Join Martin Falklind and his family on a trip to Abborrträsk outside Arvidsjaur. Here you’ll find skilled guides, good food, soft reindeer skins and warm Sami tents. And plenty of willing arctic char, giant-size ones!

FOREST, FOREST, FOREST. Travelling through the interior of northernmost Sweden is a monotonous story. That’s why we – like so many other southerners travelling to the mountains – have never stopped here. Because what’s there to do? Instead we’ve hurried west, where the landscape finally opens up.

It would take a kidnapping of editor-in-Chief of Fiskejournalen (the Fishing Journal) Martin Falklind to change this. After that kidnapping we found out that hidden inside that dark green wall of forest isn’t just the real Norrland, but also thousands of fishing locations. Many of them almost undisturbed.

Because while we’ve basically forgotten about the northern interior as a tourism and fishing destination, many of the older generation fishermen have disappeared. With them, netting has all but disappeared too. The lakes have remained untouched and the fish populations have grown.

With big sleds behind the snowmobiles it's easy to bring both equipment and fishermen.

Abducted by Sonny and Sara

An evening in February Martin calls from his speaking tour in Swedish Lapland. He sounds desperate:
– I’m supposed to be in Arjeplog tomorrow, but I’m sat with some crazy northerners somewhere in the middle of nowhere. They’re saying I have to go fishing tomorrow morning. And I don’t seem to have a choice; I don’t even know where I am. Everything is just dark and white…
I get the next call at nine the following morning, but then he’s changed his tune:
– I’ve just caught the laaaargest arctic char of my life with an ice-fishing rod! It didn’t even fit through the hole. Easily over two kilos, but I didn’t have any scales. And I thought they were just making it up when they were talking about their huge arctic chars last night. Martin stumbles through his words and barely has time to catch his breath:
– And I’ve had several that were a kilo or more and you have to book the whole family in on the night train up this Easter. I’ve got to hurry now if I’m going to make it to my talk in Arjeplog. Bye. We get the last spaces available for Good Friday.

A one-kilo arctic char virtually explodes as it surfaces through Johan's hole in the ice.

Early on Good Friday

At 04:30, the train comes to a halt at the station in Jörn. Drowsy family members are dressed and inserted into Sonny Holmgren’s bus, soon after to be removed and tucked in under a reindeer skin in a snowmobile sled. Our sleepy brains are slowly taking in the snow-covered landscape, gradually realising that we’re far from Gothenburg.

We’ve come for an ice-fishing adventure outside the village Abborrträsk in Norrbotten. Faint light begins to displace the darkness of night and soon the fire gets going. We’re perked up by hot chocolate and coffee. Sonny raises our expectations by talking incessantly about the large arctic char in the lake.
Martin, as a good parent, tries to slow the stories down a little so the children will understand that there are never any guarantees. But Sonny keeps laying it on and promises arctic char that weighs one, or even two kilos. According to him the supply is endless, many are preposterously big and he says there is a ‘fish guarantee’.
– I can see why you questioned this, I whisper to Martin.
– It sounds like pure fantasy. Are you sure it wasn’t just a coincidence that you caught so many last time?

Siblings Sara and Sonny Holmberg run the company Natursafari. If you want to experience fantastic arctic-char fishing, eat amazing food and feel well looked after, get in contact with them.

Filming under water

We start by opening up a large hole to film underwater. We’ll place a submersible camera on the bottom and with any luck, arctic char will swim past. Then we drill holes for the kids and place them on a reindeer skin each, so we can keep focusing on the underwater equipment. It doesn’t take long before Andrea screams that they’re biting. A nice arctic char, weighing in at nearly half a kilo, comes out of the hole and it’s pure bliss.
– That’s a small one, says Sonny dismissively.
Martin and I look at each other questioningly. First of all it’s a really nice fish and second of all it’s her first arctic char. It might well be the only fish she gets, even the only fish the whole family gets. It’s happened before. There’s no such thing as a fish guarantee.

No overfishing is allowed, you can only keep the odd fish to barbecue on the spot.

A lake a day

The area we’re fishing in is called Tjärnheden. It’s a so-called ‘dead-ice area’ where old blocks of ice were separated from the inland ice, got covered in gravel and slowly melted to form lakes. Tjärnheden is approximately 100 km2 and contains 365 little lakes, one for each day of the year.

