Iceland, 5½ days
Iceland is best known for its salmon fishing, but the island has some of the world's best brown trout fishing too... and arctic char... and sea trout. So GFF partner Martin Joergensen and his friend Asger Olesen had 5½ great days of fishing the summer of 2003.
It was going to be a brief encounter. We knew that already from the start. Five and a half days with a very tight schedule and some long car rides and maybe even domestic flights to cover all the places we wanted to see.
Well... five and a half days with little food, little sleep, uncomfortable travelling - and lots of fishing in some of the world's best trout waters...? Such is life!
Coming to Iceland means coming into contact with some authorities that mean serious business. Icelandic fishing is high quality and Icelandic waters are amongst the ones in the world that are not infected with foreign fungi, bacteria and parasites. And the authorities want to keep it that way, so all your gear must be thoroughly cleaned before entering the country.
You can opt to do it yourself, authorised by a veterinarian or similar authority. You can also choose to let the locals do what they do so well: charge quite a lot of money for what seems to be very little. We looked into the first option and decided against it, opting for a cleaning in the airport, where the staff will disappear behind a door with your rods, reels and waders, emerging half a minute later with the gear - and a bill summing up to 600 Icelandic kroners a set. The treatment took five minutes behind closed doors, and no trace af it was left on the gear. No wonder this country has very high standards of living.
Never the less it's the easiest way to get the gear disinfected, and trust us: this is peanuts compared to other expenses on Iceland.
We took the airport bus into Reykavik where Asger's friend Bjarni picked us up and brought us to his home in Reykavik where we were to stay the first night.
Our friend - guide Jon Eyfjord - picked us up early the next morning, and drove us directly to the river Varma/Thorleifslaekur, less than an hour's drive from Reykjavik.
For many Icelandic fly fishers, this is where you start the fly fishing season during springtime. We were here late in the season in August, and the weather was grey and misty with scattered showers.
The river is one of Iceland's extremely many rivers holding trout and salmon. It's placed in a geothermal area around the village Hveragerdi, known for the many greenhouses benefiting from the hot water in the ground.
While fishing this river, expect a geysir to erupt every thirty seconds or so, bursting boiling water more than twenty meters up in the air. The green hillsides with hot steam emerging from the ground here and there and the geysir eruptions makes this a remarkable fishing experience. The river is a great and well known seatrout river, and our guide was surprised that we didn't catch a sea trout in the first few casts.
He would point out a particular spot:
- Cast there, and let it drift over there...
We would cast precisely according to his excellent instructions and he would look at the water in honest surprise that nothing happened.
- Again, a bit closer to the bank!
Again a nice cast, and perfect drift and no reactions. And again astonishment in his eyes.
We scooted upstream a bit, then downstream and even though we cast the right size 10 Black Ghosts in the exact right spots all we caught in Varma were some small brown trout.
After this wet day we went back to Bjarni's and Anetta's warm and dry apartment enjoying a quiet evening, a warm shower and a soft bed.
Next day we fished for salmon.
And yes, salmon fishing in Iceland is indeed expensive. We had come to fish trout in Iceland, but the opportunity given, well... who would turn down the chance to fish for Icelandic salmon?
Yttri Ranga (the western Ranga) a little further from Reykjavik than Varma/Thorleiflaekur was available to us.
We fished the upper beat, above a large waterfall. Below the fall they caught salmon. Too many. And probably too easy!
We flogged the water above the fall - almost to no avail. After a few hours of fishing Asger's line tightened, and a salmon showed itself and gave a good fight for about thirty seconds, before it continued it's journey upstream. That hurt!
Martin was fishing his 10 weight two hand rod, and apart from the sheer poetry in motion of casting, his biggest experience was struggling with two heavy Snelda flies on the tippet on Jon's recommendation.
The water is perfect for the two handed rod. Lots of water to cover, easy wading, even currents and long stretches of uniform, fairly shallow water with the odd boulder or underwater rock strewn in plus the variation of the river's meandering through the landscape. Martin's heavy combo enticed a single fish to follow at one point, but he had no strikes or other contacts.
Asger's fish was the only salmon we saw. Well, Jon, our guide, caught one, but the guide catching fish doesn't really count, does it...?
Our theory was that the salmons stayed in the pool just below the fall, where the fishing was obviously very productive.
The upper beat first opens by August the 1st, supplying new, endless miles of riverbank upstream. We walked for at least 5 kilometres (3 miles), and saw plenty very nice water, but no salmon. We could catch the odd brown trout if we wanted. None big, but still beautiful. But who wants to fish for small brownies on salmon water priced 1,000 US$ per day per rod?
Usually the salmon beats in this price range are very productive, but for us it proved to be hard work with little outcome.
As soon as the fish would start moving upstream, we were sure that the beat would become an excellent stretch of water with plenty salmon to catch.
Trout up north
No, salmon fishing is definitely for the far-too-rich-guys and not common folk like us.
We had come to Iceland to experience the great trout fishing, and we found it in the northern part of the island.
After one night's drive through Iceland, sleeping a couple of hours in the small town off Skagafjordur, we were at the banks of Litla. This great river in the north-east part of Iceland, east of Husavik, offers you everything. Deep stretches with challenging nymph fishing, varied bends great for streamers, and slower stretches with arctic char. We even found a large, shallow and very calm pool were Martin managed to get a couple of small fish to take a dry - a Black Funnel. actually.
