Land of the Giants
Dutch angling journalist Simon Pim Pos travels to Repvåg, North Norway and encounters incredible boat fishing with cod built like buffaloes and wolf fish with pitbull attitude. He describes the whole experience as life changing and dreams of living there.
Rightly or wrongly holiday brochures sell Norway’s North Cape as the most northern point of Europe, and it had been a personal ambition to fish there for a very long time. With fish of more than 40lbs a real possibility, I began my preparations some six months before the actual trip. The best period for big cod falls between December and the end of April when the ‘Skrei‘ (cod ready to spawn) come in from the Barents Sea, heading towards grounds near the Lofoten Islands. My destination however, lay well beyond Lofoten, and a local contact summed up the cod situation well when he told me that the Lofoten fish are but visitors, passing trade, while places further north can boast of impressive year-round cod populations.
Henrik Hamborg from a company called Innovation Norway gave me the opportunity to visit a fantastic fishing centre located in a small place called Repvåg. The word ‘våg’ means ‘bay’ and there are many villages and cities suffixed ‘våg’. I was flying there and could not drag all the fishing gear that I would have liked on the plane. It is important to be conservative when assembling fishing kit for such trips, and I always forget something that would have been useful. But better that than massive bills for excess baggage and all the airport grief that goes with it… take this from someone who knows. I took 30lb and 15lb class rods with me. These rods can handle even the biggest fish so long as there’s no rush. I also carried a light spinning rod in case of bad weather when I would do a little fishing in the harbour.
We left Schiphol airport ay 09:00 bound for Oslo. We then waited two hours for the connecting flight to Alta airport. Here we were collected by the husband-and-wife, Toini and Håkon, who run a hotel/motel/fishing sport cabin operation with all the facilities travelling anglers could ever want. Håkon is a real seaman and knows what he is talking about. He is a professional diver, and has run a sea taxi company for several years. From the moment I arrived I was made to feel fantastically welcome.
The boats are superb and very safe. None are under the 6.5 metres and they all have a cabin, echo sounder and excellent GPS system. The cabin was important for me, as I needed protection for my camera equipment. Like a big kid, I couldn’t wait to fish and said as much. Håkon laughed and assured me there was no hurry. He promised that the fish would be out there with such confidence that I relaxed. My lust for the big cod and catfish/wolf fish I’d heard about didn’t need to be rushed.
For years there have been special fishing tournaments for wolf fish in Norwegian waters. In Norway they call them ‘Steinbeissers’ or ‘stone-biters’. The best month to catch the wolfish is June, but despite being early, there was still a good chance of catching. For wolf fish we would be fishing with René, a very kind German guide who worked temporarily in Repvåg. The next morning, the boat engine was already running when we arrived and it took just 25 minutes to travel to the first spot out beyond the fjord. We fished close to the rocks in 40 – 60 metres of water. My brother Ruth caught the first wolf fish… and he was delighted never having caught one before. René caught a small halibut, and I should mention that this fjord produced a giant halibut weighing more than 310lbs last year.
Who’s Afraird of the Big Bad Wolf?
The area is famous for wolf fish and we went all out to catch them. Rene proudly told us that he had never failed to find a few bruising wolfs for his clients. Wolf fish should be treated with due respect as they possess impressive teeth in powerful jaws. However, they are not the biting demons that some would have us believe. I read recently that an angler claimed a wolf fish he’d caught somehow managed to bite a broom handle in two. I suspect this was stretching the truth a little as I have caught hundreds of these fish and I have never witnessed such and incident, but I am not inclined to poke the things with brooms either! The teeth, while frightening, are not sharp and they are perfect for crushing the crabs, sea urchins and other shellfish on which they feed. One wolf fish that I gutted was stuffed with the king crab made famous in The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery channel.
We caught lots of wolf fish on a variety of methods and lures. Shads, jigs and baited pirks take their share; while another excellent method was to present a little mesh bag containing crushed mussels as bait. The shells are left in place and the idea is to present a naturally encountered bait in as realistic a manner as possible. This method took an awful lot of wolfs. The wolf fish is highly rated in restaurants because of their tasty pure white flesh. Wolf fish skins are very tough and can be cured to make one of the strongest leathers in the world. Toini told us that in the Second World War Norwegian people made shoes from wolf fish skins. Apparently the spotted catfish provides fantastic leather.
When we had caught our ‘quota’ of wolf fish we went fishing inside the fjord for haddock and cod. There proved to be so many fish here that we were soon worn out and returned to base. In the main hall there are a great many fishing pictures that illustrate just how productive the area is. One in particular that caught my eye was of journalist and friend, Arnout Terlouw, with a good spotted wolf fish.
During our diner of cold smoked cod, carrots, potatoes and butter sauce a wizened little man arrived. Catweasel, as I immediately christened him, had heard that we were here to compile a magazine feature on the area, and he wanted to show us the best places for big cod. A good friend of Hokån, he told us that the fishing the next day should be unbelievable as he had fished the day before and caught almost 1000kgs cod between all 10 and 20kg in just a few hours. My already primed adrenalin level went through the roof and I proceeded to ask Catweasel hundreds of questions all of which were answered with a big knowing smile.
Not Big Enough!
