At the end of March the winter tourist season officially comes to an end. It’s the last snowmobile tour, the last ‘Sami experience with reindeer’, the last ski lift up to the sky station to see the northern lights.
We wonder why. The snow is still on the ground, the ice thick enough on the lakes for ten ton truck, and the days are light and (can be) warm with sunshine. Weather permitting, the northern lights are usually active and easy to see. But the tourist companies have shut up shop and the town is empty of visitors.
In fact, the town is empty generally because the locals have gone to the fjäll. It’s the fishing season, the time for being out on the frozen lake in your ‘Ark’, spending days in your ‘summer’ house, or skiing in the long, light days. Let no-one say it too loud, but Kiruna is taking a holiday.
It’s taken us several years to work out that now is the secret, winter season for locals. There’s another life beneath the surface, somewhere out of sight, somewhere only the locals know about.
Take Kiruna’s big fishing competition, ‘Kiruna Hugget’ (the snap bite of a fish), which was this weekend. We saw the ads inviting people to register for the competition by paying a small fee. We saw the date. We saw the time. We wanted to go and watch. But nowhere in the ads did it say where the competition would take place because we were supposed to know already.
It wasn’t hard to find though. From the main road out of Kiruna we saw a mass of dark figures huddled out on the lake. People in pairs, alone, in family groups. People sitting on beach chairs, standing with their backs to the wind, fishing with one hand and pushing a pram with the other. People lying flat on the ice, their head in the hole working out how to lure a passing fish.
Contrary to people’s hopes and expectations, it was not a warm spring day but a cold, windy, snowy one. Still, hundreds of people, had decided to go and sit or stand there, like King Penquins hatching eggs in Antarctica. Curious really.
Even more curious when you learn that the biggest fish caught that day could have fitted into my coat pocket. And my coat pockets aren’t big. So, you’re wondering, why? Why put yourself through this, for the chance of a very small fish?
The answer is, because it isn’t really a fishing competition at all. It looks like a fishing competition. It feels like a fishing competition. It even smells like a fishing competition. But it’s not really about fishing. It’s about prizes. Lots of prizes – in fact, 287 prizes (we checked). That’s maybe more prizes than there are people entering the competition.
In my family, where gambling is frowned on, the idea of a lottery is not popular. But a lottery where first you have to hand drill a hole in the ice that’s a metre thick, then sit or stand in minus temperatures slowly raising your arm up and down for a couple of hours? That’s working for your good fortune, and we’d say, good luck to you.
If you’re the lucky winner and have actually caught a fish worth weighing, you claim your 30,000 SEK, or your electric ice driller (makes fishing very easy the rest of the season), or your special tool for attaching your snowscooter trailer to your car. You might be lucky enough to get an electric saw, or a compressor. Or a waffle-maker, an electric toothbrush or a battery recharger. Or a coffee percolator, a rucksack, or gift voucher from the DIY shop.
Yes folks, it’s the luck of the draw, but Everyone’s a Winner.