At these eco-friendly lodges, it’s not all about the money. Instead, anglers learn about Sami culture and sustainability . . . while targeting big grayling, northern pike, and brown trout.
Article & Photography by Jess McGlothlin
Imagine a place where anglers can fish 24 hours a day . . . without a headlamp. A place where the local fare is hearty, the coffee strong, and the residents, mostly indigenous Sami people, are friendly and welcoming. Best of all, this place offers crystal clear rivers filled with big grayling, marshy sloughs with aggressive northern pike, and remote lakes filled with large brown trout that rarely see a fly. Welcome to Swedish Lapland.
I recently visited the region and found a mixed landscape of tundra, craggy mountains, and a seemingly endless supply of promising water. I also discovered that Lapland is one of those places that seeps into a traveler’s soul, offering a reset to the most basic, good things in life. It’s a place that encapsulates why we travel—to be so far removed from our norm that we lose those things we most often depend on, and gain perspective in the process.
That’s what I gained when fishing at two destinations—Tiuonajokk and Guenja—each providing a unique experience and some of the best grayling and northern pike fishing I’ve ever seen.
A visit to Tjuonajokk feels comfortingly familiar in a fishingcamp kind of way. The lodge is just a short Eurocopter ride from the mining town of Kiruna, and rests on a vast tundra, which is interrupted only by jagged mountain peaks that seem to rise from nowhere. Tjuonajokk is a Sami word that translates to “goose creek” (some say “glimmering creek”) and provides a home to healthy, wild fish—chiefly grayling.
Located along the Kaitum River, this is a fishery for all skill levels. Many beginners have caught their first grayling in these waters, while seasoned international anglers travel here for trophy fish—heavy grayling topping 20 inches are not uncommon, and the average size of these fish would impress anywhere in the world. Even so, you don’t need to get technical here; Klinkhammers are the preferred grayling fly, so much that the camp bar has a KLINKHAMMER CROSSING sign prominently displayed.
Exceptional fisheries require exceptional care—a concept Per Jobs, the driving force behind Tjuonajokk, realizes. A composer by trade, Jobs now operates three Swedish lodges: Tjuonajokk and Ammarnäs in northern Sweden; and Gotland, an island in southern Sweden that offers wade fishing in the Baltic Sea for sea-run browns that range to 10 pounds. All are booked through Fish Your Dream, one of Sweden’s premier sport fishing businesses.
Jobs could bring more anglers and common tourists to these lodges; however, he’s more focused on a long-term goal—sustainable tourism. He realizes the resource—the place and the fish—is more important than peak visitation.
It’s the old game of quality over quantity, the experience versus the almighty dollar, and Jobs wants to ensure these resources will be around for years to come. He’s found that people are willing to pay more for a legitimate experience in the wild, not the “canned” outdoor adventures that seem to be trending.
“Time is more precious to people in these days,” he said to me during my visit last July, while sipping coffee from a guski, the traditional Sami wooden mug. “People are more urbanized and are seeking a better experience [when they travel]; learning sustainability and other things. The more people are in nature, the more interest they have to protect it.”
Sustainability rests at the heart of all three Fish Your Dream destinations—Tjuonajokk and Guenja are two of 67 Swedish destinations to be granted the coveted Nature’s Best certification, a national quality label tagged to lodges and tour operators providing an ethical, sustainable experience.
Jobs knows that some aspects of running a camp are unavoidably intrusive—Tjuonajokk, for example, is accessible only via helicopter or a very long, very ambitious hike from Kiruna. Jobs realizes this is simply part of doing business and is actively taking steps to make the camp as sustainable as possible, including the gradual switch to solar power and utilizing local ingredients in meals. His fishing guides are well trained in proper fish-handling techniques and are eager to educate clients on the benefits of keeping fish in the water and releasing them with minimal handling.
