Faces of Fly Fishing – Jasper Pääkkönen

We had the pleasure of catching up with Finnish film actor and entrepreneur, Jasper Pääkkönen. You may know him from his international breakthrough role in the 2015  television series, Vikings as Halfdan the Black. Besides being a world-renowned actor, Jasper still continues his extreme passion and appreciation of fly fishing. Read on to see how he stays involved in conservation efforts and promoting the sport to his fans!

Flylords: Tell us about your excursion to Patagonia.

Jasper Pääkkönen: Rick Sjoberg’s family operation is Solid Adventure, which is a Swedish based company that operates a lodge in the El Calafate region in Patagonia called, Glacier King. I’ve been there once before for a night, so I only fished for one day… Luckily Rick asked me if I wanted to join him on a trip there. I couldn’t pass this opportunity up because it’s one of the only places in the world to catch a record King Salmon. They’ve already started building this mega-dam on the Santa Cruz and no one knows how long the river has left. I thought this is one of the last moments to get to experience that fishery.

The Chinook is by far the biggest salmon. It’s a little different than fighting an Atlantic Salmon. Basically, Atlantic Salmon have more tricks up their sleeves, they jump and do all kinds of crazy things. Whereas a Chinook is more like a steady moving freight train on the end of your line that just goes. Not fast, but it just goes, and there’s no stopping it. On the first night of fishing, I caught that big beast, the big crocodile, and that was basically it for me. That was the trip right there.

Flylords: What do you remember from fighting the “crocodile”?

Jasper Pääkkönen: I was pulling as hard as I ever could and then Rick and a guy that just happened to appear walking by managed to get it in a net. After netting it, we realized how crazy the size of the fish was. I thought the fish could be 30 kilos, but when we saw the girth, how wide, and how high the back was, we understood how just ridiculously massive the fish was.

We never weighed it, but according to all the length to girth calculations and ratios you can find online, all of them basically put it at basically the 85-pound mark. 92-pounds is the record of the river; making this among the top five biggest fish caught in that river.

Flylords: When did your addiction to the sport really begin?

Jasper Pääkkönen: I started fly fishing when I was 11, 1991. Fly fishing has become the only hobby that I’m at all passionate about. I’ve actively fly fished as a kid in rivers all around Finland and then my first proper trip abroad was in 2001 when I fished the Kola Peninsula for Atlantic Salmon. I saw the abundance of salmon in this remote region and understood how the untouched fisheries created healthy fish populations. These things kind of escalated my fly fishing into being much more aware of the environmental damage we do to our fisheries and rivers.

When I was working as an actor in Finland, I always promoted fly fishing as a great hobby to my fans. After the trip to Russia, I started talking about how mismanaged Finland’s fisheries are and how we need to change our fishing politics and regulations. That’s been the big battle that I’ve been involved in ever since.

Flylords: When did the acting start?

Jasper Pääkkönen: I used to work at the biggest fly shop in Helsinki when I was 14, 15, and, 16 and tied flies for them. I’d use the money I made to buy fishing gear. Then, when I was 18 I started working as an actor full time.

Flylords: Do you think that if your acting career didn’t take off you would have pursued being a fishing guide?

Jasper Pääkkönen: I don’t think so… I never wanted to mix fishing with work, because I’m trying to get away from work when I’m fly fishing. However, having said that, we have a project with the Felt Soul Media. Travis, Ben, and I have a project where we’re selling a fly fishing adventure TV series to big channels. It entails traveling the world shooting some amazing fly fishing, but also discussing the environmental damage, threats, and environmental problems in those faraway corners of the world. We use fly fishing to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Flylords: What’s something that we could be doing as anglers to help protect these ecosystems?

Jasper Pääkkönen: There are people even in the angling community that don’t understand how harmful dams are because hydropower has been marketed as an amazing greenwashing campaign. People still think that hydropower is clean and environmentally friendly when, in fact, it destroyed a majority of our rivers all around the world. People now are looking at dams and campaigning on local, grassroots for the removal of small dams. A lot of times these really tiny, obscure dams that really don’t serve any purpose anymore are incredibly crucial when it comes to reviving the trout population in the local fishery.

Flylords: What do you think the biggest break in your acting career was?

