An August fishing trip – the Ukrainian way
It was the beginning of August and thanks to the exceptionally warm summer the weather was still tropically hot and moist in Eastern Finland. I welcomed four Ukrainian fishing clients on my boat and headed to the Savonselkä area on Lake Saimaa, with plans to troll as well as to do some jigging and casting. The parents of the family, who went fishing on a weekly basis at home, had brought along their own casting gear and an angling set. Like many Finns, the father had found simple angling a very effective way to relax.
We headed to the open waters in a south-southeast wind and moderate waves. At first the guests seemed to have doubts about my 5,6-meter boat’s size and carrying capacity but calmed down quickly. Apparently the boats in the big world are bigger than in little ol’ Finland. The father, his son-in-law and I started to prepare lures and planer boards for trolling while the ladies kept the boat in right course. With a little exercise we got the son-in-law’s fishing reel in his hand the right way and figured out a place for each weigh and planer board. For a first-timer trolling can be challenging since for most it takes 4 to 6 sessions to get accustomed to working with the gear and learning how much to reel out line. With the ladies I set a few lines into the water from the back of the boat. As my intention was to troll near some shallow banks, the baits were weighed down to six meters. Once all the baits were in the water we had time for a little joking of how much fun we were having – in clear English.
I turned the boat against the wind and towards the fishing areas with promises something would start to happen soon. I showed on the plotter which route we would go, where we’d wheel the lures out of the water and where we would try some casting after that. The daughter didn’t seem very impressed – she seemed to have decided already that trolling was boring. I engaged in some general chitchat with the son-in-law about fishing and life. The waves kept getting bigger but my guests seemed to get used to the ride – partly because I told them these were typical conditions for salmon fishing.
The fish bites
We reached the area that I had predicted to give us fish – but absolutely nothing happened. To cheer things up I decided to lift all the baits after a while and switch to casting. As soon as the father started to help me with the lifting at the head of the boat, one of the reels at the back went off with a scream. At my request the mother grabbed the rod and started to reel the line in, but as the brake wasn’t tight enough the line kept reeling out. I told her to tighten the brake, but suddenly the screaming stopped as soon as it had started. The lady was looking apologetic but I consoled her by saying sometimes the fish just escape like that. What’s more, when we reeled in the line we found out that three of the lures had tangled into one big mess. She rushed to assure me she hadn’t done this deliberately – I guess it was her effort in Ukrainian humour? I cut the badly tangled lines with my knife and we were done with trolling.
Soon I heard a shout: the father had caught something with his rod. This fish seemed to have no desire to get into our boat – instead of fighting like mad it dragged on behind us as if to patiently wait and see how the situation developed. I borrowed the rod for a moment to estimate the size of the fish. Judging by the way the rod arched and the resistance the fish caused, my educated guess was somewhere around six kilos. But again the line kept slipping despite tightening the brake and couldn’t be reeled in. The brake was already so tight our only option was to keep dragging the fish behind us until it would surrender. But the fish beat us to it: suddenly the tip of the rod twitched once – and the line went loose. I stared at the rod in disbelief and uttered every Finnish swear word I could think of. With a dead-pan face the father said “We lost it”. As if to maximize my pain he let a sly expression creep on his face as he corrected “You lost it”. They often say we people of Eastern Finland can be sharp-tongued, but apparently the same can be said of Eastern peoples in general… When I reeled the line in we saw the hook had straightened a bit – not a lot but just enough. I gave the hook to my guests as a memento. Luckily the father didn’t seem too disappointed – I guess seeing me all mad and frustrated made him feel better. I said the fish we lost had been a pike, which sparked a heated conversation among my Ukrainian guests.
More frustration, more waves
After packing the lures back into their boxes and trying to swallow my disappointment, I took the wheel of the boat again. On open waters the waves were already so strong that our anchor wouldn’t have been able to keep us in place, so I drove us a few kilometres to a sheltered spot near an island. We cast anchor and started out with jigging and vertical jigging, with spoons as well as spinners. The first one to catch anything was the mother of the family, although what she “caught” was actually just the bottom of the lake and we lost a jig in the process. She carried on nevertheless and ten minutes later pulled up a 100-gram perch. Unfortunately this little fish was the only hungry one around and despite our best efforts ended up being the only thing we caught all day. We decided it was time to stop fishing and head on to Rajasaari Island for a meal – the island has a nice fishing cottage for cooking, open for all fishermen in the area.
