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There’s a possibility that the Teno River system (Tana in Norwegian and Deatnu in Sámi, the language of the native Sámi people) on the northern border of Finland and Norway will yield its second world-record rod-caught Atlantic salmon sometime in the future. In 1928, Henrik Henriksen landed the current all-tackle record, 79 pounds 3 ounces, on the Norwegian bank of the Tana. In recent years, Atlantic salmon approaching that size (over 66 pounds in 2008) have been taken.
The Teno/Tana River, which empties into the Barents Sea 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle is a huge system, draining over 6,000 square miles. Fed largely by the snowcapped mountains of Norway, the water temperature rarely exceeds 55 degrees. The main river is 500 yards wide in places, and it has lots of gravel bars, islands and shoals that provide excellent lies for migrating fish. In all, the main river and its tributaries provide over 600 miles of water for migrating salmon to traverse. During the annual runs (typically July and into mid-August), different tributaries will have different size fish in them, with large fish migrating in one tributary while grilse and two-sea-winter fish will be migrating in another.
The river supports the largest wild run of Atlantic salmon in the world, with annual river catches of 50,000 to 60,000 fish. In some years, rod catches approach 65 percent, with the balance being taken by commercial fishing and local trapping. Because of its remote location, human impact on the fishery has been minimal and despite concentrated fishing in some areas, large numbers of multiple sea-winter fish are caught.
Atlantic salmon runs in the Teno system appear to follow a poorly understood 10- to 12-year cycle. In peak years, the catch can be double that of slow years. Also, in peak years, the average size of the fish increases. The last peak year, 2001, was the best year in the past 30. Preliminary data suggests that the next peak year, (2010 or 2011) will be even better than 2001.
My son and I fished the Teno and its tributaries from July 28 to August 1, 2008. This was our first Atlantic salmon fishing trip. Our base was Lomakyla Valle in Utsjoki, Finland, owned and operated by Petteri and Anne Valle. Utsjoki is the northernmost town in Finland where one can find basic accommodations and services (grocery, restaurant, hotel, filling station, etc.). Finnish, Sámi and limited English are spoken in town
Lomakyla Valle is located about three miles outside of Utsjoki on a stretch of the river where it becomes rather narrow, deep and swift. There are several buildings on the property, including somewhat luxurious accommodations for up to eight guests: four bedrooms with two beds each, two bathrooms, a large sauna, full kitchen and dining area. In addition, Petteri and Anne have other cabins on other stretches of the river. Anne is a superb cook. Trip packages with or without meals are provided. Given the amount of time you spend fishing here and the strenuous nature of it, I suggest taking the full-meal deal.
Our trip took place during the peak of the salmon run. Surprisingly, the place was not that busy. There were a few Finns in camp, some Germans and one or two Norwegians. I got the impression this is largely unknown territory.
Petteri and Anne have their “kota” (traditional Sámi house) about a kilometer up the river from their fishing camp, and they host a reindeer roast for guests there. Being native Sámi, Petteri owns his own reindeer herd and has good relations with Sámi landowners all along the river and its tributaries, which translates into expanded fishing opportunities for his guests. Petteri makes several Land Rovers available to his guests, plus a shuttle service for those wishing to do some tundra lake fishing. They also provide a shuttle service from the nearest airport in Ivalo if you choose not to rent a car.
There are a number of boats available for hire at the camp, but I wouldn’t dare try to navigate one without a guide. The Teno River at Utsjoki is probably at its widest, but the local Utsjoki tributary (joki means river) flows into the Teno here, and it is easily fishable on foot. With a car, you can find plenty of places to fish from the bank.
Until recently, fishing out of Lomakyla Valles has been largely by haarling, or trolling of large plugs or spoons behind an oar-powered boat as it drifts slowly down the river. This type of fishing was practiced by all of the Finnish guests while my son and I were there, and most of the other visitors fished that way too. My son and I were the only ones fly fishing.
