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Arctic circle cod fishing

 

Often opportunities present themselves out of the blue and at the most unexpected times. One such moment happened to me in February at the Irish Angling Expo in Dublin. Every time I chat to Ian Peacock from DinTur UK he asks when am I going to go to Norway, each year it always seems that I’m too busy to venture, but not this year. Ian mentioned he had a trip lined up with Boat Fishing Monthly supremo Dave Barham in April to Storekorsnes in the Arctic Circle and asked if I would like to join him. I didn’t need to think twice and a few moments later, I was on Ian’s stand booking my flight!

The week before was full of excitement. I managed to bend the ears of Ian, Dave and also Mike Snr as to what gear to pack for the trip. I decided to take a selection of everything including big jig heads, shads and pirks. I also packed some flatfish rigs as Ian mentioned we might do some experimental fishing. Hardware wise, I decided to take two Penn TRQ reels, a 15 loaded with 20lb braid and a 30 loaded with 50lb braid. Rod choice was easy, our very own MTI 20/40. I also took out a prototype Penn 12lb class rod for some field-testing and for a bit of fun, my 9ft Abu Revo Bass rod coupled with a Shimano Technium 4000 loaded with 20lb braid.

Due to the near 7am flight from Heathrow we all elected to stay in the same hotel the night before. Joining Ian, Dave and Myself was the family trio of Mick, Paddy and Micks son, Paddy Jnr from Hartlepool. Mick, Paddy and Paddy were going to be staying a few miles away from us in the village of Nyvoll. Inevitably conversation at the dinner table that night turned to fishing and the excitement of the up and coming trip.

Arriving at Alta the next day we jumped into the mini bus for the transfer to the cabin, the appetite to get fishing whetted even more by the DVD playing in the bus featuring massive halibut! The drive to Storekorsnes highlighted the predicament we found ourselves in. The road was lined several feet high with snow, much more than usual for this time of year.

To cut a long story short, the weather was exceptionally cold. It snowed regularly (as you can see from the pictures) and each morning Dave had the job of shovelling snow out of the boat before we could set off. It was novel for somebody who had never experienced snow like this to jump out of the cabin each morning into snow up to your knees (and beyond)! Yet, also amusing that the Norwegians just get on with it, plough the roads and carry on. If we had that amount of snow in dear old Britain – the country would be at a standstill for months! Interestingly upon talking to our host, we found out they hadn’t had this amount of snow in April since 1994.

Ian does his snow depth demonstration

Ian does his snow depth demonstration

The cold wasn’t much of an issue from a fishing point of view, but the wind was! The constantly changing wind making it near impossible for Ian to get us to the marks that he wanted to fish. On the flip side though, our location in Storekorsnes, which has five or more fjords within a short distance, gave us the option of at least fishing somewhere – even when the more productive grounds were out of bounds.

The first couple of days were spent fishing close to Storekorsnes and also in and around Korsfjorden. We managed to catch some decent sized fish during the first couple of days, including torsk and cod. The cod ranged from 5lbs to lower doubles, it wasn’t a fish a drop, but it was consistent. This wasn’t quite Norway standard, but it was good fun and certainly better than the cod fishing I’m used to.

Ian Peacock was first in with the cod.

Ian Peacock was first in with the cod.

It was also an opportunity for me to stock up on species I’d never caught before, the torsk was a new one for me but, more importantly, I caught a red fish too! The red fish was something I really wanted to tick off the list, I’d seen them in pictures before and thought they looked really cool, so I was chuffed to get one (as a bit of a species hunting geek).

The cool looking red fish!

The cool looking red fish!

Mick Webb, who was fishing on the other boat managed to boat himself a halibut around the 20lbs mark. Having never seen a halibut before I was intrigued. Despite the fact it was a mere baby of a halibut it still put up a good scrap. As we motored towards their boat to take some photographs, we could see Mick struggling to bring the fish to the boat. Mick commented after that he immediately knew it was something different, due to the surging runs and the never give up attitude of the fish. He got the fish to the surface only for it to take another dive and spin off a further 50m of line from his reel! My kinda’ fish!

