For many us, fishing conjures up memories of a carefree childhood, perhaps a throwback to less complicated times or maybe a peaceful communion with nature. Moving to any new country and navigating the myriad of complex regulations is hard enough, but that goes double for a country like Switzerland. With some of the strictest animal rights laws in the world, Swiss fishermen and -women are held to a particularly high standard when it comes to fish handling, and expats who wish to fish are no exception. However, once you know what you can and cannot do, Switzerland offers some of the most memorable and scenic fishing experiences in the world, and, for many of us, not sharing those experiences with our children is unthinkable.
Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as walking down to the nearest body of water with a can of worms. Every canton has different regulations when it comes to fishing: some have a canton-wide license that allows you to fish a wide variety of public waters, and others are divided up into small, leased bodies of water, and if you want access to the better ones, you might need a good bit of detective work, a letter of introduction, and a year or two on waiting list before you get a chance to wet a line. In the end, it’s generally worth it, but when it comes to kids, instant gratification is key. Fortunately, there are places to take kids where they can have a reasonable chance at success in a beautiful and typically “Swiss“ environment. All of the following require permits that are for sale on location. Make sure you read the rules of each fishery, and when in doubt, ask! Most of the people working there speak English and are happy to help.
Here are a few Swiss lakes that are good for introducing kids to fishing:
Blausee, Bern: At this very beautiful and scenic hatchery pond, success is practically guaranteed, but you pay by the kilogram.
Wagitälersee, Glarus: This scenic alpine lake is a favorite destination for trout fisherman with conventional gear. Boat rental is available, and fishing from shore is also an option.
Lungernsee, Obwalden: This is an almost impossibly blue lake close to close to the border of Bern and Obwalden; I took my daughter here to catch her first trout. Boat rental is available, and shore fishing is also an option.
Melchsee-Frutt, Obwalden: Choose from three alpine lakes, the Melchsee, Tannensee and the fly-only Blauseeli. This area even offers ice fishing in the winter.
Seeblisee, Schwyz: I admit it – as a fly fisher, I’m biased. This lake is fly fishing only, and features beautiful alpine scenery in which the older kids can learn fly fishing with a good shot at success. Enjoy the ride up on the cable car and have some lunch at the top as well.
Sitysee, Schwyz: Another fly-only option, this place is good for introducing younger kids to fly fishing relatively close to Zürich. You’ll pass it on your way to the Seeblisee; it’s just a few minutes away.
This is just a tiny sample of the angling opportunities available for parents and kids in Switzerland. Some of the larger lakes, for example the Greifensee, Lake Zurich, and the Brienzersee, among many others, allow fishing for free from the shore with a single (barbless!) hook using a natural bait such as a grub or corn kernel. Some even allow use of an artificial fly, but chances of success are generally not nearly as good as any of the paid options listed above. There are also countless alpine lakes where plenty of small but eager and healthy fish are all but guaranteed, but they can take a good deal of effort to get to.
And as long as I’m on the subject of fly fishing, forgive me for taking the opportunity to promote the fly fishing school that we’re running in the beautiful Bernese town of Innertkirchen from August 19-21 of this year. There’s no better way to experience the beauty and serenity that Switzerland has to offer than long hikes with a fly rod on your back, and this introduction will give you everything you need to know to embark on the lifelong and impossible quest for fly fishing perfection.
Things to note:
For many types of fishing and licensing, Switzerland requires the completion of a proficiency course. (SaNa, short for Sachkundenachweis). For the time being, you’re allowed to purchase short-term licenses and fish many places without a SaNa, but that doesn’t excuse you from knowing the rules.
The most important are as follows:
Catch and release: Fishing solely with the intent to release caught fish is not allowed. You are, however, allowed to release non-targeted species, or fish that you feel provide an ecological benefit to the place in which you’re fishing. You must also, of course, release all undersized, out-of-season, and protected fish, and you’re responsible for knowing seasons, size limits, and the like. If you’re going to release a fish, keep it in the water and handle it as little as possible.
Killing a fish: If a fish is to be kept, it must be killed immediately. A blow to the head with a priest, or small fish bat, followed by severing the main artery below the gills satisfies the legal requirements.
Barbed hooks: Don’t use them! Both for your safety, and for that of the fish! (Use a good pair of pliers to mash down the barbs on barbed hooks)
Also, don’t use fish as live bait, and don’t keep fish alive in a bucket or net.
Regulations: Every canton has different regulations when it comes to size limits, seasons, etc. A list of links to the rules from each canton is available online at the “Petri Heil” website.
A handy PDF download in English for the basic rules and regulations is available at this government site.
Text and photos by Oliver Streuli