Ice-fishing expedition to the upper north, in 2015

This time of the year I use to attend an expedition to the upper north of Finland to experience ice-fishing on a frozen river. This year was no exception. I returned from this year’s expedition yesterday, tired but happy and content with the trip.
After a 5 hours’ drive along the Northern Light road which mostly follows the border between Sweden and Finland we arrived to Ropinsalmi in the municipality Enontekio in the north of Lapland, Finland. The nature and surrounding start to change from “normal” nature to fell nature after 3 hours’ drive. The fells of Finland and especially the beautiful fells of Sweden can be seen through the car’s window during the drive. Especially if the sun is shining on snow-covered fells the sight is breathtaking. The colors are mainly white, blue and brown.

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As you can see from the picture the road was dry and not covered with snow anymore. The spring time has come to Lapland. Still the ice on the river Torniojoki-Muonionjoki-Könkamaeno was about 70-80 cm thick.
After checking in and changing of clothes we immediately aimed to the ice-fishing area; first by car and the last part of the journey by skis. The first day’s transport to the ice consists of a motor auger, a hand auger, a shovel, stools for everybody, some utensils for the fire making and of course many different fishing rods and shovels to take the ice from the holes.
The strongest person in the expedition starts making the holes with the motor auger. That is definitively not a job I could do. The auger is heavy and as it starts to drill you must have complete control of the auger and keep it in its place. My job is limited to opening the holes in the mornings with a hand auger as the nights are cold and the holes are frozen in the mornings. That is a much easier job with ice of 1 or 2 cm.
This year’s expedition starts in the best possible way. After little more than an hour there is a big catch on one of the rods. No-one knows what is on the hook; we cannot see the creature, we can only follow its moves as it struggles to get itself free from the hook, and those are really strong ones! The procedure now is to try to get the fish so tired that it will be possible to lift it up through the hole without breaking the hook nor the line and loose the fish. That stadium happens after a process of draining the fish for about 10 minutes. But then the fish surrendered and the catcher (not me!) lifts it up on the ice. And that is a salmon (Salmo salar), 2,75 kg and 75 cm tall. A catch of a salmon at this latitude is real rare, as the salmon lives in the sea Bothnian Bay 300 km to the south from here. The Salmon jumps in the rapids up along the river, but no one could imagine they can travel this far. In the pictures you can still see the hook in the mouth of the salmon.

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This night is the night of big catches as I also end up with a pike weighing about 2,5 kilo.
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Our ice-fishing expedition lasts for 5 days of at least 10 hours of ice-fishing every day. You might think this is impossible to carry out. But I did not find it difficult at all. The days go fast and contain a lot of nature spotting, pauses at the fire-place and even shorter trips on skis in the surroundings. There are pauses during the day when the fish simply do not eat and then it is suitable for the fishermen to also take a break and do something else, such as rapid spotting. The rapids are not far away from the fishing place.
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The weather during this expedition is perfect every day with little wind and modest temperatures. Starting the first day with some degrees above zero and getting colder towards the end of the period. To go skiing on snow half a meter deep at this time of the year usually happens on hard snow and you kind of “fly” away along the snow. But in an evening after a whole day of degrees above zero, the snow gets softer and does not carry a skier any more. And that was what happened to us the first night. We sank into the snow about 30 cm at the most and it was a struggle to get to the fishing place. But as the weather conditions changed and the temperatures got colder later during our stay the conditions for skiing got better and better. Here is a picture from three different days of skiing tracks. You can hardly see the last track; when the snow was so hard there were no tracks at all made from the skis.

