Ice-fishing expedition to the Upper North of Lapland, in 2016

I have just returned from this year’s ice-fishing expedition to the “arm” of Finland. It was an expedition that lasted for 5 days with varying weather conditions and varying fortune in the ice-fishing.

In the “arm” of Finland there are the highest fells of Finland and the river Torniojoki/Muoniojoki with extensions runs all the way along the border to Sweden from Kilpisjärvi in north to Tornio in south.

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To drive to our accommodation took us 5 hours from Rovaniemi with a short stop in the village of Muonio to pay a visit to a nice little shop of a friend of mine, Pikku Puotinen.

After some arrangements concerning too much snow on the parking lot near the cottage, we moved to the place for ice-fishing near the fell Lammasoaivo. IMG_9459 (2)

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During the stay the weather conditions varied from absolutely fantastic, warm, sunny days to cold, windy and also one rainy day The temperatures varied from -10 degrees Celsius to +5 degrees. In the beginning of the expedition the snow was hard, really hard. Even about half a meter deep. The reindeer could easily walk above on the snow. But in the end of our visit the rainy day had destroyed the hard snow completely and the reindeer as well as we had difficulties to walk in the forest.

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We moved on skies for some kilometers every day and we could also in the beginning enjoy the hard snow and the easiness to go skiing in the nature, where the depth of the snow was about half a meter. The last day was really a trial on skis, but we made it, with a sweaty result.

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Regarding the fishing, the ice was 70 cm thick, there was  hardly any snow on the ice and we got a lot of greylings and some whitefish. The amount of fish was really more than expected. My unluck, although, was the trout I had on my hook for several minutes, but finally, as I almost got it up on the ice, it succeeded to free itself from the hook! The disappointment lasted for the whole day. This trout was probably even bigger than the one I got in the year 2013 weighing 1,5 kilo.

Here is a picture of the trout in 2013. Just for my own comfort, to forget the one I lost this year…..

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The greylings were many and some were really big. Some nice whitefish I also got.

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Every day inbetween we lit a fire in different places depending on from which direction the wind was blowing at the time, and fried some sausages and had something warm to drink.

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At times when the fish was not eating, I watched the nature and, as usual, the little White-throated dipper (Cinclus Cinclus) in the rapid. Impossible to get a good picture of it with my little camera. On the snow I also found a “runway” for swans. Two swans had visited the ice during the night and left the marks where they took off again.

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Otherwise the spring had not arrived yet to this area and very few migratory birds had so far returned to Lapland. Some flocks of Snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) were flying around from the south bank of the river to the north bank. I missed the Common crane (Grus grus).

(this picture is borrowed from www.luontoportti.com, all other photos in this post are my own)

The rainy day we spent with a visit to Kilpisjärvi, the northernmost village near the place where the borders from Sweden, Norway and Finland meet. Even if it was raining on the fishing place 40 km from Kilpisjärvi, the sun started to shine as we arrived to Kilpisjärvi.

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An interesting visit to the Kilpisjärvi nature center provided me with information about the nature and the people of the area around Kilpisjärvi. After that we had a delicious lunch at the Kilpisjärvi Retkeilykeskus before we returned to ice-fishing.

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Very tired, but content we finally ended this year’s expedition to the Upper North of Finland. So far I have never been disappointed with the ice-fishing experiences in between the fells of Sweden and Finland. And so far the weather has always been, at least, partly sunny and not too cold for ice-fishing.

A visit to this place in the summer time is on my wish list.

 

 

 

 

 

Nature paths and the necessary equipment in winter hiking

The weather conditions in Rovaniemi has been just perfect for outdoor activities for over a week now. I have spent many days outdoor walking among other things.

