Iceland; rain, salmon and tiny flies
Text & images by Alex Jardine.
This summer has seen exceptionally little rainfall in Iceland, an odd occurrence in a country where the saying goes “if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes”. The lack of rain has left the salmon rivers steadily dropping throughout the prime July runs, and made me nervous about the conditions we were going to face during an August visit. In between rain dances I packed my bags, everything went in from the standard Icelandic salmon outfits through to light weight nymphing setups. I was not going to let a lack of rain stop this trip from being a success.
Soon enough the Iceland Air flight touched down on the Keflavik runway and I was greeted by a familiar sight… The grey lava scape of southwest Iceland and rain! I was noticeably one of the few, or maybe the only one, to be excited at the sight of the rain. It was coat on, bags loaded and time to head to my first stop, Laxá Í Dölum. Dölum has seen some major changes in recent years. A river that was showing the signs of overfishing and poor practice is now excelling thanks to a reduction in the number of rods and a restriction of fly-only. Through July the river is only fished by four rods, and August and September see up to six rods per week.
As we approached the lodge the rain clouds welcomed us and after a brief orientation by the fantastic chef and host Ricardo it was time to don the waders and head out for the first session. My setup of choice was the Guideline LPXe 10’ #6, Abel super 5, weight forward floating line and 12-14’ 13 lbs fluorocarbon leader (a #7 or #8 setup would have also have been suitable). Our first evening was to be spent on the lower section of the river. Our drive down descended us into the valley, across the river twice until we pulled up at a large lava structure create two fast runs and a large bowl shaped pool. Within moments the first salmon were showing themselves, some coloured fish and others fresh silver.
With the low cloud and the nights drawing in the light was fading on us quickly, I therefore went with the black and red of a size 16 executioner. The fly proved effective almost instantly, a couple of sharp takes although they resulted in no hook ups. Undeterred I fished on down the pool, watching fresh fish work their way into the pool from below. Sure enough, as the run flattened out the line drew tight. The line tapped once, twice and then I set the hook. The tip rattled with a nerve jangling head shake before the line shot upstream. Quickly getting the fish on the reel the fight soon became a tug of war. After more head shaking and the fish boiling at the surface I began to make ground. Eventually I was able to subdue the fish and slide him into the grasp of my fishing partner, a beautiful piece of Icelandic silver.
Over the course of the next three days we used our 12 hour fishing days to the fullest exploring the river from the upper sections down to the sea. Along its course the Dölum offers a wonderful mix of lava-shelved pools, sliding grave runs, rock pockets and slow meandering pools. The varied water keeps angler thinking tactically about fly selection and cast placement.
Fly choice in Iceland is key and it is important to put faith in small flies. Whilst it is possible to catch on big flies, inch tubes, size 8 Ally Shrimps and so on quite often these flies actually spook the Icelandic salmon making them very difficult to catch. With small flies however it can sometimes be possible to fish through a pool 4 or 5 times, even taking a fish each time. This particular time in Laxá Í Dölum the flies that proved most effective were; Haugur hitch ½”, Executioner #16, Black & Yellow #18, Diablo #16 and a Sunray ½”. The river this season was having another great season, despite the poor rainfall. Early season there had been a run of bigger spring fish, boosted by summer grilse runs and then in August a run of autumn salmon and grilse had begun. Over the course of the three days six anglers landed 124 salmon, this was made up of a mix of 50-70 cm grilse and a good number of fish between 80-95 cm, the largest of which was a coloured cock fish of 101 cm. In amongst the fish there were fresh sea lice fish being caught as well as more coloured early runners.
A final morning session on Dölum drew to a close and it was time for a quick bite to eat and on the road back south to Laxá Í Kjós. I always enjoying driving around Iceland, the quiet undulating roads offer spectacular views across mountains and glaciers to only moments later offer similarly impressive views across the sea. The approach to Laxá Í Kjós is one that will get any angler excited, the beautiful lodge sits overlooking the confluence of the main river and its largest tributary the Bugða. Shortly below this confluence the river enters a series of rapids, small pools and waterfalls before running immediately out to sea. On pulling into the lodge our group were welcomed by the wonderful Kjós lodge team, Johann the chef, Arní the hostess and the highly experienced guide team. The small river had experienced very low water conditions through mid-July and into early August but two days before we arrived a spate had brought the river up and it was now settling nicely. The flow was now 25 cm higher than before the rain and the water temperature had tumbled from 16/17⁰C down to 8/9⁰C. The extra water had stirred up the salmon and sea trout and all were excited to see what the river had to offer.
The group picked their starting beats by selecting a face down playing card. In august the river offers a rotation between four beats, leaving the meadows section open to all anglers. Beat 4 was the highest in the river, running through a beautiful mountain stretch above a large set of waterfalls and a canyon. Beat 3 ran through the canyon section and out on to the top of the meadow. Beat 2 was fished along the entire length of the Bugða. Lastly Beat 1 fished from just above the confluence of Kjós and Bugða right down to the sea. My rods were to start on Beat 4, the drive up into valley also took us up into the clouds where we were greeted by misty rain and streaks of rich orange sunlight catching the wet hillside grasses. The air temperature was noticeably cooler in this part of the valley and our first few pools proved unsuccessful using the small trebles and hitch tubes that had worked on Dölum. With the water and air temperature so cool we changed tactics and went to a ½” cone head Sunray and on its first run down a pool it tempted a nice grilse. A few pools later the fly proved its worth once again, locking this time into a much larger salmon only to unfortunately come off just short of the net. The successful evening session drew to a close and we were treated to a wonderful evening meal in the lodge.
Over the course of the three days the rotation saw us explore every beat of the river as well as spending time hunting big sea trout on the famous meadows section. The upper part of the river offered fast bottle neck runs and scoured out pools home to a mix of large resident salmon and new fish looking for a refuge ahead of the autumn spawning. The canyon at this time offered an unusual mix of salmon and large fresh sea trout that had moved up from the meadows during the higher water, this led to some wonderful fishing.
In the canyon it was possible to spot salmon and sea trout hiding out in the pools from small cliff tops, one pool in particular display several large blue backs of freshly run sea trout. The technique for these was upstream nymphing underneath a dry fly or indicator, very similar to trout fishing in New Zealand. The advice was called down to the angler from above, “left a bit” “right a bit” “That’s it! That’s it!”. It was incredibly exciting fish and then the shout comes, “he’s looking…” and before you know it the indicator draws away. We had several shots at this over the course of the trip hooking two beautiful sea trout of 3 lbs and 8 lbs but failing to lure one we estimated at between 12-15 lbs…..
You can read the full story at -> http://www.aardvarkmcleod.com/blog/iceland-rain-salmon-and-tiny-flies-report-by-alex-jardine