As the bright summer nights slowly turn to dusk, we have by now entered August and fall is almost upon us. And that is a good thing. At least if you are about to go crayfishing in the Skellefteå River under a moonlit sky.

The sun has started setting in the west and Peter is setting up the cages in full swing for tonight’s crayfishing.

– Didn’t I order pike, he thinks out loud and baits the cage with a piece of perch.
– Doesn’t perch work just as well, I wonder.
– Oh well, he laughs, the species doesn’t really matter. Not as long as it’s real Forsbacka fishes.

It is no secret Peter perfers to use local produce. As local as it possibly could get. And if you are in Forsbacka, then only Forsbacka fish is good enough. The village Forsbacka sits along Skellefteå River, about 25 kilometres west of Skellefteå city centra. Here Peter runs a small crayfish themed event venue slash plant. It is not that small, really. It includes a generous dam and a small scale crayfish farm, but I am mainly here for the event part. For comfort, there is a sami styled tent that seats up to 25 guests and a barbecue hut. Inside the tent there are wooden benches covered in reindeer skin and on the tables are lit candles, locally crafted with crayfish motifs.

Careful preprations

Tonight’s guests are about to arrive. They are here to combine work with pleasure. Or crayfishing with a business meeting, if you like. A common denominator for Peter’s guests.

– You can of course come here and just sit back, relax and enjoy yourself.

Usually the guests join in in preparing the crayfish cages but tonight’s group is cutting it short. So Peter preps everything beforehand.

– Sometimes we do pentathlon team building games, like axe-throwing and blowguns, Peter says. Or we go perch, pike or grayling fishing until the crayfish cages are ready to be emptied. Or just hang out in the tent.

The large coffee pot on the fire is ready to go. The wooden kåsa’s are lined up. And newly cooked crayfish are carefully arranged on big platters

Inside the tent, the flames from the open fire create a warm and cosy atmosphere. Peter makes sure that the hole in the middle of the tent roof is open, creating an escape route for the smoke. The large coffee pot on the fire is ready to go. The wooden kåsa’s (a scoop-shaped mug carved out of wood) are lined up. And newly cooked crayfish are carefully arranged on big platters.

– We are ready for the guests to arrive.

Crayfish and firewater

The Swedish crayfish lives under a constant threat of the crayfish plague. A deadly disease, transmitted from water to water by the (planted) signal crayfish. But around Skellefteå, the crayfish is still plentiful, especially in Forsbacka.

A crayfish grows up to 18 centemetres long and can weigh up to 350 grams. They are also considered true delicacies. Swedish crayfish can go for as much as 800 Swedish krona per kilogram in any of the countries more fashionable covered markets. Crayfishing is very much a part of Swedish food culture and a ’kräftskiva’, the annual crayfish party, usually includes hefty amounts of alcohol. Actually, when Sweden in 1922 had a referendum about banning alcohol, the no side argued ”No! Crayfish demands these beverages”.

In the end there is no way to tell to which extent the crayfish affected the results of the referendum, but alcohol was never banned in Sweden.

A (crayfish) party in your mouth.
Peter setting up the cages for tonight’s crayfishing
"...there’s actually so much crayfish here that you can fish from the shore".
Happy and content the fishermen return to the warm tent.

Fishing in the dark by the deep edge

As the group of guests are enjoying themselves, toasting and eating crayfish in the warm tent, Peter and I head out in the dark to set the crayfish cages.

– But how does it work, I wonder. They eat the crayfish before they catch them?
– Yes, Peter says and smiles. It gets bit backwards. In fact, tonight’s guest are fishing for tomorrow night’s guests. And they are eating last night’s catch. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to prepare the meal until early morning. And crayfish needs a 24 hour broth soak for that perfect salinity.

Peter tells me about the deep edge in the river, about six meters from the riverbank, and that the cages should land exactly on the brink of it.

– You could of course get them there by boat, but there’s actually so much crayfish here that you can fish from the shore.

Besides the cages, Peter baits a number of fishing slats with perch and lowers them to the bottom of the river.

– Now all we have to do is wait.

A bucket full

Equipped with head lamps, tonight’s guests are now finding their way under the pale August moon towards the water. Meanwhile Peter speaks about the biology of the crayfish. How big a Swedish crayfish gets, how to determine its sex and how they reproduce.

– Look!

Someone has noticed a crayfish, moving right next to the fishing slats with perch bait Peter set out earlier. Peter hands him a small net and one second later, tonight’s first crayfish is caught.

Peter hands him a small net and one second later, tonight’s first crayfish is caught.

– A male, Peter says and turns the crayfish around. The easiest way to tell them apart, are by the small legs the male has in the middle-part of the body which the female lacks.

– There should be a cage, Peter says and points.

Someone unties a rope from a tree and starts to drag in the crayfish cage waiting by the other end. One second later, about twenty or so crayfish get hit by the harsh lights from several head lamps.

– Nice, Peter says.

He picks up a couple of crayfish. They will journey to Stockholm and the freshwater laboratory at the Swedish Unversity of Agricultural Sciences. Rest of the crayfish he pours into a white bucket. A bucket that fills up quickly.

– There we go, now we have crayfish for the next group of guests as well as for scientific research.

Happy and content the fishermen return to the warm tent where a well-filled pot of kokkaffe (boiled coffee) awaits.

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