(This post was published last March, but due to problems with my host I have to publish it once again. The time of the year is also now suitable to publish posts with snow theme.)
So far this winter I have not visited any of the nature paths near Rovaniemi center and I decided to do something about it. A friend of mine asked me one afternoon to join her to the nature path on Ounasvaara hill near the center of Rovaniemi. We had learned there would be a hiking path also for winter hiking. My friend was very preventive and wore a pair of shoes with steel-studded bottoms to prevent her from falling if the trail is slippery. This winter steel-studded shoes have been a top-selling product this winter sold in the shoe stores and outdoor equipment stores here in the north of Finland. It has even been so popular, that you hardly any more this winter manage to find a suitable pair to buy if you want to. They have sold out almost every pair of steel-studded shoes in the stores.

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The steel-studded bottoms made it safe for my friend when we went walking on the winter hiking trail. I myself wore only normal winter shoes and somewhere in between the trail was really a bit slippery and I had to be careful where to put my feet. We met a couple on the trail and the woman was using Nordic walking sticks and that would of course also be an option on slippery trails.

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The trail started impressively by a gateway in the forest and was marked with pictures of a hiker and a snowflake along the route that was easy to follow. In summer time there is a nature path, too, but the winter hiking trail differs a little from the summer version.

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Anyway, the trail has been prepared by a snowmobile during the winter and was very easy to walk on; only partly slippery. We took the long route of 6 km with a short visit up on the top of the downhill slope of Ounasvaara. The view from up there was marvellous. We were just thankful we did not have to go downhill by skies from there.

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Our hike ended with some fried sausages at one of the fire places along the trail. The evening sun shined at us, but the fire-place was not so tidy and nice. All black with soot from the frequent use of the fire-place by the citizens and students living near by.

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Inspired by this hike I planned the next hike the same week. This time to the Vaattunkiköngäs nature path at the Arctic Circle Hiking Area about 20 km from the Rovaniemi center. This time I went alone and this time I came to regret I forgot my equipment for the shoes to prevent me from falling….Not that I did any falls; only many times close.

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The nature path of Vaattunkiköngäs does not have any winter maintenance. The area is often used by local people as well as by tourists because of its beauty and how easily reachable it is. This lack of maintenance has resulted in a path that was almost all the way very slippery and partly almost impossible to walk on. I sent some warm thoughts to my friend with the steel-studded bottom shoes all along the path. I struggled my way, and I managed not to make any falls along the icy trail.
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The walk over five bridges over the rapids is very beautiful and I had to stop and enjoy the nature every now and then. Part of the trail is equipped with duckboards and easily approached even by wheelchairs in summer. The snow depth in the forest is about 70 cm now and I could see that the snow really amuses some of the visitors, as there were tracks in the deep snow besides the trail all the way.

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This time it was not the walking that gave me satisfaction, but the goal for my walk. I ended up at the fire place of Karhukumpu. I made a fire and fried a sausage and ate it together with a cup of tea and a bun.

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(These matches for storm use are really useful when you have to light a fire to not very dry wood.)
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As I sat there and enjoyed the meal and the sun shining on me, I heard kind of “small talk” from the nearest spruce. It took me a while but then I saw my visitor: A Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus)! And at the same time a second one occurred, too. The Siberian Jay is known to wilderness traveller as a very inquisitive and fearless species, which can be seen near camps and fires and even take food if such is left nearby. I put out some of my leftovers on the bench and it did not take long time for the Siberian Jays to come and fetch it just a couple of meters from me.

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If you have heard the legend about the Siberian Jay you now realize how happy this made me. The say is that the Siberian Jay brings luck to the people it meets. It is called a good-luck bird. If a hunter kills a Siberian Jay, his hunting success disappears for ever. One legend also tells that the souls of hunters transmit to Siberian Jays after death. Ancient people called it the “soul bird”.
The Siberian Jay is 27–30 cm, between the wings even 40 cm and it weighs 74–98 g. It is the smallest bird of the crow family, living in Finland. It does not migrate during winter. It has a very nice “small-talk” sound but also a tub-thumping sound when needed.

