People and water

Between white and heaven fields
Who was never an angler on Danube will never know what is going on when thick fog suddenly lay down on the big river, when on the edge of frost rope as a sword cuts the palm of the hand, when for wrong catch even those who love you the most, are ready to leave you. Moreover, who was an angler on Danube would gladly leave for it all the kings horses and all the kings’ men. That world is so special, and it is there beside us, one that is loved instantly and remembered forever

By: Karlo Kubiček

Not from yesterday stories are told that Danube anglers differ from their collegues from Sava, Tisa, Morava... Those who claim that say that Danube people, not at first sight, but when you get to know them better, bigger rascals, charmers and that they are slicker than all the anglers from rivers with maiden names.
- It is normal. We don’t catch fish in suspicious woman character rivers, but we do it in a man river. In addition, it is well known how slick you must be to catch the one that is married or the one that has longer relationship. It is much harder than to sweet-talk best friend of your wife or girlfriend – that is how once Neša the ”Cleaver” used to explain difference between fishermen, born in New Belgrade pavilions and outcast among Zemun anglers.
He was so persuasive that even those who suspiciously turned their heads thought that in his story there is some truth.
Precisely those slickers this fall use their skills, but also good heartedness of the big river, to fill their fishing nets with breams, carps, barbells, gulls and sturgeons. Doing that they respect Danube enormously. For they know that those who are rugged and vain river can drag down in an instant in its bosoms or under lighters and barges, so plowing on white fields (”all the fields are green, and anglers are white”, says the song) could be changed for those from heaven.
- There is fish, but not by a long shot, as it was before –tells Zemun angler Preža, who again started fishing after few years pause.  –If it was not for the job of security guard in ”Radecki” society, and the small amount of money I receive, and if my son did not grow up to be a man, I would not be able to feed my family. I have invested more than four thousand euros in boat, used engine, nets and other angler gear, license…It has to paid back! Moreover, fishing is like lottery, sometimes bingo, sometimes just a wager, sometimes not even that.
As if he is alluding, Preža says that for the money invested he could by nice house with the yard in Surduk, to plant onions and tomatoes and to spend autumn and cold winter days under the roof against kitchen stove. That is all in vain, Danube attracts him.
This season he haven’t had any capital catches, but there were gulls that weighted few kilograms. A few carps also jumped in the net, but white fish was most common.


While he tlaks, in his voice like there is a sorrow for there were gulls of forty or a carp of thirty kilograms, as his trophy catches were. Never the less, he and all the other anglers know that capital fish is there to worm up angler vanity, to spread stories... It is more importaint that net is not often ”ranc” (empty). However, there are also things that Danube carries. It happens that ”catch” could be table, chair with or without legs, old coat or ragged pants…Anglers from Zemun still talk about the look on the face of one fisherman who was dragging the net, seeing first the head with long blond hair, shoulder without an arm…His heart almost failed! Nevertheless, later it proved a mannequin from department store that someone, for God knows what reason, threw it away in Danube.
Anglers say that there it is not more pleasant for those who experience fog on Danube and while they desperately try to get to the shore, hear noises from ship engine or a sound of siren. Those who experienced that, specially that other sound, say that blood in their vains turned cold.
- Ship captains say that on the radar they see boat as big floating log. That is why they don’t react in most of the cases. Fortunately there also try to avoid sailing during fog, so when it appear, they drop the anchor. However, there are those who sail when the fog is thick…
Those are stories from angler society ”Radecki” in Zemun. They agree that fog is worse than any kind of wind, ”gornjak” and ”salauk”, together. You don’t know when it is going to fell down and it can be so thick that you don’t see you nose. Only compass can help. However, often it is not much of a help, because there is no stable place on the boat where it could be placed. Because of that, unwritten rule is that angler, as soon he steps from the fog on a solid ground, go to the nearest pub for a drink and than straight to the church, to light a candle for saints protectors of his trade, Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.
In their honor, from the old times, Zemun fishermen celebrate Saint Peter’s Day. To tell the truth, today they do it more humbly. On 12 July, this year, after cutting the secret bread, as it should be, anglers on ”Radecki” cooked fish soup for the club members, although incidental visitors, were not left to starve. While soup was boiling, one could hear that only seven of them still work, but not long ago there were more than thirty fisherman boats.    