Vastly experienced Ole Martin was our skipper this time. He is the wrong side of 60 but sprightlier than most 20 year olds. After 20 minutes we stopped for our first drift at a mark just around the corner from the fjord where there was little wind to speak of. Ruth got the first fish – a cod just shy of 20lb – and I immediately followed this with one of similar size. We were both delighted but the skipper was not happy. He started the engine and told us to keep our lines in because these fish were not big enough.
We sedately sailed for two hours to fresh fishing grounds at around 7mph. This might sound like torture but the bewitching scenery, cavorting dolphins, flapping puffins, majestic sea eagles, mischievous seals
and the hypnotic purr of the diesel engine caused time to become an irrelevant blur. The motor finally slowed and Ole called me in to the cabin where the sight that greeted my bulging eyes was incredible. The whole fishfinder screen was red, completely red. Fish were packed thick from 20 metres below the boat all the way to the bottom 50 metres down. I have never seen anything like it, and what was to come? Well…
I was using my 30lbs rod and trusted ABU 10,000 reel with Spro main line and a short fluorocarbon leader to a 300g pirk with a red Gummi-makk just above it. Every time the lines went down, we had two fish between 20 and 35lbs! The skipper was a happier man now, enjoying watching us enjoying/killing ourselves! He didn’t fish himself. He just sat there cleaning fish and cracking jokes.
When I arrived back at camp that evening I was a little overwhelmed by the numbers and sheer size of fish encountered that day. I had a buzzing head full of incredible fishing images and a powerful story to tell. Where can you find a place that you will catch more than a hundred cod weighing over 20lbs apiece? This fishing was beyond belief and almost impossible to properly describe. But for the skipper, this was all in a day’s work and nothing unusual.
Just when we thought things could not get any more spectacular, we were told that our next day’s fishing could be more incredible yet – surely not. Håkon would ferry us with the boat to a place called Sarnes which is a small town that’s fabulously situated, and allows access to the same grounds we had fished. The boat we had used previously was to be given over to a group of German anglers who had just arrived. When Håkon appeared I couldn’t help noticing that his middle finger a bloody mess. When I asked him what had happened he told me that Ole Martin had drilled through his finger just five minutes ago. I said to him that he should go to hospital but he said simply: ”I have a very good resistance to illness… it will heal”. Now that’s the spirit!
We set off for Sarnes at 11:00 and were picked up and hour later by Ole Martin, who went out with us again to catch what he called ‘buffalo’. And, old Ole knew exactly where the big fish were. Before fishing however, we enjoyed a fantastic BBQ in an original Finnish hut with the temperature only just above freezing. It was an amazing experience and I enjoyed some beautiful king crab, which Håkon fishes for himself. The crab pictured seemed giant to me, but Hokan told us that a crab of this size is smaller than average and they grow to be more than 20lbs. Such a crab has a massive spread of around 1.7 metres.
Life up in northern Norway is just how it should be. Most of the fishermen have a small white fish quota and that will give them a good income. There is no trawling so the fishing is very selective and the fish stocks flourish. If my wife would only agree then I could very happily live here.
Cod Jackpot Again
We went directly to the mark where caught all those caught the day before. For a bit of fun my brother and I decided to fish with different sets of gear the first hour. Ruth’s tackle consisted of a pirk with a red Gummi-makk above, while I used my lighter rod matched to a Penn reel SG 5000 reel with a 100g lead-headed shad. I chose the shad because all week we noticed that the cod were absolutely stuffed to the gills with capelin, which is a prominent baitfish similar to smelt. Cod were constantly vomiting capelin onto the deck, while all around puffins surfaced with beaks full of these little fish. In earlier times the native Inuit people dried the capelin for many uses including making candles. My shads were dead ringers for these baitfish and the perfect mimic.
The muscle-tearing action was again non-stop, and to describe the fishing blow-by-blow would be repetitive, Suffice to say this was utter jackpot stuff and cod fishing does not get any better. Magnificent large cod ambushed pirks, Gummi-makks and shads with equal relish. This kind of fishing is hugely addictive even if it is so tough on bodies and tackle. Fishing the shad was brilliant fun and very effective. I would throw it uptide and let it sink for exactly 20 seconds before jigging it as I might when zander fishing back home. Lifting the lead-head and allowing it to sink back under control of the rod tip would invariably result in a thunderous whack on the rod as a big cod sucked in the lure.
Just such a ploy resulted in my biggest cod of the week; it weighed over 32lbs and fought just like on of Ole’s buffalo! In fact the fish put up such a hard fight that I decided he had earned his freedom, and I released him after some quick photographs. I am often asked what the best lure colours are for Norway. In this instance there was no such things, as everything was equally successful in such abundant waters. After 15 enormous cod my the shad that I had started the day with was completely destroyed… but what a fantastic return for an inexpensive lure. Even so, I don’t throw my damaged shads away because they are easy to repair with just a little powder glue – waste not, want not as the English might say.
To tell the honest truth, I was a glad when the skipper signalled to go home. My arms were killing me and they had ceased working by then anyway. For so many reasons I will remember this day for my whole life. Håkon told it right, what an incredible amount of big fish… this was a real Repvåg experience. I had a further three days fishing from the Nord Kapp camp, which is another Mecca for big cod… this story however, can wait for another time my friends.
Information & Contacts
Accommodation details for the Repvag Hotel can be found at fishingland.no
For more specific fishing specific information and trip details you can email me at p.pos @ hengelsport.com