Mick with his first Norwegian halibut

Mick with his first Norwegian halibut

Unfortunately for Mick, it wasn’t quite as simple as getting the fish aboard and unhooking it. Mick decided to tie on a set of hokkais above the pirk he was using. Sadly for Mick, this proved to be a rather painful decision. With an angry halibut going ballistic on the deck, the inevitable happened and with a slip of the hand and a thrash of a tail, Micks finger had a 4/0 buried in it. Thankfully for Mick though, he was so cold, he never felt a thing – even as Ian removed the hook.

All smiles and a hook in the hand

All smiles and a hook in the hand

As Friday dawned it was plainly obvious that very little would be done in the way of getting out to the spawning grounds again. It was blowing an absolute hoolie – so much so, we were almost tempted to bin off the boat fishing and head for the shore instead. But, as hardy sea anglers, we decided to go out anyway and fish a sheltered fjord called Skillefjorden, somewhere Ian had identified for some experimental flatfish fishing.

Dave was first down with the flatfish rigs on his ultra light Daiwa spinning outfit, it had barely touched the bottom when he hit fish, not flatfish as expected, but a double haul of cod! Not quite what we were after but a nice surprise! As we progressed down the fjord we started to hit flatfish. Ian was first in with a long rough dab, which gave a great account of itself on the lightweight Yuki rod he was using. Next in was Dave, always having to do one better – Dave bagged a long rough dab double header. All in all Ian and Dave must have boated upwards of 10 long rough dab over the session and it was a nice change from the cod fishing. Muggins – caught nothing bar coalfish!

Ian gets in on the Long Rough Dab action

Ian gets in on the Long Rough Dab action

It wasn’t until the last three days when I saw what Norway was really about. Despite the weather on Saturday we managed to get out and fish into the open sea, it was the first time the weather allowed us to do this, so we were keen to maximise the window we had.

LEMON SOLE PLATEAU
After fishing much of the day inside Korsfjorden we decided to move in the afternoon and fished a plateau in Rognsund Sound. Drifting over this plateau produced some of the best fishing we had so far. Ian found the fish almost instantly using a pirk, I was finding things a little tricky with the shads, and even when moving over to the pirk, things were not happening. I was using a thick and heavy pirk and for some reason, the cod were not having any of it. So, after 10 minutes of fruitless jigging, I borrowed one of Ian’s “Special Pirks.” Pirks he had found whilst browsing in the Sunderland branch of Clas Ohlson, the Swedish nick nack shop. These pirks were more streamlined than the ones I had been using, and within a drop, I was into the fish!

It was manic fishing with plenty of cod and torsk landed almost every drop. Nothing especially huge, the best probably went 9lbs but I was in my element, I thought the fishing was great! Only for Dave and Ian to quietly calm me down and explain that by Norwegian standards, this wasn’t even close to average! I could only imagine what the fishing would be like when it was “on”.

To finish the day, the “Fish Magnet” himself, Ian, caught a Lemon Sole, fair and square, on a pirk! Which we were all amazed with, including Ian, who as a seasoned Norwegian angling veteran, had never seen one before.

Ian Peacock with his lemon sole...now frozen from an hour in the fish box...unfrozen in the frying pan!

Ian Peacock with his lemon sole…now frozen from an hour in the fish box…unfrozen in the frying pan!

That evening we were invited back to our host Albert’s BBQ Hut where his wife, Ellen had prepared us fish soup (a marvel of a dish and highly recommended!). We mentioned to Albert about the Lemon Sole, he had no recollection of ever catching one either. So from this day forth, we decided to name the plateau – Lemon Sole Plateau.

LAST CHANCE SALOON
Sunday dawned and unfortunately for Dave he wasn’t feeling too healthy so had to miss out for the day. I headed out with Ian. The further we steamed the more confident we became that the weather would hold and we could start to extend our fishing range. We steamed out into the open ocean fishing a patch of water between Seiland and Stjernoey with the famous island of Soroya in front of us in the distance.

As soon as we dropped down we hit fish. For somebody who had never experienced fishing like this it was an eye opener, not only for the amount of fish, but the way the better cod fight in Norway. The fish would come in shoals with most of the fish averaging in size at around 10lbs. As you dropped your pirk down, you could feel it bouncing off what I can only presume would be coalfish on the top of the cod shoal, as soon as the pirk dropped through this shoal, it wouldn’t be long before the cod would grab the pirk and another arm aching 5 minutes of retrieval would begin!