Through the camera we can see straight away that the water is filled with tiny, white, swimming dots and banana-like plankton. Probably both mysis and gammarus, nutrient-rich crustaceans that fish love. Perhaps the crustaceans got here the natural way, perhaps they’ve been carried here. Since the Stone Age, crustaceans and fish have been moved to lakes without fish to replenish them. Some lakes here are full of pike and perch, others feature arctic char and trout. Some are empty of fish.

Sonny and his sister Sara have a few lakes they manage and they’ve made sure they’re full of fish. Sonny also breeds fish to add to the lakes periodically. Fish eat and grow in the lake and you’re not allowed to take any fish home. But if you want to barbecue a fish right there, that’s fine.

A self-caught arctic char appeals to the family.

Caught under water

The underwater equipment is in place. Using virtual glasses we see what the camera sees. An outrageous show is about to begin. Sonny lowers his arctic-char lure with a maggot on the hook. Martin films and gives a commentary on everything he sees like a sports reporter. It was completely empty when the lure was dropped, but Martin soon sees a shadow approaching. A curious arctic char is on its way towards the lure.
The fish circles at a distance of two metres, getting closer each lap.
– Raise it a little! Pull a little bit…
Martin gives Sonny instructions.
– It’s losing interest now, no, it’s turning back. Lower it a little! Vibrate. Vibrate! VIBRATE! It’s nearly taking it now, now, now, now… NOOO! It fled. It’s gone…
Soon we’re all stood around the video hole taking turns to use the glasses. It’s so exciting. One amazing experience after another. Lots of fish swim past, but most just look. If we hadn’t had our own TV channel from the bottom of the lake we’d probably have said “there’s no fish here”.

Many of the chars seem interested, but turn back the moment we think they’ll bite. Some try to touch the lure, but are not interested in the maggots. Others are completely focused on eating from the bottom and don’t even look up, they just plough though the image with tail up and snout down in the vegetation. We put the maggots on a mormyska instead. This raises interest and the arctic char start to bite.

Andrea is caught by the arctic-char fever and catches the most fish. Here the fight becomes quite dramatic.

Arctic char – a disco fish

The arctic char seem to like new things. We notice how they get bored if the line isn’t pulled, or if
it gets too monotonous. They quickly tire of new colours and shapes. But how much stimulus will they take before they’re scared off? We add a sharply twinkling case that also rattles against the lure, plus a mormyska with lots of maggots.

You have to see this for yourself! Sure, this behaviour was documented during two days in April, so we can’t make any scientific conclusions, but it’s well worth a look.

We release our twinkly thing. It takes ten seconds for the lake’s entire arctic char population to crowd around the disco ball. They’re shoving and pushing and want to bite. It’s crazy.

We do it again and a fair few fish show up. After five, six times the interest wanes, but the disco tackle still attracts more fish than they other tackles. Novelty seems to be a driving force for these unafraid winter chars.
And variety keeps us happy, too. Next day we don’t spend as much time on the underwater filming. Instead we mostly enjoy old-school fishing: lying on a reindeer skin under the blazing April sun. And as soon as you doze off they bite.

These are beautiful, forceful fish that often take a lot of line, sometimes in two or three rushes. Everyone beats their personal best for ice-fished arctic char. The nicest fish, a vivid-red, giant male weighing in at around two kilos, is caught by 11-year-old Andrea. Perhaps that start to an ice-fishing career is almost a little bit too good…

Learn more

Contact Sonny and Sara at Natursafari, Read more here:

Pleasant kidnappers

Sonny, Sara and her husband Krister turn out to be the friendliest and most caring people you could possibly imagine. Perhaps this makes you wonder why they drastically kidnapped Martin Falklind on a winter’s night in February?

Well, they just wanted to know if their little arctic char lakes were something they could promote. Since they’re not so involved in the world of sport fishing themselves they wanted someone with experience to take a look.

So, are the lakes in Tjärnheden worth promoting? The pictures speak for themselves. Lots of fish, big fish, strong fish. An ice-fishing season that lasts into April. This is arctic-char fishing on they sunny side. It’s hard to understand that these creatures, happily biting, are the same fish that drive you mad with their fastidiousness during the summer season.

But hold on! Perhaps the arctic char in Tjärnheden are as eager in summer? Sonny and Sara would love for us to come here in summer to try. We’ll get back to you with an answer in a couple of months. We’ve booked the night train to Jörn for a visit in late June/early July, and this time we’ll pack fly-fishing rods.

See the film too!

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