It really had been a week of surprises and a fantastic reminder of just how much I still need to learn about fishing. A few days after discovering red bandfish on a boat trip with friends to Weymouth, I found myself heading up to Estonia for work with a cheeky evening session set for sea pike. This is a species I certainly didn’t expect to be able to claim on my sea fish species hunt for 2022.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia is an amazing city, just 2.5 hours flight from London, easily accessible via low cost airlines. The city is incredible to visit, well renowned for great food and entertainment and, rare for this part of the world, cheap. The price differential draws numerous tourists and groups of party goers from Scandinavia and Northern Europe to the capital every weekend. But I was there for work mid-week and the city was calm and sedate, even in the famous and stunningly beautiful old medieval town centre.

With Russia to the East and Finland a short ferry ride to the North, Estonia is positioned at the northern end of the Baltic Sea. The dark frozen winter had recently given way to elongated light and warmth stretching pretty much 24-hours a day so the plan was to fish late evenings once my work was done. I had secured an evening trip with the famous Timo Tintse, owner of Estfish. Timo is the regions number one guide and takes parties as far afield as Norway, but this was his home patch and a session I had aspired to make happen for many years. 

The truth is that I had always dreamed of catching garfish and sea trout in the shallows of Estonia. And that was the basis of my first conversation with Timo. I kept asking Timo if we could go to sea to target the gar’s and he would reply with a yes, and pike. I would then go back and say I wanted to do sea fishing and he came back over an over saying ‘yes, for pike’! To be honest, I put this down to translation challenges for quite some time and even on the flight to Tallinn wasn’t totally convinced we were on the same page so to speak.

Estonia is a beautiful country to spend some time relaxing

My travel companion is always my Rigged & Ready Travel rod and reel combination. The size and weight of a small laptop, it packs away so easily without pushing the weight allowance of the airline and the varied interchangeable rod tip and reel seat options make this piece of kit adaptable from a fly rod to mid weight trolling tool. The rod comes with a fixed spool spinning reel and a fly reel so I had my options covered. Timo, apart from being a brilliant guide and coach, produces seriously high quality lures so as far as terminal tackle went I was dependent on him.

 

Timo collected me from my city centre hotel at 5:30 pm and we headed off west to the town of Haapsalu about 90-minutes drive from the capital. Northern Estonia can only be described as flat. 

Scalped by glaciers and covered in spring growth the countryside resembled a billiard table. Huge rocks left behind by the ice were the snooker balls on this immaculate green landscape

The 90-min drive gave me time to quiz Timo further. We were heading towards the fishing grounds of Vormsi Island. The sea ice, thick enough to enable cars to drive across to the islands only a few weeks previously, had melted and the fish were hungry. Slightly early for the gars and sea trout which were due to arrive in May, this late April session was, he convincingly stated, to target sea pike. Explaining that the salt content of this brackish water mass was such that pike could tolerate it as much as the garfish could too, making the species a strange cross over and providing great sport attractive to both sea and fresh water enthusiasts especially in late spring and early summer.

The vast expanse of shallow waters recently revealed by melting ice

Arriving at Haapsalu and Timo’s restaurant, where naturally fish caught that day were on the menu we prepared equipment and clothing and stepped aboard. Timo uses a shallow draft, super fast small boat to skim across the ultra shallow waters and we were on our way. Reassuringly, leaving the harbour we passed numerous herring boats finally convincing me of the fact we were indeed in salt water and we let the outboard rip. The additional layers of clothing Timo advised me to wear were needed as the bitingly cold air blasted past as we made ground at 25 knots. 

Timo remained cautious. The storm from the past two days might have shifted the channels and uncovered new huge rocks left from the ice.

But before long we were at the chosen spot and Timo  cut the main outboard and switched to a GPS controlled electric motor fixed to the bow of the boat which slowly guided us through his favourite marks. The plan was to use the motor to hold us in position when we found the fish.

With Timo at the front of the boat and me to the rear we used medium weight shallow lures on a steady retrieve, adjusting speed to keep the lures below the surface but off the mud. This took a few minutes for me to master as the water was so shallow, maybe 3-feet at best. I had to concentrate as the lures were works of art, hand carved from local sustainable wood, and painted with unbelievable designs, so these things didn’t deserve to be lost to snags. 

The trusty travel rod!

Without question, the lures worked, pretty much immediately the pike began to follow the lures right up to the boat, not quite taking the lures but hypnotised by the movement they created. Slowly, the fish became more bold and were snared. Timo was first to bait a fish, a small but healthy specimen and then we shared fish regularly for the next few hours. Half way through the session we swapped positions on the boat, with me occupying the front and finding it easier to cast as the wind strengthened. The extra height also gave me a better view of the sea bed and curious pike stalking our lures. On the day, blue mackerel designs seemed to work best but as we all know, fish are fickle and who knows what the next day would favour.

Happy that whatever size fish I caught would be my sea pike personal best I finished with a feisty specimen that was kept for the restaurant. The rest were returned to fight another day.

It was incredible that this huge expanse of water was so empty, with only one other boat fishing with rods and one small boat with two guys setting nets. This is truly one of Europe’s last wildernesses. Silent apart rom the calls of birds, the flat expanse of water is only broken by the low lying islands and ferries that serve them, the session came to an end at around 10 pm and we headed back. The light was still strong and if we had chosen to, we could have fished on all night.

So in summary, Estonia is a real gem. Certainly not the location for the huge monster fish of northern Norway fjords but subtle, artful… the thinking mans venue of choice. Targeting sea pike on light spinning tackle was great fun and one for sure I can’t wait to try again. Next year I’ll head back a few weeks later, during May, to hit the sweet spot where pike, garfish and sea trout all compete together.

A pike, from the sea!

The city provides a great balance of super fishing and when the need for rod and line has been sated a fantastic, hip, super cool location for craft beers, music and food. Naturally, pike features heavily on the menu, all at very affordable prices.

As for Timo, yes, I can see why he is rated number one guide. A superb coach and generally lovely person, he really knows his trade.

Highly in demand, booking Timo takes a bit of patience and lengthy waiting times, especially for peak season slots. I’ll be booking now for next year for sure. The brackish waters of the Baltic are just so different to anywhere I have ever fished before. Will I be claiming more sea pike, or maybe one could argue fresh water garfish? We shall see. 

Timo Tintse can be contacted via www.estfish.ee or info.estfish@gmail.com

Another Estonian sea pike!
Share