Published Jun 17th 2011

This river is something special, even on Iceland


Large Icelandic salmon

Vatnsdalsá river is famous for its large salmon. Many anglers get a big surprise when they see the monsters showing themselves in this rather small river. But it is more than that. This was the first full catch & release river in Iceland and is a role model for other rivers.

Vatnsdalsá [pronounced vad'ns-dalsau*] is a salmon river located in the north west Iceland. The river runs through the lush Vatnsdalur. The salmon can run 40 kilometer or almost 25 miles until they reach the majestic waterfall Dalsfoss.
The very lower part of the river is rather flat, but the first pool on the river is also the most famous one. It is located just 1 kilometer or less than a mile upstream from the bridge where the main road 1 crosses the river.
It is without doubt the pool that holds the largest amount of 10kg/20lbs salmon in Iceland. The pool is called Hnausastrengur. It is the first stop for the salmon, but throughout the whole season, it holds lots of fish and from mid season until the river closes in end of September, I think it's safe to say that it is packed with salmon. When fishing late season, you will see many really big salmon breaking the surface just a few meters from you. Many are caught but many run away with your fly...
Hnausastrengur is a long pool and is fished from the top in the hard water and about 120 meters or 400' downstream. It's a great pool to fish with the rifling hitch, and to see a monster salmon mouth break the surface to pull down your small hitch fly just beats anything. In the lower part of the pool, the current evens out and it's most effective to fish small flies on a long leader and floating line. The river might look more boring here but the salmon are there! Putting some extra life into the fly by stripping it a bit will prove that...

The river

There are a few pools above Hnausastrengur before the river enters the lake Flóðið, which is not fished. These pools are only fished when the salmon are running.
From where the river enters the lake and just over 10 kilometers upstream is a a trout beat that is sold separately. A few salmon are caught here but mainly sea trout and sea run Arctic char.


Above the trout beat is the rest of the salmon area which including Hnausastrengur below the lake has 4 beats that is fished with 8 rods in all. There is a lot of space for each rod but most people fish the same pools which is advantage for the angler who wants to try other pools that are often untouched.
The river is small to medium sized and has a steady current. There are lots of small holding spots hidden here and there, especially in the hard water but also bigger pools and deep holes. Beat 4 is canyon fishing were you can "sight fish" many places. A small pool where its easy to spot the salmon from the cliff is Stekkjarfoss where there is a fish ladder to the upper river. Here you can look right down on the salmon, but they are easy to spook so be careful. The ones holding in the lower part of the pool can be hitched, but otherwise it pays off the cross the river and upstream fish the salmon standing in the upper pool.
Above the ladder and up to Dalsfoss is not fished much. I think its because you have to walk and work more, but some people that I know who fish there say its fantastic. I have no personal experience here, but will definitely try it this year. So far, there has been so many small spots on the lower river to explore.

Vatnsdalsá views

Another famous pool on the Vatnsdalsá is called Ármótahylur which is the junction of the small river Álka and Vatnsdalsá. This pool is small an shallow but usually packed with salmon. Often when coming to the pool in the autumn, you see nothing. You fish it through one time and then it seems that the old salmon get irritated and then start sticking their big jaws over the surface showing off.
This is a fantastic pool to fish. Every second of when your fly is in this pool, you know a salmon is looking at it and if you could see it from above, I'm sure many of them are chasing the fly. But the salmon are difficult unless they are fresh from the sea.
The small Álka river also holds salmon but is not fished much. It comes with the beat 3 but it impossible to fish it all unless you just focus on the Álka one day and then rest the many pools on Vatnsdalsá.

*) Those #&/)[? Icelandic names!
If you find Icelandic names strange in spelling and impossible to pronounce, you are absolutely right! The names are both strange and difficult. Here is a small phonetic breakdown of the location names found in this article.

