Canoeing Denmark’s longest river with my kids

posted in: Equipment, Fishing, Gear, Nature | 0

– and some action packed fishing

In the morning of July 25th there were three fully packed Fjällräven Kajka backpacks standing in the middle of our livingroom. Two Kajka Juniors for my boys aged 7 and 9. And one 65L pack for me with an Abu Garcia fishing rod bag further attached to it.

My boys and I were ready to leave for a canoe trip down Denmarks longest river. The 176 kilometer long Gudenå running through the middle of Jutland from Vejle to Randers Fjord. Our plan was to go from Tørring to Silkeborg which is about a 68 km trip.

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Gudenå is known to inhabit a large variety of fish from Salmon, Seatrout, River trout, Rainbow trout, Pike, Perch, Walleye, eel and many more. Our trip was planned to take place on the higher end of the river where there are no salmon and only trout on a rare occasion however.

The journey
We left Copenhagen Central Station at 11.25 A.M. After about 4 hours by train we hit Vejle Station in heavy rain. We sat down and grabbed some lunch before boarding the bus that was to take us to Tørring, the starting point of our canoe trip.  As we drove off we were surprised to see that big parts of the town was flooded. The roads had been turned into streams and I was a little unsure whether we had actually hit Vejle or Venice in Italy.

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The first sight of Gudenå
The bus driver was kind enough to drop us off right next to the campsite were we would spend the night before heading out on Gudenå the next day. We finally stood by the banks of Gudenå. It looked more like a small stream than a river from here really. It was great to see it though. My kids put up our tent as I went to gather some birch bark to start a fire with. We had brought some frozen chicken that had slowly thawed during the time of our trip. It was well timed. We cooked it over the fire and I cooked some rice to go with it on our Trangia.  It had been a long day of traveling and the next day we were going to pick up our rented canoe right next to our camp. So after dinner we basically went straight to bed.

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Canoeing
The first part of the trip felt a bit like a funpark ride. Gudenå is a popular destination and Tørring is probably where most people start their trip on this part of Gudenå. The first 5 kilometres of our trip we ran into a lot of other canoes. And Gudenå is very narrow to begin with so it felt a little crowded.

I was surprised to see how well my boys did at paddling though. I had expected only little help from them on the long trip. But they did a great job. After our lunch break we started to see fewer canoes. The river became wider and nature was becoming more wild. The weather was perfect and we had great fun on our way down the river. We spent the first two days like this. Paddling during the day then setting up our camp for the night, cooking dinner on our Trangia and hanging out a bit and then going to sleep. But then we reached Vestbirk.

Vestbirk
At this point Gudenå turned into three smaller connected lakes. Bredvad Sø, Naldal Sø og Vestbirk Sø. These lakes are the result of a damming made in 1924 to lead water to the then newly created Vestbirk Power plant. The power plant was made after WW1 were supplies of coal and oil were cut off. So after that there was a big interest in creating electricity. The lakes were all created in only 5 days. And right in the middle of them you find Vestbirk Elite Camping. A dedicated campsite with playgrounds, swimmingpools, kiosks and much more. When planning our trip we had agreed to stay here for two nights so the kids could have a break and jump in the pool one day.

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When we first arrived at Vestbirk it looked like nothing more than a great place to camp for the night. You couldn’t see the actual campsite which was hidden behind a small forest on a big hill. It was practically a small peninsula with a lake on each side and a canal connecting the two on the northern side. That day we had only paddled a short distance so we were some of the first people to arrive there. The weather forecast said it was going to rain so we immediately set up our camp. After putting up our small tent I also made a shelter for us to sit under during the rainfall. Nothing beats having an outdoor space to sit under when it rains. Meanwhile my kids were foraging some wild raspberries. We normally use wild berries that we find as ingredients when baking buns. We bake them on hot stones placed in the middle of our camp fire. This time my kids had eaten all the berries before we got around to bake the buns though.

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Rain and angling
We had only just finished our camp before it started to rain. We put on our rain gear and I unpacked my fishing rod. My kids were playing in our camp as I left them to go fishing. I wasn’t going too far away and they had their own phone in case they needed to call me. I love to fish when it’s raining. It’s like the water comes more to life and you feel more camouflaged when it’s pouring down. I had a tip from a local about a spot on the other side of the campsite in lake Naldal. I crossed the small peninsula and found my way through another small forest to find the lake. There was a lot of trees growing on the bank of it so casting was a little difficult. I decided to take a walk along the bank and see if I could find some better spots. I though it would be a good idea to start on the northern corner of the peninsula where the canal ran into the lake. When I got there I found a small clearing between the branches, just big enough for me to cast my spinner.

