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On life choices, fishing and love for children

Fast Confession - Jakub Vágner: I’ll either die or survive

Karolína Lišková
15.May 2019
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8 minutes

There is no need to introduce Jakub Vágner in the fishing world. The son of the famous musician Karel Vágner didn't follow in his father’s footsteps like the majority of his siblings and chose his own path. He didn’t have to wait long for his persistence and passion for fishing to be fruitful. He holds several world records in freshwater fishing, filmed the multi part documentary Fish Warrrior for National Geographic Channel and has been creating TV shows for the Czech Television for a long time. On his expeditions around the world, he has experienced many adventures and faced various dangerous situations. Although, according to his own words, he could live anywhere in the world, he’s always glad to return home. Nowadays, his home is Lake Katlov, where he has been building his fishing background for several years and where he also organizes various events for children and youth every year. In the interview he talked not only about his travels and fishing, but also about his personal life, in which he is still looking for his very own goldfish…

Where have you just returned from?

I can't really talk about my last journey, because it's my secret so far. As they say, it's under the cover. My previous expedition was in the Amazon, where I was shooting for a project that I had been preparing for the past ten years. A project that doesn’t concern fish, but one of the most important Amazonian tribes with which I have spent much of my life. I made an hour-long documentary for Czech Television there. I think it will be a total hit, something that hasn't been filmed yet.

Can you be a little more specific? For example, what kind of people are these?

You will see a culture that most people consider extinct.

You go to the Amazon very often, don't you?

You could say I’ve already spent a couple of years of my life there.

Prodej funkcionalistické vily Praha - 360m
Prodej funkcionalistické vily Praha - 360m, Praha 8

We all have a place we like to return to. Why Amazon? After all, it is dangerous, you need vaccinations and it’s way beyond the limits of our comfort…

The reasons you’ve just named might be exactly why I keep going there. Going to the Canary Islands or to the Maldives doesn’t satisfy me, when I know that about a billion people have been there before me. In my eyes, the nature in such places is already destroyed and modified by people for their comfort. I don't need any comfort, I need authenticity and purity, and I can find that in the Amazon. I don’t mind leaving my comfort zone. It’s not that I don't care that it's dangerous, but that's why other people avoid going there. Such places are always dangerous in one way or another and you have to pay for visiting them by accepting the risk. These places are beautiful for me because they are pure. Real nature without the intervention of human civilization.

How many days a year are you out of the country?

It depends. There were years when I was away for ten months. But now I have Katlov and other related things to take care of. So I'm out of the country for about five months a year, mostly because of shooting.

You’ve basically dedicated your entire life to fishing. Do you think it won’t change in the future? This passion of yours has already cost you several relationships.

In any relationship I have ever had, the other person, whether they were my friend, girlfriend or family member, has always found out sooner or later, that nature and fish have been, are and always will be on the first place for me, and no one can ever change that, because it is my life. You can ask any of the people around me and they’ll confirm it. It's not possible to change my nature.

It's not a matter of changing someone’s nature, that’s not possible. It’s about making compromises. But how can you make them when you're away for so long?

That’s the reason why I historically didn’t want to make a compromise, so as not to make anyone unhappy. Because in my case, making a compromise means that the person at my side won’t be completely happy. You can’t be selfish, you’ve got to let person go, so that they could find somebody they’ll be happy with.

Aren't you afraid you'll regret this decision one day? That you have dedicated your life to fish and nature?

I know if I stopped doing this job - and it's not a job for me, it's my mission - I would disappoint a lot of people. So I will certainly never regret it.

Both fishing and your traveling must be costly. You have sponsors, but it must have been Hell first, if you were financing it all on your own.

Hell... You know, I know what it's like to live without money, to be at the bottom, what it looks like when a person is almost broken. I've experienced it all. Money is important, but it's certainly not everything. I know a lot of rich people, who are in fact totally poor. And I also have people around me who have little to no money, but they are very rich. I think the world and the values are shifting in the wrong direction.

It’s interesting and perhaps a bit ironical that your brother Charles married such an icon of luxury and beauty, it doesn’t fit into your concept at all.

People really like to put everything into boxes. An animal behaves in this way, it does this and that, reaches such and such length and weight. But it doesn’t work for any animal species, especially not for humans. Every person is unique, one weighs 50 kilos and another 150, one wouldn't hurt a fly, while another is a mass murderer. One puts money on the first place, for another it’s not essential at all. I have a great relationship with my brother Kája, we are completely different, but in many ways we are exactly the same.

You said you had a list of all possible exotic diseases. How is it possible when you inoculate? Which one was the worst? And how do you deal with it in a place where there is no hospital nearby?

Let’s take malaria, which is the cause of death of over three million people annually, as an example. I’ve had it seven times already.

What do you do then, being in a foreign country?

Nothing. You either die, or survive.

So you just suffer through it?

There is no vaccination for malaria. All you can do is take anti-malaric drugs. But I had a lot of other tropical inconveniences. The worst I’ve ever felt was probably when I had malaria and typhoid fever at the same time, that was really on the edge... But it belongs to visiting these places. Severe and dangerous diseases - that’s one of the things I’ve mentioned, the price you have to pay for moving about in an uncivilized world. If you go there often, it is likely that you will catch something.