Vatnsdalsá: vad'ns-dalsau
Hnausastrengur: nausa-strengurr
Stekkjarfoss: staek'yarr-foss
Ármótahylur: owmo'ta'hilurr
Flóðið: flowthith
Álka: owl'ka
Generally, the Vatnsdalsá is perfect water for fly fishing and the variation makes it so nice to fish. There are both small and big salmon, but you will find some of the biggest fish in Iceland. All salmon over 10 kilos or 22 lbs. are considered very big fish in Iceland, and in Vatnsdalsá, there are quite a few of them.
The salmon are quite compact in this river and normally a 100 centimeter or 40" salmon is 10 kilos or about 22 lbs., but in Vatnsdalsá, it can easily weigh 11 kilos or towards 24 lbs. A few years ago, a monster of 115 centimeters or a hefty 45" was caught in Hnausastrengur and fish that size are there every season.
In 2010, a similar or even bigger one was lost in the small pool called Rofabakki. You see fish this size now and then and get a chock every time.
Vatnsdalsá is not a easy river, you have to work to get fish here, but this makes it even more fun. The fish are there, so it's only up to the angler's skills to get them.
When you succeed, you might get blown away. I did in 2010 when I landed 3 salmon of app. 9.2, 10 and 10.5 kilos in a row (three fish over 20 lbs)! Some might say that the biggest one was even bigger bigger since a fish of similar length was caught just after, and weighed in at 11.6 kilos, but who cares? This was an amazing catch, and maybe a once in a lifetime experience.
A shame about the two salmon of 64 and 66 centimeters (both 25+ inches) that I caught the same day, they ruined the average weight! No, just kidding, but it just shows that crazy things can happen on the Vatnsdalsá, and I can only imagine hooking a 115 centimeter salmon here...

The manager

The Vatnsdalsá has been leased by Guy Geffroy and Pétur Pétursson since 1997. Since then the river has been a full catch & release river and fly only. In my opinion this is a great step to protect this unique genetic code of wild big salmon, which we are rare here in Iceland. But luckily, more rivers are following, but I still haven't seen anybody with Pétur Péturssons passion for what he is doing. Besides doing a excellent job with the river, he is the daily manager and that is also one of the reasons why people love to come to this river. He runs an excellent lodge with gourmet food and takes good care of every client. Many rivers make me feel like it's just business, but Pétur makes it feel more like home and sends you off after fishing with a smile.

The river is popular and it's difficult to get a license even though it's a very expensive river. Many anglers come again and again. This tells something about the package you get here. But its possible and I always try to get some rods "in stock" so just ask. You can only buy 3 days at a time, and I recommend adding a guide to it. I guide here myself but otherwise there is a good hard working guiding team available.

The author

Season: 19th June - 30th September
Extent: 40 kilometers or 25 miles
Average 5 year catch: 1.250 salmon per year
Rods: 8
Lodge: Full service
Notes: Fly only with full catch & release
Lease holder: Pétur Pétursson

User comments
From: Stig · stigekkert·at·  Link
Submitted September 1st 2013

Do not forget the number of fish. In Skjern you catch (on average) a salmon after 20 days of fishing in 2013 - so now the price is cheaper in Iceland 250 euro/salmon - in Skjern you pay 500 euro to catch one salmon( 20x 25 euro= 500 euro/salmon)

From: paul wolters · wolt006·at·  Link
Submitted March 30th 2012

ridicilus prices not normal enymore i wander hou the economic in icland is.
you can just about to pay 25.00 euro and fish in danmark in skjern a a river full with salmon
and esay to get a licencs
so i am sorry icland but im not going ,to pay 500.00 euro a day

From: Sven - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted January 26th 2012

FishIceland is a great place to find salmon and trout angling in Iceland

Want to comment this page? Fill out the form below.
Only comments
in English
are accepted!

Comentarios en Ingles
solamente, por favor!

Your name Your email
Anonymize my information. Name and email will not be shown with comment.
Notify me on new comments to this article on the above email-address.
You don't have to comment to start or stop notifications.

All comments will be screened by the GFF staff before publication.
No HTML, images, ads or links, please - we do not publish such comments...
And only English language comments will be published.
Name and email is optional but recommended.
The email will be shown in a disguised form in the final comment to protect you against spam
You can see other public comments on this page