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On the first two warm days the conditions on the ice was also a bit challenging with water on the ice and uncomfortable to move around.
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But the conditions changed and at the end it was just perfect with sun shining from a blue sky and hard snow to move on made it so much easier for us.
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The catch consisted of 1 salmon, some pikes, some whitefish and a lot of greylings. We wanted especially a lot of greylings as they are very tasty and not so easy to catch on other places where we use to do ice-fishing. And a surprise like a trout or even a salmon is always the bonus of the expedition!
One day during the expedition we always make a trip to the place Kilpisjarvi in the north of Finland, near the place where the borders from Norway, Sweden and Finland meet. This year was no exception and the weather in Kilpisjarvi was perfect as always. The Saana fell was shining in the sun and the surrounding Swedish fells were absolutely white from snow even if the amount of snow on the ground in Kilpisjarvi was not exceptional much.

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As I sit by the hole waiting for some catch I use to observe the nature and different sounds from the nature. During these days I saw flying swans, two species of the northern hawk-owl (Surnia ulula), two species of the white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus), a lot of snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) and I heard the sound of willow grouses (Lagopus lagopus) from the bushes of fell birches (Betula pubescens ssp. tortuosa) nearby.

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These pictures are of a white-throated dipper and a snow bunting taken of me with my camera that does not have a lens that can take closer pictures.

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The meeting with the hawk owl was the first one ever for me. The hawk owl is a non-migratory owl that usually stays within its breeding range. It is one of the few owls that is neither nocturnal nor crepuscular, being active only during the day.

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This year’s expedition was a success and I am glad I was able to make it.

Winter Net Fishing in Lapland

In winter time as the ice is thick on rivers and lakes in Lapland, the Lapish people want to go fishing anyway. Besides ice-fishing done through a little hole in the ice with a short rod, there is also the winter net fishing. As I learned during my time in Lapland: Fishing is the only necessary.

The fishermen spread the nets under the ice at an early stage of the winter, as soon as it is possible to walk on the ice, preferably already in November. Of course it is also possible to put the nets at a later time of the winter, but as the ice is then probably a lot thicker, that demands a lot of efforts to saw through the ice to get the holes required for the net fishing.

This is a picture I found on the Internet. With this I try to explain how the net is supposed to be spread between two holes in the ice. The net is not supposed to float near the surface as it then will freeze to the ice and it is after that not movable. You net to get it sink at least 1 meter down from the surface by using weights of some kind.

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This is the hardest part of the winter net fishing. You make two holes at approx. 60 meters from each other and then you have to get a line between those two holes. To me that seemed absolutely impossible. I even imagined someone to go diving in between these holes with the line….Then I got it explained to me. There is an equipment called “uittolautta” in Finnish, that in an absolutely amazing way searches its way from one hole to another as the fisherman pulls the rope attached to this uittolautta. This procedure will never stop to amaze me. Here is a picture of a “uittolautta” and also a picture of all kinds of equipment you need when spreading the nets under the ice.

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You can put several nets in a row under the ice. You just continue from one hole to the next with help of this uittolautta.

When checking on the nets after they have been in the water for some days, you start by opening the hole in the end of the net and attach a rope to that end. Then you open the hole in the beginning of the net and start to pull out the net and loose the fish, if there are any. After checking the first net, you have to pull it back in place by the 60 meters long rope.

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Winter net fishing could be a very cold experience, at least for your hands as you have to deal with wet nets and fish. During the sunny days of April this is not such a big problem as during windy, ice-cold days earlier in the winter when the nets freeze before you put them back into the water. The nets should be checked on at least once a week during the season to get fresh fish, in spite of any weather conditions. There could occur all kinds of problems. But the reward is of course always the fish. Mostly you get IMG_8899pike or perch on winter net fishing, but also salmon and pike-perch is possible to get, and also this ugly, but delicious fish, living on the bottom of the lake is a good catch; burbot.

There are several possibilities also for tourists to take part in winter net fishing at several different places and tourist villages in Lapland.

 

 

 

Ice-fishing basics

I have spent the last 4 days ice-fishing and it inspired me to share some ice-fishing experiences with you. I, myself, started this hobby only 6 years ago and on my first ice-fishing expedition I caught a big pike. That was pure beginner’s luck, but it inspired me to continue doing this.

