Katharina Mayer takes up a 300-year-old family tradition: as a fisherwoman on the Danube, she catches pike, catfish and pikeperch
Fisherwoman Kathi Mayer
A new day dawns, and the Danube continues its languid flow past Straubing. Along a tributary, where a church spire can be seen beyond the high reeds, birds are on the lookout for their prey. An aluminium boat chugs past dead branches: Danube fisherwoman Katharina Mayer and her brother Michael are off to bring in last night’s catch.
“We always throw the nets out in the late afternoon and haul them back in the next morning so that the fish spend as little time as possible in them,” says Katharina. A blonde woman in her mid-thirties who was born and bred in Straubing, she is rapturous about the atmosphere on the river: “When the mist still hangs over the water, the silence, the animals that you see in the mornings - it really is quite special.”
Angling for a fine catch
Little by little, the brother and sister team pull the long net on board the boat. “You never know what you’re going to catch,” says Katharina, deftly freeing a flapping fish from the net. Quite often the net contains white fish such as bream or barbels, which are made into fish cakes because they are so bony.
"You never know what you’re going to catch"
However, they also catch pike, catfish and pikeperch - all varieties that are highly sought-after. Kathi drops fish after fish in a large tank of water on board. Some of them may even be fish that she released herself in previous years: “We regularly release young fish into the Danube or into private ponds in order to maintain fish stocks,” she says.
An instant success
If anyone had told Kathi a few years ago that she would soon be pursuing a career as a fisherwoman on the Danube, she would probably just have laughed. Until 2017 she was working as a dental assistant, responsible for administration and invoicing. “It was always assumed that my brother would train as a fisherman and take over the business one day,” she says.
But then their father suddenly fell ill. “I gathered up all my courage, went out with one of the workers and said to myself: Right, just give it a go.” She returned with a rich catch, including a pikeperch, her father’s favourite fish - and was able to tell him all about it shortly before his death.
300 years of fishing on the Danube
Kathi and Michael have been running the business together ever since. They are the 14th generation of the family to do so, in a tradition dating back to the early 18th century. “For me it’s incredibly important, what my grandparents and especially my parents have built up here,” says Kathi.
At the outset, many people did not believe she was capable of doing the job: “I came up against a lot of prejudice.” Operating a boat, pulling in the heavy net, picking fish out of the net in any weather - this work has always been seen as a man’s job. “Of course it’s physically demanding. You can’t be squeamish. I’m not cut any slack for being a woman. And that’s just how it should be! Everyone has been astonished to realise that a woman can do this kind of heavy work if she wants to.”
Landing nets for the children
When Kathi isn’t out on the water, you are sure to find her at her property in Lerchenhaid, in her small farm shop or dipping a landing net into one of the 13 ponds and pools that are full of tench, carp, char, trout, pike and roach, depending on the season.
“The children are really excited when we catch a fish,” says Kathi. “They watch us killing the fish, which is all part of it. And that’s how they learn to appreciate the quality of their food.” For this entrepreneur, killing fish is just part of everyday life: “When you kill fish as a child, it just feels normal. The important thing is that while the fish are living in our care, they are well looked after.”
Spit-roasted fish to go
At least once a week, the Mayers marinade their fish ready for sale, including to private customers for grilling. Not just for the traditional Gäubodenfest in Straubing, where they always have their own stand. For this, they marinade their fish in brine with onions and spices - according to a secret family recipe.
Because the festival had to be cancelled in the summer of 2020, the fishing family came up with a bright idea: “Spit-roasted fish for specific dates,” for people to grill in their gardens so that they could create their own festival atmosphere at home. There’s no doubt that Kathi also eats a lot of fish herself, including Peruvian-style ceviche: “I don’t eat as much as my father - he liked to have it three times a day. But we’re not tired of eating it yet.”
More about Kathi and her work at fisch-mayer.de (only in German)
... from Kathi
Gäuboden Museum Straubing
This exhibition tells the history of the region and the Gäuboden festival.
gaeubodenmuseum.de (only in German)
Wirtshaus “Zum Geiss”
Among our various inns and Biergartens, the “Zum Geiss” stands out as the oldest inn in Straubing. Very traditional, with a totally unique landlady.
zumgeiss-straubing.de (only in German)
The Bavarian Forest, known locally as the “Woid”, is not far from Straubing. It boasts some truly idyllic locations. In the winter you can ski there, and in the summer you can go walking or biking. The summer toboggan run in Sankt Englmar is also great fun. On the Bogenberg there is a rustic Biergarten which gives you a fantastic view of the Danube.
sommerrodeln.de (only in German)