The ride to the island was ten kilometres long so we had to cross the open water again. The father at the head of the boat seemed to enjoy the bumpy ride and the ever increasing waves, the occasional splashes of water only made the ladies laugh a little at the back, and I with the son-in-law next to me at the driving console were grinning like mischievous little school boys – one could almost say there was adventure in the air. When we got closer to the Rajasaari Island I had to slow down almost to a halt and concentrate – the shore of the island is shallow and rocky making it difficult to land even on a good day, but I managed to make a perfect landing on first try, which seemed to impress my guests. We headed to the fishing cottage with the ingredients of our lunch and the sweatiest three hours of my day were about to start.
Boat saved by the sweaty cook
Cooking on 1) a hot day 2) on an open fire 3) inside a cottage with poor ventilation proved to be a very sweaty ordeal. My “glow-fried” presence gave my guests plenty to joke about but nevertheless the three-course dinner I had planned was coming along nicely.
Before we had time to sit for our meal I was hollered to the shore – the winds had picked up even more and pushed my boat on the rocks. It took some team work from us all to push the boat off the rocks and drive it to a better spot in reverse. I was positive my propeller would get bust but miraculously I could inch my way out of trouble. I tied the boat to a more sheltered location and we could finally begin our dinner.
For starters we had creamy mushroom soup made of fresh chanterelles – maybe a tad too salty for my own taste. For main course we had smoked zander with boiled small potatoes and dill sauce. It hadn’t been easy to try to cook and entertain my guests at the same time: the zander had got a bit dry – but still, the sauce was excellent.
My guests had wished for some Finnish berries, and overall they appreciated our clean natural ingredients much more than many Finns. So, for dessert we had sweet raspberries and sharp-flavoured red currants with vanilla sauce. The mix made my guests a bit suspicious in advance but the tastes worked together perfectly and the dessert truly crowned our meal.
On the rocks – again
After dinner we packed our pots and pans and began the last stretch of our adventure. It was a bit difficult for the others, who were not 193 cm like me, to climb back to the boat from where I had had to park it, but the men were gentlemen enough to help their respective ladies with a shove on the bum. With a heavy load the boat swam quite deep so we had to sway it free. As soon as we had enough water underneath, I took the wheel and reversed away from the shore with the propeller as high as possible – or at least tried to do so: after only a couple of meters I hit another rock. The waves were luckily strong enough to free us from the rock and we were finally good to go.
When we got back on the open water again I suspected we would get wet soon and asked my clients if they’d like to put on the rainwear I had brought along – but they declined because the weather was so warm. Once I got onto the fairway we hit the first big waves, which threw in a few bucketfuls of water making us all soaking wet. This unexpected turn of events seemed to have a liberating effect on my guests, who had been worried if we’d ever get away from the island safely, and soon I had a boatful of laughing people. A side wind kept splashing water onto us as we travelled at 45 km/h, which seemed like the most comfortable and least drenching speed in the circumstances. It was still a couple of hours until sunset, but as we were soaked to the bone we got a bit cold despite the warm temperature. The father of the pack was visibly enjoying our rough ride while the ladies’ reactions ranged from laughter to various attempts to keep themselves dry. The son-in-law, who was sitting next to me, didn’t seem to have too much faith in my boat’s chances of conquering the heavy swells at first, but after piercing a few waves successfully his mind was set at ease. He was curious about my style of driving: I kept turning the wheel frantically in order to make the boat hit the waves less directly. When he asked why I did so, I gave him a little demonstration and hit the next waves head-on, keeping the wheel firmly in place. Each wave hit the boat violently and threw a load of water in making us even wetter, so I soon switched back to my wild wheel-spinning. Everyone’s curiosity was satisfied and we could carry on our trip in a less drenching manner.
Everyone’s spirits seemed to get higher the closer we came to the ending spot of our trip. When we reached the shore my soaked clients jumped on firm land laughing and joking. I had been a little worried the trip might have been too wet and rough for them, but they took it all as an adventure. They told me they had got on my boat with no particular expectations but at the end of the day they were pleasantly surprised in every way. Now they had a good holiday story to share with their friends back home.
The bigger the fish, the better the story
As my guests started to get ready for a ride back in their rental car, I once more offered to lend them rain suits so they’d have something dry to wear instead of their dripping wet clothes – but once again they refused. The father asked whether I was still disappointed about losing that fish. I had to admit that was the case, and thanked him for reminding me about my misfortune. He replied with a grin and shook my hand. As we were walking to the car he wondered if it was possible that the fish had been a salmon or a trout. I said it was possible – or that it could have been a zander, too.
Lastly we exchanged a few speculations about the size of the fish. After reaching mutual agreement about its hugeness we said goodbyes with smiles on our faces.