Published Aug 9. 2017 - 4 months ago
Updated or edited Aug 9. 2017

Rena revisited

Torben Meldgaard fell in love with the Rena river in Norway when he visited the river for the first time - more than 25 years ago. A love affair, which has been lasting ever since.

25 years ago
The author
The author - then and now
Torben Meldgaard

The beginning

All fly fishermen alike have their favorite fishing spots. Some because the fish are exceptionally large or numerous. Others because the surroundings particularly beautiful. Yet others because – yeah – sometimes we really do not know why, I guess.
The Rena River in Norway belongs, in my opinion, to all three categories. I guess I fell in love with the place when I visited the river for the first time - more than 25 years ago. A love affair, which has been lasting ever since.
A few years in a row, some fishing friends of mine had attended a dry fly fishing course that, at the time, took place in Rena.
As we grew old enough to drive a car to foreign countries with our fly rods in the back, the obvious choice became Rena. My friends had knowledge of places to fish: Where to catch a lot and where to catch the bigger ones. Hence, we visited the river some years in a row and got to know the fishing. We caught our fair amount of fish and enjoyed the place tremendously.
At the time, the river had begun to become well known to some extent. A few articles had been printed in some of the Scandinavian fly-fishing magazines and the river was on its way to becoming more and more crowded. The bag limits were either large or non-existent – I cannot remember. Local folk as well as well as visiting tourists, myself included, got their share of the pie. The result? Decent fishing if you wanted to catch many fish. However, the big ones were hard to find.

A managed population

In 2006 a new set of rules was implemented. One was only allowed to kill one trout and one grayling pr day and all trout and grayling above 40 cm should be released. As Norway is a country of fishing and hunting traditions, the new rules created quite a fuzz – and they still do. We will return to that subject later.

The scenery
Boat or kayak
Rena
Torben Meldgaard

The trip

"You should really take a few days off and go to Rena". Those were the exact words of my wife one day in the middle of June. I almost could not believe what I just heard. Having three boys between 3 and 10 years and a wife in the process of finishing her PhD, I had mentally come to the conclusion, that some fishing days on my own was out of the question this summer.
After having spent a few minutes considering whether I needed some days on my own or wanted company I went for the latter. Søren was ready to join me despite the short time for preparation
Flies were tied in a hurry – at least so I was able to get going without any trouble. The remaining ones could be tied or bought, when I knew how the actual hatching was at the time of arrival.
We set out from Copenhagen at noon after having attended some job related meeting. A 850 kilometers drive later we arrived at the bank of the Norwegian beauty. Everything was pretty much as expected: Good water level, good water temperature and a promising forecast. What could possibly go wrong?

A waiting game
Torben Meldgaard

Night fishing

We had chosen to try our best to be ready for fishing the night of our arrival. The fishing in Rena is quite ok during the day, but in my opinion, night time is when things really happen.
Hence, we were ready to hit the waters around 10 p.m. A few kayaks were seen from the camp but there was plenty of space for two bank fishermen.
Downstream from our camp the current is going towards our bank. When you get past a few holes, you have a stretch of 150 meters where you have fish at both sides. Not easily waded but absolutely feasible if you can live with the risk of falling.
We see the first signs of activity from a large grayling we will end up hunting the following days - unsuccessfully. It feeds in the slow parts of a current boundary, making it hard to get a decent flow on the fly. I move on and leave it to Søren – mostly to get a bit of distance between us.
I start out with the Klinkhamer fly – an excellent pattern for mayfly emergers of all kinds. Soon I am able to land the first grayling of the journey.
The hatching of mayflies is ok without being impressive but soon the first caddis turn up and I change my fly to the local pattern "Dyret" (The animal). It is really an ugly fly but indeed as effective as it is ugly.
I move fast trying to find a decent steadily rising fish. As always, you see the occasional big ones once in a while but I usually don’t spend much fishing for them. I find it too hard when they only take a surface fly once every 200 flies passing by.
50 meters downstream, the current comes close to the bank. A few fallen trees create perfect conditions in the backwater with a number of fish steadily rising.
Darkness comes creeping in, making it difficult to see the fly against the mirrored sky when fishing outwards. Fishing inwards it is much easier against the reflected forest.

