout is from early May until 15 September with a peak when the mayfly hatches. During this period trout becomes very active, as the water temperature increases and food becomes more abundant, and they can be caught more easily. The biggest individuals become more indiscriminate, snapping at anything that resembles prey, in their rush to feed. The fish lives in more than 100 rivers and streams, so fly fishermen and trout anglers can choose from several locations. But of course, to catch brown trout, anglers must be both skilled and patient and they must remember that the fish should be a minimum of 36 cm. Trout are most commonly caught using two techniques, spinning and fly fishing. Spinning generally uses hard baits, spinners, wobblers, etc., but now it is very popular to use soft baits. Short rods are a better idea than long ones as the rivers are not wide. Fly fishing is a more artistic technique, and a wide range of flies is available for trout.
South of Estonia lies Latvia, where too there are a lot of water bodies and many very keen recreational fishermen. The Latvian system for regulating angling is similar to the Estonian, though perhaps not quite as flexible. To use public waters, anglers need to buy a fishing permit, of which there are two types. A three-month permit for just over EUR7 and an annual permit for a little more than EUR14. Permits are sold at post offices, the biggest fishing shops, and even the biggest supermarket chains. They can also be purchased online at www.makskeresanaskarte.lv. The permit together with a valid ID needs to be shown on demand. Some areas, such as certain stretches of a river, require a special license in addition to the usual permit. These could be areas or times of the year when salmon or sea trout is fished. In Latvia children under 16, adults over 65, and persons with special needs, do not need to buy a fishing permit. However they need to show a valid ID card on request.
With so many different places to fish, anglers can use lot of different fishing techniques. One of the most popular is float fishing. Many beginners and children, but also professionals, employ this technique, which can be used in different types of water. And of course with a float it is possible to catch a wide range of fishes — roach, bream, perch, carp, catfish, etc. It is a simple and enjoyable method of fishing. For bigger specimens some preparation is necessary, like feeding the area to attract the fish. If an angler wants to use a float in a river, he or she can reckon with big rivers with slow flows, deep rivers, as well as smaller streams with stronger currents. The fishing gear needs to be adjusted accordingly. Such places are very good for fishing with a feeder, a popular technique to which a lot of fishermen are attracted nowadays. Latvian rivers are very suitable for feeders. Spinning is a very popular way of fishing not only among sport fishermen, but also beginners.
The main target is predatory fish such as pike, perch and zander. Pike is the biggest predator in Latvian waters with a record specimen of 19.56 kilos caught in Ungurs Lake in 1989. There are no doubt even bigger pike lurking in the water, a prospect that should attract anglers to Latvia. Another exciting fish to catch is perch, which often frequent certain areas in lakes and rivers. When spinning, almost every cast will deliver a perch, often a respectable fish close to a kilo in weight.
Burtnieka lake (or lake Burtnieks), one of the most productive Latvian lakes, famous for big pike and zander.
Zander or pike-perch is a truly rewarding catch. Thanks to its location on the coast, Riga, the capital of Latvia, is one of the best spots to catch zander. In late autumn large numbers of the fish enter the Daugava river, which flows through the city, from the Gulf of Riga.
The best way to catch zander is either jigging or by using the drop shot method depending on whether the fish is active or not. The drop shot can be used to catch even the most passive predator. The Daugava is quite a big river by local standards and is also deep with a strong current. Places where the depth exceeds 15 meters are good to catch zander – a fisherman needs to use quite big jig heads, or weights. Fishing here is also very interesting as close to the port there are industrial buildings, big container transport ships, tankers, and other vessels. There is always something happening here, but there are also restrictions which make the port off limits for many casual activities – except fishing.
If a fisherman wants to catch a big specimen that puts up a real fight, then he should target catfish. In the River Daugava downstream from the hydro power plants, there are a lot of big catfish. The place to catch them is in those parts of the river where the depth exceeds 30 meters. The Latvian record for catfish is a little more than 84 kilos. Catfish demand the use of trolling gearor a down rigger, and it is more common and more effective to put the bait in deeper waters. Catfish simply cannot resist a slowly moving bait imitating a dead fish. Catfish can also be caught by jigging, but of course this calls for more luck. Sometimes, when a fisherman is jigging for zander or pike, a catfish strikes the soft bait.
In recent years feeder fishing has increased in popularity among anglers. Here, a feeder fishing competition in Lithuania.
Latvia has several small rivers and streams, where one of the most exciting fish to catch is trout. Small rivers have clear and transparent water, in which every rock and dead fallen tree can be seen. In such places a trout can easily conceal itself. For fishermen this can be challenging, as such rivers usually have overgrown banks so casting is not the easiest way to fish. But the prize can be a nice catch of trout, one of the most beautiful fish in Latvian waters.
In addition there is the grayling, a majestic fish with a wide and long back fin, and the chub which is also a strong fighter. In autumn many fishermen go to the sea shore to catch flounder. This is the best time to catch them with a specific ground fishing technique. An angler may use three rods each with three hooks baited with shrimp or bits of herring. The best place to catch flounders is the coast between the towns of Liepaja and Ventspils. The open sea yields bigger catches of flounder, and it is also possible to catch cod, which sometimes come a bit closer to the coast at night.
