“Federico! How are you?” asked Micca, my guide for a day in Lapland when he saw me walking into the arrival hall at Ivalo airport.
I wasn’t about to confess that I was deadbeat after three days of travel, five airplanes and 18 hours of flying time.
“I’m perfect, excited to be here again!” I replied, which was true- at least the second half.
“Excellent, because I have signed you up for an ice fishing competition that begins very shortly, let’s go. Here are some chocolates, by the way.”
And off we went.
Somehow my second visit to Finland's Lapland had started off as a Finland ice fishing trip (here's a basic guide to fishing)
A Quick Overview of Inari- Saariselka Region in Lapland
Ivalo is the second largest town in Finnish Lapland, a huge expanse of land covering the North of Finland and also the North of Sweden and Finland. This is a land of contrasts, with densely populated forests covered by snow during the winter months spotted by scattered lakes that remain frozen for a good part of the year.
The biggest of them is lake Inari, about 120 km long and around 60 km wide, and is, essentially, the heart of this phenomenal region of Finland.
I had visited Inari and Saariselka five years ago, and fell in love with this part of the world. There’s a feeling of remoteness that has not been compromised by communications and services, and if you enjoy being in nature even the slightest bit you’ll find Lapland to be the perfect winter playground.
Ice fishing, cross country skiing, trekking, downhill skiing, husky safaris, snowmobile safaris , hunting, and admiring the northern lights are all actively practiced in Lapland, even becoming part of the daily life of local residents, mainly the Sami.
Ivalo is the second largest town in Finnish Lapland, a huge expanse of land covering the North of Finland and also the North of Sweden and Finland.
This is a land of contrasts, with densely populated forests covered by snow during the winter months spotted by scattered lakes that remain frozen for a good part of the year.
Finland Ice Fishing in Lapland: My Experience
Back to the ice fishing. The empty road meandered between snow covered hills, lakes and patches of forests, a beautiful landscape I was enjoying every bit of after not being here – or anywhere similar- for quite some time. It was around -5 C (quite warm considering how cold Finnish winters get) , and it was snowing lightly.
At some point Micca drove off the main road to park the car and gave me the warm clothes I’d be using to stay warm: a snowmobiling overall, some rubber boots and a small backpack, while he carried the other a fishing line and an orange hole driller. I left my new backpack with all my gear but the camera in the car, thankfully.
“We’re a little but late” Micca commented casually, “but this is fishing so we might just be lucky”. We stepped into the ice and snow covered lake and walked to a spot not too close but not too far from where other contestants were placed: my ice fishing in Finland adventure was about to start.
Do You Need a Permit to Fish in Finland?
It depends. If you're going ice-fishing you don't need one unless you're going to rapids sites, managed rainbow trout lakes and other specific sites. If you're going to practice some other kind of fishing check for Finland fishing permits here.
Micca opened the backpack and pulled the gear we would be needing to practice a sport I had really never given a second thought, but I was excited. It could have been the landscape, but the prospect of being lucky and actually fishing something was catching up.
“This is how you do it”. He grabbed the ice drill and effortlessly drilled a whole through the ice layer which he estimated to be about 40 cm deep. When done, he pulled the fishing rods, and these turned out to be my first surprise, as ice fishing rods are not more than 40 cm long, and made of plastic.
He then grabbed the hook, placed a fake worm as bait, and let the line sink through the hole.
Setting up the spot is not very difficult, and drilling the hole is easier than what you might think
“Once you notice that the line has reached the bottom of the lake you then recover about half a meter, lock the rod, and wait. Not very difficult is it? Now you do it”.
And so I followed the same steps I had seen him do, drilling the hole in the ice, then grabbing the rod, placing the bait, sinking the line into the water and recovering about half a meter when it reached the bottom.
So far so good, all I had to do now was to wait for a fish (perhaps a rainbow trout, a perch or some other fish common in the many national parks in Finland) to swim by and bite.
But it never happened. We were there for about 45 minutes more, speaking about his life in Lapland and Finland and the outdoor activities to enjoy, as well as some techniques on Finland ice fishing.
As seasoned pros we switched locations 3 times within the next hour and a half, and just five minutes before the time over horn blast at 4 pm a fish bit- but not our line. Instead, it was that of a lady who had decided to place herself just 5 meters from us.
I'm not sure if I was happy for her or jealous thinking that would she not be there it could have bit my line. Imagine that, a first timer getting a good catch!
With the ice fishing contest over all participants headed to the podium area, where the catches were to be weighed and trophies given. I learned there that the catch of the day weighed a whopping 2.3 kg (around 4.7 lbs), second place weighed 1.6 and the rest were in the 400- 600 gram range.
There were several categories in the contest depending on age and gender, but if there were a few things that stood out to me were that most participants were not particularly young, about half of them (if not more) were solo females, and that Finnish people eat their hot dogs without bread.
It was then that I noticed quite a few of the participants munching the sausages while smoking, another habit that I found surprising considering the natural environment these people live in.
Happy about having tried ice fishing ( I had just been fishing under ice!) disappointed about not having won anything, I followed Micca back to the car thinking about what it could have been but never was.
But it was right then that out of the corner of my eye I saw the frozen lake and hundreds of birch trees that conform these forests of the Finish Lapland, and came to the realization that ice fishing is not all about bringing a fresh catch home but about being part of the magical environment this part of Finland is proud to have, and if only for a few hours, I had been luck enough to be part of it.
Top Finland Ice Fishing Destination
While ice fishing in the south of Finland is possible during the winter months, the best locations are certainly in Lapland, up in the further north. The snow season is longer, temperatures are lower, the water is clean, human population is very low, and on the contrary there are plenty of fish, namely rainbow trout and perch.
Ice Fishing Rovaniemi
Rovaniemi is the official capital of Lapland in Finland, and also the home of Santa Claus. This modern city is also considered the hub to Lapland, and odds are you'll find yourself here at one point in time or another- which can be smart.
Rovaniemi has many outdoor activities to enjoy, but also Santa Claus Village, the fantastic Arktikum Museum to learn about the arctic, Santa Park Cavern (a family friendly Christmas theme park) or Ounasvaara that offers year round fun and accommodation.
Ice fishing in Rovaniemi is of course also possible and there are some great tours that offer different options. The best are:
Rovaniemi Guided Ice Fishing Experience - A local guide will take you to a great place where to set up camp, fish and cook your catch.
Rovaniemi ice fishing and snowmobile safari combo - A full day of adventure that will take you to the snow covered countryside and enjoy life outdoors.
Rovaniemi snow shoeing and ice fishing tour - Master the art of snow showing and then satisfy your hunger by eating your own catch!
All these tours are perfect for beginners or fishing experts who want to have everything taken care of, except the adventure.
This said, you can enjoy ice fishing pretty much anywhere, with Inari, Levi, Saariselka and Ivalo being the other most popular destinations that also offer many other great winter activities.