Up next in the F3T Behind the Lens line-up, Flylord’s very own, Wills Donaldson, is here to shed some light on the new film “Northbound.” Deep in the Swedish backcountry, where the sun seldom sets and the mosquito swarms resemble smoke clouds, the Flylords crew try their hands at brown trout, grayling, and arctic char. Through trials and tribulations, rods are bent & laughs are shared, but in-between moments of celebration, the mind is left to ponder. Northbound isn’t a stoke-reel or fish-porn; it’s a pensive work that’ll encourage you to look inward to the reasons why you fish, as well as outward towards your next adventure.
Flylords: What is unique about the environment of Sweden? What similarities and differences did you identify from your home waters in Western Colorado?
Wills: Sweden has a really fascinating environment, rich in very diverse fauna that differs greatly from my home turf – or really anywhere in the lower-48. We were positioned in Swedish Lapland, just north of the southern tip of the arctic circle. So, most of what we were trudging through was tundra. Think; lots of pines and shrubs. As our journey progressed, we ventured to the highlands, where we ascended far past the timberline, only to be surrounded by a zone of biodiversity far different from where we had been prior. Here, the trees were replaced by boulders and alders, and the mosquitos tripled in number.
Speaking of the little bastards, as shown in the film, the mosquitos were a force to be reconned with. While we’ve all had our fair share of casting through clouds of bugs, these pests certainly tested everyone’s patience. However, let’s be clear here: not all the wildlife we encountered was airborne and wretched. Oftentimes, we run into resident Caribou. Looking at one of these creatures in person will certainly remind you where Scandinavian fairy tales emerge from.
When it comes to the way the environment affected our fishing, we were really humbled by what we were up against. Our initial endeavor, fruitless and not depicted in the film, was swinging flies for Baltic Salmon. Fording ripping currents and basking underneath a relentless and never-setting sun for 10’s of hours on end will really do something to someone’s psyche. However, while the trials of fishing certainly presented themselves, the scenery and the surrounding sounds of nature cooperating in harmony made every fishless cast worth it. Just being there, seemingly alone, was a privilege not many anglers get to experience very often these days.
Flylords: The weather was unseasonably warm during your trip, with temperatures reaching 90⁰F. How is climate change impacting this area? Are there any other regionally specific environmental issues more folks should know about?
Wills: I’m glad you brought this up. The entire time we were there, the only consistency that was to be expected was the heat. As we’re seeing on our very own doorstep, anadromous fish are greatly affected by the warming climate we are living in. In a very purposeful effort to not use climate change and the heat as a scapegoat for lack of fish hooked, there is no doubt that a contributing factor to the tough conditions we faced in the first part of our adventure was due to the issue most of all of us are very aware of.
In short, as to not get too bogged down by this topic, we as anglers and outdoor enthusiasts, such as hunters and snow sport adventurists, are going to experience the effects of a warming world far before most other people do – many of us already are. If we want to continue to pursue the passions we’ve chosen to dedicate our lives to, there is going to need to be a much more drastic play made to increase efforts towards what is becoming an ever more evident reality.
Flylords: After watching “Northbound,” I gathered the Swedish mosquito populations are doing just fine. Any tips on fending off swarms of “flying blood-sucking needles?”
Wills: As I touched on earlier, and while we don’t want to admit it, much of our crew was experiencing what I’ll label “Mosquito Madness”. This is a mixture of two much anticoagulants in the bloodstream, and the echoing buzz of a mosquito landing in your ear that will vibrate through your brain long after you’ve reached safety. The solution we found, and don’t necessarily endorse, is a bug spray sold all over Sweden called, “Bushman”. It contains a whole mixture of different poisons and carcinogens, but boy did it keep the bugs at bay. All Jokes aside the mosquitos were a minor price to pay for the spoils earned.
