It’s beautiful summer weather; with the distinctive white cloud skies. From the village of Wartena we sail to our place of stay in the heart of the water-rich Aide Feanen — a boat trip is the only way to get there. We’re going to lay at a jetty. ‘Ah, you will already have our accommodation there,’ says photographer Hillebrand, pointing to the ship’s cottage that arrives with a flying Frisian flag. A so-called ‘boathouse’, which can dock anywhere. How cool is it to enjoy only the sound of whistling birds and rustling reeds for two days in this floating shell, far away from the inhabited world, for two days with the low bog.

friesland shipping house

With the goat in the attic
Curious ducks come to take pole height — people are not used to them in this place — but they flee when Jacob Nauta arrives with his electric praam, a flat peat ship. Jacob provides sailing sons in the area by evening light. He was born and raised here and knows the area like no other; an ideal guide. Once we are on the road it quickly becomes clear to us that the Alde Feanen is an eldorado for plants and (predatory) birds. Roe deer and otters also feel at home there. This area used to be inhabited by hunters and fishermen, who led a meager existence there,’ says Jacob. ‘People put peat on it themselves to stoke their stoves.’ Jacob adds: ‘The area used to border the Middelsee, an arm, and was regularly submerged because of the excavations because there was no grinding yet. The people then moved to the attic with the goat. This is how the caps (excavated water puddles) and strips (drop-off bags) were created that you see around you.’ That the area besides flora and fauna also overflows with the stories, it turns out as we sail through the Langesleat, the long ditch between the villages of Wartena and Eernewoude. Jacob: ‘The Langsleatttenman is haunted here which is the spirit of Wibe, far descendant of King Redbad, who mistakenly beat his own brother Bouwe to death with his blacksmith’ hammer. He hasn’t been resting since then. Sometimes he would help people who sailed here by moving their ship forward. But when they docked in the evening, their ship turned out to be on the other side of the ship the next day. Or the walkway was gone. Very occasionally the mind sails along a bit on the helmet wood or on the boom.’ Jacob will drop us off at our boathouse after the beautiful evening cruise. It’s getting really dark now. We enjoy on our back deck with a glass of wine from the last light and its magical appearance on the water. What a freedom!

Far from being fished out
At 5:00, the alarm goes off. Today there is a very special activity planned: we are going to see up close how eel fishermen empty their traps here. You don’t normally experience something like that?!

With Jacob again as skipper we sail through the low bog for a while until we see a small boat in the far of a road with two men in yellow trousers. it turns out to be professional aling fisherman Ale de Jager and his predecessor Johannes Postmus. “What do you think?” responds John when I ask him carefully about his age. Even before I can make a throw, he proudly replies: ‘Eighty!’ And then, “I’m still busy with it; I still go fishing regularly and repair the nets at home.’

Ale, meanwhile, pulls a long shot out of the water. In the middle of the net, the catch squirms: a pair of wrist-thick alen and bycatch. Johannes immediately throws the small fish overboard, after which flying terns immediately dive off. The eels are ververbed in a barrel. Ale sprays the net with a kind of fire hose and attaches the net back to one of the many bollards that are set up in the water. “How do you know how to fix the pole?” I ask as a layman. Jacob explains and points out, “Do you see those poles over there in a line? An ”keernet’ is bound to it. The eel swims around that net and then so in the trap.’ He points again, but now in a different direction. ‘Those few poles that aren’t in line, there’s the fuiknets on them.’ Yes, now that I look at it closely, I do recognize a system in the setup. Ale explains that he used to be a carpenter, but as a child he loved fishing. Soon the idea arose to become a professional eel fisherman. But yes, how do you get in between, he thought. There are only ten eel fishermen in Friesland, who have divided the entire fishing area among themselves. And the profession is passed from father to son. Exceptionally, Ale was able to take over the baton from the aforementioned John. Ale now fishes sustainably in a thousand hectares of fishing area in the heart of Friesland, including the Alde Feanen. Eel that is substandard goes back into the water. Ale: ‘I’m looking to the future. Even then, there must still be eels to fish for.’ Besides fishing for eels, he is also involved in smoking it. He sells the eel to restaurants in his fishing area. “You can’t get it fresher.”

We have been deeply impressed by the beautiful but heavy work of the Frisian eel fishermen. And of the drive with which they practice their craft.

eel fishermen friesland

Frisian professional eel fishermen Ale and his predecessor Johannes practice their craft passionately. Photo: Hillebrand Breuker

Paddling through slog
We sail in peace along the reed collars back to our boathouse. As soon as we get there we transfer our stuff into a motorboat and canoe. I take the canoe and paddle slowly away from our boathouse, back to the inhabited world. With the warm sun on my back I glide through narrow diter full of leaves of the yellow plomp, a kind of small yellow water lily that is also depicted on the Frisian flag. Here and there, a swan flower blooms. I reach a lake in the middle of this almost tropical magrove forest, surrounded by bushchages and with two white swans in a field full of white water lilies. For me this is pura vida in optima forma. For me, this is a little fun on his Frisian.

In the narrow ditto you will find yellow plom everywhere, which is also depicted on the Frisian flag.


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