Posti-Matti, Matti Aikio, Pekan Mikko, Mikko Paltto and Elli-Katri Paltto. Siida, Anni Sarre's archives.



To the Inari Sámi people, three most important elements, deer (later reindeer), fish and berries, nearly form a “holy trinity”. Of these, perhaps the most important is fish, because it has been a basic and obvious condition for life, which the other two “allies” have conveniently complimented.

Fishing tools and methods have been many, from the times of the trap, hook and weir to trawling in the present. The walled pool was made by digging a pool in the middle of a small river and building up a wall of stones at its edges so that fish would be led in and would not be able to get out again. The water flowed freely through holes between the rocks and when fish swam upstream and approached the upper edge of the wall they would be caught in the current created by the wall and swept into the pool. The current would sweep fish into the walled pools and when the fisherman came to check his catch he would get the fish out with a hand net. This kind of fishing was done e.g. at Iijärvi. Hand nets were used for fishing also in smaller rivers or streams in shallow currents e.g. in the autumn when dwarf whitefish began to spawn. The whitefish would spawn then and gather in great schools in the streams. There are six small rivers in the Inari region that got their names due to dwarf whitefish spawning.

Fish swimming downstream could be caught with šuuriš or šurrá weirs which were similar to pool weirs. Fish swimming with the current were forced by the dam walls to swim into a pool from which it could not escape. These weirs were used to fish after the spring flood and lasted from the beginning of July through autumn. In the beginning they caught grayling, later pike and perch, and in the end whitefish. There could be both walled pools and šuuriš weirs in the same river which usually belonged either to one family or used by several families in cooperation. The stones used for the walls were lifted out before winter so as not to be moved by spring floods.

The Technique of Weir Fishing

The lower weir worked the opposite to the walled pool; it was usually built lower downstream than šuuriš dams for fish swimming up rapids. Pools were also used in the lower dam, but they were significantly deeper and wider than the walled pool or šuuriš dams and they were rectangular. Slender pines were juxtaposed for the back wall of the lower dam (on the upstream side) and in order to prevent fish from escaping from the front wall a string net was placed. Trout and whitefish were trapped in the autumn with these dams and mostly pike and perch in the spring and summer. The dams were taken away for the winter and set up again for the following summer. This kind of dam was used e.g. at Iijärvi Lake where root weirs were also built. It was made by tying together two birch poles with twigs and formed a rectangular frame. Two of these were needed in order to make the trap cover and the bottom. These were joined together with corner poles. Birch shoots were attached with finger-width spaces in between to the back wall and side walls and united to each other with two or more pine or birch roots. A mouth-opening construction which was as long as half the length of the trap was attached to the front wall between the corners.

Special burbot weirs for catching burbot were also built in the shallows of rivers and lakes with tightly placed poles. The length of the weir was about 10 meters with ends extended and the trap mouth-opening towards the shore. The weirs were used to catch burbot in March and in the spring perch and maybe even pike. The weirs were checked once a week in the winter and in the spring more often.

Fishing by Hook and Clubbing

Perhaps the oldest fishing equipment ever used was a wooden hook made from juniper. It was not so much a hook as a juniper rake which had three sharpened ends. Dwarf whitefish were used as bait by pushing the hook into a slit cut near the mouth. It was used to catch burbot in the dark of autumn attached to batten lines and in the beginning of the winter, when the ice was thin, attached to a pole. Juniper hooks were used also to catch trout. The batten lines consisted of two- or three-stranded pine roots which had ten juniper hooks attached to 60 cm long filaments. A burbot pole was a slender piece of wood, about two meters long, which had an over 50 centimeter long string attached to the lower part, at the end of the string a baited juniper hook, and then thrust at a slight angle into the mud so that the hook would reach the bottom. At times when the ice was thicker there could be two poles in the same opening, each pushed in a different direction. The best time for catching burbot was spawning season, or from Matti’s name day (February 24) to Maria’s day (March 25).

Among the oldest fishing techniques was burbot clubbing which did not require anything more than an axe. A rock could also do the trick in the event that an axe was not available. When there was no snow or when the ice was thin, one went in search of burbot from a lake with either a sandy or mud bottom. When a burbot was spied through the ice, a powerful blow was struck with the back of the axe or with the rock at the head of the burbot which became stunned. A hole was then made in the ice with the axe or Lapp knife where the catch was and the burbot was pulled up onto the ice. Thin ice and water so shallow that the head of the burbot was touching the ice were needed for clubbing to succeed.

