In a year of lockdowns across Europe planning a week ahead is rather difficult. Imagine six friends who want to travel to Russia in June.
Seems difficult, right? Pandemics call for spontaneous decisions and actions. In our case, we became aware that visa for the Russian federation were not issued to German or Austrian students. So we had to come up with another plan, a little bit more flexible.
After the first lockdown in spring, several countries, including Finland and Norway, opened their borders for tourism again. Just a few days later, we found ourselves in Tromsø, a town in Northern Norway. The plan of going to Russia had at least prepared us for an adventure including packrafts and fly rods.
All was kept – as it had to be – safe and simple. Fly to Tromsø, take a float plane somewhere into the Finnmark area and float down with the rafts until we reach civilization again. Equipped with nothing less than 60 kg of food, tents, fly fishing equipment, our rafts and a satellite phone we jumped on board of the float plane and shortly after, we were out of civilization.
Fishing Finnmark: Leaving Civilization Behind
No internet connection, no people. Just rivers and lakes as far as your can see. Watching the float plane disappear, a feeling of freedom started to evolve. For the following two weeks, we were left to ourselves. No daily news on the pandemic, no emails, no phone contact to the outside world – some kind of quarantine.
We had approximately 120 kilometers (70 miles) ahead of us. From the source of the river at the lake until a highway bridge from where we’d take the bus back to Tromsø. Little did we know that the plan might change.
We stayed at the lake for a few days and met a Finnish fly fisherman named Aapo. With our packrafts, we explored the lake and some of its tributaries and finally stumbled upon arctic char. The size of the first one was no exception as we found out later.
On the Move
In order to keep our schedule and catch our flight back, we needed to cover quite a bit of distance with our boats. Some waterfalls though were impassable for us and our boats, so sometimes we had to carry all our stuff around the waterfall. Often even further, when the water level was too low to paddle.
The packraft is a very flexible tool that stored nearly all our luggage inside its air chambers. They are quite fast, too. Even whitewater is not a problem until a certain difficulty level and mainly depending on the paddlers’ experience. We only had a single situation where one of us flipped over, but these boats are easy to exit.
Our days typically consisted of some paddling, fishing, hiking and searching for a new camp for the next two or three days. In the most beautiful places, we usually stayed a bit longer which resulted in longer stretches that we had to paddle the following day.
Food for the Soul
As the sun never really set, our days shifted into nights and vice versa. We forgot about sleep and fished until exhaustion. Some of the fish we caught landed on the plate and we were especially ambitious in making the best out of it. So we found ourselves eating better than at home sometimes – maybe it only felt that way but hey – fresh sushi with wasabi!
Seeing the river in its complete length and all of its shapes was very special to me as a freshwater ecologist. No barriers, no industry, no channelization. This river had what most of our homewaters have been missing for a long time – diversity and dynamics in every aspect.
Fishing Finnmark: Where Rivers still Flow Freely
It’s a landscape that has been shaped over millions of years and change is still going on as the river can change its flow path every year, especially in the middle section, where it got as wide as one kilometer (0.6 miles). Seeing and experiencing this intact ecosystem taught us a lot and made us feel very small.
Hearing the waves softly braking on our boats while silently drifting down the river, we sometimes stopped talking and enjoyed the moment. We knew that the fishing was best in the upper section of the river, so that’s where we spent the most of our time.
The water was still quite cold but we’ve managed to catch great fish including brown trout, arctic char, grayling and pike. We tried lots of different recipes and food was well portioned throughout our trip. In the end we realized that we would never reach the bridge in time and decided to call the float plane again to pick us up.
Back to Reality after Fishing Finnmark
We had forgotten about the corona virus and had no idea if the regulations had changed to the better or worse. The pilot asked us to put on masks and even gloves. We had already had our little quarantine, way up north above the polar circle.
We wrapped up the trip by spending two more days paddling through a fjord close to Tromsø. Looking back on the past year, we are all very happy that we’ve taken the change and experienced a trip of a lifetime.
The rest of the year is history.
Tight lines and stay healthy!