“It’s a way of life, like surfing or yoga,” explained Jasper Pääkkönen. “More than an actor or entrepreneur or even a Finn, I consider myself a fly fisherman.”
Pääkkönen is also a busy man. A very successful actor in his country — the Finnish tabloid IltaSanomat once called him Finland’s “most profitable film actor” — Pääkkönen also stars on the popular History Channel series Vikings (as Halfdan the Black), is currently working on a new Spike Lee film, Black Klansman, owns online and brick-and-mortar (in the central Finland town of Jyväskylä) fly gear shops, and is a co-proprietor of Helsinki’s Löyly, the largest public sauna in Finland.
“Which probably makes it the largest in the world,” he says. The sauna is attached to a restaurant/cafe/bar/lounge — more businesses in which Pääkkönen has a hand.
An ardent environmentalist, Pääkkönen recently became an ambassador for Patagonia. He appreciates what the brand does to promote sustainability and stewardship of the world’s natural resources and takes pride in being an ambassador.
“Although when Yvon [Chouinard, the legendary Patagonia founder] visited Helsinki, we didn’t get a chance to go fishing, but we’ve been speaking about fishing in the US,” Pääkkönen said.
In spite of his jam-packed schedule, Pääkkönen finds time to take fishing trips and represent Finnish fly fishing manufacturer Vision In Fly Fishing as a member of its World Team.
“I spend several months shooting every year, but then I usually have a few months off when I can fish,” he says.
Pääkkönen is a lifelong reeler.
“In Finland you learn to fish around the time you learn to walk,” he says. “I started with a worm and hook when I was three.”
He’d fish the rivers near his home and would go on summer trout fishing trips in the north of Finland.
When Pääkkönen was eleven years old, he developed an interest in fly fishing. But his parents balked at the idea of outfitting him with expensive fly gear if it was something he was just going to lose interest in.
“My birthday is in the summer and they got me a fly tying kit,” he says. “My parents said, ‘If you’re still interested when Christmastime comes, we’ll get you a rod and reel as a Christmas present.’ So, I tied flies for months, and I was still interested. I got my first fly rod that Christmas. And I had a good set of flies to get started with.”
A quarter-century later, Pääkkönen is swinging and stripping all over the world. He takes regular fishing trips to the Russian tundra, where he and his fishing comrades are dropped by helicopter.
They chase Atlantic salmon — one of Pääkkönen’s favorite target species — for days, camping and fishing under 24 hour sunlight. Then, they’re picked up and flown back to civilization.
Pääkkönen also has a penchant for flats fishing on the fly. Cuba, where he targets tarpon, is one of his favorite destinations. But he’s concerned about how the burgeoning hunger for tourist dollars may affect the fishery.
“It’s a matter of educating and striking a balance,” he says. “Places with these pristine fisheries need to understand that keeping them pristine is what’s going to bring in the tourism and recreation income. Sustainability and tourism go hand-in-hand.”
With Pääkkönen’s ambassadorship, more folks will certainly get the message.