There is far more to fishing than catching fish a phrase I have often uttered especially when success has not been as forthcoming as I perhaps hoped. But on our recent excursion to Norway we enjoyed success with big fish along with adventure in a far off land with spectacular scenery and great company of like minded anglers.
Havennes Handellsted is a trading post in Northern Norway established in the 1800’s it has a unique atmosphere situated on an Island between the Lyngen fjord and the Rotsund Fjord, a spectacular backdrop of the snow capped Lyngen Alps to the west and the towering mainland to the East. The journey from South West England is a grueling one lasting close to twenty four hours. We flew from London Gatwick to Oslo, from Oslo to Tromso and then close to four hours transfer by mini bus before collecting a boat for the final furlong across the Rotsund.
There were 12 of us on the expedition that had been well organized by Craig Butler who spends much of his working life in Minehead Harbour, manning West Coast Tackle, carrying out harbor Master duties or guiding anglers. We were a mixed bunch from varied backgrounds sharing a love of fish and fishing. My son James and our mate Rob Scoines were sharing a house with three total strangers. Jaky the Chef, Steve Perkins and Mike Spiller, they were of course strangers for a very short time becoming good friends and sharing good humored banter as if we had know each other for years.
Its always difficult knowing where to set expectations on such an adventure as the stories of huge numbers of big fish can be misleading. I know from experience that big fish do not generally come easily and have to be earned wherever you seek them. There is also the question of what constitutes a big fish?
The fish we could expect to catch would be fish of a lifetime in the UK and it is important to keep a true perspective. My son James had no expectations just hoping to catch a few fish larger than he could catch at home. I set my sights a little higher hoping to catch a halibut, a wolf fish, twenty pound plus cod, big coalfish and a few other bonus species. Top priority was of course to enjoy.
On arrival at Havenness we embarked upon a little fun fishing from the pier casting out small jigs to catch a succession of small coalfish and haddock. Others targeted specimen dab landing numerous fish to well over the 1lb. The waters are crystal clear and it was obvious from the start how rich in fish life the waters were with haddock and coalfish abundant and visible.
After moving into our accommodation we were given instructions on how to drive the boats and given advice on safety and allocated a reassuring GPS emergency alarm to summon help if required. It has to be remembered that the environment can be hostile the sea demands respect and does not tolerate fools.
On that first afternoon we overcame fatigue quite easily and set out to explore the calmer waters of the Rotsund. This was a steep learning curve and whilst we listened intently to advice we had a lot to learn. On that first afternoon we did not venture far content to search the margins looking for features and casting our lures into depths generally less that 30 meters. Numerous plump cod up to around 8lb brought pleasing sport. Eventually my lure was seized by something larger and after an exciting tussle a double figure wolf fish was swung aboard twisting and gyrating whilst flashing its formidable dentistry. At 11lb 2oz it was pleasing start to the week and one of my goals achieved.
The second day saw us heading further up into the Rotsund exploring the deeper waters. Success came to us fishing depths of over 100 meters using standard sized sidewinder lures fished on a long flowing trace. Lowered to the bottom and retrieved slowly to the surface. The takes when they came were spectacular savage tugs followed by a crash dive that set the reels singing. My son and Rob used 12lb to 20lb class boat rods whilst I used a 7ft St Leger Custom made Spinning rod that enhanced each battle. I had at first doubted the wisdom of using such light rods but soon realized that the American blanks had far more backbone than first impressions had given and I felt confident that I could tame any coalfish I hooked given a little bit of time. There were after all no snags to worry about. In addition to the coalfish we also caught several cod though not as big as we hoped for with fish averaging between 6lb and 10lb.
The coalfish were awesome fish averaging close to twenty pounds my best on the spinning rod a pleasing 24lb. The only downside to the spectacular scarps offered by the coalfish was that few of them survived and had to be taken back to Havnnes where they were donated to anyone who wished to make use of them.
The spectacular surroundings were well worth exploring and the boats enabled us to venture over a wide area weather permitting. Well know fish producing areas were visited with huge shoals of fish often visible on the fish finder. A visit to the North of the Island rewarded us with several cod the biggest to our boat a pleasing fish of 22lb 2oz.
The shallower waters close to our base have a reputation for producing giant halibut and it was from here that Craig Butler brought ashore the fish of a lifetime. We were fishing from the pier when we heard excited calls from their boat as they approached the harbor. Some of our party feared there had been an accident but fortunately it was cries of anguish they heard but cries of triumph.
The thought of such huge fish residing within the waters you are fishing is both inspiring and slightly scary. We of course set out ourselves to fish for halibut most evenings and sometimes during the day. We landed five in our boat for the week James the biggest at 15lb whilst I managed a couple of 13lb flatties. The loss of a big fish by James early in the week taught him a vital lesson regarding the importance of carefully tying knots!
The nights were magical afloat on the boat drifting in the hope of outsize halibut whilst the sun sank only partially on the horizon illuminating far off mountains to create a vista fit for a Lord of the Rings type epic. The cry of the arctic terns and the thrill call of oyster catchers on the shore adding to a magical and surreal atmosphere.
The Lyngen Fiord stretched to the West the Lyngen Alps towering above the sea glaciers providing a constant feed to waterfalls that plunge spectacularly into the deep clear waters. When the weather permitted we travelled to fish beneath the towering cliffs where we caught a variety of species including ling, cod, torsk, redfish, haddock and coalfish. Within a few meters of the cliffs the water was over a hundred meters in depth dropping to over well 200 meters.
Sea birds were often the key to locating fish puffins with their comical brightly coloured beaks often struggling to get airborne their crops full of sandeel or whitebait. On the last day of our stay we were heading for a mark made known to us by a friendly party of Irish anglers. We came across a population of birds on the surface. James insisted that we should drop our lines. I suggested it better to forge on to our intended mark. The water was over two hundred meters deep and no fish were showing on the sounder. We gave it a try and as I declared it a fish-less zone my rod tip jagged down as a large coalfish smashed into my lure. The next hour and a half saw us enjoy some hectic sport with eleven coalfish coming to the boat with James landing a nice brace of doubles using his St Leger Renegade lure rod.
Sadly the wind picked up and we were forced to retreat back to the comfort of the halibut grounds where we enjoyed the final few hours of our week. This session resulted in another small halibut of around 7lb.One of the other boats managed to bring in 50lb plus fish highlighting the small margin between success and relative failure for it would seem that the size of halibut you hook is all down to luck of the draw.
The week passed by all too quickly and there was a degree of envy when our friends arrived on the Island with a week ahead of them and the water like a sheet of glass beneath a brilliant blue sky.
The long trek back to England gave plenty of time to reflect on catches made and start to make plans for a return trip. Whilst we had been successful we knew that there was potential to catch more and bigger fish. I had planned the trip as the trip of a lifetime with the added pleasure of taking along my son James who had just finished University. The lure of big fish and far off lands is strong and life is short I have a feeling this lifetime will see a return trip!