The promise of a day.  I’m waking up in an old train station, in the southwest corner of Lapland.  Hakan turned it into a home years ago.  I wash my cheekbones in the bathroom sink, and stroll into the kitchen to see what the boys are up to.  There is bacon lazily searing away in the stovetop skillet, and the smell is wafting through the hallways.  There are also fresh local farm eggs, hash browns, and coffee cups.  I’m already a couple weeks in on this road trip, and am well aware that today we are heading to a special place.

After breakfast, with a few maps pulled out to discuss plans, we load the gear for the day into the compact four-wheel drive wagon.  Even the 12 year-old hunting Spaniel gets to come along.  I wonder about the things this dog has seen in his life, the birds, the forests, the friendships, and terrain.  We head north through small gravel roads, and talk about life, fishing, and water.

After a few hours, we are slowed up for construction.  We can see that the crew is sharing coffee from a large thermos, so we hold our cups out the window, and without missing a beat, the worker fills them and wishes us a good day.  What kind of world could be it be if we all simply took care of each other, in unconditional kindness?  It can happen.

There are small mountains and lakes in the distance as we pull into a local farm.  The owner is a friend, and strolls out to greet us warmly.  He also has us move a trailer for him, by lifting it into the air together, and carrying it comically from the truck bed to the old, weathered barn.  Such a simple price to pay to fish along his property.  He tells us that there is a pond nearby that connects to the river, and that there are two pike in it so unbelievably massive, that a passing helicopter saw them from the sky and stopped to set the chopper down and take a look, marvel at them.  We agree that this fish tale merits deep investigation at the end of the day, but for now we are headed to cross the river.

There is a vintage handmade wooden rowboat with well-worn birch oars we all pile into, and I reach down with both hands to lift Reuben the dog in.  The journey across takes some twenty minutes or so, and then we reload the gear onto packs and head into a dense forest where there is seemingly no trail.  We end up coming in to a clearing that often holds birds during the fall season, and there are tales of favorite family heirloom shotguns delivering the evening meal time after time.  I’m already thinking about lunch, but am aching inside to see the spring-fed stream up ahead about a half mile further.

We crawl over a small bluff to look over the first meander, which is about ten feet down the shrub-lined bank, and the three of us start whispering fervently.  There is a grayling facing upstream, and it is without question, the largest one I’ve ever seen.  Monikers are given to it, such as “supertanker,” “the ol’ grandma,” and, of course, a few not to be shared in print.  It’s decided that I’m the one who should stealthily shimmy down and take my shot at the fish with the five weight, since both Hakan and Jono are photographers who want to capture the moment, be it the humbling shot-down-in-flames for all to witness, or a blaze of glory.  That’s fine with me, I’m forever game.

Once down the bluff and on the large sweeping sandbar, I tie on a small dry size 18, and start stripping out line.  The fish is rising away every few seconds on the surface.  Hakan lets out a moan of admiring joy each time it eats. There is a small bend in the riffle and I know I’ll need to cast a few feet ahead and a bit to the outside corner so the fly is seen and presented naturally, while still remaining in the feeding lane.  I suppose in a moment like this, with three great fisherman watching and two of them taking pictures with world-class cameras, one could lose their cool.  That’s just never been my way.  After all, it’s simply fishing, and every cell in my heart just wants to have one slow dance with this stellar fish.

The cast is right on the money, but apparently not to the grayling.  It moves slightly to the side during the drift, and all of us comment on it.  I give it one more cast, with the same result, and switch to a pheasant tail.  A couple more, casts, same result.  I switch back to a dry again, fire it up directly in front of the fish with a leader of almost 15 feet, and there it is.

Does it matter that a couple minutes into the fight, while we are all talking shit, hooting and laughing, that the hook straightens out and the fish disappears under the bank to sulk?  Not really, especially since we find yet another grayling right afterwards just as inspiringly porcine, and I get it on the first cast.

We all take turns through the day, the obligatory cheers and catcalls with each fish, and by early sunset, find ourselves back at the farm wading through the shoulder high grasses to check out the pike.  A pair of five foot long fish, how could this possibly be about to happen? They aren’t there, and we get even more laughs dissecting what could have been.

Dinner that evening is with a local Sami tribe family, who share smoked deer hearts and fresh fish with us, coffee, dessert, and fascinating historical lore.  Then we sit together along the wooden table while kids play on the floor and stories are told.  The head of the family is beyond charismatic and a light to behold.  “You and I share the same blood,” he tells me, as he grips my hand and looks into my eyes.  I understand.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to have a pause button, to relive this day whenever I cared to, but the unforgettable memories shall have to suffice─for this lifetime, anyway.

~Nathaniel Riverhorse Nakadate

Photographer - Jono Winnel