The end of our rodtrip was coming in sight. There was a lot of water left we absolutely wanted to try on our ride back to Kiruna, but to get to the interesting parts of it without losing time would either cost money or walking days.
Now, we all love walking, especially up in these forgottten landscapes, but with only 5 days left we had to come up with a time-friendly plan in order to get our final goal: the Finnmark Grandslam.
The Finnmark Grandslam is what every flyfishing kid ever dreams of. It’s the absolute summit only true men can reach when fishing Northern Europe’s wilderness, while there are only few river systems where you can aim for this slam.
And since we completely made up this Finnmark Grandslam, we would be the first ever to grab this title! And make posters of it! Holding golden cups and medals, being worshipped by young Swedish women as kings, gods, and everyone would be naked! ‘Wake up, guys, time to go!’, Pentti shook our tents, and all Swedish women were gone. Sigh.
Pentti is a flyfishing expert who works at Skoganvarre, a campsite at the east of the Vidda annexated by Finns to hunt in winter… and fish all summer.
We kind of coincindentally stopped over at Skoganvarre after our hike to Berry White River, in desperate need for a shower and food.
Although we planned to stay just for the night and wander off in the mountains again the next morning, an evening chat with Pentti made us pretty excited about a riversystem closeby only he knew about: a couple of lakes all connected, only 20km walking from the first untill the last, and filled with fish. ‘What kind of fish, dear ol’ Pentti?’, Math asked in English with a spotless Finnish accent. ‘Char, trout, grayling, salmon and pike, boyzz.’ Say what? All grandslam five in one riversystem?? Pentti laughed.
I’m not sure wether he laughed because of Jeremy’s beginning mustache or because he had too much sugar in his coffee, but we started dreaming again… salmon… naked Swedish women… ‘Off we go now!’, and Pentti slowly walked away from our tents.
A trip with a boat and some hours of climbing and walking later we arrived at the first of five consecutive lakes. Almost a perfect circle, not even 1km large, but the home of mr. and mrs. artic char.
The reason why I didn’t end this sentence with an exclamation mark is simple, Pentti warned us we were too late in the season to catch them. Shallow water was too warm and char had moved to deeper water, unable to reach. But if we were lucky and found some active during an evening rise… Nevertheless we were excited, because a nice sandy river slowly flowed into the lake, the sun was out and there was rising trout everywhere! No biggies, but lot’s and still up to 35cm. Dry or die boyzz!
We all took fish on klinkhammers and sedges, though there weren’t that much insects around. Upstream both Mathias and Jeremy went bezerk on what they love to do most: nymph fishing at sight. The water was so clear and the angling pressure almost unexisting, so we were able to approach them, observe them, film them, fish them. And catch them.
Eternal late summer dusk came sooner than we expected, and the first fish in the lake started rising. Only very occasionally, but they were active. We were active aswell, making a hell of a great spaghetti and drinking our very last bottle of whisky, only noticing too late that a cold fog slowly started covering the complete lake.
Beautifull, but nothing worse than fog to kill an evening rise. Quickly we took our rods, knotted feathermidge pupas and casted towards the last rising fish… but it was too late. Only some skating sedge immitations got the char interested, but the takes were too few and probably the fish was rather small aswell. We lost.
We were a bit disappointed, but on the other hand the light, fog and scenery were breathtaking. This is the life, the wild life, maybe even the reason why I got so hooked on fishing in the first place. To get to these places you don’t find in any travelbook.
To stand there for hours, witness the sudden change of light, become completely at ease and absorbed by the pureness and beauty of unspoilt nature. And the one excuse to stand there, is that rod in your hand. If the fog spoilt our chance of getting this Finnmarks grandslam, at least it gave us one of the most beautifull sceneries ever witnessed. And I’m confident Swedish women will be moved by the pictures we took. If not, we can add that we all are very sensitive guys, and good listeners too.
The next morning was grey and cold. We quickly packed our tents, rain was coming in. After three more hours of walking, we set up camp next to a large and wide system of slowwalking water.
Fatigueness hit us hard, we all lost weight after these two weeks, and the short nights sleep weren’t of any help either. Yet we stayed three happy campers trampers. So after we geared up and went 3 more k’s downstream to fish our way back to our camp, grayling was our next goal.
Fish rose from time to time, resulting in heaps of trout and grayling up to 45cm, on dries, nymphs and streamers.
The most lethal combination was a big dry klinkhammer as indicator with a small tungsten head nymph about 60cm underneath the hookbend, fished in the pockets of fast streaming water.
Amazing how much trout fitted in a single pocket, and to keep the bigger fish in without them diving like crazy downstream was a true challenge.
Upstream in the slow walking water the lady of the stream was abundant, especially on dries and streamers. When – because of the cloudy day – dusk came even sooner than the day before, we decided we had to kill three fish for dinner and head back to our tents. But just then all activity stopped.
The cold north-eastern air made us aware that fall had finally started above the polar circle, limiting the fishing-time. Berry and mushroom diet with one grayling as a side dish was the consequence. Not that we cared so much, to kill a fish never was and never will be in our nature.
Somehow this cloudy day took my thoughts to a melancholic mood. Our trip had been excellent, thanks to my two fellow fly-hikers who I only met a couple of times before the start of this unforgettable rodtrip. I had the feeling we had become true friends, I couldn’t think of anyone else to live this adventure with.
Yet only two more days would be ours in this flyfishing paradise, and afterwards it’d be back to work, shortly followed by autumn and winter. Long, long winter without time to spend next to a fire out in the open wild, no more encounters with natures most beautifull scapes and creatures.
