The Lex Fishery on Fraueninsel island at Lake Chiemsee has been around since 1857. Tassilo and Florian Lex are the sixth generation to carry on their family’s fishing tradition. We accompanied the twins, their father and grandfather for a day – from catch to sale. Text: Ornella Rosaria Cosenza, Photos: Klaus Fengler
Lex Fishery at Lake Chiemsee
Ten times. That’s how often a fish passes through the hands of the fishermen at 'Chiemseefischerei Lex' before it is sold. Genuine handicraft. A professional passion. The Lex family fishery is a traditional and family-run business: the family has been managing Lake Chiemsee since 1857, processing and selling fish of the highest quality.
The grounds on the Fraueninsel island, where the family home stands, have been there for 400 years. And always inhabited by fishermen. Today, the twins Tassilo and Florian Lex, both in their early 30s, run the fishery together with their father, a business now in its sixth generation. “I consider it a privilege to be able to continue this tradition,” says Florian Lex.
„The Lake is our Office“
Fishing is a traditional profession where work begins in the early hours of the morning. Very early. It’s July, 4.30 a.m. Fraueninsel, north shore. All is at peace and fast asleep. Only the fishermen are starting their work. Tassilo Lex and his father cast off together to empty the fishing nets.
I wonder how many whitefish are going into the nets today? You never know for sure beforehand. Other fishing boats can be seen in the distance. “The lake is our office. And the nice thing is: every day here is different,” says Tassilo.
Father and son drive out onto the lake for about 30 minutes. A streak of orange light appears on the horizon. Thomas stops at a buoy, the first fishing net is attached to it. “There is a number on the canisters, and the other fishermen have to keep their distance. But, other than that, you can put your nets wherever you want,” Thomas explains.
Sustainable and Local Fisheries
Tassilo begins to pull the net out of the water. Little by little, the silvery shimmering Chiemsee whitefish come to light. He gently pulls them out of the nets. The fish are placed in a box where they are repeatedly covered with ice.
Only fish of a certain age and size go into the net. As a result, the fishery and its work remain sustainable. The decisive factor here is the mesh size. “It’s laid down quite precisely. And in such a way that smaller fish swim through and the fatter ones get stuck,” says Tassilo.
The mesh size of the net is about 37 millimetres. The younger the fish, the smaller its girth. “You don’t want to take out fish that are too young. They should have reproduced at least once or twice. If you were to pull out the young fish as well, the stock would eventually perish.”
„If you were to pull out the young fish as well, the stock would eventually perish.“
There are sixteen professional fishermen at Lake Chiemsee. They all have to abide by strict rules that they set themselves together within the framework of the Chiemsee fishermen’s cooperative – for sustainable fishing that benefits everyone, nature and fishermen alike.
The following applies to all fishermen: The closed seasons during which the fish spawn must be observed. For whitefish, this is the case from around October to January. No fish in winter? “We go out all year round, as the different fish species have different spawning times. You can always catch something,” says Thomas Lex. In winter, it is mainly zander that are fished, with nets that have larger meshes.
In addition to the natural reproduction cycle of fish, the fishermen themselves also add fish to the existing stock. To do this, the spawn is stripped and taken to a hatchery. “This way, no one can eat, cover or wash away the egg during the embryonic phase,” says Thomas Lex. Through this process, between 60 and 130 million whitefish are deployed per year.
Departed to Return
The morning light is coming through more intensely now, the mountains are turning pink and orange. “The Wilder Kaiser mountain is always lit first,” says Tassilo. He looks out over the lake. Then he starts to tell the story. Of his career, which is, on its own, a way back home.
Fishing has accompanied him for as long as he can remember, but before that, he had to get away from the Fraueninsel, from Lake Chiemsee, to realise from far away: something is missing. “I went to Munich and started studying electrical and civil engineering. But I realised that this is not what I want to do all my life.”
He drove home unhappy. His father suggested that he train to become a fish farmer. “Maybe you’ll enjoy it after all,” he is said to have said to Tassilo at the time. And his father was right. “When I was 25, I truly realised for the first time that it was cool to be in a family business, and so I did my apprenticeship and then my master’s degree.”
Tassilo and Florian are twins, but for Florian, it was clear from the start that he wanted to be a fish farmer. Straight after school, he completed his apprenticeship and went on to work in the family business. “It’s important to me because, otherwise, the craft would die out. The knowledge is thus being passed on. It would be a shame if all that were lost,” he says.
While his father and brother are just returning to shore, it is between 7 and 8 in the morning, with five boxes of whitefish; Florian is already smoking the fish from the previous day, which were salted overnight. They come out of the hot oven all golden-crispy.
Three Generations, One Passion
The fact that his grandchildren practise the craft with the same passion as he does makes the grandfather, Holmer Lex, happy: “My great-grandfather was the first Lex fisherman. And now, to see my grandchildren continuing to maintain the family business, that’s the ultimate pleasure” says the 93-year-old.
In Grandfather Lex’s time, some things were quite different. “In the past, you still had to row the fishing boat, there was no echo sounder. You had to remember the places on the lake,” says Tassilo.
And social media didn’t exist back then either. On Instagram, Tassilo and Florian regularly share impressions from their daily fishing life – impressive pictures. Young people, in particular, follow them on this platform, including potential customers. Today, the family also markets the fish online and supplies restaurants in the local area. Florian, in particular, is trying to find new marketing strategies. From catch to sale, however, everything is still done by themselves.
From Lake to Hand
On the grounds of the Lex family’s house, the processing of fish takes place in a smaller cottage. Gut, scale, fillet and smoke. Teamwork. Grandpa Lex is still itching to get involved, and so he lends a hand. This is how the four of them work away in white aprons: three generations, fish for fish, silver scales on their hands, plenty of expertise being passed on and, of course, the same passion for the fishing trade.
At noon, the fish is sold in the small shop. The fresh whitefish sandwiches are popular: a freshly smoked fillet of whitefish with creamed horseradish and pepper or the fillet of whitefish, pickled Matjes-style, with crème fraîche and onions. From the lake to your hand, so to speak. It doesn’t get fresher than this.
... from the Lex family
A classic that you can’t get enough of. The island is a place steeped in history, it has been inhabited for 3,500 years. One of the oldest buildings in Bavaria is right at home here: the Karolingische Torhalle (Carolingian Gate Hall) dates back to the 8th century
It is worth visiting the area around Lake Chiemsee. The Eggstätt-Hemhofer lake district northwest of Lake Chiemsee is quiet and idyllic. The best way to explore it is by bike.
Kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding on the lake are activities that Tassilo and Florian also enjoy when they have free time. Insider tip: detour to the small “Krautinsel” island.
For those who like it quiet, the Lex family recommends a tour of “Herreninsel”. You can take a complete walk around, and if you’re lucky, you might even see deer