Hook, line and winter - Issue 169 - Magazine | Monocle
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It’s a sunny winter’s day with subzero temperatures, clear blue skies and little to no wind, and we are preparing to set out for the open sea. “Perfect conditions for fishing,” says our instructor, Antti Zetterberg. We are not sailing; we are walking, because Helsinki’s Seurasaarenselkä Bay is covered in a layer of ice that is 30cm thick. We are here today because Zetterberg, an avid fisherman and editor in chief of fishing magazine Kalastus, has agreed to teach monocle the ins and outs of ice-fishing – a popular pastime in Finland, where tens of thousands of lakes freeze over during the winter months. Zetterberg has come prepared – so prepared, in fact, that onlookers might think we are setting out on a polar expedition (think winter overalls, ice drill, sonar, various rods and lures, a stool, pliers, Swiss Army knife and dry suit). Should we be worried? “The ice should carry us,” he says, handing us ice picks that we can use to pull ourselves up in case we fall into the freezing water. “But it’s best to be prepared in case it doesn’t.” We pile the equipment on a sleigh and start looking for a spot. Some people are walking their dogs on ice and give us a thumbs-up. Ice-fishing is a respected hobby in Finland and it is considered polite to wish the fishermen luck.

Once we settle on a location, Zetterberg begins showing monocle how to use an ice auger (a hand-operated drill) to make a hole. After about 10 seconds, we manage to pierce through the frozen lake. Then it’s time for Zetterberg’s party trick. “These are a game changer in ice-fishing,” he says, handing monocle a small gadget that looks like a stethoscope. This sonar transducer shows you in real time whether fish are lurking beneath the ice. “Before, you would have to wait and see,” says Zetterberg, laughing. “Now you just see.” But there are no fish to be found here. monocle begins to feel cold and tired but Zetterberg reminds us why we are here. “You’re surrounded by wide expanses of beautiful snowy landscape,” he says. “It makes you feel completely free.”

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At our next spot, we make a hole and cast the sonar. “This was the easy part,” says Zetterberg, handing us an ice-fishing rod. “Now we need to lure and catch the fish.” We cast the rod in the water through the small hole, letting it sink almost to the bottom. After a few minutes, monocle asks Zetterberg whether we should change spots again. “Are you kidding me?” he says, laughing. “ You’ve only been in there for a minute. Sometimes it takes hours – and that’s the beauty of it.” Ice fishing is not a pastime for the impatient. But it is therapeutic and calming, a mindfulness exercise of sorts. After all, Zetterberg explains, how often is it that we can sit still for hours on end, immersed in nature? Something pulls at the fishing rod then suddenly stops. No luck for us this time.

Zetterberg takes over and it doesn’t take him long to catch a fish – but it is so small that we must let it go. “We only keep the bigger ones,” he says. “The ones that have enough meat on them.” Finnish law determines the kinds of fish that people are allowed to take home. Zetterberg’s favourites? Zander and perch. But other popular varieties include whitefish, trout, arctic char and burbot.

This time we have to make do with a few small ruffe. But Zetterberg isn’t disappointed. “This is not like going to the supermarket,” he says. “You need practice and patience – and we have just started.” 

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