What’s “maybe” in German?

I'm not even sure what you mean by "fishing."
I’m not even sure what you mean by “fishing.”

“Are there fish in there?”

-”No. No I think a fish would complicate the whole process. I’m practicing freestyle casting. To the untrained eye it might look like as though I’ve spent the last few hours tossing a lure at select spots in order to catch a fish. But those in the know will understand that it’s all about looking cool.”

“Oh. Alright.”

This is a back and forth I’ve never had but wanted. And now that I’ve moved from California to Germany and don’t speak German, it’s a back and forth I’m afraid I won’t have for some time; if not for the language barrier but, also, for the lack of sarcasm to be found here.

If you’ve been resigned to urban waters, as I have, you begin to take keener observation of your observers. And as one might suspect, your observers’ behavior changes with country.

I’ve not had a German ask me if “there were any fish in there?” because, I presume, I look German enough and Germans assume whatever a German is doing is being done with purpose. The reason a person fishes is to catch fish, ostensibly. Thus, where I’m fishing is likely possess fish to the best of anyone’s knowledge.

Yet, I suppose, the question shouldn’t be taken literally. Perhaps half literally, with implied clauses therein. “Are there any fish” is in actuality: “I’m surprised there are fish here. Have you caught any? If so, what species?” But rarely does one receive any of these questions in tandem– in America, that is.

I’ve gotten “what type of fish are there?” from an older German fellow, who after being told replied with a quick “danke” and was off. Other than pure curiosity I can’t imagine why he asked. It was surprising to not have my fishing halted by a myriad of uninteresting follow-up questions. And though these questions are asked with kinder intentions, I was happy to be left alone and return to fishing quickly.

The subtleties in behavior are relatively small but indicative of local mores.

The loquacious, American line of questioning…

“Are you sure you can fish here? ya’ know, sometimes I see people fishing here when I go jogging. But I never see…”

…is designed to be polite. After all, it’s polite to ask many more questions than necessary in order to show you’ve paid attention, even if neither of the participants in the conversation care about the answers.

This can be compared with the minimal, German line of questioning…

-“You are allowed to fish here?”
-“Ok. good”

…because it’s rude to waste people’s time with with questions whose answers are of no concern to the participants of the conversation.

And can be compared with the confusing Hungarian line of questioning (note: this happened in the countryside)…

(I’d begun casting into a midsize lake just outside of a barely extant town. A teenage boy of about 15 has shown up and is lackadaisically chewing on a stalk of wheat while watching me cast.) 

Me: “Am I allowed to fish here?”

-“No English.”

Me: “Ah, ok.”

(Without mention he retreats over the hill and shortly returns with five similar aged boys.)

-*in broken English* “Can you fish here?”
Me: “I don’t know”
*One of them leaves and returns with a few older gentleman

Me: “Hi. Can I fish here?”
-“No, this holds the towns drinking water.”
Me: “Oh, I’m sorry.”
-“I don’t care.” And the group saunters off along the road.

…because, well, I’m still not sure.

Sometimes if I squint, the straight-as-arrows German streams crowded by monstrous oaks resemble my home waters. If squinting harder, a rotauge (“redeye”) could pass for a strange green sunfish strain and a rapfen some kind of deformed striper. But squint as one might the resident population will  remind you where you’re fishing, either by accent, language, or quirky stereotyped behavior.


A successful return.

First stop along the spree
First stop along the spree

It wasn’t the Sierras; the waters couldn’t be waded into; and not a trout stirred below the waves.

After three weeks reacquainting myself with California’s streams, bass and bluegill, and warm wading- all foreign to Berlin- I found myself again watching numerous species of European fish sip from the topwater. And again I was uncertain as to my next move.

There are no mayflies, caddisflies, or stoneflies on a Berlin canal. It’s logical that there should be crayfish, though this has yet to be confirmed. What is certain is the presence of buzzers (chironomids, blood worms), mosquitoes , and, well, fish.

“Would this work?” I held up a small, sized 12 white baitfish imitation. “Sure, if you don’t mind catching a bunch of small fish, too” came D.’s reply. He’d spent as many years fishing Berlin waters as I had the Bay Area’s. I wasn’t going to be stiffed on my first session upon returning to Berlin and decided to glean knowledge however possible. Before tying on my fly D. caught a small perch. His quick success bolstered my meager confidence and in this moment I decided that not only would I not be deprived of a catch but that I should, also, filter out the feeder fish by tying on something larger. This fly was an orange and white clouser minnow, fastened to a size 8 Gamakatsu streamer hook.

Important Reminder: Clousers catch everything.
Important Reminder: Clousers catch everything.

Casting near a bundle of half sunken logs, the bite told me Perch but there stirred a small hope for “pike.” It was a perch. A beautiful perch.




More were caught. Then we moved. While searching for aaland (ide, orfe) and rapfen (asp) we spotted a small school of blei ( brasser, bream) resting near some anchored boats. A few ineffectual casts were made and I soon lost interest. Besides, I was told “they fight like a sack of potatoes.”

I had spotted these fish in one of my favorite Berlin streams. They perform interesting feeding habits, whereby an individual will swim to the bottom, engulf soil, return near the surface and spit out his mouthful. I had found that that placing a small red buzzer directly in front of the fish during his rise produces a bite. I’d yet to make this technique result in a fish, but bites were a first step.

Thus, I was committed to catch blei using the mentioned tactic; and I stayed true to my word, as none were caught  by my hand.
Another perch. Then a blaring whistle erupts and to my right I spot my friend’s, A., rod doubled over. In the span it takes me to cover the distance of one large ship the fish is netted and hauled to the pavement. My thoughts then proceeded in this order:

  • This will be fantastic content for the site
  • Why can’t A. keep ahold of the fish
  • That is a great deal of slime accumulating on those scales
  • Well, we’ve killed a blei

Blei,as it turns out, are uncommonly difficult to handle as they secrete an impressive amount of mucus and wait to be out of water before fighting. It’s as if they realize once hooked they’ll be pulled from the depths, therefore they resign all protestation and energy for their revenge that comes in the form of spreading as much of their foul smelling ooze over as much property of the angler as possible.

Still, I wanted my pictures. “Keep hold of him. Keep him still!”

Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t able to keep hold of the fish, resulting in a lack of quality pictures and surely head trauma to the fish.


After a few tense moments the fish came to, was released, and swam away, albeit in a sort of desultory, drunken fashion; I hope his new lazy-eye, speech impediment, or predilection for counting bubbles doesn’t disturb his buddies too much.

No, I wasn’t in the Sierras. The nearest trout water was tucked away an hour north, surely hidden. But Berlin holds its bevvy of interesting species and interesting experiences. In shortage of classic fishing waters Berlin lays before itself a vast catalogue waters waiting to be explored and tapped. I intend to continue to do just that.