VRKOC POND, Czech Republic (AP) — It was a foggy weekend morning when fishermen in dark green waterproof gear lined the banks of this pond in the Czech Republic for a century-old tradition: catching carp for the Christmas markets.
Braving the morning chill, they waded into the muddy dark water at Vrkoc pond in southern Moravia, wielding nets to scoop up the carp. The brown, green or golden carp writhed furiously as they were snared and brought to land while thousands of spectators watched from the banks.
It's a scene played out across Czech Republic these days — the surest sign for all here that the countdown to Christmas has begun.
The lowly carp may be derided in some parts of the world but no one in this nation of 10 million can imagine Christmas without it. Live carp are sold in street markets just before the holiday and turned into fish soup or fried in bread crumbs to serve on Christmas Eve.
The fishermen, however, have competition from a growing cormorant population that is also fond of carp. During the migration season in November, 100,000 pairs of cormorants winter in the Czech Republic, up from just 300 pairs the rest of the year. At this time, cormorants have been known to descend on a pond or lake and pick it clean of all its young fish in just a few days.
"Cormorants are, of course, a big problem for a fresh water fishery, particularly the North European migrating type that comes to our area during the fall and stays until May," said Roman Osicka, who organized the run that netted several tons of carp in just one day from this pond.
And as everyone here knows, carp are not just for eating. They are also said to bring good fortune — but only if you keep some of their scales in your wallet.