The Field

Of mice, men and amazing fish

Monster flies, huge fish and a vast, unspoilt area make this region in north-east Sweden a fishing paradise – almost


Tim Gent fishes the lakes of north-east Sweden

Local advice is often invaluable but this caught me by surprise. “Like a squirrel?” I replied, not quite sure I’d heard.

“Yes,” confirmed the shop owner, leaning forward to point towards the sort of thing he had in mind. “Much bigger. Like this. Like a squirrel.”

The fly he was referring to, if fly was a term that came anywhere near describing the thick nest of deer hair laid on the counter before me, looked more like a small rat. There was a reason. Trying to avoid the cold stare from an extremely realistic rodent eye, my look of disbelief must have been evident.

“It is true. The last big fish caught here had three or four mice part digested in its stomach. If you use the tiny flies you have,” he continued, pointing at something in my tobacco tin about 2in long, “you will catch only harr, and small ones. To catch a good trout, you need something like that.”

“Like a squirrel,” I repeated.


Mind you, he had at least one part of all this right. Apart from a few pretty but modest brown trout, I had been catching only harr or grayling. Not that I would have called many of them small. The last sail-finned silver bar I’d coaxed to the bank must have been nearer 3lb than 2lb. And while I’ve hooked some lively grayling in the past, not many ever went aerial, let alone burst from the buckled water to cartwheel through the clear evening air. Still, nobody takes a great deal of notice here of any harr under 2kg. And if this sounds impressive, wait until you see the brown trout I wasn’t catching. No wonder you require something meaty on the end of a stout length of monofilame­nt.

On first entering the shop, and spotting a few photos of recent prize captures by the door, I’d assumed the fish being held by beaming anglers were salmon – and pretty fine specimens at that. A closer inspection revealed the truth. Brown trout in excess of 20lb are not uncommon around these parts. In fact, the largest Salmo trutta caught in Europe, at least when I last looked, came from just up the road. It weighed 37lb 8oz. That’s a wild fish.

So where, I hear you ask, are ‘these parts’? Well if, like us, you choose to drive, then quite a long way off. From our home between Dartmoor and the Atlantic coast, it takes us about four or five days to reach the rivers and lakes surroundin­g this Swedish mouse-fly selling shop. Of course, a more convention­al approach would shrink this journey. A flight from Gatwick to Umeå would put you and a hire car within 220 miles of some of the finest fly-fishing water I’ve seen. Still a fair drive but one I’m sure you’d enjoy. If this still sounds unappealin­g, the huge distances and lack of roads up there mean that helicopter use is pretty common. Charters are easy to procure and relatively inexpensiv­e.

In view of all this exciting angling potential, a reasonable conclusion might be that the opportunit­y to fish must be both limited

and rather pricey. Let’s move to another counter in town, just after our arrival, and find out. “Here is a map showing the fishing area,” explained the helpful lady, pushing a foldout coloured sheet across the counter. “The cross-hatched sections are restricted, either conservati­on areas or water licensed to commercial companies. You can fish anywhere else.”

My brain, perhaps a little jaded after just completing that five-day drive – and still trying to cope with almost 24 hours of sunshine daily – struggled with this informatio­n. I didn’t know the area, which is vast, stretching south-east from the mountain border with Norway to cover a pretty wild lump of northern Sweden. Discoverin­g that fishing licences – or fiskekort, as they are known up here – were sold in the town’s silver museum didn’t ease the sense of unreality.

Before any purchase, the all-important details: my licence would entitle me to fish for all species, including, I was pleased to discover, both salmon and Arctic char. It would be good, however, to know the size of the beat I was being offered. But just as I was about to admit defeat and ask for help, it all began to click into shape. After staring, probably open mouthed, at the map for another few moments, trying to keep the astonishme­nt from my voice, I checked: “And I can fish all this?” My hand wavered helpfully over the plan.

“Yes,” replied the lady, now looking a little puzzled herself. “Except these small cross-hatched areas,” she added once again, pointing at one to help this rather slow and dim-witted foreigner.

land of lakes

I looked back at the glossy sheet. The municipali­ty of Arjeplog (pronounced Ariaplog) is about the size of Belgium. There are claims (mostly in tourist literature, though true, I suspect) that in addition to the scores of tiny streams and three or four monumental rivers, the region contains about 8,000 lakes. Now, my licence didn’t cover the whole of this area. That would be silly. No, it allowed me to fish across about 70%, taking in a great swathe of land rising up to that mountain border to the west and across the fabled Arctic Circle some 20 miles to the north.