Guenja is a Sami ecolodge (really, a homestead that allows the occasional guest) and is surrounded by mountains. It’s perched on a bench above Lilla-Tjulträsket, an ancient glacial lake that sustains a lively population of brown trout. While not trophy size—most average 14 to 18 inches with some stretching to 24— these fish are aggressive, which is what you would expect in a lake that is rarely fished. The surrounding mountains and forests are refuge for moose, reindeer, wolves, bears, wolverines, lynx, and Sweden’s elusive and endangered arctic fox.
It’s made clear in the simple vastness of the location that this is the reindeer-herding Sami people’s place—not ours. We’re merely visiting, spending a few days of our lives under 8,000-year-old glacial mountains, catching and releasing fish.
For owners Mikael and Anki Vinke, life at Guenja looks much the same as it may have centuries before. The outpost has been in Mikael’s family for generations, and some buildings still standing today date back to 1843. Many of the buildings have been restored over the years; everything built by hand using natural materials found in the area. Rooftops are composed of of birch bark, carefully installed in three layers for weather resistance and topped off with a hearty layer of peat moss, a natural insulator that keeps the buildings remarkably cool in summer and warm during winter. The hearthstones in the main cabin tell a tale—Mikael gathered them from a looming mountainside across the lake, brought them across in his wooden canoe, and carefully created the hearth, which seems to be the heart of Guenja, a gathering place to share stories and trade notes about the fishing at Lilla-Tjulträsket.
The outpost is overseen by the keen eyes of veteran moosehunting dog Daiju, whose name means “sharp eyes” in the Sami tongue. It’s easy to imagine the lean, seasoned dog sprinting through the snow to corner a moose under the darkness of winter while Mikael stalks steadily behind, rifle at the ready. Daiju’s home was recently invaded by Dalvi (which means “winter”), a bouncy puppy of the same breed. Dalvi is proving to be a joy and a challenge—visitors must guard their shoes, as the pup has decided they are her favorite chew toys.
Just 12 groups per year, each with a maximum of 12 people, are allowed at Guenja. While Mikael prepared the property to first accept guests in 1995, Anki built an ecotourism society, learning the delicate balance between sharing a resource and preserving it. The lodge’s first guest arrived in 1998 and was none other than the king of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf.
One morning, with mugs of strong coffee at hand, we sat in the small dining room, soaking in the heat of sunlight filtering through a window, and talked about the future of Guenja.
“Ecotourism for me is a way of living,” Anki said. “In your bone, in your blood. Who you are.” She realizes that young, would-be guides just getting into the tourism sector need training that values culture and sustainability—without the resource, they have nothing. She and Mikael are actively involved in the Arctic Fox Fund (the largest surviving population of arctic foxes resides in the region) and are actively involved in Nature’s Best. For Anki, ecotourism and fishing are a way to ensure the place her life revolves around stays pure for generations to come. When I visited last July, she had a grandchild on the way, and it was clear the longevity of Guenja was on her mind.
Fly fishing is secondary for the Vinkas; harvesting fish has always been a part of the Sami lifestyle, but sport fishing remains somewhat of a foreign concept. While they do have a number of fly fishing guests every year, it’s in part that lack of pressure that ensures Lilla-Tjulträsket’s fishery remains exceptional. As mentioned, the lake supports a sturdy population of brown trout that are more than willing to play. Wet flies, especially March Browns, are the order of the day, but when the evening hatch really kicks off, the fish come to the surface and attack drys.
For me, it’s comforting to know that in distant areas of the globe, balance is found between fisheries management and sustainability. And it all makes perfect sense: without the Kaitum’s grayling or Lilla-Tjulträsket’s brown trout, we have no industry. Looking through my travel notes, often jotted while riverside under the midnight sun, one paragraph best sums up my experience fishing Swedish Lapland: “Feels like I’ve been here a lifetime … the Arctic sun turning life into one long day itself .. . a simple cycle: fish, eat when you can, sleep (a little) when possible .. . life morphs into a series of modest tasks, all overseen by Arctic skies.”
Based in Missoula, Montana, freelance writer and photographer Jess McGlothlin is happiest working in the far-off corners of the world . . . where the good stuff happens.