And on top of all this, I had been dreaming of catching that huge once in a lifetime rising fish this trip, fighting it, landing it and releasing it again, leaving me with this glorious feeling of adrenaline, making me feel as a small boy again.
I caught a lot, but those few big fish I hooked, those fish that would make this rodtrip as the best ever, they all won every single fight there was. Was it a stroll of bad luck, or was I simply not good enough? I rolled myself a cigarette and shared the last bit of whisky with my two friends.
Our third day was divided into two fishing parts. We continued downstream to where the river flows into the largest lake, a place where grayling would be more and more abundant. We put our packs under a tree close to the rivermouth, and it was clear that the large, wide vein of streaming water the river created into the lake, would be the place to fish.
Mathias and Jeremy put themselves side by side, casting streamers down and across, leaving every single cast with large and strong grayling hooked. In only 45 minutes they took almost as many grayling, all big, strong and well shaped.
A hotspot you know you should leave in order to keep it real. At such a spot you realise why some scandinavians mock with grayling as being a fish that likes to be caught.
As we walked downstream our eye fell on a ridiculously small but very deep pond, not connected to any stream whatsoever. But the emerald coloured water with it’s white sandy shores was truly amazing. There wasn’t anything in this pond, except for a stick drifting close to the surface.
Then the stick moved. ‘Trrrrout’! we all shouted. I don’t know wether it were my puppy eyes that did it, or the fact that I had so much bad luck so far, but my two friends nodded. I was the one to catch it. Very slowly I moved into the water and started casting a skating sedge towards the fish, but my cast wasn’t subtile enough and slowly the fish moved to deeper water. I lost visual and tried a bit further, stripping and pausing my skating sedge… bang.
From out of the deep, there she was. A violent take and a big splash when I set the hook. ‘Fish on!’, I heard Jeremy shouting. He too hooked a good trout, just around the corner. Both fish measured exactly 47cm.
Probably brother and sister. But skinny fish they were. Nothing compared to the fat fighters in the river. I now understand why Pentti told us not to fish any lakes or ponds that aren’t ‘fed’ by any water. Food is just too scarse in them to produce strong fish.
Our second stop was the upper part of the last stretch of river before we end up at the rendez-vous point. Again slow walking water, but even slower and especially deeper than what we encountered so far upstream. It was difficult to spot any activity, and it was getting late.
We all were nakked, it took us some time to find any spot suited for camping, and again the evening felt colder than what we experienced before. We even doubt for a while if we will go for a last session, but since tomorrow is the last day… That plus the fact that we ran out of our dear friend whisky.
Mathias and Jeremy are wandering around a big flat where occasionally a grayling rises towards the surface. What they are rising for is not clear, since even the last mosquitos have left us some while ago. At a time like this one actually tends to miss them little bastards…
I walk a bit upstream, where a small island devides the river in two, where at the utter end two big boulders with a bit of current arround them create a perfect hidaway for a good fish. Yet I glance at the spot without too much confidence. I’m tired from a long day of fishing and heavy backpack walking, it’s cold, and… a very good sized fish breaches trough the surface, just besides one of the boulders. Shit. Ow shit. And again it rises, sticking it’s head high above the water, the way fish do when they’re after emerging caddises. Ow fucking shit. Shaking hands.
It’s quite a long cast, but the current is good to avoid any kind of drag, just the bush behind me that makes falsecasting a bit tricky.
I notice again them white moths on the water, blown of the branches, and I remember Pentti showing us a ridiculous big foam dry he always uses up here. I take my flybox out of my pocket and search for the next big thing I have, but the only thing I can find is a size 10 ‘peute’, a typical Belgian wet fly I actually once gave a hackle to fish it dry, immitating an eh… an ugly half eaten mayfly or so. But it should work to immitate the moth. It has to.
I hear how the fish rises a third time, and try to finnish the knot. Bad bad shaking hands. When I try to wade a bit more towards the fish I understand how deep the pool behind the boulders is. About too deep. And the sand is about too sinking. I manage to stand on a stone below the water, badass slippery stone. One bad balance movement and I will most definitely scare the fish. I cast, but don’t reach as far as I should.. and at the end of the drift a bloody grayling takes the fly.
I don’t strike and luckily the grayling doesn’t hook itself. Another cast, but no move. A third one, followed by a fantastic head-tail rise, where the fish sips my fly from the surface and bang! It’s on! It’s definitely on!! Guys! I got it!! The fish is heavy, at least 2 kgs, probably more, and it’s difficult to get it away from the boulders.
I try to get it in to the pool in front of me, slowly the fish follows, when all of the sudden it goes down deep with the speed of light, followed by a high jump. Wooooo! Did you see that? Jeremy and Math just showed up. Again the fish goes deep, followed by an amazing jump. ‘I think you got a salmon there, Jeff’, Jeremy says.
And after a great fight it is in fact a salmon that Jeremy lands in the net (tailing salmon is for hipsters, not for serious grandslam fishermen). 64cm pure male beauty, coloured as a brown trout because of spawning time. We all enjoy this moment and never even doubt about putting it back or not.
Offcourse we’ll stick to our berrie-mushroom diet. Salmon is too beautifull and too endangered to kill.
That night I lie awake a long time, re-living that beautifull moment again and again. I know we’ll still fish half a day tomorrow, but it won’t get any better than this. And I know the three of us will come back, and next time we will catch them pikes, artic chars and naked Swedish women. Finnmark, we love you.
Mathias, Jeremy & Jeff