In the Spirit of Juhani Aho: Changes in Rapids and Waters
National author Juhani Aho (1861–1921) was a passionate fly fisherman, a promoter of fisheries, and an advocate for the fish stocks in our rapids. His published fishing-related literature dates from 1913 to 1922. His dearest fishing spot was Huopanankoski, and Huopanankoski is known as Juhani Aho’s rapids.
On the other hand, the rapids symbolize the entire transformation of Finnish river waters: here, the eras of utilizing hydropower, log driving, various construction activities, and eventually fisheries restoration have all been visible. Because Aho’s later work, his influence, changes in fishing culture, and many changes in the rapids coincide with the interwar period, it is enlightening to describe the larger transformation as if seen from the landscapes of Aho and Huopanankoski.
Huopanankoski still flowed wild, free, and relatively untouched in the mid-1800s. The village’s more settled settlement did not extend all the way to the rapids, and mainly only mills represented human structures. However, in the latter half of the 1800s, the rise of the forest industry led to log driving and clearing: the “great crown clearing” of 1862-1864 transformed the central passage of the rapids from its pristine state into a swift royal passage. Clearing, logging, and later milling and power operations continued to change the appearance of the rapids constantly, especially in the years 1947-1957. During this time, the so-called Louhu area on the eastern edge of the rapids permanently lost its natural state. Many other structures have also affected the landscapes and flows, including Russian fortification work in the 1910s and bridges (1880s, 1986). Today, the western branch, Saarensalmi, represents the original appearance of the rapids.
Earlier, disputes arose, especially between milling and log driving. The mills grinding grain were joined by a facility that produced electricity in the early 1900s. Log driving ended in 1966, but in 1951, Huopanan Voima Oy transformed the mill on the eastern bank of the rapids into a power station. With the whole river utilized for power generation, Huopana, like many other watercourses, became a stage for the “rapids wars” of the 1960s to 1980s, with fishing and nature conservation emerging as the opposing parties. The latest phase in Huopana’s history, the restoration project that began in 1993, reflects the increasing appreciation of the natural state and fisheries of the rapids.
In the early 1900s, when Juhani Aho fished at Huopanankoski, the place was a paradise for anglers – despite the changes caused by hydropower utilization and log driving. The wild brown trout population was the jewel of the rapids, but it was also home to the more common targets such as whitefish and roach, in addition to pike, perch, and bleak. The route waters with rapids elsewhere in Viitasaari were favored by brown trout, and the lakes on the routes, where the brown trout moved for feeding, were famous for their vendace.
In older times, brown trout and salmon were referred to as “mullos” because lake trout and brown trout had not yet been officially distinguished. The difference was in size: “mullos,” which Aho liked to fish for with flies and described admiringly, were generally less than two kilograms, while salmon were larger migratory fish. The largest brown trout caught from Huopanankoski weighed 7-8 kilograms, and 4-5 kilogram fish were quite common. The record catch in fly fishing was reportedly an 8.3-kilogram, 84 cm long brown trout caught by Bruno Alancon in 1933; an even larger one, weighing 8.6 kilograms, has been caught during spawning.
Sports fishermen meticulously recorded their brown trout catches until the early 1960s, and the largest catches were in the late 1800s and early 1900s but started to decline from the 1930s onwards. River development, including damming Hilmonkoski in 1957 and clearing operations, later affected the natural stocks in Viitasaari’s waterways. As a result, wild brown trout gradually became mainly a stocked fish. Earlier, small brown trout were also caught in the rapids, including illegal fishing even during the spawning season and intensified net fishing in the lakes.
Other fish species have also undergone changes. The mysterious grayling, immortalized by Aho in his writings, has become rarer, while grayling, especially in recent times, has become a target for stocking. Rainbow trout has also been introduced into the rapids for anglers, and the first salmon smolts were released in 1992. The hope is that the restoration of Huopanankoski and other rapids will create better opportunities for the reproduction of salmonid fish.
Fish farming was part of the development of fisheries management in Finland and began as experiments in hatching activities in the 1800s. In 1892, a state-owned fishery research station and fish farming facility were established in Evo. Gradually, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, several other state-owned or supervised facilities, as well as private hatcheries, were established. The “fish breeding facility” in Huopana, completed in 1914, was one of the state-monitored facilities and started fish farming activities in Central Finland.