Because of the lack of infor- mation available in English about the Teno (Anne did respond to several of my e-mails, but she and Petteri are very busy), we didn’t quite know what to expect. Neither of us had ever used Spey rods before, which are absolutely essential if you want to fly fish the Teno. This is big water that holds big fish and the wind can be a major factor. Casts of 90 feet are needed at times to reach prime lies, though casts of 70 feet will often put your fly over plenty of fish.
I was pleasantly surprised by our guide, Peter Whittingham, a 50-year-old grizzled veteran of Atlantic salmon guiding all over northern Europe. Peter is a delightful Welshman who returned to the Teno about five years ago after stints in Wales, Scotland and the Hebrides. He is setting up his own operation at Lomakyla Valle, and he is beginning to change the character of salmon fishing on the Teno. He has recently been hired by a joint Finnish/Norwegian commission to become “river keeper” (for lack of a better description), and he is currently planning a fly fishing school to train guides how to handle long-rodders. He says he will also be working with the commission to identify particular areas of the river where special regulations might apply. Peter is also introducing catch-and-release into a culture where keeping fish is the norm.
Peter operates under the old school of guiding. While in your service, he is all yours, 24 hours a day should you choose. We fished until 4 am one morning and Peter was at our side the entire time. He was a great teacher who worked patiently with my son to teach him how to Spey cast.
Conditions were particularly difficult the four days we fished. The temperature was 40 degrees with gale force winds and snow coming off the mountains (Utsjoki is almost 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle). The bad weather brought plenty of fish up the river but casting to them was a challenge. On good days, air temperatures can approach 80 degrees here, but on the bad days, you can’t put on enough clothes. The wind whipping off the Norwegian mountains and the ice forming on your rod guides can make for tough, if not impossible, conditions for flyfishing. Nonetheless, Peter did his best to keep us comfortable.
While at Lomakyla Valle we saw a number of nice fish taken by haarling, but none on the fly. My son and I both had respectable hook-ups, but we landed no salmon (other than a few of the hundreds of aggressive little parr that inhabit the smaller tributaries). Peter has been experimenting here with traditional salmon patterns, but he has also developed several patterns specifically for the area.
If you get tired of fishing big water with big rods here, a number of smaller tributaries hold sizeable char and brown trout. We had good luck with smaller rods in the Utsjoki tributary of the Teno, taking plenty of grayling in the neighborhood of two pounds. Constrained by limited time and bad weather, we did not venture out onto the tundra to fish the many lakes purportedly loaded with pike and char.
In addition to fly fishing the Teno and tributaries, Peter says he eventually intends to offer three- and four-day guided float trips down the Teno, plus lake-fishing opportunities. Peter seems to work well with the other guides, who respect his knowledge. I think he and Petteri and Anne are putting together what will be a first-rate fly fishing operation.
As for costs, once you get to Utsjoki, Petteri and Anne offer a variety of trip packages. The per-person cost of a seven-day package was about 2,215 Euros per person last summer. That was for twin room accommodations, breakfasts, packed lunches and dinners, shared guide service and licenses. A three-day, three-night float trip with accommodations in tents and/or local farm houses with all meals and guiding was 2,000 Euros per person. For more information on the fishing, Peter Whittingham is your best bet. You can reach him at 011-44-792-229-7248.
One final note: The four days my son and I spent here were not enough. If you go, stay for a week. And do take the meal package. Enjoy! – Steve Hosier.
(Postscript: We talked to Peter Whittingham at press time and he noted that he has commissioned the building of two new wooden boats specifically for flyfishing on the Teno this season, and that he will be offering flyfishing classes for local guides this spring. He also said that he hopes to be able to compile weekly catch statistics for the river this coming season, which starts around June 1. He says he will post them on a new website he is constructing. We’ll keep you posted on that. For sure, if you go fishing with Peter Whittingham this summer, file a report.)