Jasper Pääkkönen: I landed a role in the TV show, Vikings, which was the first significant international job. That role for sure was a game-changer because Vikings is one of the most-watched TV shows globally. Then, came Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman… Spike Lee was crazy enough to cast a random Finnish actor to play a deep south white supremacist, a Klansman.

Spike gave me a break and cast someone from Finland to play an emblematic American, typically American role.

Flylords: Do you remember competing with American actors for that audition?

Jasper Pääkkönen: Yes, there was a big discussion between Spike, the director, and the producers. The producers wanted a bigger name, and Spike was determined to cast a random, unknown, Finnish actor. I don’t know who, but I know in the casting director’s office there were faces that I recognized and actors that I know from movies.

I heard that I got the part when I was on my way to Bolivia. I was going to Bolivia to Tsimane to fish for Dorados and my agent called me and said, “You got the part.” And I was like, “Holy shit! Can I actually go fishing? Can I still go to Bolivia?” Because I knew production started in a matter of three weeks.

Flylords: What was it like working with Adam Driver?

Jasper Pääkkönen: Actually, the first day that I met Adam was the first day we shot. There’s a lie detector scene when I take him down to the basement and I pull out my gun and I tell him to take the lie detector test. This is actually a pretty challenging, heavy scene to start with. That was our first scene and literally the first time we shook hands. He’s had a crazy few years and he’s certainly one of the hottest names in film right now. He’s very comfortable to work with too. Finnish people aren’t big with small talk and Adam’s the same way so there’s a lot of very comfortable silence. Adam is antisocial in a very nice, comfortable, and friendly way. It was super easy to work with him.

Flylords: Atlantic Salmon is your favorite, what makes those fish so special to you?

Jasper Pääkkönen: Atlantic Salmon are special to me. There’s something magical about them…

Someone said to me that there are more books written about Atlantic Salmon than there are books written about football or any other sport in the world. It’s incomprehensible, we can’t explain why a salmon takes a fly. The whole life cycle of the salmon is just incredibly amazing and then we get to stand in a river intersecting that salmon’s journey with our tiny little fly and for some inexplicable reason that salmon decides to take that fly.

Flylords: Do you have a favorite place that you’ve ever fished?

Jasper Pääkkönen: The Kola Peninsula has some really amazing rivers and the best Atlantic Salmon fishing on the planet. I’ve been going there for at least a week every summer. The Kola is certainly the highlight of my whole fishing year and I fished about a dozen different rivers in the Kola. I’ve got a couple of favorites, but it naturally depends on the time and the season. I tend to fish the smaller rivers with lots of fishing on the surface, dead drifting big flies, and other stuff. That for me is the best fly fishing has to offer.

Flylords: What makes you want to travel to all these unique places?

Jasper Pääkkönen: Well, you get to see some incredible locations that no one really has a reason to go to otherwise. These are kind of like clichés every fly fisherman knows, but a great day on the water doesn’t necessarily mean you have to catch something. You’re always expecting to catch something during the trip, but an amazing salmon trip might be catching one fish in a week. So yes, and no. It is and it isn’t about the catch… But a lot of it is about adventure, spending time in solitude, and also spending time with good friends. Most of my fishing trips are always with old, good fishing buddies. So, it’s a combination of social and solitary.

Flylords: Would you recommend us fishing Finland?

Jasper Pääkkönen: No, I’d say the best fishing in that part of the world you people should look into is the Kola Peninsula in Russia as well as some of the rivers in Norway. Both countries have great salmon fishing.

Flylords: Tell us about your restaurant business.

Jasper Pääkkönen: It’s an architectural spa/restaurant/sauna in Helsinki that was named one of the World’s 100 Greatest Places by Time Magazine last year. It was the only place in Finland and one of the only places in all of Scandinavia to be recognized, so it’s done pretty well and become one of the top destinations for people visiting Helsinki and Finland to visit. I know a lot of people that fly to Russia in the summer for fly fishing, they’ll stopover in Helsinki for a night and they’ll usually head over to my place because in the summertime it’s kind of like a party place. We’ve got DJs playing until 4:00 am and a couple of thousand people dancing and partying. Whereas in the wintertime it’s more of a proper sit-down restaurant and the other side is a traditional Finnish, wood-burning, wood-heated sauna.

Be sure to check out Jasper Pääkkönen on Instagram at @jasperpaakkonen.

Faces of Fly Fishing: John McMillan, Steelhead/Salmon Biologist

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