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Sweden             (Ice Fishing)

   

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Char fishing, Eskimo style, through 6 foot of ice in Northern Sweden. 

Blazing sun, and a bowl of soup. Should have brought a T-shirt.

I'd not really thought much about fishing through holes in the ice before- after all I get fed up enough of fishing in cold weather back in sub-tropical England. But given the opportunity to go, and bearing in mind that there was going to be a chance to experience some pretty Arctic conditions, see some friends and spend a few days messing about on snow-scooters, well it just seemed rude not too.

The journey turned out to be a bit of a trial, since with the M25 before Heathrow being jammed solid and taking two hours to go a few miles, I only just caught the plane to Stockholm because it was delayed; and then because of that delay the connecting flight north to Ostersund was only just boarded by the skin of my teeth with the help of the love of my life. I have no idea who she was, but she worked for Scandinavian Air, was blonde, had blue eyes, a lovely smile, great figure, and was incredibly helpful.... erm, need I say more? Still, eventually the plane landed at Ostersund and as I disembarked I was greated by the gaggle of Scandinavians who were already there- my friends Johnny & Thorke, with Johnny's friend Jesper and his brother Lars, and with Lars Goran & Lars 'Burre', who were to look after us for the next few days up in the frozen countryside a couple of hours drive out of town. I think I remembered all the Lars's there.

Lars with the first 'monster' of the trip!

During the journey from the airport to the cabin where we were going to stay, the sun went down and darkness descended around us- and as if it wasn't already cold enough to make your fillings drop out, the temperature plummeted like a stone. In fact, as we sat in the people-carrier, I realised that even though there were seven of us in there nattering away, with the heater on, the condensation was still freezing on the inside of the windows. Apparently the temperature was hovering around the minus 25 degrees point.
"And we're gonna fish in this?" I thought.

After stopping for supplies on the way, we eventually pulled up at the cabin, and took several trips to unload all the goods between us, dragging them up the path and into the digs, crunching through thick snow and ice under the clear, bright moonlit sky. Boy how good did it feel to get into the warmth of our home for the next few days and have a few drinks.

The morning dawned bright and clear, with sharp crisp air forming steam around us as we collected the snowscooters. After an induction on how to use the things, we were soon winding our way through the thick pine forest, following in the wake of the supply-scooter.

After perhaps half an hour's drive we found ourselves skidding across open ice for the first time at high speed, which was a truly exhilarating feeling, and once we had arrived at the first spot, the engines cut and we found ourselves in absolute silence. The sun beat down (although the temperature was still below freezing) and the air hung still and sharp with the crunch of our feet on the ice the only sound. Marvellous.

A quick drilling demo for those of us who had never tried this kind of thing before (erm... that would be me then), and soon we were all perched like gnomes over our freshly excavated ice-holes waiting for a passing Char to make a mistake. For the most part, the rigs consisted of a silver and orange spoon-like teaser fixed in place about 30cm up the line, with a lighter leader tipped off by a small, coloured lure made from a wrap of wool and tinsel around about a size 12 hook. This was further embellished with a maggot on the end. The technique appeared to be to gently tease and jig the end rig about in the hole to induce a take- and having stared down an ice hole for hours watching the maggot and fur cocktail flutter about beneath, I can vouch for it's hypnotic properties after waking up with my forehead frozen to the perimeter of my hole. Nothing seems to happen for ages... and then suddenly... 'Er, that's funny, my jig seems to be going sideways... I wonder why that is?' Occasionally I'd even snap out of my trance quick enough to pull sharply on the line and set the hook. I'm sharp like that.

We fished for a few hours in the area, every now and again shifting spots to drill and try a new hole, and after a while we had several small Char in the bag- which would make our evening meal that night. As the sun went down (the days are very short up there at that time of year) long, blue shadows cast themselves across the icy lake, contrasting against the very last of the sun's rays glancing off the mountains forming the valley, treating us to our last spectacular view for the day as we packed the scooters ready for home. As darkness and the temperatures closed in, we picked our way back through the pine forests by headlight.

Our host Burre cooked us up the Char back at the cabin, and I'd forgotten how delicious fish so fresh can be. Dead simple- Char, pan fried with butter and seasoning and served with crusty bread and potatoes... but after a day out in the ice it tasted so very good. This was followed by the usual post-fishing drinks as the wood crackled on the stove, and soon the gin, vodka and wine was taking a bit of a caning, the concept of preserving supplies for the next three nights going straight out the window. At least we slept well.

The next morning we were to head off on a long scooter trip to a favourite lake of Burre and Lars-Goran's, where although the Char were somewhat scarcer than where we had fished the day previous, they were of a higher average size, and there was even a chance of catching something quite special. So away we went on a dull morning, with the temperature a little lower than the previous day, but still quite comfortable due to the still conditions.

It was very much a long journey too, and with the constant slalom through trees and rocks, there were a few sore thumbs about from constantly operating the throttle and brakes, but once we exited the tree line and spilled out onto the surface of our destination, it all looked to be worth the journey and effort. The small ice-bound lake appeared to be nestled within a tight, enclosed pine coated valley, and gave the impression it hadn't been visited in years (and maybe it hadn't), and for some reason it even felt quite special. Again, the air hung still and silent as we set about readying the ice holes, and once the scraping of the ice drills had abated the deathly quiet settled over us again as we all concentrated on extracting a Char or two. Pretty as the lake may have been, it was sure stubborn when it came to giving up any of its inhabitants. I'm sure Thorke caught a fish that I had just missed a moment before though- and it was the only fish I saw pass through the ice hole in the whole time we were there. After I had missed the bite I said to Thorke 'Shit missed one! And it's heading your way...' (His ice hole was only some 3 metres away from mine), and with that Thorke said 'Got one!'. Beaten by the Char Champ yet again! And apart from one lost by Lars Goran, the Champ's fish was the only action we received at the lake. But it was a place worth visiting whatever- simply to see it, and to put ourselves in with a chance of a very large Char- it's just unfortunate it wasn't to be this time.

