A little fishing and a lot of berries!

At the beginning of August, the Woodsbabe, Woodsboy and I joined my in-laws at the cabin to enjoy some summer sun, boating, fishing and berry picking. We suited the Woodsboy up, who was chomping at the bit to head out.

We hopped in the boat, and Woodsbabe rowed…

…while I fished. πŸ˜€ Thanks Woodsbabe! πŸ˜‰

On the other side of the lake, there were boulders in one direction:

And berries galore in the other:

We picked bilberries (vaccinium myrtillus):

And northern bilberries (vaccinium uliginosum):

We saw some cow berries (vaccinium vitis-idaea), but they’re not ripe yet:

I snapped this picture nearby. The lichen and plants kind of look like a miniature forest to me.

Upon returning to the cabin, the Woodsboy and I set up the hand-line fishing rig with a piece of a fake worm and tried our luck.

We managed to get two roach fish (rutilus rutilus) like this:

After fishing, we looked around the yard for more berries. We found rowan berries (sorbus genus) (note: these are not poisonous, but are very bitter and could bother your stomach!):

Black currants (ribes nigrum):

And white currants (ribes rubrum):

Then the Woodsboy and I headed down the dirt road to find more berries. We found a lot of raspberries (rubus idaeus):

And stone bramble (rubus saxatilis):

We also saw unripe lilly of the valley (convallaria majalis). They turn orange when ripe. DO NOT EAT THESE BERRIES, as they are poisonous!

As we walked back, I shot this field of fireweed (chamerion angustifolium). Many of the seed pods have opened and released their fluff.

This is probably the most prolific time of year for berries in Finland. The wild strawberries (fragaria vesca) are mostly long gone now, hence no pictures of them in this post. The last berries to ripen should be the cow berries and black crowberries (empetrum nigrum), which will last into the autumn.

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of some of Finland’s wild and cultivated berries. πŸ™‚

Disclaimer: Consuming wild edible plants and/or using them for medical purposes is done at your own risk. Always be 100% certain of what you are eating/doing. If unsure, contact an expert.

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Primitive fishing update

I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like to lately. One reason is that I have less time for writing blog posts because of my new work and kiddie schedule which resulted from our recent move. The other reason is that we recently had the pleasure of hosting my parents for 2 weeks here in Finland, and this week the Woodsboy and I are on vacay at home together. My list of things to blog about is growing faster than I can scratch things off it, but I am trying! Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read and comment on other blogs as frequently as I used to because of the schedule change. Lately I’ve had to pick one blog at a time to catch up with. If you notice that I’ve been conspicuously absent from a particular venue, this is the reason!

About a month ago, I wrote about my first experiments in primitive fishing. Since then, I haven’t done too much more testing with the rig I made for one reason or another. I did try the thinned-down line for a short while in less-than-ideal conditions, but the result was still the same: bites, but no hooks. Since the conditions and testing period of the modified rig were different from the first trial, the results are not fully conclusive.

In the meantime, I have been in contact with Ilkka Seikku about the matter. He is kind of my go-to guru for all things boreal bushcraft. According to Ilkka, my rig looks good, but the type of “hook” I’ve been trying is usually used in a different manner in northern lakes. Here, the gorge hook was inserted into a small live bait fish with the hope of catching a larger fish, i.e. pike. So basically, I’ve been using the right technology and equipment, but kind of in the wrong way. Ilkka sent me a photo of some hooks he has made for various fish in the northern lakes.

Primitive fish hooks made by Ilkka Seikku.

Here you can see a small hook made from a grouse’s wishbone reinforced with sinew, a small hook made from juniper reinforced with sinew and a gorge hook made from antler. The line is willow bark, like my line. It seems that smaller hooks actually shaped like hooks were used for the small fish I’ve been trying to catch. Imagine that! πŸ˜‰ Ilkka mentioned that the method of fishing with the hook-shaped hooks was different from that which we use today. Rather than letting the fish nibble and waiting to set the hook, you have to be quick and try to hook the fish immediately when you feel a nibble.