My first Norwegian "double"

My first Norwegian “double”

I was busy fishing away experiencing the best cod fishing I’d ever experienced (but still not quite Norway standard apparently) when Ian fell silent. A quick glance at his reel confirmed that line was being stripped off at a consistent pace. Ian turned to me and said the words we’d been anticipating all week – “Mike, this is a halibut”. Due to the speed of the run I quickly retrieved my gear and started the engine. The big halibut will just run and run and with the gear we were using it isn’t long before an entire reel is spooled. So when a big ‘but is on, the best way to try and defeat them is to start the boat and start chasing, marlin style. With the engine fired up and myself ready to start backing down on the leviathan, the run suddenly stopped. A very disappointed Ian suggested the fish was off! I was gutted for Ian but I was also personally gutted, it is not often you get to see a fish of that magnitude and this might have been our only chance. On further investigation, we think the halibut had grabbed the tail of the Big Bob lure and was only lightly hooked on the stinger; it clearly hadn’t taken the entire lure in.

With the disappointment of the lost halibut, we continued to soldier on. Catching cod after cod as the shoals moved in.

Experienced guides like Ian rarely rely on the fish finder to find fish. They prefer to look for likely marks, distinguishing features and the like, fishing these spots even if there are no fish showing. It was on these more likely grounds we found the fish that day, proving more successful than simply chasing fish on the fish finder.

As we arrived back at the cabin, Dave was feeling much better; he even had a very welcome and enjoyable curry on the go to greet us when we arrived. Discussion at the table moved on to the next day. Given the weather we had, we decided to make the most of it, get up early and head on out to where we had just fished.

Once the usual morning ritual of shovelling the snow out of the boat had been completed we steamed straight to the area we had fished the previous day. Unfortunately the weather was not as good as expected. It had blown up over night and the initial couple of hours we fished featured some pretty rough seas. Whilst the weather calmed down and the seas flattened, it was still bitterly cold and both Paddy and Paddy Junior elected to head back to shore. So with a calmer sea we transferred Mick and his tackle onto our boat so he could carry on fishing.

Ian takes over snow shovelling duties from Dave

Ian takes over snow shovelling duties from Dave

We had all noticed some birds working near a point of land on the island of Seiland, the point was actually the entrance to a mini fjord on the island. As we motored the boat towards the area we discovered just how much of a feeding frenzy was kicking off. Not only did we have birds working and frantically diving into the sea, we also had porpoise moving around in circles, obviously shoaling up baitfish. We all knew what the score was. Birds, porpoise, a massive ball of baitfish, it only meant one thing – big cod wouldn’t be far away.

The feeding frenzy in action!

The feeding frenzy in action!

Once we had got to our destination we all managed to get our gear down as quick as we could to see what sort of size these fish could be. Ian and I persevered with the Clas Ohlson pirks that proved so successful the previous day. Mick fished with a Savage Cutbait, and Dave went with the Kinetic Big Bob he had been using all week. Mick, Ian and myself hooked into fish straight away, all immediately landing big doubles. My best of the session was just shy of 17lbs with the other lads all hooking fish of a similar size.

My best cod of the adventure, just over 17lbs

My best cod of the adventure, just over 17lbs

Dave who had been using the Kinetic Big Bob was the one who struck lucky in the search for the 20+ fish. Dave used the theory that constantly fishing with the oversized lure over the week would eventually pay dividends for the bigger fish, and it certainly did. Within a couple of drops Dave was in, something big had taken his Bob and it was motoring for Soroya! Unfortunately, as happened with the halibut the previous day, the fish eventually broke free and we never did see what it was. It was definitely a cod, it was nodding like a cod and fighting like a cod and we can only presume it was a 30+ beast.

Soon after this disappointment, Dave hooked into another fish. This one was again nodding like a cod and stripping line off at a great rate of knots. Dave fought the fish gently but firmly, not wanting this one to break free and within five minutes, he had the fish to the surface. Bringing the fish on board we weighed it in at just over 27lbs – not massive by Norwegian standards but a cracking fish to top off a difficult weeks fishing. Dave then followed this up with another just over 20lbs.