Although the state and fisheries advisory supported these facilities, their operation was also the result of the work of private individuals and communities. The establishment of the Huopanankoski facility was largely the work of the first local fisheries official, fisheries advisor Elis Karhusaari, who was stationed in Viitasaari in 1908. Juhani Aho played a crucial role in its establishment by continuously advocating for the care and cultivation of brown trout stocks. The Kokko family, especially the legendary fishing master Eemeli Kokko, who had worked as Aho’s fishing assistant in his youth from 1915 to 1916, effectively managed the facility. Except for the war years, the facility operated under his management until 1970.
The hatchery mainly bred brown trout, for which broodstock were also caught. Another key fish species was whitefish, and occasional production included vendace, pike, rainbow trout, and grayling. Water was taken from Huopanankoski and directed to the facility’s original five ordinary hatchery basins and four so-called “Californian incubation machines.” The facility produced nearly two million brown trout fry and about 41 million whitefish fry during its operational years.
The transformation of fish farming led to the facility’s decline, and it lived out its days in its original location, along the Savipuro River, which had lost its rapids, until it was renovated in 2011 for exhibition purposes. After the end of hatchery operations, fish farming continued in the area in the 1980s and early 1990s with Huopanan Voima Oy.
“The fisheries management and fisheries conservation work by authorities and organizations generally began gradually in the late 19th century when fish farming was one of its most visible forms. State fisheries management began to solidify when the position of a fisheries inspector was established under the Imperial Senate of Finland’s Agricultural Committee in 1860. The holders of this position maintained Finland’s early fisheries museums until 1918. In 1892, the national advisory organization, the Finnish Fisheries Association, was established, and central organizations for recreational fishing were formed in the 20th century, starting with the Finnish Sports Fishermen’s Central Federation in 1919. Local communities of fishermen, known as fisheries communities and fishermen’s clubs, also emerged.
Even before more official activities, fishermen have, for example, transferred fish from one water body to another, for which the government even awarded fish stocking rewards towards the end of the autonomous era. The activity of fishermen and their communities has remained important, but it has shifted to become part of centralized efforts.
Fisheries have been managed through regulations such as closed areas and seasons, size limits, and gear restrictions. On the other hand, efforts have been made through stocking activities and improving the reproductive possibilities of fish. Fisheries management work has gained momentum, especially since the 1980s when communities became more active, partly due to the establishment of fishing areas.
In rapids and flowing waters, management measures have included fish stocking, stocking work, the construction of fish ladders, mitigating the impacts of logging, and regulating fishing. In these matters, the fishermen of Huopanankoski, led by figures like Juhani Aho and Kokot, were pioneers and advocates in Finland.
Huopanankoski was at the roots of Finnish sport fishing. Finnish fishing has its own unique characteristics dating back to prehistoric times and the era of hunting and gathering. The annual cycle and the variety of fishing methods have remained unchanged over the centuries. With the strengthening of the monetary economy, fishing transitioned from subsistence to professional fishing and eventually to recreational fishing, where recreational aspects became more important than food procurement. At the same time, fishermen focused on methods that provided the most enjoyment.
Actual sport fishing began to take shape in Finland in the latter half of the 19th century, influenced by foreigners. It was practiced by individuals in high positions and wealthy individuals. Early sport fishing was mainly fly and bait fishing in rapids and lakes, influenced in part by English fly fishing. The first sport fishermen in Finland were traveling English gentlemen anglers. Important sport fishing locations in the late 19th century and early 20th century included Vuoksi, Koitajoki-Pielisjoki, Tammerkoski, and Puntarinkoski. Gradually, fly fishing, a central form of sport fishing, is becoming a hobby for a broader segment of the population, merging with the recreational fishing enjoyed by everyone.
The same trend is reflected in the Viitasaari and Huopanankoski region. Traditional methods of fishing in lakes included the use of strike, hook, trap, blockade, and nets, as well as large dam devices in rapids until the early 1900s. The largest fishing gear, lake nets, and rapids dams required the cooperation of several households with agreements.
The arrival of recreational fishing was partly represented by K.V. Hanell’s fishing tackle factory, founded in 1886 at Kymönkoski near Viitasaari, which produced popular and award-winning lures, lines, reels, fly-fishing rods, and hooks for decades. However, the symbol of early sport fishing was Huopanankoski, which was once one of the most important destinations of its kind in the country. In the fishing of Aho and other contemporaries, an independent Finnish sport fishing culture began to emerge. Aho essentially introduced the concept of “sport fisherman” to Finland.
Juhani Aho was by no means the first “master of the rapids” at Huopanankoski. Foreign sport fishermen also visited the rapids in Central Finland, and in 1887, a timber merchant named Räsänen came to fish at Huopanankoski. After him, many other hosts with their entourages managed sport fishing. The basic principle from those times onwards was that the fishing association rented the fishing rights of the rapids to sport fishermen.