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Ice-fishing is free all over Finland; you do not need any license. Ice-fishing is possible in Lapland for several months during winter time. In the beginning of the winter you have to keep your eyes open for how thick the ice is. It should absolutely be at least 5 cm thick before you can enter it safely. Remember to bring your ice-picks. The thicker ice, the better, of course. To start ice-fishing in November is possible, but on the other hand the day light in Lapland in November does not last for more than a few hours and the temperature could also be too could for you to spend several hours on the ice just sitting and waiting to get some fish.

In March and April is the optimal time to go ice-fishing in Lapland. The days are long and very often the sun is shining on the white snow from an absolutely clear blue sky. The ice is also very thick and it is absolutely safe to move around on the ice even by a snowmobile.

It is good to know the places on a lake where the fish usually go, before you start drilling your holes. Try to ask someone local well acquainted with the lake, if possible. If that is not possible, you just have to trust your own intuitions on where the possibilities to get fish are the best. The depth of the water should be from 1 – 5 meters.

The first you have to make is the hole. There are special ice augers to drill with. There are the hand worked augers but it is not very easy to do a hole by hand in an ice about 90 cm – 1 m thick. You need a lot of strength and you will get very exhausted before you are done. It is better to work the hole with a power auger. This kind of drill is of course expensive to buy and also very heavy to move, but you will get perfect holes in a short time and after that you can fully concentrate on the fishing. You will also want to bring a strainer to remove the ice that forms in the hole that you cut.

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The fishing equipment you need is a rod with some kind of line with hooks or lures. There are probably thousands of opinions of what kind of line and what kind of hook you should use, but I must say, I have never really understood that. You get fish when there is fish and the fish is willing to eat. There are also periods when it is almost impossible to get any fish, depending on the unwillingness of the fish to attack the bait. But on a period like that no-one gets fish and it is no different what kind of hook you use. During periods when the fish is active and keen on attacking moving baits you easily get fish of all kinds of sorts and sizes. Fishing equipment and fresh baits can be bought from special fishing equipment stores but also from the fishing department in a department store. From this book, “Ice-fishing tips” you can probably find useful information of how to get more fish on ice-fishing.

As you have made the hole and you have loaded your hook with some kind of bait; usually red flies’ worms, you sit down on something you have brought with you to sit on and you send the hook down into the hole until you realize it has hit the bottom of the sea. From that you lift it up about 30-40 cm:s. That is where the fish usually is. Then you just start moving your rod up and down in different ways and wait. The waiting could be very short, but it could also last for a long time. During waiting time you have the chance to look at the surroundings and enjoy the weather and have a sun bath for your face. I sometimes use the waiting time listening to language courses on my mp3-player in my ear. Sometimes I listen to the radio on my Nokia 700 and sometimes I listen to music, but mostly I enjoy the absolute quietness of the nature around me. I prefer fishing when there is also waiting time to calm down and gather your thoughts in between the catches. It must not be too easy, that would be no challenges!

The feeling when you feel the movement around or on your hook from a fish down there in the water under the ice, is very exciting. Then the challenge of getting the fish all the way up on the ice starts. Sometimes it happens the fish struggles so much that it releases itself and can return down to the freedom. Sometimes you have caught such a big fish and by mistake your line or your hook or lures break. You learn from your mistakes and little by little you learn more and more how to manage.

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By ice-fishing nothing is really normal. Every time is different. That is one of the biggest challenges of this hobby. You can never tell as you enter the ice how the fishing is going to turn out, and I find that very challenging. I do not like things to be too predictable. One very important thing is that  you have warm clothes; it is really not nice to be freezing while sitting on the ice. And one of the highlights of a fishing expedition is the well deserved break by a fireplace, laavu, near by where you can make your coffee or tea and fry your sausages and even meet up with other fishermen or -women and listen to their fishing stories and perhaps learn some new tricks.

 

Here I want to show you pictures of some of my catches during these last 6 years. There are whitefish, grappling (harjus), salmon and perches:

 

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