Decent grayling
Beautiful brown
Rena fish
Torben Meldgaard

A big trout

Suddenly I see some sips which can be either a small fish or a decent sized trout. Being fairly sure that it is indeed sipping caddis emergers, I continue with "Dyret". After a few refusals, it gets sipped in with no more than 13 meters between me and the fish.
Having cast to fish at further distance before, I have kept a lot of line out. About 10 meters I would say. I instantly notice that the inner parts of the line are tangled while the fish starts its first rush. Damn! Why didn’t I put the line on the reel?
Luckily, the fish stops before the knot is reached leaving me in an ever-stressing situation trying to loosen the knot. The trout pulls hard and I choose to lower the rod while untangling the knot. I get the situation under control after a minute or two and raise the rod again. The trout start moving towards me, makes a few movements with its head – and it’s gone.
It turns out, that the hook has become bent – probably while I lowered the rod. And as always it is disappointing not to have seen the fish at all. If I really HAVE to lose a fish, I prefer seeing them before losing them.

Silent river
Torben Meldgaard

Cold nights

Shortly after, the temperature drops – a lot. In Rena this usually means an end to hatching activity and hence rising activity.
The next morning I drop my jaw as I notice the front screen of my phone: "Rena, -1 °C". No wonder we felt cold at times during the night!
Usually you wake up to the sound of rising fish but this morning it is all silent. However, it does not stay that way for long as a decent number of Ephemerella ignita, the famous "Blue Winged Olive", come sailing down the Rena. Instantly the fish respond and a decent grayling is caught even before the coffee is ready. Who wouldn’t like to start every day like that?

Dyret
Dyret
Torben Meldgaard

Peter and Magnus

It turns out that our neighbours are Peter and Magnus from Malmö in Sweden. We have met at the exact same spot a few years back and have really learned a lot from them. They go on a roadtrip three weeks every summer visiting trout rivers in Norway – always spending time in Rena.
Soon we are eagerly discussing this year’s fishing, the conditions, the hatches, the flies to use, the spots – everything that has to do with dry fly fishing. We get the full story of Magnus’ lost PB trout the night before.
It turns out that we have undeniably timed our trip well. Not to perfection as everything is set back a few weeks due to cold weather. Had we chosen to turn up one week earlier, we would have been met by water temperatures at around 6 °C and very sparse hatches. But he forecast for the days to come looks promising.
We had hoped for some nightly hatches of the "swimming caddis pupae" – one or more species that hatch in the river and swim towards the shore. However, according to Magnus we are too early this year.
The fishing itself during these hatches is action packed like nothing else, as the big trout really turn into furious hunting beasts chasing down our streaming dry flies. We have prepared for this by tying a few of the local pattern "Svømmepuppen" (swimming pupa) which is nothing but a small foam fly with a pair of legs.

The gentleman from Stockholm

On our last visit we met an elderly gentleman from Stockholm. He had not been to Rena since 1995 but had chosen to leave Orkla and its salmon behind in order to revisit Rena. Moreover, that year we hit the caddis hatch. Peter and Magnus had generously donated a few flies to him and told him when, where and how to fish them. It turned out that he was no master of anchored cast making the fishing from the banks all the more difficult.
Instead he chose to wade into the river, leaving room for back casts, and wait for the hatch and the fish to come closer. After midnight it all began and from where he stood, he was able to reach about 10 larger fish. He managed to hook one of the bigger ones, which he ultimately lost due to a bad brake on his reel. He knew it from the beginning but was too lazy to shift his reel to a trustworthy specimen.
The evening after, just before returning to Stockholm, he managed to catch and release a beautiful trout of 60 cm. Now with a healthier reel on his rod. The funny thing is that we had discussed the spot during the day. It is situated below the lower dam and I usually go there on the first day if I bring beginners along. It is a good place to learn how to fish dry lies downstream in fast flowing water.
I had told him that the place was filled with grayling but usually not above 40 cm. As HE recalled things, you could usually catch very decent fish there. So he went for a test fish.
It turned out that we usually went downstream from the parking while he, on the other hand, went 200 meters upstream. At this spot the river makes a curve. He fished from the lower side and when it gets dark the bigger trout comes in from the deeper parts.
So he went. And he caught A LOT of small grayling. But as the sun went down behind the hillside and cast its shadow on the water, he managed to hook a 60 cm trout and land it.
I bet he reconsidered whether he should quit salmon fishing the next year and just go to Rena.

