The Codfather of Lofoten
There’s breathtaking scenery in every direction, with deep blue fjords that dramatically turn into sharp mountains, partly covered with snow. Beneath us we see red cottages spread out in a valley located in northern Norway’s archipelago. A place where the people live not only by but also for fishing. A place called Lofoten.
We are greeted by a man with kind eyes. The wrinkles on his face tell stories about a life at sea. He welcomes us with a warmth and a passion that we soon discover is shared by almost everyone is this secluded part of Norway.
Geir Halvard Nielssen moved to Lofoten with his parents in 1977, and still remembers his first catch from when he was six years old. With a worm on the hook and a rod his dad had made out of bamboo, he caught a sea trout weighing around half a kilo. It wasn’t big, but he ran to his parents to show them what he had pulled up all by himself, filled with pride. His uncles were fishermen by trade, so he started to spend his summers with them, fishing for salmon and learning the secrets of the sea and how unpredictable it could be.
The water is still and peaceful. All we hear are the sounds of fishermen talking and seagulls singing for food, which is fitting since the name of his boat is Måken – Norwegian for seagull.
The mountain tops get the first catch of light as the sun rises. It has yet to reach above them, leaving the valley in a dusky state of morning dew. He is already down by the boat, drinking coffee from a thermos and preparing his nets.
It’s hard and heavy work, which is reflected on his rugged hands. He sets course towards the eastern part of the fjord where he places his nets all by himself, as he always does. A light wind is coming in from the north, but it’s still quiet out on the water. During high season the small fjord is filled with almost a hundred boats, which could lead to heated situations when other people’s nets get in the way. But most of the time, it’s a friendly atmosphere among the fishermen.
He couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, saying that he would miss the mountains and the sea too much. We ask him what makes Lofoten a good place to call home, and without even thinking he answers the fresh air. His passion for nature started when he took photos of the local birdlife, and it’s not strange to get hooked when you live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The high season lasts from February through April, when the temperature is ideal for the skrei cod to enter the fjord to spawn. During this period, he can pull up as much as two tons of cod a day with his trusty Måken. Together with its beautiful scenery, this is one of the reasons that Lofoten has become an attractive spot for fishing enthusiasts all around the world.
His other passion is English football, and the team he holds closest to his salty heart is Ipswich Town FC. He is such a big fan of the team that he even got invited to the club to present the player of the year award. He shows us a letter from team manager Mick McCarthy, thanking him for his support and wishing him a good cod season.
“That’s our equivalent of the football season,” he says with a heavy Norwegian accent. The supporters really took a liking to him and gave him a suitable nickname – the Codfather.
The wind is getting stronger, so we head back to the harbor. He tells us about the importance of always being prepared. Even if you’ve listened to the weather report, a storm might surprise you and then you have to stay calm. We step off the boat and ask him how long he’s planning on doing this. He looks at us with those kind eyes of his and says:
“I’ll keep on fishing as long as my body lets me, because this is what I love. After all, I am the Codfather.”