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First published August 8th 2003 - More than 11 years ago
Catching large salmon in River Mandal - a river better known for its grilse - in the Southern part of Norway.
My friend Ole's voice sounded sincere and I certainly took his question seriously.
I knew he was serious because he is the editor-in-chief of the largest Danish fishing magazine, and occasionally gets offered such trips. I knew he hated asking me, because he on the other hand knew that I had planned a two week long fishing trip to Colorado a few weeks later.
Flies and gear
Before the trip my only salmon rod was a 14' 10 weight two hand salmon rod and an accompanying Bringsen anti reverse reel. A swell combination that has brought me through salmon fishing before. But for lighter fishing as we could expect it on the Mandal, I'd prefer a shorter and lighter rod. A 11-12' 8 weight would be perfect.
I used to have one.
I actually still do, but a friend of a friend unfortunately turned a perfect 3-piece rod into a useless 4-piece when he borrowed it on the Swedish river Mörrum. It was a cheap rod that I had bought used, and I never got around to ask him to replace it.
Under all circumstances: I needed a lighter rod.
I checked friends and connections for a good offer, but found none.
I referred to the web, soared through a couple of web sites with used stuff, and stumbled over a Daiwa Whisker 12' for sale for less than 100 US$.
One phone call, a bicycle trip to a neighborhood close by and I was a light salmon rod wealthier. Like most of you I have lines to serve an army and reels to hold them too, so within long I was ready.
I tied up a bunch of small salmon flies on double hooks, and added a few light tube flies tied on my favorite Bidoz tubes. I packed boxes with what else I had that would look good in the jaw of a 5 kilo salmon.
When it darkens in places like this, it really darkens. This time of year there is no stripe of light on the horizon, and wading in an unknown river can feel somewhat exciting.
We spotted a nice stretch from a bridge, parked the car and rigged our rods. As we approached the water we had only the last light to navigate by, and as we entered the darkness swept around us.
Fishing in the night like this has always been a great pleasure to me. I feel much more concentrated and you learn how to cast by feeling the rod rather than by watching and thinking.
My light two hand rod acted like a dream. Easy and effortless casting, nice reach even though I rarely shoot much line when fishing at night.
The water was shallow with a deeper run close to the shore. I found a gravel bar to walk on, and started fishing my way downstream with a small orange tube fly on the tippet. I snagged a couple of times, but found the edge of the deeper water and started fishing concentrated.
My first fish...
The next morning we had arranged with a local guide to give us a trip along the river. We rode his old car upstream, and stopped to inspect each of the interesting spots on the stream. Mandal is divided into four zones.
Zone 1 downstream closest to the sea is wide, slowly flowing and deep. This pool is fished from boat, and was not particularly interesting to us. The most remarkable thing we saw there was a big net of the kind that swings across and almost closes off the river. More on that later.
Zone 2 is a very interesting and varying stretch. It is divided into dozens of small beats, that can be fished by 2-6 people each day. This is the most expensive part of the river.
Zone 3 and 4 are open stretches with much variation and no division into beats. These zones are fairly inexpensive and large enough to hold dozens of people. A long stretch in the middle of these zones is closed for fishing due to the fact that most of the water here is taken and used for hydroelectricity. Between the intake and outflow the river runs very low. The fish only pass this stretch during a so called lokkeflom - a rise in the water that runs through the natural river to entice the fish to travel further upstream. The river is heavily influenced by the use of water for hydroelectricity and regulated and marred in many places.
Other stretches are beautiful, naturally floating sections where most people would find the ambience and type of landscape they would expect from a nice Norwegian river.
The first real fish
I heard the intensity.
I was already running, and right enough: Ole was posed on the bank, rod deeply bent and his eyes very concentrated on the spot where his line disappeared into the water.
We both estimated the fish to be more than decent, and Ole handled the situation with the respect that is required when connection with a decent fish is so rare.
I personally scooted around and clicked off dozens of photos of him.
The next day we had ample time to enjoy the landscape and play tourists before we were destined to fish on a beat in zone 2. We drove along the Kongeveien (King's Road), which is a picturesque gravel road that goes along the right river bank when facing downstream. This brought us by some very scenic and appetizing parts of the river and by the large fall Haugefossen in the northern part of zone 2. The fall is known to be very productive, and the pool just below the fall is the most expensive on the whole river with a price tag of NKK 1500.- or about 200 US$. This includes a primitive cabin and the right to fish two anglers on the beat 24 hours from 6 PM to 6 PM the next day. The stretch is mostly fished with sinkers and worms and is not really suited for flyfishing.
Many other zone 2 beats have ideal flyfishing stretches. That was the case with the beat we had access to. Hauge B is located just downstream from the large pool below the Haugefoss. Where the river exits the lake like pool, it forms a fast and very inviting stretch after which it widens into a broad, shallow and slow mass of water.
We fished our beat shortly in the evening before dark and the whole next day until our licenses ran out at 6 PM, but even though we saw many smaller fish moving upstream, we did not feel a single one attempting at our flies.
In the evening of our last Mandal day we decided to visit Zone 3 again. This would reveal itself to be a wise choice. We scooted a bit up and down the stream and found different stretches to fish. All were very inviting indeed except perhaps the stone walled stretch just below the outlet from the power turbines.
We settled down on a stretch with shallow and slow water on one side and faster deeper water close to the opposite bank. A bit downstream the river ran over a ledge and formed a wide rapid while the upstream stretch was more narrow and deep.
I concentrated on the deeper water under the opposite bank and Ole followed the current downstream. As darkness quietly settled over the river, I saw many small salmon moving upstream, but the most profound sign of life was hundreds of rings from brown trout or grayling rising over the weedy, shallow part.
I truly missed my small 4 weight split cane rod and a bunch of caddis flies, which would have given me a lot more action than I saw on my two hand rod and my salmon flies.
I was resting up a tree in the darkness when Ole returned.
"Any luck?" He asked.
All I could do was tell him no.
"How about yourself?", I replied.
That was when the smirky smile broke on his lips and he turned and dropped a fish on the ground.
If not he had caught another one in the same size! A shiny female, probably somewhere between six and seven kilos or upwards towards fourteen punds!
So much for River Mandal… the grilse and small salmon river in the Southern Norway.
Some of the patterns
B & B
B & O