Last night I saw a 5lb 4oz grayling. It was a dark and glistening fish, 63cm long, its outsize dorsal waving above a tubular gunmetal body, a wild eye looking out at its captor with quintessential alarm.
Okay, it was a photograph of this huge grayling, and the fish was caught in Arctic Sweden, not in the UK. But its captor, Anders Wallgren, was giving a talk on the wild fly-fishing in northern Sweden – Nordkalotten – and the sport to be had on the Tavvaatno (Atno means river in Swedish).
I was mesmerised. Anders has fished these rivers since boyhood and clearly he was talking from the heart. His father used to drop him off on the river bank and he’d be left there for the day. (Once he fell in the river, and terrified of his dad finding out and stopping the adventures, he started a fire and spent all day drying his clothes so nothing was remarked on when he was picked up that evening.)
So what is the Zeeling of flyfishing? It is, said the holistic Anders, a combination of salmon and feeling. [Zen and feeling, actually, thanks Nicholas and Louis!]
Now I have never been to Sweden, and this was a revelation. And they even have salmon – big salmon. Fish of a minimum weight of 12 kilos. That’s in the high twenties of pounds.
In what was described as an ‘Orri thing’, they bought out the nets at the mouth of the river. Now they have 50 per cent more salmon running the system. One hundred thousand of them. But by the time they get up to Anders’ patch, they are coloured, black really. And while they are a challenge to hook, they are even more of a challenge to land.
And this is what gripped me. The salmon fishing (no surprise to my loyal HSA readers here). Anders, who by day runs a desk at Swedbank, fuelled this by describing the capture of a fish in the 30s of pounds.
They came to a pool. Fish were crashing around. They had brought a salmon rod and this was put together hastily by Anders’ friend. “You try for him,” said Anders.
The fish took the fly, then jumped. “It was like a VW falling back into the water.” The fish pulled, hard. Anders’ friend pulled back. It took a fair amount of time, but in the end Anders tailed the fish.
The salmon was black, big and brutish. The fish was returned and the friends high-5’d in the impossibly wild uplands of the Swedish taiga, jubilant.
It was, said Anders, a good moment.
Anders (like me) was also fascinated by the prolific fishing on Russia’s Kola Peninsula. He said how the first fishers out there after the 1990-91 meltdown of the Soviet Union jumped off their MI8 helicopters and found … an arrowhead. An ancient arrowhead. No one had been there for 3,000 years.
Flies? Zonkers. Rabbit fur lures – they worked best for the trout and grayling, with a Michael Frödin tube-fly taking the salmon. And amazingly this vast area of fishing is available to all-comers at the rate of £6 a day.
I asked Anders a question. He’d talked the talk of real fishermen, which I increasingly respected as the evening progressed. He’d said: “There is code you have to break” [when the fish are difficult, which is most of the time]. So I asked him: “Is it a code you have to break or is it a zone you have to get into?”
“It is a mix,” said Anders.
As the talk ended Anders passed around a plate of something special. Sammi reindeer meat, dried. It was meaty and those older chaps among us chewed carefully, conscious of the damage this desiccated Rangifer tarandus could wreak on their ivories.
And finally, Anders’ conclusion again: “Be happy about the small things and grateful for the big things.” I like that philosophy, so I’ll end on it.