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.

 

 

 

 

 

Ice-fishing expedition to the Upper-North of Lapland, in 2014

Yesterday I returned from my yearly ice-fishing expedition to the North. This expedition has been the final of my ice-fishing season for many years. This year the expedition did not differ a lot from last year’s. We visited the same backwater on the same river as last year. You can take part in my story from last year’s expedition here.

We had beautiful spring weather all the time, a bit windy a couple of days, but sunshine every day. We spent 5 days ice-fishing. Thank to Protection 50+ my skin is not as tanned as it was last year. Thank to eye-drops my eyes did not ace in the evenings as much as last year, either. So, overall a very good expedition. We did not get so much fish, though. After five days of fishing we ended up with 50 fishes to bring home. We had greyling, whitefish and pikes. Even if we promised each other not to bring any pikes home this year, we ended up with 3 quite small and good-looking pikes. I remember last year’s 3 kilo pike we left on the ice in the evening for the foxes to take care of.

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I always have a little problem to see the difference between a smaller greyling and a smaller whitefish the first day, because this is the only days during the year I can fish greyling and I use to forget how it looks like. The biggest difference is in the fin on the back. The back-fin on a greyling is much bigger than on a whitefish. As the fish are bigger the problem disappear and you can easily see the difference. The upper fish is a whitefish and the other is a greyling.

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We stayed the nights as usual in the adorable cottage village of Ropinpirtti. Always friendly Terttu has always the small, unpretentious cabins in perfect condition. It is always a pleasure to return there to the cottages situated in between many fells of Lapland. We always laugh at the boot up in the tree….It has been there for at least 7 years now.

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We never spend much time inside the cabins because we are out ice-fishing 9-12 hours per day and only return in the evenings to fix something to eat and go to sleep. So we did this year, too. There was daylight for 15 hours already up in the north, and one night at 22:30 o’clock I caught this amazing sunset on picture.

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The snow and ice conditions in the “arm” of Finland were hard this year. The snow was about 70 cm thick and the ice 90 cm. But on the ice there were hardly no snow. From where we park our car we went about half a kilometer down to the river by skis and we could go above all the snow because of the hard crusty snow, but the sticks could go through the snow occasionally and the fact occurred to you; it was really deep snow. My ring on the stick broke one day and I was able to measure the depth of the snow that way. It was over half of the length of the stick…The power auger was a must to make holes in the ice. The 110 cm long auger barely could make the holes.

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But after the first day’s opening of the holes it did not really freeze during the nights, because the temperature was above 0 almost all the time.

Suddenly some reindeer occurred on the ice and went over the border to Sweden. The river Könkämäeno is marking the border between Finland and Sweden and we also crossed the border many, many times. After a while three Sámi people on snowmobiles turned up and asked if we had seen any reindeer, and so they went after the reindeer. I could not help wondering how valuable the reindeer were, as I saw the three rapid, modern snowmobiles they used to go after just three small reindeer…

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I did not catch fish all the time out there on the ice. Sometimes I watched the fish through the holes, as I also did last year. And sometimes I walked around on the river and I also watched the rapids which are on both sides of the backwater. This year the rapids were more ice-free as they were the same time last year. I saw a couple of the nice little black and white dipper (Cinclus cinclus) and also some mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).

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I did get some very nice fish, though. Just to mention some; the biggest whitefish was 890 g and I also got three pikes.

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The fish is most active in the morning and in the evening and at those times they are easiest to catch, but there are also active, shorter times in between when you also get some fish. But there will always be some dead time when it is suitable to have a break and fry some sausages by the fire. One of our expedition days we always visit the village of Kilpisjärvi near by and go and eat some delicious food at Kilpisjärven Retkeilykeskus’ buffet table. This year we went there out of curiosity to see how it looked like a year like this when there has been more snow than usual. Yes, there was still much snow, even if the roads were snow-free. From the daily paper I could also read there was still 146 cm of snow and 93 cm of ice during Easter last week in Kilpisjärvi. Kilpisjärvi is the last outpost of Finland just before the Norwegian border. You can also read about Kilpisjärvi in one of my earlier posts.

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So, after five successful days we put all the stuff into the car and headed towards Rovaniemi again along the Northern Lights Route, 450 km.

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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!

 

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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