So my next step will be to fashion some similar hooks using materials I can find. To be continued!

Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum

In the past, I have brought your attention to a number of forums, blogs and YouTube channels focusing on outdoorsmanship, primarily in Finland, but also elsewhere in the boreal region. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fine forum started by Ron from The Trying Woodsman Blog. He wanted to create a place where folks could discuss woodsmanship, bushcraft, primitive and traditional skills and anything else having to do with outdoor life in the north.

This primarily English-language forum is small, but growing (it has been experiencing a surge in activity lately). So far, there are members from Finland, Sweden, Norway, the northern US, throughout the British Isles, Germany and a host of other countries. As far as I know, this is the only north-centric forum of its type out there!

If you would like to learn from and contribute to a growing knowledge base on woodsmanship in the north in a relaxed and open atmosphere by sharing stories, projects, ideas and experiences and make friends in the process, be sure to visit the Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum!

(Mis)adventures in primitive fishing

While working at my 9-to-5 job during the week, my mind has a tendency to wander (not infrequently in the direction of outdoor pursuits, as you may have guessed). Last week, I got the idea of making a functional primitive fishing rig from a single plant/tree using my camp knife as the only tool. I thought this would be a good way to put some basic primitive/bushcraft skills to use in a practical application. When the weekend rolled around, I hit the woods to see what I could do.

Before I get into it, let me say that this project was based on my limited knowledge and experience, as well as the resources available at the time and place. There are probably many different (i.e. better) ways to approach this!

The plan was to first find and harvest a willow sapling/branch.

Then cut off the branches.

Slit the bark from top to bottom and remove it (this is most easily done in spring/summer).

Then split the bark into thin strips.

At this point, I would normally scrape the green outer bark off the white inner bark and then boil the inner bark for a while with the outer bark scrapings and some wood ashes added to the water. I didn’t have time for all this, though, so I only scraped off most of the outer bark.

Next, carve a “gorge hook” from one of the branches.

Then spend the next few months making several meters/yards of fishing line from the inner bark (see this post for info on making cordage). I should mention that willow bark cordage like this tends to dry out by the next day, so it should be processed further to keep its flexibility and strength (so far, I have tried both waxing and oiling, which seem to work well). Anyway, after getting the line started, slightly untwist the loop end, slip the gorge hook in and twist the line back again. Then untwist the next twist up the line and insert the hook in there as well, finishing by twisting the line back again. Eh, I’m not sure if I’m explaining this very well!

Try to finish the line before it gets too dark or you lose consciousness due to a lack of blood, which the mosquitoes, black flies and gnats have been drawing from you for the past several hours.

The next morning, wake up to find yourself wet inside your bivy sack and sleeping bag liner because you didn’t put up a shelter overhead and got rained on for hours (at least the rain kept the mosquitoes at bay!). Er, I mean clean up the ends of the pole, carve a notch around the top end and tie the line to it. You’re done! (or so you think….)

When I was finished, I still had lots of bark left over to make more cordage with.

So far, so good. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, so it was time to see if it could catch a fish. I intentionally started with an overly large hook, figuring that I’d probably have to whittle it down until I got the size right. I took a small piece of bread and smushed it around the gorge hook and line, making sure the hook was nearly parallel with the line (yes, that is a mosquito in the shot; there were swarms of them around).

It appeared that the hook and bait were too large for the small fish to take into their mouths (I could see them in the shallow water), so I whittled down the hook.

Having remembered that perch prefer worms over bread (though roach readily take both), I found a worm and used a piece of it.

After making these changes, I was getting some serious bites! I was surprised by how sensitive and responsive the rig was. It was at this point that the project took a (hopefully temporary) nose-dive. Again and again, I could see a fish take the baited hook into its mouth and tug on it, but each time it would spit it out again. They just would not swallow it! With this type of setup, as opposed to a curved hook, the fish has to fully swallow the sharpened stick so it gets stuck inside the fish (which, by the way, is why you should not fish this way unless you plan on dispatching and utilizing the fish).