Next, I asked about the price. The museum assistant’s smile faltered a little as she apologised, informing me that costs had risen slightly since last year. As she flicked through a file looking for the figures, my hand moved instinctiv­ely to protect my wallet (well, I’ve fished in Norway after all).

“Yes, I have found it,” she continued, her cheery countenanc­e returned. “A ticket for a day will cost 70 kronor, one for three days is 125 and 220 kronor is the price for a ticket to cover a week.”

Even in my travel-weary state I could work this out. Seven days fishing across an area about the size of Northern Ireland, with individual lakes nearly as big as the Lake District, would set me back approximat­ely £17.

“And we have another ticket to cover the rest,” she continued

“The rest?”

“Of the Arjeplog area.”

To cut things short, this second licence,

I turned to the largest, hairiest and most Nutkin-like fly I could find

which would allow me to fish pretty much everything else in this vast swathe of Arctic and just sub-arctic Sweden, would cost me another 150 kronor, or about £11, for the year. I bought the two licences.

the pitealven

Then, keen to finish our journey, but mostly to see some of this water, it was back out to our van. Another 40 miles further north, the final 20 on surprising­ly smooth, unmetalled roads, found us packing our canoe with camping kit. Launching onto the Piteälven, one of the big and endlessly varied rivers up here, we dipped our paddles into the clear water, set off upstream and didn’t see another human being for three days. We did, however, see a lot of fish.

Despite the fact that my catch was indeed dominated by grayling, none of which would impress the locals much, I was certainly happy enough. This part of the world is quite simply stunning.

Few anglers manage to indulge in their passion without developing a love for the water itself. Not only is there an awful lot of it around Arjeplog, it seems to be particular­ly exuberant and inventive. Slow and sweeping one minute, it can turn a corner, hemmed in by smooth rock, accelerati­ng fast before surging forward to leap like a herd of pale reindeer between the rocks. And then it is all calm again, deep, silent swirls rotating, foam specked, above shadowy piles of boulders.

Stood just north of the Arctic Circle, at the head of one of these enticing pools, and having turned to the largest, hairiest and most Nutkin-like fly I could find, I did make contact with one of those big trout, but not for long. I know whom to blame.

Which is the moment, if I’m to paint a truthful picture of this piscatoria­l near paradise, that I feel compelled to address the one fly in the ointment, quite literally. Recent studies have suggested there are at least 49 species of mygg, or mosquito, in northern Sweden. All but two share a single key characteri­stic. Yes, you’ve guessed it – they all bite.

And on that afternoon, they were biting me. Or, at least, they were working industriou­sly on the only portion I’d left bare. Which I needed to tie on that fly. As a result, and due solely to the blood-sucking onslaught (at least that’s still my contention), I was left with an almost complete inability to make that leader perform the required turns and bights. Finally, brushing another half-dozen attackers aside, I decided the latest fumbled effort would have to do.

You can probably guess the rest, which ended, after a few heart-stopping moments, with me staring in self-critical contempt at one of those horribly bare leaders, the end corkscrew contorted and frayed. There may also have been cursing. For all too brief a time, that was by far the largest trout I’d ever had on the end of a line.

guiding available

Not surprising­ly, a number of the small, water-edge settlement­s up there boast a company dedicated to helping visitors make the most of all this fishing excellence. You may recall those crosshatch­ed areas on the map in the Silermusee­t, reserved for their use. Quite a few guiding organisati­ons even use their own helicopter­s to access the more out-of-the-way spots, and these really will be remote and rarely fished. I could name a couple but an internet search will soon throw up options. Besides, with our hard-pressed red van to deal with that long but rewarding drive, and our canoe to take over at the riverbank, I have no personal experience to call on. All I can say, based on the friendline­ss of the people I’ve met up there so far, and the sheer beauty of the area, is that you are unlikely to regret the phone call.

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 ??  ?? Left: the writer takes to his canoe to fish one of the region’s reputed 8,000 lakes – it doesn’t get much better than this. Top: casting onto the River Piteälven. Above: a respectabl­e pair of Piteälven harr
Left: the writer takes to his canoe to fish one of the region’s reputed 8,000 lakes – it doesn’t get much better than this. Top: casting onto the River Piteälven. Above: a respectabl­e pair of Piteälven harr
 ??  ?? Above: rapids on the Tjaktjaurä­lven – the rivers change character at every turn. Top right: landing a small perch in the Sámpi region – this one was returned. Above, right: the writer on the Piteälven
Above: rapids on the Tjaktjaurä­lven – the rivers change character at every turn. Top right: landing a small perch in the Sámpi region – this one was returned. Above, right: the writer on the Piteälven
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