The Mörrum Circus
How I fell in love with the thought of catching an Atlantic salmon larger than 10 kilos or 20 lbs. in the River Mörrum in Sweden
By Martin Joergensen
The Swedish river Mörrum (The letter ö is pronounced like the i in bird) is a noticeable river in many respects. Not only is it one of the most productive salmon rivers in Scandinavia, but it also holds some of the largest Atlantic salmon in the world and it is fairly easily accessible to the public with licenses available on a daily basis.
Fishing for huge atlantic salmon in the beautiful river is an experience that makes you urge for more. I went there for four days in June 2001 and cannot wait to return.
Not that easy
Even though the river is open to the public, it is not necessarily that easy to get a license. The licenses can be expensive and hard to obtain, especially in the beginning and end of the season in May and September.
Fishers will sign themselves up for licenses a year in advance, and there is a draw in the winter deciding who gets a rod. Usually there are plenty more fishers signed up than licenses, but unfortunately that is partially because it is common practice for a party to exploit the right to sign up both themselves and the rest of the party.
If each man in the party does this - which is widespread - a party of five can appear as 25 applicants. This will of course raise their chances in the draw, but at the same time means that a very false picture of the popularity of this river is sketched.
It also tips the fairness of the draw a bit off balance lessening the chances for single individuals applying.
...but that is a whole different story.
Of course you can get a license anyhow. Many of the reserved licenses will never be picked up, and getting a license for the period from mid or late June to early or mid September is not that difficult. Calling or mailing in will usually result in a quick answer, and mostly you can get licenses for any day. Of course this means that you have to be ready to move with short warning, but then again: following the reports and conditions online and improvising a quick trip when everything is at its best, is not at all a bad idea.
Mörrum is a medium large river by Scandinavian standards. It runs from north to south in the Swedish Blekinge and ends in Pukaviken in the Baltic Sea after a run which leads it through a long stretch of southern Sweden.
The stretch you can fish is only 7 kilometres (about 5 miles) which might not sound much, but to me still seems more than adequate. It is divided into 32 zones or pools with half (1-16) being downstream from the town Mörrum and the rest (17-32) being above. Below the town the pool numbers increase towards the sea, and the pool numbers also increase when you move upstream from pool 1 and the rapids Kungsfossen in Mörrum town. This means that pool 1 and 17 are next to each other.
The river meanders beautifully through the lush Swedish forest and even in the town where houses are built quite close to the banks and the surroundings are more park like than like a forest, the beauty is undeniable.
Even though we are not talking a pristine river out in nowhere, we are talking some very interesting fishing. This river is known to produce some of the largest salmon in Scandinavia and still it is mostly accessible to anyone who wants to fish it.
My initial reservations
My own personal attitude towards the Mörrum was one of "who wants to fish in a salmon circus?". The location of the river, the surroundings and the number of fishers rumoured to fish the river every day had me deterred from going there in many years.
I had heard stories of the spectators that gathered when a fish was hooked and stories about their comments on the style and methods of the fisher. The accounts of crowds known to wait in line for their turn on the most productive pools, were also more than I could tolerate. Waiting in line for my turn? Never!
The price was also a deterrent. Even though SEK 4-600.- (about 50.- US$) might not sound steep for prime Atlantic salmon, a week long fishing trip at 300 dollars did sound a bit on the expensive side. Taking into account my other reservations for this place, that level kept it in the too-expensive-for-the-result league.
That was until I got there!
Love at first sight
It was love at first sight. I arrived by train mid June to join my friend Ken and his friend Kent, who had fished for a couple of days.
I was picked up at the train station, and we immediately proceeded to pool 17 where the two had been fishing. The evening was nice, cool, calm and the river was flowing along steadily with a very moderate amount of water.
The pool lies deep with the wood on one side and the old fish smoking factory on the other side. Most fishing takes place from the forest bank and you fish towards the opposite bank while moving downstream - in this case to the left, which is the easy way for a right hand caster.
Two hand rods
Almost all fishing is done with two hand rods - or Spey rods as they are often referred to in the US. In Scandinavia we just call them two hand rods.
Mörrum is the perfect water for a two hand rod. The majority of the water is unsuitable for overhand casts because of the trees, which grow close along most banks.
In most cases you do not want to wade out too far in spite of the trees. This is both because you do not want to disturb the fish, and secondly because you want to stay on your feet! Lots of stretches of the river are too rough or deep to wade, especially when the water runs a little high as is often the case in the beginning of the season.
Fortunately it is rare to cast an overhand cast with a two hander. The most common casts are the underhand cast, Spey cast or roll cast or some more or less home made hybrid of the three. I will refer to the casting style as underhand, because this is what most of the casts you see on Mörrum come closest to.