On our bikes again, and our trail passed over miles of frozen tundra, through ravines and passes, and we found ourselves picking our way around gnarled and twisted old birch trees, curls of silver bark hanging from the trunks like torn strips of thin tissue, each bough looking like petrified fingers reaching up out of the snow. An almost eerie landscape straight out of Narnia. 

As we reached our destination, we all stopped the scooters as one, when as we rounded an outcrop of ice encrusted rock, in front of us a landscape reminiscent of some of the scenes shot in the Lord Of The Rings films stretched out in front of us. The sky was glowing like a wash of white, grey and orange, and the horizon blended with the clouds some 150 kilometres distant. Below us the sun had burst through in a patch and glistened on the iced surface of Dorsjonn Tarn as it sat in its bowl. The view just knocked all of us for six as we sat a while and took it all in.

We eventually set about fishing the lake, but this proved more difficult than I expected. Firstly, due to the increased altitude the temperatures were correspondingly colder, so not only did this make things a little more uncomfortable on the hands, but it also meant that the ice was considerably thicker at about 6 feet. And I can inform you that drilling your way through this was not a lot of fun. It was noticeable that no one was making many changes of pitch up here!

The ecosystem must have been about as harsh for the fish as it was for us humans though, because until Jesper pulled a tiny Parr of about three inches long out of his hole, we were convinced that nothing could exist in there, although Thorke the zoologist did point out that the advantages of living up there as a fish would be that there was little competition for the available food - and no predation. Which begs the question what the hell were we doing fishing there if not even the other fish like it!? 

Still, it was well worth seeing just for the view on the approach, and I have to say there was a certain stark beauty to the place- especially when the sun poked through the clouds touched it's highlights across the ice and a train of dogs and sleds passed by us on the other side of the frozen lake.

A fine evening was had by all, drinking and eating as usual. But by now a few things were starting to worry me. Like how some of those Scandinavian boys would insist on prancing about the place in nothing but a skin-tight set of thermals. I mean, it could never ever be described as pretty, but when you can tell who's had a vasectomy at a glance, then that's clearly too much detail. And when you're trying to tuck into a plate of new potatoes, well I'm sorry... Being modestly English of course, I kept my jeans well and truly on.

Dawn the next morning saw us heading out through thick snowfall. And what a difference to the balmy climate we had been experiencing now we were confronted with proper arctic conditions.

After another fun-filled drive through a series of thick pine copses, we found ourselves at an 'ice fault' on Ansjonn Lake- an area where a warmer spring of water finds its way up through the lake bed, causing a large irregularity in the surface ice running right across the surface. Luckily one of the other local fishermen there had a motorised drill... what a result. In minutes we all had a nice fresh hole each and were fishing. If I was a regular ice-fisher that would be the first thing on the Christmas list.

But was it cold. The wind howled across the frozen surface, occasional snow showers blasted into us almost horizontally, and soon we were doing our best to make sure we stayed warm and comfortable. One or two Char put in an appearance- as did the sun- but only intermittently. The snowscooter supply vehicle really earned its corn that day, both in terms of making fresh, hot coffee and warming my feet on the engine.

By our final night, the booze supplies had been fully exhausted at the cabin. A potentially disastrous situation. What could we do? Finally Burre took command, rang the hotel in the village where we were staying, and they agreed to open the bar up just for us to go and have a drink. So off we went, and very pleasant the beer was too (and so it should have been, cos when my credit card statement came through for my round it was about eight quid a pint- arrgghh!). But Uncle Burre had just one more little surprise up his sleeve, because arriving back at the digs he produced a 3 litre box of red wine he had kept hidden from us when he saw the rate the rest of the supplies were being whittled away. What a star! He did look after us you know.

And after another really nice evening of food, drink and fishing talk, we all crashed into bed to be rattled to sleep by the breathtaking duet of Thorke and Lars-Goran's snoring concerto. Little do they know how close they came to the pillow treatment.

Thanks to Burre and Lars-Goran for looking after us out there in the spectacular frozen north. Burre's 'Go For It' web site can be seen here, with pictures and maps of the whole area and arctic experience- well worth a look.

Fish spotting through the ice hole.

A view down the ice hole into the world of the Char. The dot just above centre is the bait.

And out one comes- at last. At least this time I realised I had a bite...

Thorke The Char Champ with one of his momentous captures.

A Char that got fluffed up by the teaser.

Johnny concentrating on his hole.

 

The view on the approach to Dorsjonn Tarn, and a  landscape reminiscent of the Lord Of The Rings films.

The supply vessel. A right result when the temperature is hitting minus 20

Sushi anyone? Jesper with a tiny Char from Dorsjonn Tarn, The ice was approximately 6 feet thick here- and we had to drill through it to fish....

...As Johnny found out when 
drilling his hole!

The sun finally breaks through across the lake.

Dorsjonn Tarn- a beautiful, but desolate, place when the sun comes out.

JJ with a proper Char he caught- smoked and delicious.

Porno-Thorke gives birth to a perfectly formed 4 kilo snowscooter helmet.

Jesper shows off his secret Char bait.

Get drilling Lars. Never before has moving spot been so convenient.

A nice catch of Grayling and Char. I'd never eaten Grayling before, but it's very good- certainly on a parr with trout. (Sorry).

Burre prepares a welcome coffee out on the ice.

Fault in the ice formed by a warmer spring underwater. 

Johnny with a brightly coloured Char.
Nice hat.

 

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