To Lapland for trophy grayling, where life is simple and driven by the rhythm of the land, and days are timed strictly around the water.
Photographer / JESS MCGLOTHLIN
The land surrounding Tjuonajokk camp belongs to two different tribes of Sami, the region’s indigenous people – semi-nomadic tribes who, historically, have followed their herds of reindeer on annual migrations. Now, it’s estimated only one in 10 Sami herd reindeer. It’s readily apparent Sami communities still utilise the region, however; dotted in seemingly random – and yet, with study, strategic – locations on the hills and tundra lands, rest small Sami buildings. Some for shelter, some for storage... all with purpose.
Tjuonajokk itself is a veritable outpost on the tundra, a motley assortment of well-kept buildings designed with one purpose: to give visitors a uniquely functional (and welcoming) home. The nearest road, Nikkaluokta, lies 35km to the north. Here, waterways have become roads, and reindeer trails serve as footpaths.
As in so many camps around the globe, life here revolves around the central kitchen/dining room/office/shop building. As an informal gathering place, refuge against mosquitoes and sudden rainstorms, or simply a place to relax and enjoy a fine meal curated by endearingly acerbic chef Tim, the building is the heart of Tjuonajokk. A place to sip a fine glass of wine with newfound friends, share memories of the day and prepare for tomorrow’s adventure.
If the main building is the heart of the camp, the soul must reside within the small dock complex and nearby sauna. Tjuonajokk’s two docks harbour both guide and rental boats, while the nearby sauna – such an integral part of Scandinavian culture – offers rejuvenation within its spacious wooden walls. Truly, this is the draw of the camp. The promise of adventure, of water, of fish. The slowing down of life to appreciate the simple things – the strong take of a healthy grayling, the Arctic glow of late light on the water and the soul-brightening sweat of a quality sauna session.
Tjuonajokk, a Sami word which translates to ‘goose creek’ (some say ‘glimmering creek’) is home to vast quantities of healthy, wild fish. Arguably one of the world’s best grayling fisheries, the River Kaitum produces an inordinate amount of ambitious fish that are often more than happy to oblige eager anglers. This is a fishery for all skill levels; while advanced anglers will make the most of each fish, it is the ideal location for a new fisherman or a youngster to experience their first truly great fishery. Grayling upwards of 50cm are not uncommon, and the average size falls well within what would be considered a trophy grayling in other parts of the world.
Anglers seeking grayling can fish with a guide or rent their own boat to access part of the river and the adjoining lake, offering easily buildable trips regardless of fishing preference. Boat taxis are also available daily for ease of transport.
Fishermen should pack 5wt and 6wt single-handed rods paired with a quality reel and loaded with a tapered floating line, 4–12lb leader of at least the length of your rod and plenty of 4x tippet. The Klinkhammer (look for patterns with beige, orange and olive bodies with dark hackles) is perhaps the most popular fly on the river – as evidenced by the Klinkhammer Krossing sign at the camp bar – but it’s worth packing a typical selection of dry flies and nymphs for experimentation. Consider brown, grey and dark-hued caddis in hook size 10–16. Nymph patterns with gold heads such as Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears and Partridge & Orange spiders also often prove productive.
While Tjuonajokk is famed for its trophy grayling, it is also home to pike, perch, char and trout. A walk (or helicopter ride) into the nearby mountains can reveal a variety of lakes that house communities of char and trout, while an hour-long boat ride from the lodge lands anglers in the middle of compelling pike fishing. For pike, come prepared with a 9 or 10wt rod loaded with floating line and a predator leader. Large streamers and poppers can both prove effective; pack a variety to make the most of your run up the lake. Fish topping 110cm are by no means rare – like all things on the tundra, the pike seem to live by their own rules.
Thanks to the Arctic sun, summertime anglers will find themselves with boundless fishing opportunities. It is literally quite possible to fish 24 hours around the clock without the use of a headlamp or torch, and some of the best fishing can be had in the late hours.
During the fishing season, Tjuonajokk is home to a young, eager and personable team of guides. The group is led by Camp Manager and Head Guide Robert Hansson, whose seemingly favorite phrase on the water, “Let’s do so”, perhaps best sums up his willingness to go beyond the call of duty to ensure guests feel at home and welcome at the tundra outpost. It’s a spirit that has spread to the rest of the team and is, perhaps, indicative of the ethos and energy behind Fish Your Dream, the operation which operates this camp as well as two others.
