Finding an Ammassat Fishing Site, more adventures in my kayak at Innarssuit Greenland


Gail Ferris


Here I am in Greenland once again and I wondering to myself where would people in this area go fishing for Ammassat.  After all there has to be a place near here, somewhere, that people go and catch them in nets. 

Ammassat always swarm up freshwater outlets from large bodies of fresh water, most often lakes, to lay their eggs from mid-June to mid-July.

I had watched the film Knud Rasmussen made showing Greenlanders catching these little fish, Ammassat/capelin with anything they could dip them up with.

When I was visiting in Barrow Alaska this same type of fish, known as Capelin, came past the peninsula in July.  People eat them in Barrow with the same relish because they are delicious either fried or dried in the open air.  Like smelt we catch off New England they have that same sweet flavor which makes you want to eat endless numbers of these little fish, bones and all.

Throughout the Arctic wherever these fish come they are enjoyed with great gusto by all.

On Newfoundland capelin lay their eggs on the top of certain beaches in the sand at high tide.

In the Upernavik, Greenland area you can buy them by the kilo dried or fresh frozen.

I have some friends in this area who just love to fry them for lunch.  When I visit them we always feast on fried ammassat for lunch.

So there I am in my tent thinking to myself that there just has to be somewhere around here where these tasty fish are caught as I already knew that only a few miles away people always caught them in Aappilattoq and Upernavik.

Somehow when I paddled down to the end of this U shaped passage and saw a wooden rack covered with plastic near a tent I did not recognize the use of the rack. 



Paddling down inside I could not really find the freshwater outlet.  I think I missed the outlet because it was smaller than I expected to see. 

There was a drying rack that I did not realize what it was for right next to what must have been the brook these fish swim up.

Nearby was a campsite even though it was not in use I was somewhat shy about being too close to it. 

Later I realized that the motorboat with its campsite occupants had just left a few minutes before I got to the campsite.  I like to respect people’s privacy even though Greenlanders like visiting and visitors.

From the back side of the tent I saw a codfish hanging in the wind drying.  It was probably a month old.

I was out in my kayak, on a toot, so to speak.  What I was really up to - was to paddle to the very bottom of this U shaped passage which on the map looks like a pocket off of the U.  I just wanted to see what was down there in the sense of rocks, flora and fauna.



After my trip down to the bottom a few days went by some fog rolled in back and forth and I did some other paddling. 



I still had it on my mind “where do people go to catch Ammassat?”

A motorboater told me that they catch them on Qaersorssuatsiaq island. 

Then a clear day came by and I decided that I ought to cross over to Qaersorssuatsiaq island only a mile or so away to the west.

Looking at the map, I noticed that the island had some interesting inlets but most fascinating was an inlet that opened to the north and turned into a T running east and west.  The eastern section of the T seemed most curious because it was long and large but with a bottleneck restriction at its entrance only about 20 feet wide.



Little squeaky places to paddle my kayak in just fascinate me.  I just love to wander in them with my kayak.  Who knows what I will find there.  Maybe hunters were there ages ago.

Padding this time of year is nice because here in Greenland, at 72 degrees north, May though August is that it does not get dark.

Weather-wise though there is a possibility that the wind might come up and I would not want to get caught by the wind when away from my camp.  I was paddling with an empty kayak, so getting caught by the wind was somewhat of a concern since an empty kayak is more difficult to control than a kayak blasted with camping gear.

On my past kayak trips I paddled longer distances from campsite to campsite always completely packing my all my camping gear in my kayak.  I also feared of getting caught by foul weather.  This area seemed quite stable. 

I decided just to go for an afternoon paddle crossing over to explore Qaersorssuatsiaq Island two miles away, maybe I could find something interesting




Paddling across to Qaersorssuatsiaq in the bright sun was wonderful.  On the way I dipped up a butterfly that was fluttering on the surface of the water.  This was my first time to see an Arctic fritillary close up.  Unfortunately I did not think to take a picture.

I let the butterfly sit on my black cockpit cover to dry and rewarm itself.  After fifteen minutes the butterfly flew off heading back toward my campsite island, a mile behind me.  I hope this butterfly made it back to the world of flowers on that island.

