Dec 27 2006

Wild Food

Published by at 9:13 pm under Foods


Fish is and was, contrary to common belief, a staple for most primitive people, often more so than the big ungulates. Especially lake fish is confined to a limited environment and is because of that a much more reliable food source than for instance the reindeer, whose pattern of travel may vary to a great degree year over year. Getting close enough to catch them is also an issue, while the fish is easy to lure into your traps and nets by exploiting their quite limited intelligence.

In my area there are very few fish species. Mainly trout (Salmo trutta), but also arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) and/or the common whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) in some lakes. These are some of the most widely distributed anyway, so even if my experience is to a great deal limited to these species, the knowledge will be useful in a lot of places. Many of the methods can also be used for other species as well, maybe even in the sea for all I know.

The Trout

Fishing for trout in substantial quantities is difficult because of their solitary nature. At one time of they year, they are however exceptionally easy. When the trout runs on the rivers or streams to spawn in the autumn they can easily be caught, even with the hands. Photo shows lots of small trout caught in a few hours. The dark skin comes from living in a lake heavily influenced by bog water.








The most common method of hand fishing is called “tickeling”. Being rather basic animals, the trout believes that it is hidden whenever it can’t see anything. Consequently, you can quite often spot the tail of the trout under a log or a rock. But anyway, chances are that you will see where the fish swims away from you and into hiding. By gently stroking the trout from the tail and forwards it will stand still, because it actually likes it. That affection is likely to come to an abrupt halt when you suddenly grab it by the gills and throws it ashore. Fish in hiding can also be speared, by for example probing under a bank.

You can also use spears, clubs or whatever to take out the fish. The club works best with a run and hit tactic. By running into a river and bashing at everything that moves you can kill or stun a few fish. Leave the river alone for a few hours and repeat the procedure.

Spearing with a torch is very, very efficient. The light calms and attracts the fish. But the torch has to burn brightly, without being made with either fat, birch bark, pitch or fat wood as a component, chances are the fish will not be mesmerised. When spearing fish, aiming at the neck makes for the surest kill, but be aware of that the light bends in the water. Sneak the spear slowly towards the aiming point of the fish (through water if needed) and thrust in an explosive movement. The spear is usually held in the right hand while you hold the torch with the left. Put your hand far up the spear to get most control and force. Pin the fish to the bottom until you manage to grab it with your hand to bring it on shore. With this method you can easily spear dozens in a short time.

If you have a net, chasing (by throwing rocks) the fish into the net or seine-netting a pool can give you hundreds at a time. Alternatively, block the passage of the water with a wall, leaving only a little opening where you set your landing net you can get quite a few fish too. Then start scaring the fish from above and into the only available exit, which is your net. Where the fish run on the exit river of a lake this can be used as a permanent installation, emptied every day. A related method is the fish basket, where the funnel inside guides the fish into the basket, but their limited intelligence make them unable to find the exit. This trap can be used in conjunction with a wall in an upstream run. Below is a crude basket trap.








Not all trout spawn in rivers or streams, some spawn in the lakes and all the fish in a lake doesn’t spawn each year, particularly in lakes with bigger fish. Because of that, setting nets on strategic locations around the lake can bring a good catch. Such locations are usually inlets, outside of peninsulas or river out or intakes.

The same goes for spring. But particularly newly ice-cleared river intakes are sought by the winter-lean trout, seeking food brought by the flooding rivers or streams. Setting a net there overnight will often yield a good catch.

Summer is a poor season for fishing. The water is too hot for much movement and the brightness reveal your nets to the fish. Instead of using nets at this time of year, this is the time when the hook and line represents the best available alternative. For a more industrious approach; baited long-lines.

The fish move less in winter, but can still be caught with hook and line. In the winter the fish is found in deeper portions of the lake, but as spring approaches they move closer to shore. Netting under the ice is somewhat efficient on trout, but far more so on the next species described.

Arctic Char

Of these three species, the one I have the least experience with. It is a social fish, running in shoals. It is mostly pelagic and quite hard to catch in summer time, especially on lower altitude lakes where it goes deeper than the trout. Below: Small arctic char caught in ice fishing.








In late autumn (November approximately) the char goes into shore to spawn and is then to be found in very large shoals and is easily caught with nets. If there is ice you can either put nets under the ice, fish with bait or spear the fish like the Inuits sometimes do. The char is quite easy to catch under the whole period with ice.

Common Whitefish

This fish also moves about in shoals and due to a small mouth almost impossible to use hook and line on. Nets are about the only good option for this specie. A few places it runs in slow flowing rivers, but for a great part it spawns in the lake itself. In summer it is usually found in the deeper portions of the lake, but some can be caught in the shallows too. The fish spawns in late October and November, by setting nets outside peninsulas at that time you can catch lots and lots of this fat fish. If the ice is firm, you can also set nets under the ice, which can provide you with whitefish throughout the winter. How to set nets under the ice will be described in a seperate article as the procedure is quite complicated. The spring is also a reasonably good time to catch this fish in nets, but the fish is, as everything else, leaner then.

Dressing the Fish (illustrations will be edited in as they become available)

Start the cut by inserting the tip of the knife in the anus. Cut up all the way until you reach a harder structure almost at the throat. Rip up the tongue and gills from underneath the gill cover. Stick a finger into the throat and rip the pectoral fins off and the entire digestive system with it. Optionally you can scrape out the “kidneys”, a blackish substance sticking to the back from the inside commonly believed to be blood. If you are to fry the fish, skinning or scaling the whitefish is recommended. Of the organs, all can be eaten, including the roe and sperm. Photo is of me, dressing a few trout in front of the lavvo.








Cooking fish will be handled in a later article. This article series will be temporarily discontinued until I have enough photographic material to post the remaining articles (Mammals, cooking, shellfish, seaweeds, lichens etc…).


Get my book "Traditional Trout Fishing: Fishing for Survival in the North (Volume 1)

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