TALLINN - The fairy tale about the poor old fisherman who once caught a golden fish is something that keeps fishing addicts hooked in Estonia. However, the myth created by Alexander Pushkin almost 200 years ago in "The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish" is not only attractive to the Russian national identity, which likes to get everything in no time for zero effort. Like the old fisherman who got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of having three wishes realized, hundreds of Estonian fishermen try out their luck in the annual Kuldkala (Gold Fish) contest.
The modern equivalent of Pushkin's gold fish is Perca fluviatilis, or the common European perch. For the Kuldkala 2004 contest, which will be held on Lake Puhajarv in southern Estonia, 100 of them will be specially marked, although of these only two will be truly golden. Should one of the two "golden fish" get caught, the lucky hooker will win the keys for a brand new SUV or family van.
The seventh Kuldkala contest will take place on the romantic date of Feb. 14. The event's organizers plan to catch the fish a whole week before the contest, mark them carefully and release them back into the lake right after in order to minimize the shock.
Although the probability of anyone catching some of the marked fish before the contest is ultra low, the organizers nevertheless say they will "keep an eye on the lake."
Last year the contest attracted an impressive 2,200 fishermen and some 6,000 spectators. However, only two out of 100 marked fish were caught. And in 2002 not a single one of the 60 marked fish was caught.
Taking into account the lottery-style odds, the organizers will hold a draw among all the participants in the likely event that nobody manages to catch the main prize.
The tradition of fishing contests started gaining popularity in Estonia in 2001 when the so-called Million Salmon Contest was held. The rules were basically the same - for a symbolic participation fee, fishermen were given the chance to catch a marked salmon that was worth 1 million Estonian kroons (63,000 euros). Predictably, nobody struck gold.
While the Million Salmon Contest idea died right after the first contest, the Gold Fish contest became steadily more popular for the simple reason that the participants at least had a faintly feasible chance of actually winning something. Both individual and team fishermen are allowed to participate.
"We went as a team, three guys and one girl, and I was the only one who had winter fishing experience. We had a lot of fun, and the only team member who had actually caught anything was the girl. Anyway, it was a meganice event," said Tiit, one of the Kuldkala 2003 participants.
Fishing as a sport in Estonia is getting more and more popular, and last year at least a dozen contests of various sizes were held. Getting a general fishing permit in Estonia also became easier as of last week, which should only help to further popularize the sport. From now on there is no need to go to a fishing supervisory authority office.
To get a basic fishing permit, which is valid everywhere except at the so-called salmon rivers, you just have to transfer the six-month permit fee of 7 euros to a special bank account and keep a copy of the receipt.
A one-year pass costs 11 euros. Bank account info is available at www.envir.ee. People under 16, pensioners and disabled people do not need require anything except their ID to go fishing.