Fishing the Lake

Italy | Lombardia | Monte isola, Lago di Iseo, Brescia

Ferdinando has been fishing on Lake Iseo for 27 years, having learned the craft from his grandfather and great-grandfather.

“I love fishing, I have fun! I like the surprise of never knowing exactly what you’ll find in the net, maybe you’ll find something different you’ve never seen before.”

Ferdinando Soardi started fishing with his grandfather and great-grandfather at the age of 5 or 6, and until he turned 18 he helped them every summer. Though he started studying accountancy, he soon decided that fishing was the path for him and in 1984 he moved back to Lake Iseo.

His favorite way of fishing is to set out the nets in the middle of the lake, marked by two buoys, and let them move with the current, catching trout and sardines. “For perch and tench, the nets have to be taken down to depths of 30 to 40 meters,” says Ferdinando.

“The regional authorities are trying to regulate lake fishing,” he continues. “For example one day a week we have a ban on fishing. This is to prevent fishing becoming too invasive and to leave time for the environment to recover.” The region also helps protect species that are struggling to reproduce naturally, like pike and whitefish. These species can no longer find the right environmental conditions for laying their eggs and for the juveniles to grow to maturity. For example, whitefish lay their eggs in shallow water near the shore, but it is becoming increasingly hard for the fish to find the right conditions where their eggs will hatch. Provincial incubators are used to hatch these species, which are then returned to the water once born.
“A fisherman will try to respect the sea because he knows that fish is what feeds him. The ones who do the most damage to the lake are amateurs and non-professionals who fish in ways they shouldn’t. They use drop nets, they fish at night…”

Ferdinando sells his catch to restaurants, “who always have specific requests,” he says. “It takes me three or four hours to catch the fish and then five or six to clean it and prepare it the way each restaurant wants.” He himself has his own fish restaurant called La Locanda del Lago, run by his daughter and wife.

He usually goes out alone to fish. In the past fishermen had to work in pairs, but with new equipment that can be operated by one person, that’s no longer necessary. “I remember in my grandfather’s time they used to use a very heavy ring net, so you needed two people. That kind of net was banned in 1956 because it’s not selective and catches everything. It’s too invasive. There used to be many cooperatives working on the lake, but now there’s only one left.”

Ferdinando doesn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps. “It’s a hard job,” he says. After finishing his studies, his son took a different route, choosing to sell fish instead of becoming a fisherman like his father. But Ferdinando has faith that the craft of fishing won’t disappear. “There are four young people on the island who have starting working as fishermen, a good start. Fifty years ago there were 200 fishermen on these waters, and now there are 30 left. When we can no longer meet demand, they’ll starting coming back to the water.”

He concludes: “I remember something my grandfather used to say to me when I went fishing with him when I was a child. ‘You see that big factory over there? That’s giving work to maybe 2,000 families. The lake gives food to everyone who lives around here.’ ”

Slow Food Bassa Bresciana Convivia

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