Ice Fishing in the Finnish Lapland

Posted on January 21, 2013 by

I jump up and down, like a child pouncing on her bed, eager to see if the ice beneath my feet will crack and fizzle. It’s ridiculously stupid of me, considering that if that happens, I will be swimming in ice-cold water, probably catching hypothermia in an instant. Thankfully there is no hint of the ice giving way.

“Don’t worry, the ice is so thick it can even support the weight of a truck.” Sami, our guide from Lapland Safaris, says. We are doubtful and it seems to show on our faces. To reassure us, he takes out an ice drill and bore a hole into the ice. It takes him approximately five minutes to get through the ice layer and once he reaches the water, we poke our heads through the hole and feel slightly more convinced. “It’s about 30cm thick, we usually fish on 5cm-thick ice. You’re safe!

But we’re not here just to test the ice. On the frozen Karhulampi (Bear Lake), we’re trying our luck in ice fishing, a popular winter activity for both locals and tourists alike. The lake freezes each year from October to March, and pods of salmon and rainbow trout live in this lake all year round. It is common to find locals ice fishing on weekends with an open fire and drinking vodka.  Even though we’re merely a few kilometers outside of Rovaniemi, the capital of the Finnish Lapland, we’re surrounded by acres of pine tree forests with the frozen lake stretching for miles. We’re engulfed by a calm soothing silence, except for the occasional wolf howling echoing in the distance.

On the frozen Karhulampi (Bear Lake), we’re trying our luck in ice fishing, a popular activity for both locals and tourists alike.

Outdoors in Lapland

After a brief demonstration, Sami hands us each a small fluorocarbon fishing line and an ice drill. “It’s all about location. Rainbow trout like to swim around the banks of the lake.”

We find ourselves a comfortable spot, spread a reindeer hide on the ice, and proceed to drill our holes. It takes more strength than I’d imagined, but soon enough, I’m ready to drop my line and eager to find my catch of the day.

“Some say ice fishing depends on 99% skill and 1% luck, but I think it’s the other way round, it’s more like 99% luck and 1% skill,” Says Sami. “Sometimes you can catch a fish within minutes, but at times you wait for hours and they still don’t appear. You just have to be patient.” My initial optimism fades slightly with Sami’s honest remark, but I’m still hoping that luck will be on my side.

Adorning thick winter overalls, we’ve come well prepared for Lapland’s icy temperatures. We expected to battle temperatures bordering –30 degrees Celsius, but it’s surprisingly a mild –3 degrees Celsius, which Sami describes as balmy and pleasant. We’re thankful for the great weather — it looks like we will be out here for a while.

While waiting for our catch, we lounge around comfortably on our reindeer hide and chat with Sami about life in Lapland. The tall and athletic guide grew up in Rovaniemi and has always enjoyed being surrounded by nature. “This is a great place to grow up. I love being outdoors and I enjoy nature.”

That is why Sami trained to become a nature guide, combining his love for the outdoors with a way of life. Besides ice fishing, Sami also leads excursions on snowmobiles and snowshoes, cross-country skiing and dog sledding. Sami’s family also works in the tourism industry, with his mother and stepfather tending the Bear’s Den where our lunch awaits.

Catch of the Day

15 minutes into our conversation, our travel mate Carol starts shouting, “I think I’ve got something here!”

We break into silence as she pulls up her rod with Sami guiding her along the way. Soon enough, a rainbow trout leaps out of the water, flipping and tossing on the ice surface. In just 15 minutes on Carol’s first ice-fishing attempt, she’s already caught a fish. We all cheer in unison, both proud and a little jealous of her successful attempt.

Unfortunately none of us has any luck with our catch. It’s almost 2pm by the time we give up on our futile ice-fishing attempt. After warming ourselves over hot berry juice Sami prepared on the open fire, we head into the lodge at Bear’s Den for the much-anticipated lunch. The beautiful logged cabin is decked out with wooden furnishing, with a big fireplace as the centerpiece, and decorated with life-like figures of reindeer, wolverine and even a bear. Sami’s stepfather, the head chef and host here, is ready to show us how fish is prepared here in Lapland.

In just 15 minutes on Carol’s first ice-fishing attempt, she’s already caught a fish.

A fresh, bright orange slab of salmon sits on the dining table — it looks as if it had been fished just a few seconds ago. The assistant chef Lauri first seasons the salmon with plenty of salt and pepper, and sweeps butter all over it. He then pins it onto the wooden board with sticks and wraps it up in aluminum, before placing it in the fireplace for 2.5 hours. Thankfully another salmon has already been prepared for us and we soon tuck into the freshly blazed salmon also known as loimulohi in Finnish. Drenched generously with white wine sauce and served simply with roasted vegetables, the salmon is the best I’ve ever had.

By the time we finish our sumptuous lunch, Sami serves up a bowl of dried fish that he’d cooked over the open fire. “This is the rainbow trout that Carol caught. You must try the fish you caught yourself.”

We all tuck in enthusiastically, despite the full stomachs. I catch a glimpse of Carol, as she grins from ear to ear, devouring her catch.


Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Lapland – the North of Finland, but all opinions expressed are our own.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

12 Responses to “Ice Fishing in the Finnish Lapland”

  1. Migration Expert January 22, 2013 1:18 am #

    I also tried fishing twice and I didn't catch any fish from it. Maybe fishing is not my thing. :P

  2. Timo Kiviluoma January 22, 2013 2:19 am #

    You seem to have a wonderful trip. Just posted your story in Travel & Lifestyle Scandinavia community.

  3. facebook fans January 22, 2013 2:26 am #

    The Gulf of Finland and lakes around Helsinki area get ice cover normally around new year time. We take our guests only to safe areas with no danger of thin ice.

    The ice fishing locations are located near Helsinki region. Target species in both sea and lakes are perch and various other small fish. We also have a private fishing pond where you can catch rainbow trouts and trouts in good size. Our guides will teach you ice fishing techniques and help you throughout your fishing trip. During the day we will have a coffeebreak by an open fire. Your day's catch can be hot smoked on site, if you wish.

    After the ice fishing safari you have the option for visiting sauna and also swimming in the hole of the ice

  4. waysofwanderers January 22, 2013 6:59 am #

    This is such a proper tundra day – ice fishing and then retiring to a cozy, logged cabin. What a cool experience! I'd definitely like to try ice fishing sometime.

  5. Jeremy Branham January 22, 2013 10:14 am #

    I love fish! However bit on the chilly side to go fishing. Great experience and glad it wasn't as cold as you thought it would be! :)

  6. @our_oyster February 18, 2013 11:20 pm #

    Awesome! I have done ice fishing before in Canada but it was for eels with long poles with spikes on the end – I think your way would be more relaxing. jabbing a pole in the bottom of a lake for hours is exhausting and eels are gross anyways!

  7. fillet salmon July 18, 2013 2:18 pm #

    actually, fishing is really fun. We are going fishing with my kids every weekend as our family bonding.

  8. Mark November 29, 2013 8:20 am #

    I've always been a warm weather fisherman, but you make ice fishing look fun.


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