Saturday, March 19, 2011

Column in the New World Finn - Goin' Fishin'

Here is a column of mine that was published recently in the New World Finn.  Although I  have mentioned this before, I'll say it again - the New World Finn is a Finnish-American quarterly and if you like the articles that they publish I highly recommend that you support this paper by buying a subscription. 

If you prefer, read the pdf version (page 16) here.

Goin' Fishin'
Spring should be here any month now. The Finnish winter has lived up to all expectations this time around. There has been plenty of snow, and temperatures have well below freezing for weeks now. The polar night has come to an end and the sun shines bright throughout the afternoons. The made (eelpout) are spawning and the local ice fishermen who know the right spots have plenty of opportunity to enjoy some of the best fish soup in the world. I’ve never been one for ice fishing – I’m more of a summer lake and rowboat fisherman – there has been plenty of opportunity to freeze parts of my nether regions off this winter without sitting on a upside-down bucket in the middle of a frozen lake in the hope that I might catch a couple of fish. Lucky for me I live right down the street from Mäkinen’s fish store and with the simple exchange of hard currency for product and a little bit of kitchen know-how I too am able to enjoy a hot bowl of eelpout soup with plenty of onions and potatoes.

Fishing, both recreational and commercial, is a part of life here in Finland. With over 185,000 lakes, nearly 700 miles of Baltic coastline, and 647 rivers (pretty much ten percent of Finland’s surface area is water), there are plenty of opportunities to dip a line in the water. These waters have a variety of fish on offer. Northern pike (hauki), European perch (ahven), Atlantic salmon (lohi), brown trout (taimen), and pike-perch a.k.a. zander (kuha) are among the most popular species that anglers hope to land. The pike-perch bears a strong resemblance to its North American cousin, the walleye, both in appearance and flavor.

The laws regarding fishing licenses in Finland are pretty straight-forward. Angling with a hook and line (pole fishing without a reel) and ice-fishing are exempt from licensing fees thanks to public access rights that fall under the terms of jokamiehenoikeus. Jokamiehenoikeus in English is everyman’s right or freedom to roam. In addition to license-free pole fishing, jokamiehenoikeus guarantees that everyone has the right to hike and ski freely in the countryside as long as the natural environment and private property aren’t damaged while doing so. One also enjoys the right to pick wild mushrooms and berries, and any income derived from these activities is tax-free. This doesn’t mean that you can intrude on the privacy of people in the vicinity of their own homes – common courtesy is expected. But I digress from the topic at hand – back to fishing. If you are under the age of 18 or over the age of 64, there is no need to buy a license to fish with a rod and reel. If you aren’t lucky enough to be too young or too old, then a fishing license is a must. The fishing licensing system here can seem slightly complicated at first but when you get down to nuts and bolts it is pretty straightforward. No matter where you plan on fishing, you must pay the national fishing management fee (1 year – 22 €, 7 days – 7 €). In addition to this fee you must also pay for a provincial lure-fishing fee (1 year – 29€, 7 days – 7€). Make sure you know exactly which province you are going to be fishing in before you buy this license. Fishing licenses are available at any post office or bank. Paying the national fishing management fee also entitles you to fish with nets or traps, although the municipality in which you plan to net or trap may require you to purchase a permit if you want to legally net and trap on their lakes. I’m not sure how much the fees vary from place to place, but here in Jyväskylä the annual fish trap tag will set you back 1 euro per trap.

The ice hasn’t even thought about melting away, yet here I sit, dreaming of trolling the lakes for kuha, casting streams for taimen, and checking the traps every few days with the hope of rowing back to shore with a bucket full of ahven. I guess that it is natural for those of us who live in the upper regions of the northern hemisphere to daydream about summer when the end of winter is almost within reach. Pretty soon the sun will rise above the horizon and stay there for a good long while. If this summer is going to be as hot as the forecasters promise, it could very well be that in a few months I’ll be longing for winter.

Pike-perch (kuha)

Perch (ahven) in the fish trap (katiska)

An ok-sized brown trout (taimen)

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