- It was like on a taxi station. We were waiting on line to drop the net! At dawn, we all gathered on the shore, where citizens of Zemun waited, with baskets. Most often, we would sell everything over the quotas we were obliged to bring to large-scale buyer. When catch was good, money was in abundance. Then, straight to the pub. We went to Zemun, to ”Brione” for chitterlings, for a drink to ”White Lamb” on the market, in nearby ”Three Boatmen” – remember anglers and say that in old ”Carp” had a table reserved for them. With freshly fried fish that was watered with plenty of wine, they used to tell stories and made jokes. Even songs were not forgotten.
Anglers say that if they decide to move out of the city for couple of days, the biggest problem is how to prevent fish from decaying. That is why they sold their catch the same day to the restaurant owners, but also they often traded the catch with peasants from nearby villages.  
- From those trips, I came back as I was at the market. With potatoes, paprika, fruit…It is true that it was not real money, but groceries are also needed back home. During one of those fishing sessions, I even had a feather catch! I had sold almost all of my catch, when peasant came saying he had no money but only a rooster. I say to him, I don’t need it, explaining that I resent killing it. He was persistent, than I was, at the end I agree. I remember that colleagues were making jokes at my expense because of rooster, and how it all ended, I don’t remember – said Preža.
From this one, but also from other angler stories, always on the edge of dream and reality, mildly seasoned with imagination, one could get the impression that angler life is all peaches and cream and that everything is like a joke. Wrong! It is a hard job. During the summer, they say, it is easier. It is true that sky is burning and that mouth is dry and face is wet from sweat that byte eyes, but cool nights came as salvation. That is the reason why they go fishing at dusk, they sail couple of kilometers upstream, place nets or drag them. They return at dawn and when on the surface of mighty river one can fell morning breeze.
In the meantime, anglers say, boredom is killing! Time slowly pass night while they wait for the fish to entangle into the net. Hours of waiting sometimes pass faster with a sip of brandy. It helps also to get sleepy more easily in the boat or in the sleeping bag, on the coast. Maybe for that reason or any other you might think of, fishermen stories about enormous gulls that drag boats into Danube deep waters or about strange creatures that scare fish out of the net, always have night scenery.
To cut the night short, some anglers take dogs fishing. Among them is Joca, they call the Ghost.
- It is more interesting with him, he runs, jumps in the boat or ashore…Never the less, if I decide to lie down, he feels that and fells asleep before me. Than, his snoring prevents me from falling asleep – he wonders. 


It is worse, anglers agree, during fall and winter. That is the time when winds blow frequently, from the north or from the east, winds that take humidity into the bones. To the very core. Only anglers know how it is when wet fingers get stiff in the wind, so every move is painful. Short salvation is to warm hands under the engine, but that is not really helping. They also know how is it to drag the net from the water that’s close to be frozen, so it can cut hands as razor. It is more bearable when you are young, they say, but when birth certificate starts to get grey, first your wrists suffer, than kidneys…
- I am lucky I don’t have dandruff – once joked on his own account, God rest his soul, fisherman Josif, one of the rare that got his retirement from fishing. When they asked why, he replied that there is no way he could scratch, because his shoulders were so stiff that he cannot raise his arms above his head.
That is the reason why there is less people deciding to became anglers, but also...
- Fish burgers and frozen filets are fashionable, you just throw them on cooking oil, and there goes lunch. Rare are those who know how to do it and who want to go out of their way to clean the fish and to prepare it. They say that fish stink the house. Listen to them, fish is stinking? You don’t say! – angrily commented fisherman from Veal ship  finding only couple of customers for his breams and pikes that he brought to Zemun market. After persistently hanging out for a few hours he hardly managed to sell half of his catch, so he leaved to his colleague what was left and obviously upset went to drink a beer in near ”Three Boatmen”.
Even that Zemun inn, previously place where anglers met, is no loner the same. As, for that matter, renewed ”Carp” is not the same… One of last oasis where anglers occasionally meet is inn ”Radecki”. When they do meet, at tables stories start about merry times. Maybe because old anglers photographs are watching from walls, and special place is reserved for, unfortunately late Pera, called Šuma. Someone preserved the moment with his camera, holding huge sturgeon in his hands, and there is the poem dedicated to him.
Pera Šuma Knežević rose up early
Fisherman from Zemun to Danube to water
To separate Danube with his net
Not to let his fish cross to Sava.
To some extent, those clumsy verses probably will not get to some poetry anthology, but who cares. It is more important that those verses cherish the memory and provoke stories and memories. As long as there are those who can tell and remember. And after that…


As much as Danube angler nicknames at first sound unusual, almost everyone is a separate story. Already mentioned Pera Šuma (Forest) got his nickname because he was extremely hairy on his chest and shoulders. Because he never buttoned his shirt, they teased him that his forest is sticking out. Another angler was nicknamed Firanga (drapes) because he was not keen on patching his nets, so they, full of holes, looked like drapes (firange). When robust angler, who did not change his seat in the boat for many years, fell down on its bottom (because rotten plank could not hold him anymore), became Sedalica (sitting place). Angler Nenad Jovanović got his alias Satara (cleaver) because after he finished cooking course used cleaver as he would use pen…


The most beautiful song
Once aquisited nickname among Danube anglers reached their sons, weather the became anglers or not. That is how his son Jovan, who never became one, inherited nickname Puba from father who was angler.  Reason – as a kid he dropped into Danube huge gull and his father forbidden him to go fishing. Instead, becoming angler, Jovan Ljubinković Puba became a poet and bohemian and completely his life he wrote nostalgic poems about Danube, among them is that one:
”Danube, Danube, softly rills, she’s never comming back, there is only a solely wish left, honey lips. Never, never again I could forget those eyes, easy steps as from a doe, black hair.”
On music line by Mirko Šouc, those verses were recorded by Žarko Dančuo and the song is among most beautiful songs ever about Zemun!


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