Flylords: As the Culinary Editor at Flylords, I’m always interested in learning about the role fishing plays in food culture around the world. What species, if any, are commonly consumed in Sweden? Did you enjoy any particularly memorable meals during the trip?
Wills: Exploring completely off the grid, like we were, yields some opportunities that would not be present to anglers in a more pressured setting. One of those opportunities being the ability to responsibly harvest and consume some of our catches.
On our second leg, the first section featured in Northbound, we were positioned in what could only be considered the Grayling Mecca. An abundance of Grayling enticed us to harvest one, where our guide, Daniel, fileted it on the spot and presented the meat on a piece of driftwood. That evening we enjoyed some fresh Grayling sashimi with some soy sauce and wasabi paste. It was indescribably delicious.
A week later, we also had the chance to fish for some arctic char. While the lake we were fishing were full of large, beautiful, residential char; there were also some auxiliary lakes where we were able to located and harvest some very small char. We enjoyed them the same way, adding nothing but some soy and spice.
There’s nothing quite like enjoying some fresh fish, only inches from where it was living just moments prior. It’s a really strange mixture of pride and poignancy… but overall, is just a return to what we were made to do.
Flylords: Describe the tackle you were using – rod weight, line type, leader weight, fly patterns?
Wills: We were employing a mixture of different tackle, however most of what was featured in the film was Orvis H3 and H3 blackout 5,6,7, and 8 weights. For Grayling, we employed mostly dry flies and emerger flies. The Klinkhammer was definitely a fan favorite. For larger species like pike, we utilized sink tip with wire leader and large pike flies. For the char, we were mostly dropping small nymphs off of 5x tippet on 5/6 weight rods. Little stonefly imitations and scuds were the bread and butter. We would just watch the water, waiting for a fish to cruise by. Then, try to sneak up on it and drop a free sinking nymph in front of its nose, praying for an eat. Sweden is a really amazing place, largely because the fishing diversity is wild. You can work your way up from a 5 weight to a 12 weight in a matter of minutes depending on what you’re targeting.
Flylords: We’re all dying to know – what’s the best beer in Sweden?
Wills: While I may not be able to provide a great answer to that, I can say, the Swedes definitely don’t mind their beer warm. After a tough day on the river, it was sometimes less of a treat and more of an obligation cracking into a tall boy of warm Swedish lager. This being said, there was a great IPA brewed by one of the places that hosted us called Jockfall. If you’re ever North of the Arctic Circle, definitely stop by and grab a beer.
Flylords: Can you explain the feeling of finally landing a huge arctic char after an eleven-day grind?
Wills: Personally, Char are my one true love when it comes to fishing. From Brook trout, to lake residents, to sea-run Char – I’m just fascinated by their very being. That being said, when actually provided the opportunity to fish for Swedish Arctic Char, we were all elated to say the least. I had the chance to catch and land a smaller one myself (this was unfortunately included in a collection of corrupted footage that was lost forever – yes, there are pictures to prove it), but the real specimen came on the last day, caught and landed by Jared Zissu.
We had heard about the massive char in the lake, but up ‘til then, had no actual proof of their existence. It was on the morning of the last day, when, as we all slept, Jared snuck down to the placid lake and began hunting a large fish he had noticed cruising the shoreline. He stalked and threw flies at it for hours, but to no avail. Finally, a small copper-wire nymph got the fishes attention – and the fight was on.
From the water, Jared screamed for us. We all awoke in a frenzy and scrambled to throw on the nearest garments we could find. We grabbed all the camera gear and sprinted down to the lake. As we did, he danced from shore to shore with the beast pulling him into his backing, one run after another. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he landed the damn thing and a wave of sheer euphoria washed over all of us as we collapsed and laughed. Tears were shed, hugs were given, and beer was consumed in pure celebration.
It’s a moment that none of us will ever forget.
Flylords: The overwhelming majority of people expect fast-action and instant gratification nowadays. You described working your asses off for these fish as a humbling experience. Can you touch on that feeling? What characteristics are born through perseverance?
