Hygge is a Danish concept that cannot be translated into a single word, but is used to express a feeling of contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple pleasures in life.
The comforting warmth, flicker and crackle of an open fire is hygge. The smell of fresh coffee on a quiet Sunday morning – that’s hygge, too. Hanging out with a friend on a warm summer’s evening, shooting the breeze over a couple of cold beers – pure hygge. However, sitting alone on a park bench in the freezing winter rain can that be hygge? I was to find out on a winter’s trip to Denmark.
A good friend of mine, Kane, had relocated to Copenhagen for work and I’d promised to visit him. Everyone had told me it was a great city to spend a few days, so, needing to use up some untaken holiday, I found some cheap tickets for a visit over a long weekend in early December.
I would be arriving on Thursday night and with Kane working on the Friday, I’d have to entertain myself on the first day of the trip. Central Copenhagen is dominated by a large harbour and a system of canals. So a spot of fishing followed by a boat tour of the city seemed like a decent plan.
Planning my trip, it didn’t take long to find Copenhagen Fishing which offered guided ‘street fishing’ trips around the city’s waterways. After a quick exchange of emails with Anders and Frederik at Copenhagen Fishing, I was booked in for a half day morning session – Frederik would be my guide. A couple more clicks and I’d got a ticket for a boat tour with Hey Captain in the afternoon for a bit of sightseeing, hopefully accompanied by a glass or two of gløgg.
I left the office in Moscow on the Thursday evening arriving at Sheremetyevo airport in enough time to enjoy a leisurely pint in the airport bar – nice and hygge. While I enjoyed my beer, I read a favourite sea fishing / cooking book. Kane is not an angler himself, but he certainly is a gourmand and I’d promised him that if I caught anything edible we’d cook it over the weekend. So I studied the book for any recipes that could be of use over the coming days.
The flight was smooth and after landing in Copenhagen around 9pm I took a taxi to the old meatpacking district to meet Kane at the fabulous Kodbyens Fiskebar. The industrial surroundings of the old docklands were somewhat austere in the freezing December drizzle, but on arrival at the restaurant a couple of strategically placed fire pits located at the entrance injected the ever welcoming smell of wood smoke into the air and immediately made the atmosphere a lot more, well, hygge. Kane was already inside with two ice cold Carlsbergs on the table. It was great to catch up and we had a fantastic meal comprising lots of interesting fish dishes – zander, sea trout and halibut to name but a few. Hopefully, these would not be the only fish we’d be dining on that weekend.
The next morning I accompanied Kane for part of his commute to work before we went our separate ways – him to the office and me back to the docklands to meet Frederik. The weather was fine and bright, but there was a distinct chill in the air. Frederik arrived on his newly customised bicycle, complete with an ingenious rod holders and a rack for storing fishing tackle and few provisions. We were due to fish until noon and the plan was to target cod with soft plastic lures. If the cod weren’t playing ball (as apparently it was a bit late in the season for them), Frederik also had some fresh prawns with him that we could try as bait for flounder.
The docks where we were fishing were a former industrial area well on their way to being gentrified. Frederik explained that not long ago the harbour was too polluted to fish, but, as the factories have been replaced by design studios and modern apartments so the fishing has improved. Depending on the time of year, cod, flounder, sea trout, mackerel and garfish could all be caught.
Frederik was an enthusiastic guide and was soon instructing me how to fish the soft plastic lures properly – cast out the bait, let it sink on a tight line until you feel it bump on the sea bed, then retrieve the lure pausing every few turns of the reel to allow the bait to flutter back down to the bottom. The aim was to keep the bait in the bottom two to three feet of water and bounce it over the rocks where the cod were said to be hiding.
We worked our way along the quayside, covering as much water as possible, and trying lures in different colours to identify what the cod were in the mood for. Not a lot as it turned out – apart from Frederik having a couple of tentative bites, nothing stirred. So, after an hour, we moved round to the other side of the apartments into the open water of the main harbour where the cruise ships were heading out towards the Baltic Sea.
By now, mist and drizzle had begun rolling in from the sea. The weather felt better for fishing and the new spot was deeper with some interesting pilings to fish around. Frederik switched to ledgering for flounder, whilst I continued with the lures. We fished hard, but by the time the clock struck Midday, we’d unfortunately drawn a blank. Nonetheless, it had been a very pleasant morning – always great to meet another keen angler.
I still had a few hours to kill before my scheduled boat trip. So, before Frederik left I asked him if he could think of any spots where it may be worth a cast with my fly rod – after all, I’d tied some classic Scandinavian sea trout patterns for the trip and it would be a shame not to give them a swim in their home waters. Frederik mentioned a breakwater further along the harbour towards downtown Copenhagen where he had seen sea trout cruising close to the rocks in the summer. It was on his way home so we headed that way before saying our farewells.