The beauty of an underhand cast is that you can reach out quite far without ever having the line behind you. The best casters easily cover 30-40 meters or something like 100-130 feet, which might seem impossible if you never tried it, but actually is possible to accomplish with some routine and training.
The cast becomes fairly easy within a day or two of learning, and is perfectly suited for large running waters with little space for a back cast.
At the same time it is appropriate for heavier lines and larger flies, again spot on for large river salmon fishing. And to top the whole thing off, the long rods ranging from 12.5 feet to 15 are eminent for fighting big fish in rough water. So two handers and salmon fishing are a perfect match. See the sidebar for more information on the underhand cast.
So there I was. A beautiful evening in June, watching the fishers going through pool 17. I just looked, snapped a few pictures and enjoyed the scene.
We saw no fish caught, but passed by the shed where the fish are weighed, registered, and cleaned, to savour the day's catches.
And it is quite impressing to go through a list of Atlantic salmon, where few are smaller than 7-8 kilos (15 lbs.), and quite a few weigh more than 10 kilos, even 15. That is 30 lbs.!
In Mörrum it is most common to kill and keep your catch. Regulations say that one salmon can be kept per day per fisher, and a very good day in June will produce 20-30 fish while a more typical day will feature plus/minus 10 fish in the log. Prime season and good periods can produce a hundred fish or more in a day.
All log entries are published on the Internet, and that particular day can still be seen on Mörrum's web site, which unfortunately does not allow direct links to specific days any more. The catch was an impressing 23 salmon with the largest weighing in at more than 14 kilos or 28 lbs. and the smallest being a 2.5 kilo or 5 lbs. fish which is quite small for that time of year.
The next morning I was ready, picking up my two day license as soon as the office opened and scooting off to the water with my friend Ken.
I really enjoyed my first two ever days on Mörrum. The beauty of the stream, the casting, wading the heavy currents, listening to the water and not least seeing the salmon.
Yes, you see salmon. Lots of salmon. Many of the slower pools are resting spots for the fish, which leads to fights which again leads to fish surfacing and even jumping. A 10 kilo or 20 lbs. salmon jumping in a calm pool is quite an exhilarating view as is a dorsal fin on a large dark steel coloured back that cuts slowly through the water under your rod tip.
During a day you will probably see fish dozens of times. Not always while fishing, but quite often when walking along the bank.
One of the great experiences of fishing in Mörrum is the wading. The river is regulated upstream, but still runs quite wild and during the spring season it can be almost impossible to wade.
During May, June and July the water levels drop, and the further into the season you get, the easier the wading.
As you might know water has a lot of force, and wading waist deep on bottom that varies to say the least, can be somewhat a challenge.
As the river is fished by hundreds every week, the wading paths are well known and well documented. Most pools are fairly easy to read, and even with little experience in this type of fishing and wading, I felt quite comfortable from the first minute.
A sturdy wading staff can be highly recommended for the faint of heart, but many will do fine without.
I landed no salmon during my two days, which would also have been somewhat of a sensation. A lot of skilled fishers will fish for years before ever touching their first Mörrum salmon. But I hat two takes, and that alone I consider really good. Others are probably likely to consider it a strike of luck.
In one case I was fishing the slow Pool 4 where fish can bee seen endlessly rolling and fighting for space. I just dropped my line over a small neck before a slight fall, and smack, a fish hit violently! It came off immediately, but I was so thrilled and my heart pounding so hard I could have taken off and flown.
I had been waiting for a fisher getting off that particular spot after - despite all rules - having fished it with dozens of casts during a period of more than 15 minutes. In the end a fellow angler addressed him, and drew his attention to the fact that Mörrum is one cast one step downstream, and that you always leave a spot for the next man in line. In this case me.
My other take was in pool 12, a rough pool with some really nice runs. I had my eyes on a spot opposite the side I was wading, and when I once got out a perfect cast and the fly passed that spot just as it should, a large shape rose from the deep, took the fly and spit it out after one instant of contact.
My line and rod were electric in my hands, and my legs still shaking as I strode towards the bank after having finished that pool. I estimate the fish to be at least 10 kilos or 20 lbs.
Circus? What circus?
My first visit in Mörrum was a lot different than I had envisioned before I left home. I actually enjoyed the trip, and all the horror stories about crowds, queues, audiences and too heavily fished waters were proven to be if not wrong then highly exaggerated.
It was far from the circus I expected and I will certainly return any time possible. Hopefully I will be able to go there
Flies used in Mörrum is a wide variation of salmon flies like they are used many places in the world. A few patterns seem particularly efficient, especially in the low water conditions you might meet in June and July. Most locals favour smaller flies this time of year, and size 8 or 10 doubles are not unusual. Small black hair winged flies and the Swedish Bejs Fly, which is a strange colour somewhere between tan and light olive, are popular. One of the most famous flies from the river is the Ullsock (The Woolly Sock), which takes many fish every year. This sparsely dressed fly is excellent for most of the season on Mörrum and can be tied with both black and red hackle.