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I was fishing my way around the water, as much as I could without getting tangled up in the branches. I tried both along the edges as well the middle of the water without any luck. On my way out there I had seen a few other spots that seemed suitable, so after 10 to 15 mintues I moved on. I walked back down along the bank of the lake until I reached another spot. There were a few small islands of trees growing in the water here. It felt like good pike spot. I casted my Mepps Black Fury a few times but quickly hit the weeds. That wasn’t going to stop me though so I kept going still hitting the weeds every other time I casted. Again without any luck. So I moved on again going further back down the bank until I came to a bigger clearing. The lake seemed deeper here, there was a bit more current in the water and also the spot was a bit more windy.

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I casted twice before I felt the first bite. There was no doubt that this was a lively fish. It was a great fight with a lot of action. It didn’t take long before I could see it in the surface though. It was a small pike about 35-40 cm long. I quickly released it and felt confident now that I was in the right spot. With my new gained confidence I casted again. To be honest I’m not sure if I did so once or twice before I felt the next bite. But this time it was a much heavier tug. I kept the pressure on the line as I tightened the break just a little bit. The fish took off to the side heading for the bank. A classical pike move. I tightened the break even further and fought back, trying to prevent the line from getting tangled up in debris or weeds along the bank. I felt some heavy tugs on the line as it went back out a bit. I started pulling it in a bit more and it didn’t take long before I could see it right under the surface. It was big pike. As I battled with it I was trying to unfold my landing nets. I had forgotten to do so beforehand and I knew I wouldn’t be able to just pull this one out of the water with the line. The pike was fighting back heavily though and I had to give up on the landing nets. I decided to land it by hand instead and by now it was really close to the bank. I raised my rod as high as I could as I reached out to land it. I couldn’t see where I hooked it though so I was a little careful not to stick my fingers in it’s geels. I managed to land it though and suddenly it was lying there in the wet grass in front of me. Originally my idea was to realease it although I’m not much of a trophee hunter. But it had completely swallowed my hook so I had to take it with me. Afterwards I saw that it had not only swallowed my hook, it had also broken my pike leader. What a fish. I was grateful that I had caught it and I wanted to make sure it had a meaningful death by making  a particular nice dinner out of it. So when I returned to the camp I carefully filleted it and wrapped it up for the next day. We already had dinner that day. It was a little difficult to fillet it with my Enzo Trapper knife though. Although it’s really sharp and handy it’s just not a fillet knife, but I managed to make some very fine fillets after all.

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I had brought some flour for baking the buns I mentioned earlier so I used some of it as breading for the fillets the next day. I cooked some rice to eat on the side. Then I fried the fillets in butter on our Trangia. I had brought some dried oregano that I added along with some salt and pepper. It was simple and delicious.

Moving on
After spending two nights at Vestbirk it was time to move on. We were now heading for the harder part of the trip. First of all we had a few portages ahead of us and also we were going to canoe some bigger lakes. What we didn’t know was how challenging the trip would end up becoming.

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We took off quite early because we knew we had some kilometres to catch up after our prolonged stay at Vestbirk. Some hours and two short portages later we left a place called Klostermølle – an old watermill. We now headed into the lake of Mossø. A big lake where we needed to locate the place where the Gudenå river continued north. We had been given quite specific directions on where to find it but somehow I misinterpreted the size of our map and we ended up paddling way too far down the lake. It was raining on and off that day and our map was getting totally ruined by water. We hadn’t really needed it before so we didn’t have a plastic pocket for it. Not only did we paddle way to far in the wrong direction, it was also getting late now and the wind direction had changed. So we ended up paddling upwind both ways. The kids were becoming both disillusioned, tired and hungry now. This left a mark on me as well of course. Not a pleasant situation. Had we not decided that we wanted to make it to Ry to deliver our canoe, we would have probably just spent the night in some random place. But we didn’t want to give up and it took us another hour before we finally found our way back to the river. We still had a long way ahead of us if we were going to stick to our plan, but finding the river gave us back some of our good mood. We made a short stop to eat before paddling on through some more windy lakes. Now we even had time and energy to stop and follow a Grass snake (Natrix natrix.) swimming across a smaller lake. It was trying to outswim our canoe to the bank but we kept up with it until we decided to go back to our mission and head on.

The time was 8 p.m. when we passed some locals in a small fishing boat who told us that there was a campsite not far ahead. And finally half an hour later we found it. We were so tired that we didn’t even bother to make dinner. We just put up our tent, had some chocolate and went straight to sleep.

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The last day of canoeing – and some more fishing
The next morning we were met by fine sunny weather. This was such a blessing since we were now able to dry all our wet clothes and gear. We also had a proper breakfast and our mood was back on top. Further more we only had to paddle a short distance before reaching our final destination. We took it real easy and it felt great to get the pressure off our backs. An hour of paddling later we hit land for the last time. We pulled the canoe out of the water, called the canoe rental company to tell them where it was and moved on to setting up our last camp of the trip. We had found a really nice but windy place for it on a small headland right next to the lake. To make it more comfortable we built a shelter to block off the wind. We had brough some of the spruce poles that we used for our previous shelter, so setting it up was easy.

