Swedish Lapland

Do you know Sápmi? No? Then come with me to Sweden. North of the polar circle, accompany our small group into the fell to fish for grayling. It will be a journey of unforgettable days. We have just crossed the river and make our way to a promising spot further upstream. Boggy ground, patched with small boulders and bushes no taller than a man, make this stroll rather exhausting. Trees, in terms of long branches reaching up to the heavens, do not exist this far north, because cold winters and short light periods prune the plant growth to shrubs. It is summer in northern Sweden and although the sun doesn’t really set below the horizon, the air temperature is about 11°C, as is the water. Light rain sets in while we make our way to some other tributaries, guided by Timo and Joni, our German-Finish go-to-guys. So far, we have already caught some nice brook trout, char and ok-ish grayling. Now we are hoping to catch the parents of the smaller fish. Field note: check occurrence of Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula). Since being flown by helicopter to our camp in the Swedish fell, we have made ourselves a great home with a tent for each one of us (quite a luxury concerning the weight restrictions for heli-flights!). From our camp it is only a stone’s throw to the water — the johka — with lots of promising spots: riffles, pools, runs, channels and bends. Timo and Joni take care of everything, so that Sebastian, Olaf and I are free to fish whenever we want. Literally, we are in one of Europe’s last wildernesses, the land also known as Lapland — country of the Sàmi, the indigenous people of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Today about 70,000 of them live above or at least around the polar circle, making a living from reindeer, handicraft, art and even music. The traditional singing, known as joik, holds something mystical and I like some of their songs very much. They seem to be born of the land and thus a mutual link exists. Field note: birch bark makes great firewood, due to its essential oils. Our group of ‘grayling hunters’ proceed with Timo and Joni at the front, followed by Olaf and Sebastian. I am always behind, because there is always something interesting to see. At first glance the Scandinavian fell looks, well, kind of empty — green bushes, some stones and a few hills. But if you have a closer look, you can find and see the colourful ‘gems’ of this swathe of land: purple blossoms of mountain heath, white cottongrass, pink petals of the Arctic bramble, red and orange helmeted mushrooms, the bluethroat with its rusty coloured tail, and the black-bluish crowberries — just to give you an incomplete list of what is there to find. Searching for reindeer antlers — which I do find — is a ‘must’. However, I have less luck in finding ripe moltebeeren — the Arctic bramble. Pioneer botanist Carl Linnaeus named it Rubus fragariae folio. Not only does the name sound lovely, the taste of these orange berries is lovely too. Just before we arrive at our fishing site for the day, I find one ripe berry and it tastes magnificent. Field note: mayflies (< 1 cm), caddisflies (< 1 cm) on the water; all brownish. The location for the day, at first sight, looks rather dull. Wide river, almost no visible structures — and so I follow Joni, who is off to explore a small feeder stream. This is more to my taste. The brook runs in riffles and in tight meanders along a gravel bed. Deep runs, with dead wood and overgrowing plants make great spots for the fish. As Joni approaches one of the runs a huge shadow, like a grey ghost, peels off from the stream bed and disappears downstream. When we rejoin the rest of the group, Olaf is already wading along the shoreline, and in the distant fog I see the shape of Sebastian. For the time being I stay with Timo, who has started a fire for a cuppa and, later, our dinner. After brief instructions on where to fish, I work my way to the recommended spot. The wind picks up and makes casting a challenge, but the tungsten-nymph adds enough weight for good presentations. Meanwhile Joni joins us in the water and while Sebastian hooks his first fish I am still stripping in my fly without success. Next is Olaf, who makes contact with a fish. I cannot really see what it is, but do not want to shout — it feels too out of place in this otherwise awestruck silent vastness. The only sounds are a few birds, like goosanders, now and then. I am asking myself why I didn’t bring any gloves with me. The cold water in combination with the wind gusts turns my fingers bluish. Stupid bugger! Then a sudden take triggers a rush of adrenaline and I forget being cold. The fish makes a run and after it takes almost all of my fly-line from the reel it stops, only to start jumping. The brown trout skyrockets nearly half a metre out of the water. I am totally thrilled. After landing the marvellous looking creature, I take a rest near the fire. I hear Joni shouting and see Timo rushing into the water with a net. This must be a big one. Eventually, Joni holds up one of the biggest grayling I’ve seen alive. What a cracker! Frustrated, I have to realise that the camera is not able to catch the blaze of colour of the ‘grey’. As soon as one of us lifts a fish just slightly out of the water, the colours fade. In the water though, and with the right angle of light, the light blue, deep red and purple shades light up, as if the fish were illuminated from within. Field note: pine marten runs away, holding a char in its mouth. Later, when lying in my sleeping bag, rain drumming slightly on my tent and with a full stomach, I review the day, trying to figure out what was the best thing that happened. Was it the fishing, the beautiful grayling, another fantastic meal prepared by our ‘chef’-guides, the landscape, the sip of whisky Sebastian had offered at the end of the day, or was it the comradeship I feel in this group? Still philosophising about these op-tions, I start dozing off to the sound of some Sàmi singer and her almost elfish voice. And before I totally fall asleep I see again the image of the ‘ghost reindeer’ we saw in the distance that evening. Emerging out of the foggy drizzle, the white furred reindeer was like a sign, but I cannot say what for. So I am listening to Sofia Jannok’s Cuoivvatmiessi (the lightest reindeer calf) and look forward to another breakfast with porridge and hot raspberries, and the fishing days to come. Right now there is no other place I would rather be…

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