Juhani Aho’s time at the rapids began in 1906 when, as a guest of mining councilor William Ruth, he visited the rapids and its then-lessee, Dr. E.W. Lybeck. Infected with a limitless enthusiasm for trout, Aho fished at Huopana until 1920 and also became the lessee of the rapids from 1909 onwards. From that era, we remember Aho’s legendary fishing companions, including W. Ruth (1839 – 1913) and E.W. Lybeck (1864 – 1919), as well as others like Vice Consul Conrad Rosenlew (1875 – 1929), station chief Rudolf Ahonius (1865 – 1933), engineer Georg Holm (1863 – 1923), and bank director J.O. Wasastjerna (1861 – 1938).
After Juhani Aho’s death in 1921, many of his fishing companions were involved in founding the Huopana Sport Fishing Club in the autumn of the same year. The club rented the rapids from the distribution association for five or ten years at a time until 1961. During the club’s era, alongside fishing, the characteristic feature was a balancing act between fisheries management, ownership, log floating, and hydropower utilization. This period essentially ended when the distribution association, which wanted to increase hydropower production at the rapids, did not renew the lease agreement.
After the club, the era of “permit rapids” began, where the owner of the fishing waters started selling fishing permits for the rapids. To this day, the rapids continue to be a nationally recognized fishing destination. Huopanankoski has reflected a wide range of developments in Finland, not only in terms of various uses of river waters but also in terms of changes in fishing opportunities.
During Juhani Aho’s time and still continuing, fishing in the rapids largely followed good English practices. However, there was also a wide range of homemade, even prehistoric, Finnish lure fishing methods in use – such as jigs, rakes, and fish imitations. Nevertheless, the joy of catching was always combined with the functionality of the tools – the desire to keep them flexible extensions of one’s hand.
In his fly fishing, Aho liked to use relatively robust 12- to 14-foot double-handed fly rods, with which he could effectively master the secrets of classic salmon fly fishing. Aho even fished with a single-handed rod in August 1920, borrowing a rod from Conni Rosenlew on Huopana’s old bridge for a couple of weeks.
This was still a time when fly fishermen were using wooden rods and natural materials for lines. Therefore, the gut used as leaders had to be soaked in water, and the silk lines had to be dried and maintained for durability – the strongest point of the line was also its weakest.
“The flies of Huopanankoski, as remembered forever in Juhani Aho’s writings, include the classic patterns he tied: March Brown, Zulu, Dusty Miller, Jock Scott, Silver Gray, Orange Mallard. Aho was a supporter of the imitation theory; he studied the insects of the rapids and also created new patterns.
In late August, the swarming caddisfly, Potamophylax latipennis, inspired Aho to tie a fly imitation of it at the Hardy factory in 1914, with which he successfully caught grayling. However, the more familiar fly patterns, especially March Brown, ensured memorable catches that made it into the annals of history.
Juhani Aho also fished in other rapids and wrote about them. For example, Kalkkistenkoski has made its mark in the history of fly fishing, primarily because of its own fly patterns used alongside the more famous trout and salmon flies from around the world. “Kalkkisten Vaalea” and “Kalkkisten Tumma” were born and became famous in the 1910s and 1920s, partly thanks to Aho’s writings during his time with the Kalkkisten Fishing Club.
Juhani Aho was both a writer with the pen and an angler with the fly rod. In the context of Juhani Aho’s role as a national author, it often seems peculiar to consider his position as a pioneer of Finnish hunting and fishing short stories. While most hunting and fishing writers have confined their expressions to their respective topics, in Aho’s case, we can speak of the great writer’s contributions to this marginal literature – he may still be somewhat akin to, for example, the harmonious North Karelian mood painter Jouko Puhakka and the legend of Lapland parodies, A.E. Järvinen, who had a strong expression in their own genres. The hectic, emotionally rich, and profound world of experiencing nature, as seen in “Kalalastut” (“Fish Scales”), truly came to full fruition only after the master writer’s passing.
Aho’s skills as a fishing writer were not limited to the written word. In his fishing, this observant and reflective man astutely commented on fisheries-related issues. He continued to care about the importance of guiding novice sport fishermen and the significance of water and fisheries management. Aho’s contribution to the founding of our country’s oldest organization for recreational anglers, the Finnish Sports Fishermen’s Federation (SUKL 1919), was crucial.
Many fisheries-related reforms, such as those related to water construction impacts and fish farming, were already brewing in Aho’s mind before they found their way onto committees’ agendas. And if those decisions were made, Aho was also ready to work practically to support them.”