Lithuania is the biggest of the three Baltic states and also richly endowed with natural beauty in the form of woods, rivers, and lakes. The rules and regulations governing angling in Lithuania are like those in Estonia and Latvia. Here too every fisherman needs to have fishing permit that can be bought at fishing shops or online. And some activities demand an additional license, for example, to fish for salmon or sea trout in the Nemunas or Neris rivers.
National parks and nature reserves too have special regulations. In general, a day permit costs EUR3; children under 16, people over 62, and persons with special needs do not need such permits, and can fish for free. One of the most popular pastimes for anglers is fishing for salmon and sea trout in autumn. The Nemunas, among the biggest rivers in Lithuania, is one of the best sources of these fish. The river starts in Belarus, and has a total length of 900 km of which 359 km are in Lithuania. The major tributaries are the Neris and the Merkys.
The Nemunas is a very wide river with a lot of variation in the current, slower in deeper water and faster in shallow, and hosts many different species of fish.
Pike and perch can be caught all around the year and the river is also a good place for float fisherman. The Neris, the second biggest river in Lithuania, also flows at different speeds.
Many salmon enter the Neris to spawn and this number is increasing each year, so that fishing, which is only allowed at certain approved spots, can be very satisfying. Nature protection organisations have focused on the salmon population which is not large and the rules are strictly enforced, but fishermen can still look forward to wonderful catches. A license for a day cost EUR3 which entitles a fisherman to keep one fish, a salmon or a sea trout, the rest must be returned to the water. It is best to gather information about the best places before fishing the Neris to improve the chances of a good catch.
A chub, a catch coveted by anglers.
The Merkys river also starts in Belarus as the Nemunas and flows through the Dzukijos National Park, which is a special nature zone. It is possible to fish in the Merkys all year around. From early spring to autumn in the first part of the river, where the current is slow, a section that requires a special license. The middle part of the river is best from summer to late autumn. It is characterized by slow-flowing water with some rapids and runs that become more frequent going downstream. The lowest part of the river has an even-flowing current. The river bed is sandy with deep holes which host many large specimens and the best time to fish is from mid-autumn until the beginning of winter. The Merkys has Lithuania’s biggest population of graylings, which makes it an interesting river for fly fishermen, but there are also chub, pike and perch. Kayaking is a popular pursuit on the Merkys in summer, so fishermen will not have the river to themselves.
Lithuania also offers many medium and small rivers, where the main target species is chub, a challenging fish to catch as even small ones are real fighters, and there are some large individuals too. At smaller rivers it is also possible to fly fish, which is not easy, but one gets better with practice.
Anglers experienced several memorable catches on the Neris river in Lithuania this year, such as this impressive salmon.
One of the best places to fish in Lithuania, a virtual paradise for anglers, is the area of the Curonian Spit and the Klaipeda Channel. Many species, perch, zander, bream, roach, zaehrte (Vimba bream), can be found in these waters, and several fishing techniques can be used. In spring the Klaipeda Channel is full of Baltic herring, so a fisherman can be sure of catching something. This is also one of the best places to fish for zander in summer and autumn by jigging or using hard baits. From the spit or the channel it is also possible to rent a boat with a guide and sail into the Baltic Sea after flounder, cod, Baltic herring, and even halibut. The guide will know the best places to fish. There are however special regulations that govern fishing in these areas: to fish in the Curonian Split, less than 500 m from the shore, requires a special permit issued by the Ministry of Environment. However, fishing with float rods from the shore is exempted from this requirement.
When it is dark fishing is only allowed from the shore or from the ice. Angling in the Baltic Sea must be approved by the border police and catches may not exceed five kg per angler.
Another good place for zander is Lake Sartai, a natural reserve close to the Latvian border, where the fish can approach trophy sizes. Here too it is possible to hire a knowledgeable guide, who will know the best places to fish.
Other countries’ anglers too have experienced success on the Neris. This 112 cm, 14 kg salmon was caught by Kaspars Poishs from Latvia.
Angling in Poland is regulated as it is in the three Baltic States with minor variations. A fisherman must have an angling license issued by the Polish Angling Association, which can be obtained from their offices across the country, and a fishing permit from the water authority of the area. Licenses are usually issued after passing an exam in fishing rules and regulations.
Foreigners and non-members of the association are exempt from taking the exam, but need to pay a special fee. Children under 14 do not need a license provided they are accompanied by a license-holding adult with a permit. Poland has several lakes which are inhabited by more than 20 fish species. In the country’s north east is the Masurian Lake District, an area with more than 2,000 lakes that are connected with rivers and channels forming a comprehensive system of waterways. The district was a finalist in the Seven New Wonders of Nature contest. The biggest pike to be caught in the district weighed more than 24 kg, and for fly fishing enthusiasts trout and grayling are also found in the rivers. In the winter ice fishing is a popular activity targeting perch, roach, and bream. In addition to natural lakes, Poland also has man-made lakes, such as Lake Zalew Zegrzyn´ski close to Warsaw.
Poland also has a Baltic Sea coast where anglers can rent a boat and fish for cod and flounder. Another possibility is the Lubuskie District in western Poland, an area for carp and catfish, where anglers can find good accommodation as well as large fish.
The Baltic States and Poland are perfect places for recreational fishing offering a variety of species, water bodies, terrains, and opportunities. Every angler will be able to find something that appeals to him or her, and often will return home with an impressive trophy.
Jānis Stikuts, email@example.com, and Mārtiņs Babris