So why weren’t the fish swallowing the bait?! The reason, I suspected, was that the line was too thick and rigid. It gave the fish the sensation that they were trying to bite a piece off of something larger, but could not. As I said, I suspect this to be the reason. I’ve never tried anything like this, so only more trial and error will tell.

The next day, I used some of the extra willow bark to make a much finer and more flexible leader which the fish will hopefully not detect as easily. Then I spliced it into the existing line and attached the hook (which, as you can see, I had modified further by blunting the short end). The splice point is the “left corner” you can see in the second loop. I will try the rig like this and, if fish swallow it, but the hook doesn’t catch, I’ll start over with a larger hook and whittle it down until it’s just right.

To be continued!

Early spring afternoon in the woods

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It’s been over a week since I did this daytrip, but I hadn’t been able to find the time to write about it until now. Our first week of “normal life” at our new location was pretty busy!

Anyhoo, I hopped in the car the first Saturday of May and headed out to “my preeeecious” campsite and surrounding woods near my mother-in-law’s cabin. I wanted to check for signs of spring, as well as any last remnants of winter. My first stop was the lake. There was no ice left whatsoever, but no leaf growth on the trees, either.

Normal hiking boots are usually OK for this area at this time of year, but I decided to wear my rubber boots as a precaution, seeing as how spring has come late this year. It was a good thing, too, because the ground was still water-logged in some places.

I noticed a few tiny patches of snow here and there.

And some very wet areas, as well. As you can see, a little water was also coming from the sky at this point.

Otherwise, the forest was snow-free.

Plenty of cowberries from last summer/autumn could be found. I believe they contain a lot of natural preservatives, which is why they last so long.

When I reached my campsite, I dropped my new old pack and snapped a few pics of it. By “new” I mean new to me, and by “old”, I mean military surplus. I picked it up at a discount store and am putting it through its paces now. Stay tuned for an overview and preliminary review.

I continued on through the forest. Here’s a big anthill teeming with ants.

Here’s a shot of a swampy area nearby where cloudberries are said to grow. I’ll be sure to look for some this summer.

Water-logged mossy ground at the edge of the swamp.

The drainage canals are still swollen due to the recently melted snow.

When I got to the pond, I saw that it was still partially frozen.

On my way back to the campsite, I spotted this birch, which I had not seen before. For some reason, a minority of birches have a lot more bark peeling off them than others. I try to remember where these trees are so I can collect tinder there from time to time.

Since I’d be making a fire soon, I collected some of the bark.

Close by, I discovered a spruce tree which had been damaged at some point and then oozed resin to seal off the damage. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this before.

I snapped off a few of the pieces for future use.

Having recently learned that spruce resin can be chewed like gum, I picked off some of the cleanest amber-colored pieces I could find on the tree and popped them in my mouth. The flavor took some getting used to, but the texture was great (much better than store-bought gum, in my opinion). Looks just like any other gum!

Needing kindling for my lunch fire, I snapped some dead lower branches off another spruce tree.

Back at my campsite, I split some of the spruce from my wood pile to serve as the fuel for my fire. There are two main ways I like to split wood in the forest. Like this:

And like this:

When doing it the first way, be sure the point of impact is no further forward than directly between your feet. Otherwise, you could get hit by the axe if it glances!

While splitting the wood down further, I found a surprise! I saved it for later use as fishing bait.

Finally, lunchtime had arrived. I set up near one of the fire places.

Lunch for the day would be the contents of two mystery packages and a banana. πŸ˜‰

One mystery package contained bannock mix.

I got a bakin’ stick ready and then mixed some water into the bannock mix to make it into a dough.

I squeezed it into a long strip and wrapped it around the stick.