Fish Your Dream’s other concerns – a sea-run brown trout fishery on the southern Swedish island of Gotland and an impressive trout fishery at Ammarnäs, a small village located at the gateway to one of Europe’s largest protected natural areas – are quickly growing. Combined, all three destinations offer the opportunity for year-round angling. Founded in 2006 by Per Jobs, the indomitable heart and soul of the company, Fish Your Dream has always prided itself on sustainability and responsible travel.
“The more people are in nature, the more interest to protect it,” Per shared when asked about Fish Your Dreams’ sustainability initiatives. In Tjuonajokk alone, the team has made a push to solar power and recycling, working to lessen their impact on the surrounding environment. Per realises that without this place – without a healthy fishery – he has no business and his guides have no job. To that end, he works tirelessly to better the company’s relationship with the environment.
These efforts have been acknowledged by the receipt of the national quality label of ‘Nature’s Best’ – a competitive designation signifying a company’s dedication to sustainable tourism and travel. To date, only 67 companies in the country have received the label. Fish Your Dream is also an active member of the Swedish Ecotourism Society and the International Adventure Travel Trade Association, and won the prize for best ecotourism at the Grand Travel Awards, a highly competitive award voted upon by the readers of Travel News, Sweden’s most prominent travel trade publication.
A composer by training and now a businessman by trade, Per takes the long view with his burgeoning business. “We must take care of what we have and always scout for the new,” he commented over a cup of camp coffee, looking out over the water. “Part of me knows it’s not really possible to own anything. I know this. We all die.”
It’s clear the young guides at Tjuonajokk strive to follow the ethos of their commander. Proper fish handling and management is paramount when on the water; guides encourage anglers to practise catch and release, keeping fish in the water as long as possible and minimising handling. Water temperature is carefully measured and noted during hot summer days. They readily speak of the fact that, without this care, the fishery would struggle to provide for them the living it does.
It’s that thought process that perhaps best defines Tjuonajokk. Here, life is simple, driven by the rhythm of the land – the patterns of the sun, the weather moving across the mountains and the temperature of the water in which these fish reside. There’s an odd peace to life so far out on the tundra. A complete lack of cellular service ensures the cares of the exterior world are forgotten, and life settles into a series of basic needs. Eating when one is hungry. Boiling up a cup of coffee on the bank when the urge strikes. Fishing until sleep is required, then resting a few hours and returning to the water. It feels oddly natural, for what else do fishermen require beyond these basics and rivers of rising fish?
Even the simple act of drinking water is a reminder of the camp’s pristine surroundings. Fresh water from the lakes and rivers is readily drinkable, and it’s standard procedure to simply dip one’s cup in the water and drink – no purification required. The camp’s water source is a flowing spring not far from the main building. Filling water bottles from the pure, icy cold water becomes a daily routine and a staunch reminder of the simplicity of life on the tundra.
For those seeking an escape from the day-to-day, a ‘fully unplugged’ experience with world-class fishing, Tjuonajokk promises to deliver. The magic of casting to rising grayling under the midnight Arctic sun will forever change one’s perception of night fishing – all anglers should, at one time or another, experience that surreal feeling of one’s days being timed strictly around the water. Sleep, eating and social aspects all become relative to the need to be on the water. Here, life morphs into a series of simple tasks, all overseen by the Arctic sun.
If you want to go...
• Tjuonajokk offers a range of accommodation from rustic wilderness cabins to the luxurious new Lyan Cabin – offering double and single rooms, a lounge, showers and sauna.
• Meals are cooked by the talented chef Tim, who utilises a variety of fresh tundra ingredients in each meal.
• Tjuonajokk’s fishing season runs in July and August and licenses are sold at camp on behalf of the ‘Länsstyrelsen’ – the authority in charge of fishing in Sweden.
• Wading boots with studs are not allowed. Only barbless, single hooks are permitted. Leave headlamps at home, but pack plenty of mosquito spray.
• Non-anglers can spend their days relaxing by the river, enjoying the sauna, hiking or wildlife spotting in the local tundra and mountains.