Wills: There’s a lot to unpack with that statement. The first note I’ll make is – we’re far from heroes just because we had crappy fishing conditions. We’re certainly not the first to spin a story of being humbled by fishing, and we won’t be the last. Getting that out of the way with…
The mission of Flylords, and of the film from the start is to tell stories about people, places, and experiences outside of fly-fishing that MAKE fly fishing. It might not make sense to everyone, but we aim to forego the Vlog style, or the limitless fish/ stoke-bro pieces that make up a lot of fly-fishing media. To preface this, I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with these styles of storytelling, it’s just not what we wanted to encapsulate. Instead, we wanted to encapsulate the feeling of the Swedish wilderness. The silence, the calm, the beauty. I thought this was executed brilliantly by our editing team, Ben Kalbfeld, and Max Erickson. I’m sure because of this there will be some yawns nearing the end of our piece once it’s on tour – that’s okay with us.
I also want to say, while we did work our asses off, there are certain elements referred to as “suffering” that are about as far from the actual definition of suffering as you can possibly get. We took helicopters to remote fisheries and spent the days fishing, drinking, and camping – it was work, but not in the ways people who actually struggle in the world experience it. We were privileged to be able to get bitten by bugs, and lose fish, and be tired. It’s not something you’d think you’d seek out, but then again for some of us it is.
To be humbled by something such as fishing is a beautiful thing. A lot of the time, we are set up on these adventures with fool-proof plans. Manicured rivers and guides that know where every fish takes their lunch break. However, the beauty of this trip was how far from that we were. We slept in tents, not lodges. We ate hotdogs on pita rolls and drank warm beer. We sweat. We ached. And most importantly, we worked for every little win.
It’s fishing in these conditions that I think people can really relate to. It’s these conditions that remind us how wild the world is, and that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. That’s what we wanted to showcase, and through it all, we became better anglers, and better outdoorsmen.
Flylords: What was the best, worst, or weirdest moment of the trip? Take your pick.
Wills: We live for the weird moments, let’s go from there. While it wasn’t much of a moment, it was more of a phenomenon that’s ever so slightly talked about in the film – the midnight sun was a spectacle to witness. In short, there was no nighttime. In the Swedish (Lapland’s) summer, the sun doesn’t really set. So, your body falls completely out of rhythm and can’t figure out whether or not it should be sleeping or opening another beer. We spent over 24 hours fishing one day, wrapping up around 7 am, simply not realizing how much time had passed. There’s a state of delusion you sort of fall into when you’re missing that much sleep unknowingly. To some people, it could be considered a curse, however to us, it just meant we never had to stop fishing!
Flylords: What is the overarching message you hope viewers take home after watching this film?
Wills: As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a stoke piece. It’s not a mega-slam and a million fist bumps. We want this piece to act as a pallet cleanser. A chance to slow down and to think: What if I was out there? How would I have done things differently? Why do I fish?
At the risk of sounding altruistic, that last question was the most important element of it all. We asked ourselves that same question a lot while over there. Did we enjoy being out there for the fish? Well, anyone who’s ever written about fly-fishing can tell you that’s not all there is to it. But while we’re so sure of what it’s not… do we have an answer as to what it is? Is it the connection to the earth, or the cultures that surround it? Is it about the chase, or for a sense of validation? We still don’t have an answer, as everyone’s answer should differ.
If there’s one message we really hoped this film would convey, it’s to enjoy the little things. While a trip itself may be kicking your butt, if you take a minute to breathe in some of the cool, crisp air of the Nordic forest, or watch the leaves of the trees dance in the wind, you’re going to get more out of your experience than you ever would by focusing on sheer numbers of fish caught. It’s an appreciation for where you are, and all the little moments that got you there that will get you excited for every little bit to come. And who knows, maybe with that next cast, your fishing luck may just turn around…