Norway – Salmon nets at Balestrand on the Sognefjord

This is just a cove of the fjord where we are now—the main body of water is off at our right, dropping to unknown depths.

The tide is low just now, so a broad expanse of rock lies bare. The houses over on the farther curve of the cove, beyond the festooned fishing nets, are those of Balholm village, a popular Norwegian summer resort. Edvard Grieg, the famous musical composer, and a good many of his distinguished country-men, have spent vacations there during the heat of midsummer.

Only twenty or twenty-five years ago there used to be bears in the woods behind the village, indeed one man was killed during a bear hunt in 1881, but now the savage creatures are nearly extinct in this part of the country.

This is one of the local salmon ladders. During the latter part of April each year salmon begin to come up the fjord in countless numbers, on the way to fresh-water streams, where they always resort at the spawning season. From the first of ‘May to the twenty-sixth of August, the law maintains an open season for salt-water salmon fishing,* and here is one of several thousand similar devices for ensnaring part of the migrating multitude. The apparatus is so rigged that the notes (nets) can easily be let down under these shallow waters close along shore, to lie there anchored in place by weights such as we see now gleaming here and there among the meshes. The fisherman waits up there at the top of the “ladder” and watches quietly, looking from his point of vantage directly down into the clear waters above the stretched-out net. The salmon, as they come up the fjord, swim along largely in these shallower waters along-shore, looking for the entrance of fresh-water streams, and, when conditions are right, large numbers will soon be seen swimming directly over the net, as it lies inconspicuously and apparently innocent on the bottom. Then suddenly the fisherman hauls the net up by a pulley conveniently at hand, bringing out a very good catch if his judgment and dexterity are of the best. Of course, any true amateur despises this unsportsmanlike method of procedure, but the men who practise it are after bread-and-butter, not sport.

Nets like these must have a mesh of not less than 2.56 inches, and they cannot be used every day. Each week the law prescribes a “close” time, lasting from 6 P. M. Friday to 6 P. M. Monday. The fishing is not likely to be exhausted.

It is said that some fishermen have resorted to the trick of painting rocks white at some one spot on a shore like this, to resemble the gleam of falling water, and so to attract the fish in-shore ; but that may not be true. It seems like a rather mean trick to play on even a salmon.

The best river fishing for salmon is nowadays leased by the season or for a long term of years, most of it to rich sportsmen from Great Britain.

One of the old Eddas tells why the salmon has a thin, pointed tail. It seems that long, long ago, Loke, the Scandinavian Satan, had worked so much mischief that the gods felt they must make an example of him, and he fled before their wrath. They sought him everywhere, in order to deal out the punishment he richly deserved, but for a while his crafty cunning eluded them. At one time, when they had almost captured him, he turned himself into a salmon. Thor, shrewdly surmising what had happened, snatched up a magic net of Loke’s own weaving and caught him, holding him by the tail. If you do not believe it, look at a salmon and see how its tail to this day shows the pinch of Thor’s fingers on that slippery ancestor, ages ago!

Bishop Moe wrote, many years ago, of a place like

this :

“Softly, lightly, the evening dies Gold-red upon headlands and waves without number, And a soundless silence tenderly lies And rocks all Nature to dreamless slumber. Meadow and dingle Reflected mingle With waves that flash over sand and shingle In one dim light.

Ah, slim is the fisherman’s boat, and yet High on the glittering wave it soars ; The fisherman bends to his laden net, While the girls are hushed at the silent oars. The soft emotion From vale and ocean Has quenched the noise of the day’s commotion And bound it still.”

We should now refer again to the general map of southern Norway (Map 2), and find both the Sognefjord, which we have been seeing (just north of latitude 61°), and the Nordfjord (a little south of latitude 62°). Our next excursions are to be to a group of famous fresh-water lakes, above the eastern end of the Nordfjord. Some tourists go overland from one fjord to the other; some voyage in one of the excursion steamers away out to the mouth of the Sognefjord, up along the coast and among the islands and so into the Nordfjord. Notice that a certain district east of the head of the Nordfjord is marked off by a red oblong. That district is shown by itself on a larger scale, in Map 8.

Now examine Map 8. All the southern and south-eastern part of the map shows high land, covered with glacier ice, indeed that district is part of the biggest glacier in all Europe. Find the long, narrow Olden Lake, lying north and south. Our sixty-fourth standpoint is marked near the north end of that lake.