Dateline – July 22, 2010. Vangshylla, Norway.
My optimism about the bad weather passing us by was hopelessly misplaced. I really believed it wasn’t going to rain, but I also believe that professional football will someday return to Detroit – call me a dreamer. Phil and I started a bit later in the morning to catch a good tide for halibut, and by the time we set out, the wind was blowing a bracing 30 and it was raining in sheets. The temperatures hovered in the 40s, and I quietly questioned why someone would leave California in July and come to this place, except as part of the Federal Witness Protection Program.
My “Dale of Norway” sweater, which only yesterday had simply been a nifty souvenir, was now an indispensable layer of protection against freezing. My waterproof boots, considered a bit of overkill by some of my snide hiker friends, were now remarkably comfortable and dry. And my Gore-Tex jacket and pants, which usually sit in the bottom of the suitcase on summer trips, were now the only thing between me and hypothermic death.
We gave the halibut a very brave try, dragging around an assortment of live baits and a giant shad lure that looked more like a display hyperbole than something to be used in actual combat. The weather was against us, however, and the wind pushed us off of every drift we tried to make. Phil was nothing if not persistent, but as the gusts gradually increased, it became pretty much impossible to fish. Despite these odds, I caught several nice cod and, notably, some herring – a fish I had caught previously but never photographed, so this became species #1003.
As they said in Holy Grail – “A herring!”
Gamely, Phil even tried some deeper water for us, skillfully playing off the tide and wind to give us a survivable drift, but nothing was cooperating and the rain had gone to a nasty horizontal blast that shifted directions into my face every time I tried to hide – it was like fishing in a car wash. Shouting over the wind, I learned quite a bit about Phil – a British guy with much less confusing lineage than Kevin, although, speaking of confusing, he did have one of those Northern England accents that can easily be mistaken for a foreign language. Phil had been at Vangshylla for about 3 years, and still couldn’t pronounce it. He seemed to love the work and the natural beauty, although his rumored Norwegian girlfriend may also have had something to do with it.
When the drift got so bad we could have waterskiied behind it, I finally relented and agreed to go to a more sheltered area. We would have worse chances for new species, but a better shot at survival. We drove the boat into the lee of the Mosvik hills and began dropping bait and jigs into about 25 meters. It was an odd bite – the fish were very concentrated on one depth, about 28 meters. So we would drift out, out, no bites, no bites, then 28 meters and boom – everything would go down at once. By the time we landed the fish, the wind had driven us out too deep, and we would motor in and reset. The rain had gotten so bad, I could swear I saw an old man in the village putting pairs of animals onto a boat. It was ugly but we were catching beautiful cod, coalfish, and haddock – I had to persuade Phil not to eat the haddock, although he kept insisting it would make lovely fish and chips and should be served alongside this sort of green mass the British like to call “mushy peas.” My British friends will try to tell me “Britain was built on mushy peas.” But really, Britain was more likely built USING mushy peas. This is not a food, guys – it’s an industrial adhesive. Stop putting it on my plate.
A nice coalfish from Mosvik
“Red Bass” – same genus as the rockfish that are common in the northeastern Pacific
Phil was also confident we would catch something new on one of the drifts – hopefully a wolf-eel. (I think I laid it on a bit heavy that he might go down in history only as the guy who guided me to a herring.) Our prayers were answered on one of our last few drifts of the day – a whiting!! #1004!! (But not on a jig.) In the spirit of caring and love, which might have looked like petulance but wasn’t, I immediately sent Marta a text informing her. It read “I got a whiting i got a whiting phhhht.”
“Dear Marta, that’s 1 whiting for me!!”
As we pulled up to the dock, I noticed that the sky was starting to clear. The wind still ripped through the harbor, but fingers of sunshine started piercing the gloom. It was the most beautiful evening of the trip, especially when a rainbow appeared off to the east. I caught a few fish off the north jetty and took in the scenery.
The pot of gold would have paid for half of dinner in Oslo
Looking north off the jetty
Phil and Steve, after cleaning up and thawing out
Finally coming in for dinner, which consisted of baked ling and a lovely pasta, I noticed Marta was playing some odd but catchy music. In her normal mode of cultural exploration, Marta had gone online to learn more about the Sami people, indigenous Scandanavians who had herded reindeer and fished across the region for eons. She had discovered an array of Sami music, including pop singer Sofia Jannok, and this became the soundtrack for the week.
So, if Sofia had a poodle, would it be a Lapp dog?