I enjoyed eyeing the navigational aids as I paddled across, watching them gain in definition and change in character with the reduction of distance.  It was very strange to see what effect refractory atmospheric conditions have on something so simple as a navigational aid.

From a mile away the navigational aid looked like it was larger and sitting right on the edge of the water.  Then as I paddled closer and closer it became smaller and smaller, farther back from the end of the point and edge of the water and higher up on the rocks.

How odd it is visually to experience refractory atmospheric viewing it is notorious for tricking the eye.  I should have just for fun taken a few pictures at various distances to see how the camera reads this phenomenon. 

This is hard to believe can happen until you actually experience it.

So there I am paddling along.  Oh things look fine and they are fine.

I rounded the corner so to speak and kept paddling.  To get to the end took a long time because the distance was one of those on and on deals.  Really it was only half a mile but it seemed longer, everything got smaller as I got closer some more visual phenomena it just seemed like tread mill paddling because it was rather boring.  I did get to see a handful of black guillemots but nothing much else, no plants just bare rock.

The shoreline on the east side of the Qaersorssuatsiaq island was not at all hospitable.  There was next to no vegetation.  The rock was granitic in character but bone dry granular and solid chunk rock.  The shore hosted just a few glacially smoothed and rounded areas only on the points on the north side here and there. 

Between these points on the north and on the east side,  the land rose at a modest 10 degree angle but there were innumerable three to ten foot high elevations with some intermixed swirled metamorphosed rock that offered with no place to land. 

Any flat areas were festooned with mostly cube shaped yellow-brown rocks.

I had to level with myself as I realized that what was available to me aside from an emergency bivouac that I could forget about finding any place for setting up a tent.




The ground was just a dry lumpy rock terrain with absolutely not even the slightest hint of water and absolutely no plants aside from a few very spare lichens on this north and east side of Qaersorssuatsiaq island.

Later I was to find that it was even worse on much of the south side had some extensive shear vertical cliff faces.

All was yellow brown in color.

As I got to the end where the opening becomes a choice of left or right kept to the left side and headed for the restriction.  The water was showing a brisk current on the surface when I got to the restriction.




I wondered what would happen on the inside where it opens out again.  Luckily it was not a threatening area for paddling.

At the bottom I was delighted to see plenty of shallows filled with seaweeds showing on the surface.

I went down to the end where I found the feed from what had to be the large lake showing on the Saga map as the source for Ammassat spawning. 

Among the dense seaweeds, profusion of mussels, sea urchins I knew that this water had to be very rich and was the ideal type of mixed salinity water very attractive to any biota that should need this combination.




The water emptying out of the lake must have been rich in minerals and be quite warm because the lake is shallow, constantly bathed in brilliant sunlight all summer.  This is a combination that really spurs growth of aquatic biota. 

They do not use the phrase “down in the warm fjords for nothing in Greenland”.  I can tell you that tons of mosquitoes are down there just waiting for those of us who visit to have a grand feast on us while we are there fishing for ammassat, salmon and trout returning to spawn.

As I got down to the end heading due east I spied a couple drying racks judiciously covered with plastic.  Then I realized as I made my way up the course through the rocks in the outlet from the lake that these were drying racks for ammassat.  By their number and remains of tent sites this spot has to be where prolific numbers of these fish come to spawn every June and July.

Now it was too late in the season.  All the dry fish had been retrieved and the plastic covers of the racks had been dutifully tied down and weighed down with rocks to keep them from blowing away

And to my delight sure enough finally I found another site where a half dozen Glaucous gulls have taken up residence along the left shore complete with nests among the rock cliffs.  They kept their eyes on me just in case I might have something to share with them and also to let me know that I was not welcome near their nests.  Some of their young were not quite ready to fledge yet.

I enjoyed seeing the profusion of life on the bottom, taking pictures and video shots but all too soon I found that I could not buck the flushing freshwater in the quickly narrowing shallows



Here at the lake outlet I saw a dominant profusion of filamentous bluegreens and kelp blades varying in length from three to six feet long.  There was not all that much fucus.

I noticed colander kelp growing in open water and inside low salinity areas.  I was surprised at how tolerant colander kelp / Agarum cribosum is of variable salinity and, wave action.