The following days

The next days we focus hard on the fishing. Cooking and dining is kept really simple and fast as we are usually able to find hatching fish. As we merely have 4 days of fishing, we try to spend every minute as effectively as possible.
3 of the 4 nights are cold ones and usually this means that you can pack your stuff and go to bed at around midnight. But the fourth night is different as the temperature only drops to a mere 12 °C. We run into a decent caddis hatch and manage to land some decent grayling.
We also realize, once again, that if you really want an edge in Rena you are better off in a kayak or a pontoon boat. More than once, I try to sneak up on some decent trout during the day but spook them due to muddy and vibrating banks.
Kjetil, a local Norwegian from the camp, fishes from his kayak and manages to sneak up on the beasts from the water side and manages to catch 1+ trout and grayling every day. I have brought my belly boat and use it to get to the other side of the river. An ok tactic in fact – but not a good option if you want to fish from the water.
As always, we run into several people fishing from kayaks. As always, their success rate is higher than ours. Once again, we promise ourselves that we have to find a good solution next time we visit.

Henrik Leth
Henrik Leth
Torben Meldgaard

Today

If I were to take a short look back on how things have changed in the Rena since I started fishing it 25 years ago, I have to state that the management and the rules have been a grand success. The catch limits have secured trout and grayling populations with many huge individuals but have also turned the river into one of Norways most popular trout rivers. When you really hit the great hatches there ARE a lot of people seen on the river and on its banks. And obviously the fish become more shy due to this.
Critics of Catch and Release claim that too many fish end up dying due to lactic acid poisoning. Especially grayling are prone to this fate. While it might be the case in many rivers where the water temperature gets really high during the summer, it does not seem to be the case in Rena. This is probably due to the hydropower plant, which uses water from the bottom of the lake assuring low temperature. Nevertheless, it is important to fight the fish as quickly as possible in order to maximize the survival rate.
Henrik Leth, a Danish fly fisherman and blogger, who has been fishing the Rena since 1983 says:
"It is absolutely sure that the new regulations have created a population of more and bigger fish. Especially the grayling seems to have benefitted from the new rules. This summer, I have spent hundreds of hours on the river and only found one dead grayling. Among the many fish I have caught only a few have had visible wounds in their mouth parts."

Returning

After four intensive days, Søren and I return. Søren had some trouble in the beginning as it was only his 2nd time fishing the river. I guess he had forgotten how difficult the fishing can be and how you always have to watch out for changes in the fish diet and change your fly accordingly. Although you can get along fine with a few patterns, it is essential that you try to match the hatch as good as possible. And at last Søren did secured his feeling of a successful trip.
As always, I hate to say goodbye to the river. This time it does not help that the fish are feeding aggressively as my old green Ford hit the dirt road on our journey back to Denmark. My brain simply starts making up excuses for staying – a condition which is quite normal among flyfishermen I guess.
The good thing is that I know I’ll be back eventually.

A 9' #5 rod
A 9' #5 rod
Torben Meldgaard

The Rena – fact box

The Rena River drains approximately 4000 km2 of land – primarily forrest. It runs 165 km before it hits Norways largest river – The Glomma – In Rena city. On its way to the Glomma, it passes two dams, which creates the two lakes "Storsjøen" and "Løpsjøen".
The Insects: Rena is known for the amount and diversity of insect. Especially the Ephemerella auriviili mayfly attracts anglers from all over Scandinavia but you will also find decent hatches of Ephemera danica, Heptagenia sulphurea, Ephemerella ignita and a great number of Baetidae. And then you have the numerous species of caddis flies.

Favourite flies: Klinkhamer, "Dyret", Svømmepuppen, Devil Bug.

Gear: I use a fast 9’ #5. Usually you don’t need much length in you casts but I like to be able to reach further when needed. I mostly use a short belly WF line, as you often need anchored cast when fishing from or close to the bank. However, at some places you have room enough for a back cast, in which case one might go for a longer belly. When it comes to tippet, I usually go with 0,14mm during the day and 0,16 at night. This setup allows for fast fighting of the fish, which is important to maximize survival of the released fish

Guiding service and accomodation: Check out Rena Fiskecamp


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