Handfishing is also one of the older methods of fishing. Grayling or trout swimming upstream to spawn go so shallow that people could run after them and catch them or stun them with a stick. A method similar to hand-fishing was fishing with a hoop. A young birch about 2.5 meters long was cut, trimmed and bent from the thin end to form a hoop about 20 cm in diameter. The hoop was submerged upstream from the fish and drawn carefully towards it. When the head of the fish was in the hoop the pole was wrenched powerfully so the fish would be thrown onto land.

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An Effective Method of Fishing: Net Fishing

The most important and most effective summer fishing implement was the seine and it was used by the Sámis for hundreds of years. The first time the seine was mentioned was in 1639, when a researcher by the name of Alanus was on a research excursion to Lapland near Kemi. By the 1820s nearly every Inari Sámi family had a seine net or at least half a seine. Some families had even two seines and in different lakes. When factory-made nets started appearing on the market, seines began to gradually disappear, but even after World War II many households still had their own seine. The Inari Sámi seine was 120 – 140 meters long and 4.5 – 5.3 meters high, sometimes even 7 meters. The seine was not a single person’s fishing implement, for it necessitated at least four people and two boats. Sometimes pulling the seine from the shore was managed by two people in one boat. Drawing ropes and the seine were thrown from the shore first and ended up at the shore, forming with ropes and seine together a large U-shape. There were 200 known seine fishing grounds in the municipality of Inari.

The second most efficient fishing method from older times was the net which was best employed during the dark nights of autumn. That was when whitefish spawned and the best hauls made. Net fishing in the summer was not practical because during the light summer nights the nets made from cotton dispersed quickly and were then discernable to the fish. It was not so in the autumn. Then sets of long nets would be stretched out in the best spawning shoals to be checked in the mornings nearly whatever kind of weather. The whitefish catch was gutted and scaled immediately after getting to the home shore, then salted in tubs for eventual selling. Soup fish, like pike, perch, grayling and burbot were separated, cleaned and soup-salted (i.e. a less concentrated salting) and any trout were salted for home use, e.g. for the Christmas meal.

Other Fishing Methods

Pike netting was a favored summer net fishing method. A large-gauge net was woven from strong cotton string and it was the same size as a normal net. The pike netting season began in the summer when reeds and waterweed had grown in coves. There was an old saying with a sign: “When the horsefly flies and pike are in the waterweed”. This form of net fishing began on sunny and calm summer mornings when pike sought to bask in the waterweed near the shore. The boat approached the grassy shore cautiously and the pike net was lowered just outside the cove or waterweeds. When the net was in place, the boat was rowed into the cove or weeds and splashed with the oars to chase any pike basking there into the net. The smaller pike passed through the net, but large enough ones became entangled in it.

At the end of august, nights grew dark enough for jacklighting. The most important implements for this were a boat, a trident and a strong enough source of light for spying fish. The oldest-fashioned source of light was fire. A removable grill was attached to the front end of the bow of the boat which held a torch of tar. Petroleum fueled Petromax or Telley lamps were used after World War II but nowadays there are battery operated electrical lamps. Fish caught by jacklighting are the best soup fish because the speared fish usually dies immediately when the trident pierces its back.

Although angling and ice fishing are now rather favored forms of fishing in Inari, they are late-comers to the fishing scene. They were brought by sport fishermen. Trolling, however, belongs to older traditions as it was in use in the 1800s. 

Other older implements were whitefish traps and fyke nets which were in use on Lake Inari from the first half of the last century, perhaps longer. Equipment brought in later times were e.g. traps made of wire. One of the latest fishing developments is trawl fishing. In the 1980s vendace stocked in Alajärvi Lake escaped down Alajoki River to Ivalo River and then onward to Lake Inari where they began to reproduce in great numbers. As a result many Inari fishermen purchased trawling equipment; and everything went well at first. In 1989 about 180,000 kg of vendace were trawled. There were sixteen pairs of trawling boats on Lake Inari then. In 1992 the population of vendace slumped to the point that less than 10,000 kg were caught. At present trawl fishing is practiced on Lake Inari solely for experimental reasons at the initiative of the RKTL (Fish and Game Research Institute).

Ilmari Mattus

Siida Kirsti Säderinteen arkisto
Uula Morottaja fishing in the 1930’s.




Photo: Veikko Aitamurto
"Haikonen" or Jouni Aikio trap fishing on Lake Inari.




Photo: Veikko Aitamurto
Haikonen with his nets on Lake Inari.












Photo: Erno Salonen
At night on Lake Inari. Veikko Aikio along with Jaakko Kyrö trawling for dwarf whitefish.




Photo: Erno Salonen
The typical catches from Lake Inari include grayling, whitefish, trout, perch and pike.



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