The new spot was immediately more inspiring, a breakwater separated a small marina and a canal that entered from the quay where we’d begun the day. Standing on the rocks I could see the water was gin clear and probably about two to three metres deep with patches of light coloured sand between weed beds and boulders. The confidence levels rose straight away. The breakwater was about 100 metres long so I figured I had just enough time to fish its length, taking a couple of steps along in between each cast, before I’d have to leave.
I started fishing with a Grey Fred – a classic Danish baitfish pattern – it looked great in the clear water flitting over the rocks and amongst the weeds. However, after inching my way halfway along the breakwater without a touch I decided to change flies. For no particular reason, I chose a pattern of my own design – a Zonker style lure, sporting a flowing brown rabbit skin wing, a scruffy, rusty coloured dubbing body and copper beadhead to give it a seductive jigging action. The colour and movement of the long wing meant it could suggest anything from a worm to a small bait fish.
Confidence remained high, especially when after a couple of casts I felt a hesitant couple of tugs. Continuing along the breakwater I reached the mouth of the canal. I put out a long cast towards the far bank and after giving the fly a few seconds to sink I commenced a slow retrieve. Halfway through the retrieve the line slowly drew taught. I instinctively raised the rod tip and everything went solid. The slow draw of the line had me thinking that perhaps I had pulled the fly into a thick weed bed, but a couple of heavy nods on the rod tip indicated I had hooked something … something big!
The fish stayed deep and headed slowly towards the open water of the main harbour. There was no way it could be a sea trout given the dour nature of the fight, so I was quite perplexed as to what exactly I had hooked. Slowly the fish was drawn closer until finally it surfaced – first a large head and gaping mouth appeared before it rolled on its side revealing the broad mottled brown flank of a sizeable cod.
I was perched precariously on the lowest rocks of the breakwater, which were treacherously slippy given the persistent drizzle. The fish was beaten, but was not yet mine. I had no net and there was still the chance of the fish snagging itself amongst the kelp or boulders. The only option was to use a wave to wash the fish close enough so that I could lift it out by hand. I crouched low and on the next wave leant back on the rod has hard as I dared. The swell did the rest and I was quickly able to slip my hand under the fish’s chin and haul it ashore.
I had promised Kane a fish supper if I caught anything edible so I quickly dispatched the fish at the water’s edge which also meant I could scale the breakwater without the distraction of a massive, flapping, live cod in my hand! However, with the fish under one arm and my rod under the other it was still a bit tricky. When I finally made it back up to the coastal path I laid the fish on some grass and sat down on a nearby bench to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. Laughing to myself, I thought – what am I doing with my life? I was sat on a park bench in downtown Copenhagen, soaked through from the rain, freezing cold and with a massive dead cod at my feet! I didn’t mind though and basked in the glory that only the angler can know. I had just deceived a specimen cod on a home tied fly in foreign waters – it was a real achievement and I was over the moon. Moreover, it was a fine tasting fish that would make a great meal later that weekend – enjoyed with some decent wine in the company of a great mate – pure, unadulterated hygge!
As I sat there running over what had just happened, a gentlemen walked by with his dog. Without a second thought and despite the randomness of the situation, I asked him if he could take a photo and to my surprise he agreed. After taking the pictures he even seemed excited about the catch himself and proceeded to explain to me (at some length) how best to cook the fish. Unfortunately, his photos weren’t great so I asked the next passers by – a couple of British holidaymakers – if they could take a few. They were rather surprised when I showed them the my prize cod, but must have been impressed as they asked for a photo with it too – it was all very bizarre.
With some decent photos taken for posterity I could now think about how I would get the fish back to Kane’s apartment, my shoulder bag was too small and I surely couldn’t carry it through the streets of the Danish capital swinging by my side. Just along the coast was a restaurant, it was closed, but there were some staff inside. I knocked on the window and for some reason lifted the cod up to show them. They must have thought I was mad, but they opened the door and I asked them if they had anything I could put the fish in. They rummaged around in a storeroom and returned with a paint bucket and a bin bag – I chose the bin bag. Before I had finished putting the fish in the bag, the chefs of the restaurant then appeared with their own fishing rods. They pushed past me, hurried to the water’s edge and started casting about in the harbour themselves. The word was clearly out that the cod were feeding!
It had been quite a surreal end to the morning’s fishing, but what a result! I trudged back through the rainy streets of Copenhagen absolutely elated. When I got back to Kane’s apartment I quickly cleaned the fish. It had clearly been feeding hard as there were seven recently eaten crabs in its throat, which interestingly were a very similar colour to the fly on which I’d caught it.
With the fish cleaned and put away in the fridge I headed back out just in time to make my canal tour of Copenhagen. Kicking back with a Carlsberg and enjoying the amazing and varied architecture of central Copenhagen, it had been a perfect start to what would be a great weekend.
PS – the cod made a fantastic meal the following night and I’ll be writing about how we cooked it on here soon.