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We had dinner and afterwards the kids sat down by the fire and roasted some marshmallows. I wanted to do my last bit of fishing so I went to stand by the water 3 meters away. A local angler had come by when we were cooking our food. He told me that you could catch perch and eel here. But with no luck he had given up after half an hour or so. I casted a few times and then I felt the first bite. It was a small perch. I casted again. I could see quite a lot of activity in the water with fish regularly jumping in the water. After quite some time with no action I felt the next bite though. This time it was a bigger perch. In my head I had planned on collecting a few more but it was getting dark now. I called it a day happy about the result. We all went to sleep for the last time before heading back home the next morning. It had been a great trip with plenty of beautiful nature sights and more importantly lot’s of quality time spent together.

 

Upgrading my kids’ wilderness survival skills

posted in: Bushcraft, Knowledge, skills, Survival | 0

3 days of practicing knots, shelter building, axe handling and more.

May is supposed to be fairly warm in Denmark. But the last few years the climate has been really messed up. This year May felt more like autumn than late spring. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go camping bushcraft style of course.

The trip wasn’t well planned. I had thought about going with my two sons aged 6 and 8 but it wasn’t until the day before I decided to actually do it. So I went to a local Silvan (a Danish DIY store) to buy two tarps measuring 2×3 meters. They sell them for only DKK 13,95 (about $2). A few days earlier I had taken both of my kids to a surplus store where we bought a pack of paracord for each of them. I let them choose their own colour which resulted in us walking out of the store with one neon green and one triple coloured blue paracord. Not exactly my favourites but whatever motivates them I guess.

You see I had a little plan in store for the two who are more than used to primitive camping. This time I wanted them to build their own shelter. The younger one just learned how to tie his shoe laces recently, so I wasn’t expecting him to be able to make everything himself. I felt quite confident that the older one could do it though. I wanted to give them an understanding of how simple it is to make a shelter and at the same time boost their self confidence. I wanted them to be able to build a simple structure that would get them out of the wind and the rain.

At about 12 o’clock we got off the bus and after a short hike we arrived at the camp site which was right next to a lake. My kids were more concerned about playing around. I normally let them run free in the forest. They know the rules: Their knife must be in its sheath and they must wear their whistle around their neck. It’s amazing how fast kids become responsible when you show them that you trust them.

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I went straight to work though. I unpacked my knife and my hatchet, put both in my belt and headed out to find some suited material for building my own shelter. After a short while I asked my kids to come and help me. I told them that we needed to collect some branches for our shelters and that they would need to carry their own. They had no objections about that although they did argue a bit about who was to carry the heavier branch of two. I told the older one to take it. After a while we had plenty of material and I was well underway with my shelter which I also wanted to work as a place where we could all sit if it was to rain. My kids were still playing around.

Had it been a little warmer I would have left it to their own sense to get going with their shelters or I would have let them sleep on the ground. But with only 7° C at night, windy conditions and possible rain I wanted to make sure they were safe during the night. So I asked them to get going with their shelters as I started to clear an area for our campfire. I showed them the principles of a standard A frame lean-to and how to lash the branches together. Amazingly what they did afterwards was to work together and help each other build their shelters. The younger one lashed his tarp to the frame using the same knots he just learned to tie his shoelaces with. To me however the most important thing is that now they have an understanding of how to make a basic shelter for themselves should they ever need to. Even if we didn’t make the shelters with all natural materials, we talked about how to do it during the process.

While they were finishing their shelters, I had build a small fire. So now our camp was ready.

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The next day we took a stroll in the forest and on the shore of the lake a few hundred meters away from our camp we found a natural shelter that someone else had built. So again we had a talk about how it was made with no cord, no tarp or anything. All adding to their understanding of how to make it themselves. The big difference is that even though they have seen me build a shelter a thousand times, it is not until you try doing it yourself that you start to learn properly. And with kids the key thing about learning is that it has to be fun at the same time.

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All in all it was a great trip where we also got the chance to do both some foraging, some fishing as well as some hatchet practice. The weather forecast said the last day would be rainy. And although the kids loved sleeping in there own shelters they missed the cosiness of us sleeping together. So I rearranged my shelter to fit all three of us. I then used one of the kids’ shelter for storing some dry firewood.

The next day when I woke up the weather was still dry so I made myself a cup of coffee and enjoyed the silent morning. While I was still finishing my coffee the rain started dripping though. I then moved the shelter I had used to keep the firewood dry with over the campfire to protect it a little from the rain. Often when it rains in Denmark it is just sporadic showers of rain. It was the same this day. After a while the rain paused, and when the kids woke up we roasted a final sausage over the fire before packing up. The only real downside of the rain of course was that we had to pack all our gear in wet conditions. But everything went well and we finally hiked back out as the rain quietly fell.

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