Different hues of rusty red are very popular colours on Mörrum, maybe because the water has a reddish, peaty tint most of the year.
I had my strikes on a fairly large palmered Red Tag tied on a double hook size 4.
Double salmon hook with a small silver tag, a black floss or yarn body hackled with three rows of black, brown or red hackle.
Double salon hook with a green and red butt, copper body and rib, red and yellow underwing and false hackle. Rusty red hair wing
Tuned T & L
Double salmon hook with gold tag. Black body with a warm yellow body hackle and gold rib. Throat hackle from blue dyed Guinea Fowl and wing from brown Arctic fox. Cheeks are jungle cock.
Poetry in motion. Mastering the underhand cast.
Underhand casting is difficult to explain, but fairly easy to learn and perform. I will try anyway. The idea is not to load the rod by casting it behind you like your usually do with a one hand rod, but obtain the line speed and rod tension by making what could be called a "turbo roll cast".
The motions are as this:
As a right handed caster you fish the rod with your right hand on top of the rod (above the reel) and your left on the small part below the reel.
Most right hand casters prefer fishing from the left bank facing downstream, but I find that casting left handed from the right bank is almost as easy as the opposite - quite contrary to casting a one hand rod where I am totally paralysed when I hold the rod in my left hand. The rest of this description applies to right handed casting from the left bank.
Going through the motionsFollowing a drift your line is fully extended somewhere between and angle across and downstream or straight downstream. In other words: the rod is pointing downstream.
You will typically be holding the rod with your right hand above the reel, grabbing the line with the same hand and resting the rod on your hip.
Now you strip in sufficiently line to prepare for a cast. That is usually to the belly of a WF line or the head of a shooting head system.
Again you lock the line with a couple of fingers on right hand and grab the bottom part of the rod handle with the left. Both hands remain surprisingly motionless through the next sequence - the top one acting as sort of bearing, allowing the rod to move freely above it.
Depending on the angle of the line you make a light roll cast across the river to bring it level or at least just slightly downstream from you. Some casters always omit this extra cast. I almost always do it. If you fish with sinking lines it is a nice way of lifting the line onto the surface.
Having extended the line in an angle not too far downstream from where you want to cast, you lift the line off the water by drawing the rod upstream, upwards and back to vertical. This is the really elegant and hard to describe part of the cast. Imagine that you are drawing an arc in the air to your right, starting off with a horizontal part in the bottom and ending in a vertical part above your head.
Ideally the line will lift completely off the water and form the arc that your rod tip just drew. The leader and fly will then drop down and touch the water to your right (as a right hand caster) and stick to the surface. It is this stickiness that you utilize in the next step.
As you have drawn the arc you continue the movement after a short pause, where the leader - and only the leader with the fly - should come in touch with the water.
You now perform the cast itself. This is a short, smoothly accelerating motion of the rod tip in the direction that you wish to cast. Do not push the rod handle voilently with the top hand. Just slightly ease it forwards while the lower hand draws the reel and butt backwards.
The tip should increase speed, loading the rod and accelerating the line. Like in an overhand cast you stop fairly abruptly, but follow through with the rod, slowly lowering the tip.
At the same time you let go of the line, which you until now have held with the right hand, and let it shoot.
Due to the load induced into the rod by the friction of the leader sticking to the water, you are able to generate quite a lot of energy in the rod. The rod bends, and as you stop the forward motion in the rod handle, the tip will unload the energy into the line.
The energy will shoot forwards in an arc, which travels along the line towards the tip and leader. As the leader looses contact with the water, the whole rolling line will pull the leader forwards and stretch it with a snap if you do not let go of the line. If you do let go, it will pull the shooting part of the line through the rod tips while still unrolling. Properly dosed the whole assembly will stretch and deliver the fly perfectly at amazing distances.
The animation below is a feeble attempt to illustrate the cast. Notice that the caster pauses slightly in the back/top position of the cast and allows the leader to touch the water and the uses its friction against the water to load the rod in the cast.
Easier to do than to explain
As it is with many things a wordy explanation does not lend justice to the natural ease of the movements. Once learned you will quickly be able to cast a satisfying amount of line with little effort, and people who master this cast can lay out a whole 10 weight line all day long without spending much energy at it.
The cast is in no way comparable to an overhand cast, but is at the same time very dependent on the longer rod, the running water and the proper technique.
It is in addition characterised by the beauty of not requiring much space - especially behind you.
It can also be done with a single hand rod, particularly if the line is adapted to the purpose. Triangle tapered lines seem very suitable as are specially rigged shooting heads.
It is in my opinion the optimum way of casting flies for salmon, steelhead and sea trout in larger, running waters.