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(This picture is not my own. I took it from Wikipedia to show the colors of the back of Siberian Jay.)
On my way back to my car I stopped at the rapid and took some photos. There was also a German man taking a lot of pictures. They are astonishing, the rapids. My interest was whether I could get a glimpse of the White-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus) there. But I did not see any. It is probably a little early for that. I’ll try again in April. The local Bird Association uses to make excursions to this place every spring to spot the White-throated dipper as it makes diving into the rapid.

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Photo from www.fageln.se.

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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.

Nature paths in winter time

Before I arrived in Lapland I thought of nature paths as something you do in summer time or at least during snow-free times. But that thinking I had to change as I have found the nature paths near Rovaniemi also accessible in winter time, preferably maybe in early spring, when there still is a lot of snow, but the sun is shining from a clear-blue sky. The period of daylight is too short in midwinter to do any longer hiking tours in the nature.

People in Rovaniemi use to walk nature paths during winter, so the duckboard way is easy to find, but on the other hand, if the ground is frozen, you do not even have to walk along the duckboards, because the risk of stepping into water is non-existent. If you go walking outside the paths you could preferably use snowshoes, which is very popular, too.

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My favorite area of nature paths near Rovaniemi is the Arctic Circle hiking area, the Vaattunkiköngäs-Vikajärvi area. These paths I use to hike in summer as well as in winter time. To sit by the log fire enjoying your picnic and fry your sausages together with friends or alone surrounded by white nature and possibly in early spring you could hear some birds voices. The winter time in the forest of Lapland is otherwise a silent period. But in early spring the first migratory birds return again after they have spent the coldest period of winter in some warmer climates. I like this early spring period because it is easy to separate a bird’s song from others. Later in spring the forest is so full of voices, so you hardly could separate one bird from another. Just take your time and let the sun warm up your frozen face and open your ears to all the fantastic voices of spring! I also use to admire the different formations from the snow you can find if they are untouched. There is always the possibility to stop by a lake and do some ice-fishing during your hike if you have the equipment with  you in your backpacker. At the Arctic Circle area I on the other hand would not recommend any ice-fishing, because there is no lake, but a river with rapids and that is never safe to enter in spring time.  .

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strömstareInstead you could try to get a glimpse of the cute little bird, the White-throated Dipper, that lives by the rapids in Lapland and even goes diving into the open rapid water in winter time. In spring time you can possibly also listen to its drilling song if you manage to separate it from the voice of the rapid, of course.

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At the Korouoma canyon area people use to walk the paths often also during winter because of the possibilities to do ice-climbing on the frozen waterfalls. The frozen waterfalls in Korouoma are the biggest in Finland. Ice climbing possibilities in Posio are provided by Stella Polaris Lapland and Bliss Adventure. Trained professional guides make sure that your ice climbing experience is safe, fun and unforgettable! Please note that you are not supposed to try to go climbing the frozen waterfalls on your own, if you don’t have the special equipment and experience required for individual climbing. But, anyway, you can always admire the huge frozen waterfalls, and I must say, that is enough for me.

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The Saariselkä area in the north-east of Lapland is also a popular resort for hikers that offers excellent possibilities for day-trips throughout the year. During summer visitors can hike along hiking trails and nature trail of varying demand or even cycle. In winter the area boasts 250 km of maintained ski trails and such as nature trails are excellent places for trekking in snow shoes. A vast variety of services can be found at the Saariselkä tourist resort during all seasons.

 

Ice-fishing expedition to the Upper North of Lapland

One of the high-lights of my every year ice-fishing period is the fishing excursion to Far North; Kilpisjärvi in Lapland. A five hours (450 km) driving along among others the Northern Light road from Rovaniemi to Kilpisjärvi is worth every minute! The experience of going fishing on a river between the Swedish and the Finnish fells in the wilderness is just outstanding!