Now to get the fire started. I used the wood-handled firesteel I bought for 1 Euro and modified so it would fit better in the loop in my sheath. Here’s the slimmed-down profile.

I shredded the birch bark and lit it with the firesteel. After that, I quickly put the dry spruce branches on and then some fuel wood. The fire got started in no time.

In just a short while, the bannock had baked through and was done. My favorite part about doing it this way? No pan to clean up. πŸ™‚

What about the other mystery package, you ask? I recently picked up some dry cured sausage from a specialty shop in town with the intent of using it as a meat source for my outings. I cut off some pieces and wrapped them in paper before leaving home.

Lunch for the day:

After lunch, I checked my thermometer: 14*C/57*F…perfect temperature… πŸ™‚ I started bringing along a thermometer one winter to see how cold it was and now I do it out of habit.

I kicked back and enjoyed a bit of outdoor reading.

After a while I packed up, soaked my fireplace to make sure it was out (this forest is like a tinder box in early spring, so you can’t take any chances) and headed back to the lake. On the way, I passed this rock with red lichen growing on it. Looks like paint!

Back at the lake, I whipped out my fishing gear: ultralight reel with travel rod and lures on top, hobo fishing rig on the bottom.

Speaking of the hobo fishing rig, I recently added a few more items to mine. In addition to hooks, line, sinkers and two bobbers, it now also contains a small slipjoint knife and matches.

I put together the spinning outfit and put on my favorite spinner for this lake (seems to attract just about everything).

Unfortunately, the fishing portion of the day was more of a tragicomedy than anything else. I hooked the grub from the spruce on the hobo fishing rig and, on the very first cast, sent the bait zooming off the hook and into the lake. I used an artificial worm next and got a few good solid bites, but had too much slack in the line and didn’t hook the fish. After a while I tried the spinning rig. No bites at all, but I did manage to snap the line on a particularly violent cast, sending the lure and a leader into the woods across the way (time to replace the line!). I put on another leader and similar lure, only to have it get hopelessly stuck in a log on the bottom of the lake. Most of this time I found myself repeatedly mumbling things like “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” and “Good job, Ricky Retardo”. We’ll see how I fare next time out. πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this short early spring outing!

Easter ice fishing

I’ve been extremely busy lately due to work and preparing for our upcoming move, but I wanted to take some time out to give you guys a quick peek at our little ice-fishing trip from Easter weekend. Every Easter, we go out on the lake at my in-laws’ house to see how the fish are biting. This year, our group included me, the Woodsbabe, the Woodsboy, the Woodsbabe’s brothers and some of their friends and girlfriends.

Some of the crew:

The Woodsboy took it upon himself to check out the equipment, making sure it was in fine working order.

The brothers set up a little ways away.

The Woodsboy waited patiently by my side…for about 10 seconds. πŸ˜‰

He made sure to visit all the other anglers as well.

One brother caught this little guy. I can’t remember what kind of fish they said it was. Update: Scandic Woodsman has identified this fish as “kiiski”, or Eurasian ruffe. Thanks SW!

Here’s the Woodsboy helping to cut a fresh hole in the ice with his uncle.

After a long wait with no bites, I finally hooked this little perch.

Overall, the pickins were slim, but we weren’t out for all that long. It’s really more of a family affair that a food-gathering event. At least there was no shortage of scenery. πŸ™‚

Speaking of scenery, thanks go out to the Woodsbabe for handling the photography! πŸ™‚

Vintage ice chisel

Two years ago, I found a vintage ice chisel (or tuura in Finnish) at a consignment shop and bought it for 12 Euro ($15.50 US). It’s used to hack down through ice to make holes for ice fishing etc. The handle on this one is old and badly cracked, so I will make a replacement handle for it soon in preparation for an upcoming ice-fishing trip. Nowadays, it’s much more common to use ice augers for this purpose, but I’m looking forward to using my (soon to be finally) restored old-timey ice chisel. πŸ™‚