Your name is well known among fishermen, both in our republic and world wide - you are a fishing celebrity. Is there anyone who's stepping on your heels? Whether from the Czech Republic or another country?

I don't look at it this way, never have. I didn't start fishing so I could become famous or earn money. I started fishing in order to be happy. I left the third year of the Prague State Conservatory for fish.

Grandpa used to say, "Do one thing, do it fully and do it properly." The “fame” or the money, that’s all a byproduct of what I've loved since childhood. I’m glad it came, it's great, but I never longed for it. The fact that people started to recognize me, visit my lectures, ask for autographs and interviews like this, came somehow without me trying. Of course, it is a good feeling that I’m able to make a living out of something I enjoy.

But being concerned about someone possibly stepping on my heels? That’s never been my thing. They’re all my friends, I don’t see it that way. Among the "fishing elite" of the world, we highly respect each other, we advise and help each other when needed. Once you’ve achieved something and moved past the moment that people often have when they’re young - I had it too, "I am the smartest one, I know everything and the others are stupid" - in my field that means once you’ve been fishing so long that you no longer care whether your biggest fish is three meters and seven, or ten centimeters longer, you calm down, cause you don’t need to prove anything to yourself, and your values change completely.

Nowadays, traveling and learning about new cultures are just as important for me. If I catch a huge fish, it's a great bonus, if not, maybe next time.

Luxusní byt na prodej s terasou a výhledem
Luxusní byt na prodej s terasou a výhledem, Praha 1

Do you eat fish? Aren't you a vegetarian?

I'm not, I can't be vegetarian on those expeditions, so I eat everything that casts a shadow. I do eat fish, but not very often. I've always been saying the best chicken is pork and the finest fish is bovine.

And if I asked you what’s the best fish recipe by Jakub Vágner?

I'm a horrible chef, I think I can burn even water.

What do you think about all the animal protection and environmental organizations? Those that fish plastics out of the oceans, for example in Malaysia, it’s still a huge problem…

What I think about them... You don't use plastic stuff?

Once in a while, yes.

See? So why are you asking me about it? I use it too, all the people in the world do. To blame someone, saying it is his fault, that’s like me saying that oil companies caused the destruction of the Amazon. You drive a car, I drive a car. We’d have to go back to the caves. I won’t be the one to speak like this and judge others - to have the right, I would have to live differently, too, to have a clear conscience knowing I’m not participate in it.

But you live that way sometimes, like in the Amazon.

I do, but not 100 %. If I wanted to judge someone and speak against someone, I’d need to have a clear conscience. When you live in Europe of the 21st century, it’s simply not possible.

You are shooting all the time, there are a lot of shows featuring you. How do you see the future development of fishing?

It’s an endless development, the nature keeps changing. Evolution continues, in all aspects. We can still move forward, even in terms of humanity. Personally I am saddened by the fact that some of the things I managed to film in the past can’t be filmed anymore today. And it's been some measly 20 years.

I know that if I had children, they would never be able to see the unique things I’m shooting today, only in my documents. This is how I perceive my work - that I wish to capture those cultures, not just fishing, but also the places, nature, animals. I know the moment will come, even in my life, when it will no longer be possible to capture them, because they’ll be gone.

You said “if I had children”. Do you want to have children one day?

I certainly want to have children, but that time has not come yet.

You devote a lot of your time to children, educating them, organizing various events for them…

Yes, for example, 16 teams from all over Europe will come to Katlov at the end of May. A junior championship in carp fishing takes place there. Children from ten to eighteen will be present. And on the first of June, the Children's Day of the Fishing Festival takes place and the winners of the championship will be announced then. There will be a huge accompanying program. All attractions will be free for children and parents. It's a wonderful event, we're doing it for the fifth time.

When we organized the event for the first time, over two thousand people arrived without any advertising or marketing. Last year it was six times as much, it makes us happy. We are planning it all year long, my sister Terezka is in charge, she’s doing a great job.

For the past ten years, I've been trying to spend as much time with children as possible, because I think that's the most important thing we can do. It's nice to see how happy little boys and girls are outside, in nature and around water.

That surprises me, today's kids prefer to sit at the computer and parents have a problem getting them out.

It's not that children are not interested in nature, there are just very few people who are able to show it to them in an entertaining way.

Fast confession:

What fishing means to you in one sentence.

Lifelong passion.

You are a pro at catching fish, how about girls?

Probably not.

Except fishing, what are you good at?


How do you like to spend your time when you're not around water?

I'm always around water.

Where would you like to invite the public in the nearby future?

To the Children's Day of the Fishing Festival at Katlov on June 1st.

The worst nightmare of every fisherman?

That he won't catch anything.

The most dangerous fishing in your life?


Where in the world do you think the most beautiful sunsets can be found?

At home in the Czech Republic at Katlov.

Where can I catch a fish without microplasts in its body?

Almost nowhere.

The worst injury that happened to you at work?

A long list of exotic diseases.

How do you want the public to see Katlov?

As a place where the whole family can relax.

Where would you invite a girl for your first date?

I’d take her fishing, of course.

The sexiest woman in the world?

My mum.

What do you think of commercial whale and dolphin hunting in one sentence?

It’s the twenty-first century, so not anymore.
Question from the interviewee for the editor:

How are you?

Great, but I won’t go fishing with you.
Don't say that, it can change!
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