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This year’s trip took place on April 24th to 28th. The weather was really too perfect; sun, no wind and temperature around -2 to +2 Celsius. You could not ask for better outdoor weather in April in Lapland! Use sun protection on your skin and sun glasses to protect your eyes. The sun shining from a clear blue sky on to a snow white river for several hours a day is hard. In spite of all protection I always end up with the first sun burn of the year in my face and acing eyes because of the sun shine.

Me and my friends spent five days on the ice on the river of Könkämäeno in the so called “arm” of North Finland along the Swedish border. The river was frozen with about 0,70 to 1 meter ice, except for the two rapids that were open, and the hole making definitely needed a power auger. Once the holes were opened they really did not freeze that much during the nights. It was easy to break the thin ice in the holes in the mornings with your boot.

The river Könkämäeno is the last part of a long river starting from Kilpisjärvi lake, going along the Swedish border, changing name to first Muonionjoki and at the end to Tornionjoki before it ends up in the Gulf of Bothnia near the city of Tornio. This was the 6th time I made this trip and it has always been rewarding with a lot of fish. The fish would be greyling (Thymallus thymallus), whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), pike (Esox lucius) and occasionally also trout (Salmo trutta). This time was no exception. We ended up with three pikes, one trout and a lot of whitefish and greylings. Greyling is a typical river fish in the north of Finland and it is very frequent in Könkämäeno. I love the taste of this fish and it is also very challenging to catch! As we spoke to some local people we although got the impression they value whitefish more than greylings.

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I had a big catch of a 3,2 kg pike. The challenge of getting it on to the ice was great, but frankly, I did not want that kind of fish. It is just too big to be tasty. I valued a lot more the trout I got the same day!

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And greyling is a really tasty fish. IMG_2485

The water in Könkämäeno is so clear and clean that you can actually see the bottom of the river up to 2 meters down through the holes. The water is of course streaming as it is a river and that is another challenge when ice-fishing. The rod and line do not go straight down as usually when ice-fishing in lakes, but they follow the stream and you could have some difficulties to find out the depth of the water.

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During the day there are several different times when the fish is easier to catch and times when there seem to be no fish at all in the river. One of the times when there were no catches for a couple of hours I got inspired to have a look through the hole down into the water. And I found out there were a lot of fish and they just moved around down there without paying any attention whatsoever to my hook with the delicious larva! They actually did not have any appetite at all at that time. It was amazing looking at the swimming fish in the absolutely clear water! Even if they came near and sniffed at my bite they did not try to eat it!

During such a time of the day you just have to find other things to do. We made a log fire and fried some sausages and had coffee and sandwiches and above all: enjoyed the perfect weather. There were some Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) flying over looking for water to swim in. Without success, of course. We also could watch the little White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) making dives into the part of the rapids that was ice-free.

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Greyling and trout spend a lot of time in the streaming water heading towards the rapids, while the whitefish is to be found more in still waters. Along the river, between the rapids,  there are both streaming water and also the stream pool. A stream pool, is a stretch of a river or stream in which the water depth is above average and the water speed is quite below average. We were fishing in both of these areas. The 1,5 kg trout I caught was to be found in the area where the stream pool changes into streaming water. This time we had difficulties to find out where the whitefish were. From earlier years we knew about a few places where they had been found. But this year we ended up with three pikes from that area. I do not know, but had the pikes frightened away all the whitefish? We never really found out where the whitefish had gone.

The time we spent sitting on the ice varied from 6 to 12 hours per day. People, who do not understand the philosophy of ice-fishing could ask me: “What is the use of sitting for hours staring at a hole in the ice?!” I could only answer: “There is no use whatsoever!” But to spend time wondering about life and its opportunities and enjoying the nature around you. There is always the possibility to catch something to eat, of course. I can promise you the fish in Lapland is really delicious!  It is also challenging to always be alert if there is a catch and not least, the challenge of getting a really big fish up through the hole in the ice without breaking the hook or the line. Sometimes it happens the fish releases itself before you get it on to the ice, and the feeling of disappointment is always a fact. But that disappointment you soon forget as you get a new catch!