Although there is a huge population of green sea urchins, they do not eat much of this kelp and they cannot eat the seaweed, fucus, where it grows exposed to drying out at low tide.  I noticed that when I happened to entangle a sea urchin in fucus that sea urchins cannot untangle themselves from fucus / bladder wrack seaweed.



Gliding along in my kayak in the brilliant sunlight the wind was barely blowing more than five knots.  I enjoyed looking through the riffled, crystal clear water at the bottom.




After I had gotten away with paddling up the inlet a about two hundred fifty feet I found myself facing the outgoing water was limited to only one exit, a drop over between two rocks .

I did not want to try this one. 

I did not want to risk negotiating paddling any farther upstream even though I have whitewater paddling skills.  I doubted I buck this amount of current and the shallows.

The tide was going out, conditions would only become worse.

Had I gotten there when the tide was just about high I might have had a chance to get farther up the channel but then again I might have gotten into a situation where I could not turn my kayak around.




I had hoped that I could continue wending my way nearer the lake but that was not to be.  I had to be content that after all these years I had finally found an ammassat fishing site.

I was thrilled.




On my way out I paddled along the south side of the inlet instead of the north side so that I could enjoy new sights.  To my delight the water was only three feet deep, not threatening to my kayak.  Still I did keep an eye out for erratic boulders that might be just under the surface.

This is one of those moments in paddling when I say to myself thank God for polarized sunglasses because they block surface glare so that I can see below the surface. Without polarized sunglasses I could never see below the surface except in the shadow of my hull and by then it is too late and I could look down at the seaweeds and anything else on the bottom those denizens below, sea urchins, mussels, sea cucumbers, etc.

That is one of my favorite paddling sports – looking at who is down there in that crystal clear arctic water on a flat day.

This shoreline was lined with smaller typically square shapes of basaltic rather than smoother gneissic rock on the other side.

After half a mile paddling westward as I approached the twenty foot wide restriction where I noticed that large amounts of fucus seaweed grew being attached to the rounded boulders six feet below.

Fucus is handy for those of us who paddle in shallow waters because where it shows there are rocks lurking just below the surface waiting for you to sort of find, so to speak, with either your kayak or your paddle.   Right! such a nice experience.  Kind of instantly wakes you up, all while on a flat calm paddle.  We have this lovely paddling off Stony Creek all over.  I know, because I used to risk paddling an inflatable kayak over our notorious granite bottom in the calm during early evening hours when there were no riffles on the water to indicate rocks just below.




As I approached the restriction I saw several twenty-foot diameter eddies in this area.  They were powerful enough to spin me around.

I concluded that the effect this restriction has on water circulation is to generate eddies along this south side.  I think that the reason for the eddies on the shallower side is just because the water has nowhere else to go other than to be forced upward by these wide shallows putting a spin on the incoming water making it swirl around in circles.  It is a bottleneck effect.

The profusion of seaweed growth suggests that the water is probably quite rich in nutrients to support this lush growth of seaweeds.

In the dog sledding season this is something to think about because eddy areas are not a good place for solid ice to form which makes these eddy areas a dangerous place for dog sledding.

The force of these twenty foot diameter eddies near the shore was not enough to throw my bow around, but I was somewhat concerned about it.

Paddling past the restriction was fine and on the south side the shore was shallow but stony with some plants growing.  I saw that there were no tent rings or any signs of sod houses.  The soil in this area has no sod, it is dry and stony.

On the way out I briefly toured the other side of the T.  Even though it looked interesting I decided that it was too small to be another ammassat site.

The map showed only a small freshwater feed to that area.

All along this T on the south side there were places where it was possible to camp but fresh water was only available at each end and nowhere else.

When I toured the south side of the island it was amazing how inhospitable that area really was.  There was hardly anything other than bare rock drop offs and not a single source of fresh water flowing on the surface.  I was quite shocked.  Thee was really no place to camp on the south side.

I paddled back to my campsite glad I had finally after all these years actually found an ammassat site.

In 2009 I found another site viewed I the photo below which does not look like much until you get out and walk on the beach.  Along the edge of the stream were netting devices left there by the last fishermen when they were last there in June.



This photo is a scan of the map showing where this site is located.



Before this site was this waterfall that is marked on the map above.



I find it is always best to explore by kayak when looking for interesting places.




Gail Ferris 02/07/09