Nicholas Watson in Prague -
Jakub Vagner, the Czech television presenter and extreme angler, is the holder of the world record for catching the heaviest and longest freshwater fish. Now he's trying to reel in an equally big fish – a Czech fishing conglomerate ranging from media to resorts - with the backing of private equity.
Vagner has teamed up with Robert Schonfeld's RSBC Group, a Prague-based private equity firm, to set up a holding company called Jakub Vagner Rybarstvi (Fisheries), which will spend up to €10m over the next few years to create what they call a "closed circle" of the whole fishing industry: media, game fishing resorts, commercial fishing areas, and branded tackle and equipment outlets.
This will be achieved by combining already owned assets (both Vagner and Schonfeld own fishing properties), consolidating existing fishing assets that currently operate in a very fragmented market, and creating new businesses associated with the pursuit. Vagner – a boyish, laid back figure well known to both Czech and international audiences from his shows on National Geographic and Czech Television – will leverage his name to sell the goods and services.
Already Jakub Vagner Rybarstvi has one print and online media publication focused on game fishing (and will soon have another), as well as a high-end private fishing reserve 45 minutes from Prague that's stocked with huge fish of over 3 metres and up to 150 kilograms, which will be a pilot project for the future resorts. "We will combine the higher cash flow game fishing with the very conservative, very long-term investment of commercial fishing, to allow our company to have an investment return in some reasonable timeline," says Shonfeld.
Landlocked Czech Republic might seem an odd choice to set up such a venture, but in fact the country is home to 1m active anglers, which is about 10% of the population. The popularity of catch-and-release fishing in the country is growing, with new anglers coming from both genders and all walks of like, says Vagner. The trick will be to attract the estimated 220m anglers around the world – 40m in Japan alone – to the freshwater opportunities that the country affords.
Vagner's fame outside of the Czech Republic is also likely to grow with a new series he is currently working on called "Fish Legends" for the Discovery Channel, which will target European audiences.
One of the main goals will be to establish a collection of resorts over the next five years that cater to all types of anglers. Some will be more family friendly in order to move angling trips away from what has traditionally been a fairly solitary pursuit. "We'll try to create places where you can take your whole family and make fishing possible for everyone, but even if they don't enjoy fishing, then you need to have other activities around it," says Vagner.
Then there will be the high-end resorts for busy executives that are well stocked with huge fish including carp, catfish, pike and beluga sturgeon. Finally, there will be resorts for the hardcore anglers who "like to be in the mud, in the rain, staying in tents, but with not so many fish, but beautiful fish - these people want to catch one big fish," says Vagner. "We want to hit everything."
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