It’s Friday afternoon and the snow has been falling heavily all day, leaving the cars we pass on the side of the road looking like some weird, big animals. It has been an exceptional start for winter this year and the record snowfall has already stretched the city’s snow removal budget to the limit. Helsinki always has a slower pulse at this time of the year, this unrelenting snowfall is forcing everybody to slow down even more than usual.

With the hard working week behind us, we are heading out of the City in my 1995 Buick which handles the extreme Nordic winter with 260 hp and rear-wheel drive better than one would expect. It’s promising to be a perfect weekend for ice fishing! A well-known pastry chef, who is quite a fisherman as well, sits next to me at the front seat and sips hot chocolate that is “spiced” with a hearty dose of Finlandia Vodka, in training for tomorrow’s ice fishing in stormy weather. We have two and a half hours drive ahead of us and a quiet log cabin by the lake waiting. It will take a sauna and bracing swim in the snow and obviously some more vodka to take away the stress from the week.

The vodka is particularly successful at its mission and therefore the next morning starts slowly. The headache begins to lift as the brisk winter weather hits our faces. We take the skis and a half an hour later find the right spot to drill the first holes through the ice that is untypically thick for this time of the year. Some three hours later all we have caught are some small perches that we return to the cold dark waters and we decide to ski back to the cabin.

2010 was a great cepe year. A generous harvest from the forest around the cabin has been dried and preserved in the cabinets. We enjoy a delicious moose stew served with cepe. Some good red wine would be a good match for the moose and mushrooms but we stick to Finlandia and water.

We have taken this trip to catch Burbot. Ice fishing is very popular here in Finland where the Fishing Act reform made ice fishing a public right, removing the need for a permit. These greenish-yellow ugly beauties are more active at night and the primetime to go Burbot ice-fishing is at dusk. We get ready for a long night in the chilly but beautiful winter wonderland. It is not snowing anymore. Darkness falls early this time of the year here in Southern Finland which is on the same latitude as Anchorage in Alaska.

The spawning season for Burbot is from mid-January to the end of February and that time is typically considered the only period when Burbot can be pursued using rod tackle and no baitfish. But we intend to catch some beauties with that style today – in early December. When ice-fishing with no baitfish, you have to rattle the lure at the bottom and give a strong counterattack when you feel the line being weighed down. We are sure to catch some of these strange looking, slimy fish today.

A headlight, several layers of clothing, right kind of lure and strong line, a drill, good skis and thermos with my famous hot chocolate (properly flavored with vodka) – We are ready for an honest fight!

Four hours later we ski back. No more hot chocolate in our thermos. The night has been magical. It is like meditation – swinging your hand up and down for hours, in total silence. Peace of nature and peace of mind. It does not matter that the theory was proven wrong – we have no Burbots in the backpack!

On Monday I order two big Burbots from a fish wholesaler. An old Finnish legend states that Burbot is made by the devil, but Burbot Fish soup tastes like heaven anyhow – even though this time somebody else did the job. Enjoy our Finnish Burbot soup recipe!

Pasi Pärssinen is an award winning Finnish chef


Ever been ice fishing? We’d love to know your tricks to catching fish in the dead of winter in the comments.