Fishing techniques in the Viking Age

In Northern Norway, settlement along the coast has been a norm, as they lived most of the sea, which gave them easy access to the coast and the sea’s diverse resources. Older petroglyphs tell us that the boat was probably used from the first settlement in Northern Norway, and archaeological material tells us that there probably were fishing settlements on Fure (north of Bodø) established 11,000 years ago. In terms of rock art, the area between North Helgeland and Ofoten has a very special type of rock art.
Not only because they are the oldest we have in Norway, but also because we do not find anything like it anywhere else in the world. These traces can be found on the outer coast and on islands. The boat was a tool that made it possible, for prehistoric people, to keep in touch with different parts of the country and to fish and gather maritime resources. In the Viking Age, the Vikings had various fishing gear at their disposal. The first, as mentioned earlier, was the boat. They also had Juksa fishing, dorg fishing and net fishing.
It is possible that they also had other techniques, but due to the nature of fishing, many traces lie below the shoreline or have been eroded by the ravages of time. The type of fishing that worked best was usually passed on to the next generation, everything else was forgotten.
One of the oldest features of a Nordland farm was a boathouse. Most boathouses vary in size, but most that have been found are in a smaller size, for smaller boats that can be used mainly for fishing. In some areas, such as on Vestvågøy, there is a greater concentration of larger boathouses, which could probably accommodate larger ships.
This may indicate that there was more extensive fishing in this municipality, which was under the direction of the chieftain, Olaf Tvennumbruni. It may also be due to how the sea behaved in the area. High and low tides play an important role when it comes to assessments about construction of boathouses.
Sinker rig fishing is a simple technique that involves using a hand line, sinker, foreboard and hook. In this technique, you keep the tool in constant motion through powerful and regular strokes. This was something that could be done from the boat with the extra help of a spooler.
Trolling fishing was probably something that was most commonly used for fishing for saithe in Northern Norway and works by letting a line with a hook and sinker be dragged behind a rowing boat. Torolling fishing items have been found at Borg and dated to be from 550-900 During the excavation of Borg (1981-1989), nine fish sinkers were found, but it is possible that there were more. The designs of a sinker are very similar to a loom.
Net fishing is an old tradition, but one that is difficult to date due to the material used. In prehistoric times, material from either plants or animals was often used, which has meant that nets are rarely preserved in an archaeological context. Nets dated to the Early Stone Age have been found in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, indicating how long the nets have been in use.
The use of nets is to throw a net into the water and fish should get stuck in the meshes. Net fishing was primarily used for salmon fishing and saithefishing. We have few finds of fishing nets, we are therefore looking for secondary material to confirm that the use of fishing nets. Secondary finds are objects such as net sticks, net floats, net needles and net spools.
From the Viking Age, there has been a story about how the fishingnet was first created. In short: Loki had offended the other gods and was on the run. During the day, he hid in a river like a salmon, and at night he sat in a hut. Loki thought to himself how other gods could possibly catch him, and while he thought about this, he tied ropes together into a net, and it was possible to catch a fish in such a net. This is how Loki created the first fishing net.
Loki heard the gods approaching one day and cast nets over some embers and hid in the river like a salmon. When the gods arrived, they found remnants of the net in the embers and Loki like a salmon in the river. Kvase, one of the wisest of the gods, remembered the net in the embers and made a new net that the gods held between them as they went up the river and emptied it of fish and captured Loki.


Guerber, H. (2017). Tales of Norse Mythology. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.  

Helberg, B. (1993). Fiskeriteknologi som uttrykk for sosial tilhørighet: En studie av nordnorsk fiske i perioden 400-1700 e.Kr. [Master’s thesis]. Universitetet i Tromsø. 

Holberg, E. & Røskraft, M. (2015). Håløygriket (1. Ed.). Fagbokforlaget. 

Johansen, O, S., Kristiansen, K. & Much, G. S. (2003). Soapstone artefacts and whetstones. In Johansen, O, S., Munch, G, S. & Roesdahl, E. (Ed.), Born in Lofoten: A chieftain’s farm in North Norway. (ss.141-166). Tapir academic press. 

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Lofotr Viking Museum

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