The Worst Day of Fishing is Better than the Best Day at Work

An American Angler Discovers Russian Fishing Traditions

I came half way around the world to find out that fishing, friends and old jokes are the same whether one is in Manila, Moscow, or Fargo. I also learned that Russians are really not so different from Americans. We all want the same things out of life and even on the shore of a lake in the middle of the countryside one may find out how small the world really is.

Recently I had the opportunity to experience fishing Russian style on Nejivskoe Lake in the Orel Region of Russia. Although I didn’t catch any fish, the day was filled with good conversation, company and of course a little vodka. This was my first fishing trip to Europe and my first time using a European style fishing rod. I was using a rod that was longer than my boat back home and needless to say I had some trouble with the 18-foot long fiberglass monstrosity. I managed to keep from falling in the lake while casting, but not to bring in any fish. I had several bites, however, soon found myself too involved in the “Russian fishing traditions” of food, talk and drink to give setting the hook much thought.

It’s cold and wet; you’ve been standing on a muddy lakeshore for hours and have yet to even get a nibble. You’ve tried everything you can think of and still no fish. Oh well, if the fish won’t bite the fishermen will. Bring out the vodka, the food and let’s talk about buying some fish at the market so at least the wives won’t think we wasted our time. These are some good old fishing traditions I enjoyed with the help of some Russian friends.

It soon became cloudy and the wind picked up, but this is normal for autumn in Russia, so our lines stayed in the water. Vasily, my friend turned interpreter from Pravda, and I came to the conclusion that if the fish were not going to bite, we might as well have some vodka, only to warm up you understand. Vasily’s Father-In-Law Yuri had long since disappeared in the jungle like growth along the lakeshore, only his floats were visible dancing on the waves. Yuri, it seemed, was not interested in “warming up” he wanted fish!

While Vasily, and I were getting better acquainted with the vodka, we were joined by another fisherman, who was interested in how our luck had been. Vasily and our guest were busy speaking to each other in Russian, which gave me a chance to concentrate on my float in an attempt to will a fish on my hook. No good, the fish just would not be forced into any confrontation with me.

After a short while, Vasily informed me that our guest, Pavel was a retired Semi Colonel on the police force and had been told I had also been a cop. This was the beginning of an instant friendship and the swapping of “war stories” which surprisingly enough had many similarities. Just like fishing, law enforcement is the same the world over. The never-ending struggle to keep criminals off the streets, accompanied by overwhelming frustration with legal systems that let them back out. As a gesture of friendship he gave me the only fish he had caught, so I wouldn’t go back to America empty handed.

So continued the Russian tradition of drinking, eating and talking. I answered as many questions about life in America as were asked about the same in Russia. Our two peoples have so much in common it seems uncanny at times. Pavel’s friend Sergei, who I found out had fought in Afghanistan in the early eighties and whose son had just joined the Russian Army, soon joined us. What another coincidence, as I had been in the military at the same time and my son had just joined the U.S. Air Force. Sergei was afraid his son would be sent to Chechnya to fight the rebels and I worry that my son will end up in Iraq or Afghanistan doing what Sergei had done some twenty years ago.

“What do you think should be done with terrorists?” I was asked. The reply seemed obvious, “Kill them,” I said. The answer was met with approving nods and handshakes all around. Russians are as tired of the Chechen rebels as we Americans are of the idiots in the Mid East. We spoke of politics and how strange it seems that at the same time Russians are enjoying ever increasing freedoms, Americans are losing theirs just as rapidly. “What’s wrong with telling a woman she is pretty? Vasily asked. “In America you could be punished for that. Political correctness, it’s ridiculous.” I must say I wholeheartedly agree with him.

We talked about everything from investigating murders to the proper technique for baiting a hook. Fishing is fishing; life is life, it doesn’t matter where one is from we all have the same aspirations and want the same things. A good family, job, peace in our country and the time to enjoy each of them, that’s what the average Russian and American alike strive for.

I have noticed Russians are not concerned with trivial matters like second hand smoke, drinking beer in public, political correctness, or many of the other “crisis” we American’s have created for ourselves. Here it is “live and let live,” now there’s a novel idea if I ever heard one. What Russians are deeply concerned with is the future of their country and how it will affect their children. In Russia, there are far more pressing matters to deal with than whether or not someone drives an SUV.

I have been told many times during my stay here that Moscow is not Russia. The “real” Russia is filled with people who are open, friendly and generous to a fault right from the minute they meet you. Even though there is a definite language barrier, friendliness and the offering of what little they may have needs no interpreter to understand.

In Moscow the people have two definite personas – the public and the private. On the streets, Muscovites are very cold and are always rushing to be somewhere. They rarely smile, are always pushing and shoving and from an outsider’s point of view can be down right rude. In private however, they are warm, loving and have extremely close relationships with friends and family. This is the side of Russians I have come to envy.

By the end of the day it had turned cold and an alternating downpour of rain and sleet was falling. We decided the fish had won the day and after saying goodbye to Pavel and Sergei we headed back to see Vitaly, the Fishery Director. It seems that in exchange for the good fishing spot, a reduced fee and a promise of fish had we not caught any, Vitaly had been promised an interview by an American journalist (me). I had no idea this arrangement had been made, but decided to make the best of it. I asked Vitaly some questions about his fishing operation and received some very interesting answers about the commercial fishing business in Russia. I took a couple of photos and in exchange we were given a bag filled with fresh fish. Vitaly was quite nice and very dedicated to his work of 22 years as a fisheries biologist. He was a huge man who seemed better suited to the professional wrestling ring than one of maintaining a growing fish population.

In the end we headed home and were greeted by the adoring smile of Yuri’s wife Nataly. Of course no mention was made of how we got the fish, as far as she was concerned they were caught through our prowess as fishermen. In any event they still tasted great. As Pavel said, “The worst day of fishing is better than the best day at work.” Now that’s something that anyone who has ever picked up a rod and reel the world over can understand.

David Misselt PRAVDA.Ru Trainee University of Wisconsin – River Falls