“Salmon lords” and fishing tourism on the Oulujoki river

River Oulujoki has always been famous for its salmon. The river's fishing stories often tell of visitors who came from faraway countries such as France, Turkey and even the former Siam (Thailand) to fish in the river's free rapids and flowing waters. The Niskakoski rapids in Vaala and the Pyhäkoski rapids in Muhos were particularly popular. Most of the fishing tourists came from England and were nicknamed "salmon lords" in river folklore.

View from Niskakoski rapids in Vaala. Photograph: I. K. Inha 1898. Collection of Otava Publishing Company. Historical photograph collection. The Finnish Heritage Agency.

The idea of the nobility of the early fishing tourists may have been inspired by the 10th Earl of Scarborough, the 7th Viscount and Viscountess of Galway and William Thomas Orde-Powlett, who stayed in Vaala for two weeks in the summer of 1885. Their experiences have been preserved for posterity as the Earl kept a diary of his trip. His writings have been studied by cultural historian Markus H. Korhonen in the yearbook of the Historical Society of Northern Finland.

The Lamminaho family in approximately 1910. Photograph: Photographers Hynninen, Kajaani. Historical photograph collection. The Finnish Heritage Agency.

Local boatmen helped the nobles

The group’s tents, complete with beds and mosquito nets, were pitched on the Lamminaho meadow on 17 July. Fishing began the following day, but the results were poor. The group fished from a boat, but the catch of the day that had a hint of thunder in the air consisted only of pike, trout and “a perch the size of a bait”. The evening was no better – there was no salmon to be seen. The next evening was even less successful as hostile mosquitoes, which had tormented Viscount Galway with 107 bites on the boat trip to Oulu, ruined the Earl’s evening walk. In the pages of his diary, the Earl squashed a mosquito and named it, writing “Mosquito!” next to it.

Eventually the fishing picked up and the Earl wrote in his diary of a great chase: “I got out of the boat, waded in the knee-deep water and finally beat the fish after a good fight.” A few days later, on 26 July, the diary records that the boatmen were being paid 2½ marks a day, “more than usual as it is hay time”.

The guests were often assisted by local boatmen and rowers, who would wake up very early from their homes to arrive at the lake for the best fishing time of the day, between 6am and 11am. Some would row late into the night. Sometimes there were not enough rowers to go round, and the lines were thrown from the shore. As the fishing tourists’ catches varied greatly, they sometimes tried to avoid paying their rowers, saying that they would only pay if they caught fish.

The Earl describes his salmon fishing on 27 July: “At 5am – George catches a good two pound perch, Willy a bigger one and I a pike… but the salmon just aren’t coming – it’s obvious we’re here too early in the year. My boatman says late August to mid-September would be the right time – he swears he caught 17 salmon on a Sunday in September! The fish are obviously still coming up the river and have not settled in the calmer waters upstream.” The next day, however, Viscountess Galway caught a salmon weighing around eleven kilos below Niskakoski.

By the end of July, the group had packed up for the journey home. According to the diary, they heard of an amusing misunderstanding on a tar boat: “The boatmen and some other passers-by had seen our camp and reported to both Vaala and Oulu that the British had declared war on Russia and occupied Finland!” The reason for this was probably the military-style colonial tents used by the party, which were clearly visible from the opposite bank of the river. However, the authorities didn’t take the report seriously.

Seine fishing on the Oulu River. Writing on the box: Medaille de Vermeil a Paris 1892. Photograph: I. K. Inha. Produced by K. E. Ståhlberg 1890–1899. Folklore photograph collection. The Finnish Heritage Agency.

Salmon lords leave behind booze, cigars and stories

Their diary entries suggest that the river was a well-known and highly regarded destination in international angling circles. Niskakoski was the carefully chosen and studied main destination for the nobility, who arrived well prepared via Sweden. The diary describes the travellers as pleasant, natural and open-minded men and women of culture. This may explain why the “salmon lords” are remembered so fondly in river folklore. The British are also said to have been popular guests because they provided the hosts and rowers with fine wines and cigars – and the best pay.

The arrival of English anglers on the River Oulujoki in the 1870s is partly explained by personal international contacts from the tar trade and partly by the transfer of ownership of small Finnish ironworks to the British. The heyday of fishing tourism was from the 1890s to the 1920s, when the banks of the river saw many foreign visitors. Many of them returned to the river year after year. They brought prosperity to the river valley by staying in guesthouses and homes. John Godfrey Rogers, a medical officer for the British colonial forces in Egypt and nicknamed Rogers-Pasha, came to Niskakoski several times to fish and rented a room in the Lamminaho house.

There are many stories about fishing on the river. M. Hume, a Scottish artillery captain, was said to prefer to go ashore and fight the line rather than stay in the boat when he caught a big fish. Mr Spolding, a paper manufacturer, visited Niskakoski for ten summers but only caught a salmon once, losing his rod to the fish every other time. The Japanese ambassador to Russia visited the river with an entourage of no less than twenty people. He even had a band and a personal baker, who was said to have worked the dough with his feet in rubber pants.

In the end, however, the locals often considered the Finns to be the best fishing tourists because they spoke the same language. The downside of Finnish tourists, however, was that during the years of prohibition they often enjoyed the forbidden pleasures as well as the fishing.


Korhonen, Markus H. 2000. Viktoriaaninen loma Pohjolassa – Lordeja Oulujoen koskissa. ("Victorian Holiday in the North – Lords in the Rapids of Oulujoki River"). Origin: Notes in Finland, Sweden and Norway 1885–1886. Faravid 24. Yearbook of the Historical Society of Northern Finland. Rovaniemi.

Oulujoki Osakeyhtiö 1954. Entinen Oulujoki: historiikkia ja muistitietoa ("The Oulu River of Old: Histories and Recollections").

Sihvo, Pirkko 1996. Lamminaho: Elämää Oulujoen Niskakoskella ("Lamminaho: Life by Niskakoski Rapids in Oulujoki River"). Helsinki: The Finnish Heritage Agency.