We caught some fine trout in Litla, and Martin even made an Icelandic grand slam: a seatrout, a brownie and an arctic char caught the same day.
Nymphing and streaming
Martin chose to fish with deeply fished nymphs most of the time, in spite of the tradition in Iceland leaning more towards streamer fishing. A heavy nymph and a strike indicator proved to be as lethal here as anywhere in the world where trout roam.
Just below a deeply undercut bank he managed to cast his rig about 3 metres into the gale and get a drift of maybe 3-4 meters before his indicator blew into the grassy bank.
Even under those less-than-optimal conditions his beadhead flies brought several nice fish to hand, including the sea trout comprising a third of the grand slam and several brown trout in absolutely decent sizes.
Asger was casting streamers in the more traditional down-and-across manner favoured by most locals, and this also proved to be productive - particularly on necks and more shallow runs of the river.
Jon had arranged a small cabin close to the river for us. We rode there after having bought groceries and eaten a meal. The cabin was fine, and we slept well and long in real beds.
Our last day of fishing was on the lower part of the well known salmon river Laxa, also called Big Laxa.
The river also supplied some fine trout fishing, but is entirely different than Litla. It is wide and slow and not nearly as changeable as Litla. On the other hand it has a lot of surface activity and due to its large, calm surface begs to be fished with a dry fly.
But even though it was a very attractive water it proved to be a challenge to fish. Half of the time we had pouring rain - cats and dogs and not really promoting to dries. And there was a lot of green stuff in the water - algae and weed flushed down from the lake above the dam and really an annoying menace to all types of fishing.
A rock and a hard place
So we were caught between a rock and a hard place in selecting method:
- Fish a streamer or a nymph and be forced to pick off green goo from every fly, knot and indicator between every cast - very well knowing that within seconds of the fly landing in the water it would be covered again.
Fish a dry fly with little surface activity going on and rain hammering onto the water, drowning the fly and disabling you from seeing anything happening out there.
In spite of the tough odds, we managed to perform both streamer-, nymph- and dryfly fishing, catching several fine trout.
Unfortunately Jon's wife was taken ill, and we had to break off fishing. We almost decided to join him back to Reykavik, but changed our minds last minute. We took him to the airport, did a bit of shopping and returned to the last few hours of fishing in Laxa.
And had things changed? They sure had. The rain was gone, the wind had calmed, and we even had a bit of sun as it was setting. Our evening turned into a great fishing adventure, where we followed local customs and fished streamers down and across, stripping them back at high paces. And we had fish in the surface, fish following and fish taking. Casting to a spot with surface activity almost surely brought a fish's attention and we both had a ball.
Wish we could have stayed!
But we had to stop. I called to Asger that time was up, but he was busy reeling in a nice trout. I was literally breaking my rod down and on my way to pack the car, while he was fighting the last fish.
Wish we could have stayed! Really!
The last rush
But we had to leave. There was a plane to catch and a rental car to return first. And we had to fill the tank and clean it out a bit - and maybe get our stuff just a little more organised before checking it in at Akureyri Airport.
We flew low through the beautiful landscapes and hit a gas station on the way into town. I cleaned out the back of the car while Asger filled the tank.
We hurried to the airport where I tried to compress the luggage and stuff rods into rod tubes while Asger dropped off the car.
As we checked in, the final call sounded in the speakers, and the engines were running as they pulled up the stairs behind us.
We were off to Reykavik, where we once again would be picked up by Bjarni and enjoy his hospitality before leaving for Copenhagen the next day.
Trout fishing in Iceland is as well regulated as the famous salmon fishing, and as good indeed. You'll find that there is space enough, allowing for fishing a river almost without meeting fellow flyfishers a whole day. The trout are truly wild, and there are more off them than in most other rivers in the world, and some rivers host really huge fish. It's comparatively expensive though, but quality does cost.
For more information about this great fishing, go to Trophytrout.is where you will find packaged trips with or without guide at reasonable prices.
Bjarni and Jon - good friends make a fishing trip tenfold better!
Almost no dry flies - it can be done, but don't go to Iceland with only dries in the box
Travelling in Iceland
High prices - expect everything to be expensive, not only the fishing. Iceland has a very high standard of living, and we tourists pay our part of that
Some of the flies
This tube fly is a popular local variation of the Frances style. Tied on heavy tubes and on occasions fished two at a time - a black and red one - just sliding a second fly on the hook before attaching a tube treble.
A great looking Icelandic pattern for Bleika. The color combination is rare as is the beading of a streamer.
This strange contraption is actually a modern salmon fly. I originally posted it her as a classical salmon fly, dating back to Victorian England and not at all as modern as it looks. That was wrong!
This turned out not to be quite true. Some online sources quote contemporary British fly dresser Peter Deane as the originator, and I have since confirmed this. The Icelandic site The Frances actually has the whole story, which was originally told in Wild Stealhead and Salmon in March 1998, and it tells amongst other things that "The fly was originally made by the imaginative fly tier Peter Deane from England in 1964 and named after his excellent fly-tying assistant Miss Frances Hydon." With that in place I crawl back under my (Icelandic) rock.