BFM Supremo Dave Barham with his 27lb plus cod, caught on the Kinetic Big Bob.

BFM Supremo Dave Barham with his 27lb plus cod, caught on the Kinetic Big Bob.

We continued fishing and hitting some great fish all in the doubles for the rest of the afternoon. Occasionally we would hook the odd coalfish, but these were small and obviously what the cod were feeding on.

After a great day with plenty of fish action, it was soon time to head home. I think all of our hearts sank when Ian turned the key and pointed the boat back to Storekorsnes. We had waited all week to get the right conditions to fish the areas we wanted and now it had finally arrived, it was time to head back home.

NORWEGIAN COD
One of the biggest surprises for me is just how hard the cod fight in Norway. These are open sea cod from the Barents Sea. Not only are they strong and hardy fish but also in the cold Norwegian waters, they are at their most comfortable. This produces a fish that can undertake long, powerful runs when hooked. If I could describe the fight best I would say a big cod would fight more like a big Pollack back home. No lethargic head nodding like your average British cod, these fish go like a train when hooked!

Ian with another cod during the frantic fishing

Ian with another cod during the frantic fishing

NORWAY
What can I say? This was my first Norwegian experience and I loved every single second of it. The people are exceptionally friendly. There is very little they wouldn’t do for you and if they couldn’t do it themselves, they would know somebody who could! The scenery is fantastic and even in the depths of winter when it is cold and covered by several feet of snow; there is a majesty that surrounds it. I can only imagine how stunning it must look when the snow has melted and the vast, sheer cliffs of the fjords are green and bright.

Stunning Norwegian scenery

Stunning Norwegian scenery

ACCOMMODATION AND SERVICES
Accommodation was set in a fantastic little cabin overlooking part of the fjord in Storekorsnes, owned by hosts Albert and Ellen. Albert is the local fire station officer in Alta as well as a very handy snowmobile expert and guide. Ellen is a baker.

The cabin was well equipped with all modern amenities and could sleep 4 comfortably, if somebody was happy to share a sofa, you might even get a group of six in there. As with all Norwegian cabins they are very warm, -9c outside and low 20c inside was the order of the day (a delightful comfort after a long day on the boat).

Our warm and toasty cabin

Our warm and toasty cabin

As part of the package you also get the use of a 4 x 4 vehicle to transport yourself and all of your gear to the boat and back each day. The vehicle is also useful if you need to trek further away for more supplies.

Storekorsnes is a sleepy village located about an hour north of Alta in the Finnmark region of Norway. The village has five self-catering accommodation houses and a small harbour where fishing boats are moored. As is traditional in Norway there are plenty of fish drying racks scattered around the village too. It has no shop or petrol station.

For food it is easiest to stop at the main supermarket in Alta to get all the essentials you are likely to need during the stay. They also have a very tidy selection of fishing gear too if you need to pick up anything you might not have. Fuel can be purchased at the fuel station and general stores located at Korsfjorden. The easiest way to get here is to go via your own boat, which is about a 20 minute steam from Storekorsnes. Alternatively you can catch the Nyvoll to Korsfjorden ferry.

TRAVEL & BOOKING
I flew with Scandinavian Airlines from London Heathrow to Oslo catching a connecting flight from Oslo to Alta. From Alta it is about an hours drive to the cabin. Transfers can be arranged with the host so you can be picked up as soon as you land. The drive to Storekorsnes is beautiful with much of it is alongside the fjord.

My trip was arranged through Ian Peacock of DinTur UK. Ian can be contacted on e-mail peacock@dintur.co.uk or via phone on 0191 4472363. Ian is an experienced guide and Norwegian angling expert so if you have any queries at all, Ian will be able to help.

The basic price for a small cabin based on four sharing with a 19′ / 60hp boat and transfers is £464.00 per person excluding flights to Alta. Boat insurance is payable onsite at 400 nok. My flights cost me £385 with SAS and there was an each way charge of £25 for carrying a rod tube.

There are 5 self catering houses at Storekorsnes and prices vary depending on size. For more information visit the following page on the Din Tur web site.