The practice field

Getting certified IFFF CCI

In Iceland I just fly fished rivers and lakes. I did not fly fish in the salt there and I doubt that it will ever become a big sport. The North Atlantic is just so cold and the waves are unforgiving.

Skjálfandaflói (DF)

Skjálfandaflói við Náttfarvík (DF)

I moved to Corpus Christi in Texas in 2007. There are few rivers there with the type of fishing with which I was comfortable. I passionately hate fishing in discolored water. That lead me to fishing the Corpus Christy Bay and the area south east of Shamrock Island and it took me a long time to figure the salt out. There were not at that time many fly casters there. I teamed up with a local guide Steven Utley and he taught me the area and I helped him with the casting. I mostly fished from a sit on top kayak and cast sitting down which takes some time getting used to. The area south east of Shamrock Island was perfect for kayak fishing and I loved floating around the area taking in nature and fishing. There is a channel there from the Bay into the Gulf with breakwater structure on each side from which I fished and there I got connected to my first Spanish Mackerel and have come to love fishing for them. I did not try my luck in the Gulf itself while living there.

Osprey

Osprey Corpus Christi Bay (DF)

Steven Utley

Steven Utley casting from a kayak

IN 2009 we relocated to Gulf Breeze Florida (south of Pensacola). There I have been fishing with my friend Basil Yelverton a local guide and from that experience (plus Texas) we put together an iBook (see Books page). Fishing the salt is very hard because everything is moving. The boat is rocking the fish are busy going every which way and then there is the blessed wind. Experienced fly casters from fresh water scenarios are known to have a meltdown when they realize that they cannot cast at all in these conditions. At any rate it became painfully apparent to me that I had to up me game in order to be able consistently to cast from a boat in the wind and all that.

So I did just that, pouring over YouTube and websites – basically self-taught. Cast until my arm was falling out of it’s socket and then cast some more. There are some very good casters here but most local casters have difficulties in the salt. The usual resultant reflex is to tie “the top secret classified nuclear fly” that is going to save them. It does not matter which fly you have if you cannot get it out to the customers. I hope we will slowly change the emphasis onto casting. Others and I have been busy teaching casting at so-called monthly clinics for the Club members.

Oleta Webb

Oleta Webb casting a switch rod

My friend Baz noticed that I was becoming a better caster so he suggested that I do the CCI with the IFFF. “What is that”?  I had no clue. I researched this a bit and since I am retired this could be a good niche for me. I have been teaching my whole life (coaching sports – teaching med. students – teaching residents etc.) so this would be somewhat in my comfort zone. 

Santa Rosa Island

Baz with redfish

I decided to go for it and became a member of the International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF). Contacted their office and was guided to a certain MC (master caster) Leslie Holmes as a possible mentor in February ’16. We spoke on the phone and were instantly on insulting terms and he took me on. He sent me a ton of stuff and more practice ensued. Then we had a weekend session in Boca Grande in April. Well that was quite the eye opener for me. I could cast some he gave me that but my faults were many and varied and mercilessly pointed out and corrected.  After that I returned to the Panhandle with more practice and we scheduled a tune-up and a practice session in late August. The goal was to become a certified fly casting instructor (CCI).

The practice field

The practice field for my ICC

Three days before going again to Boca Grande Leslie calls me and asks “are you ready”? Sure I am ready my arm is falling out of the socket but I am ready. Leslie arranges to have me tested Sunday 8/28 and off I go. We had a dress rehearsal on Saturday where I suddenly got ripped a new one. My problem was/is overthinking and being a bit of a nerd I was too verbose. When I understood what was expected I reworked my answers to the various tasks on the test and made ready. It must be handed to Les that after he had deconstructed me he built me right back up. Sunday morning I meet Captain Pete Greenan and Captain Rex Gudgel my examinators. They quickly settled all jitters and I passed the test. I have been involved with teaching and testing In Iceland Sweden Scotland and once in Africa and I can tell you that Pete and Rex were very competent and the whole process well thought out and solid (mainly because I passed). Les’s teaching was spot on and I plan to work with him again.

Pete Jonas Rex

After having passed the CCI test

I have certainly made some colostomies in my time but not with the finesse and elegance that Les does it. But Les my patients were always under anesthesia.

Leslie Holmes

Leslie Holmes during lunch break Boca Grande

Well there it is.

(DF) Drifa Freysdottir picture

Baz’s website

http://www.gulfbreezeguideservice.com

Pete´s website

http://www.floridaflyfishing.com

Rex´s website

http://bocagrandeslamflyfishing.com

Leslie´s Website

http://leslieholmesinternationalschoolofflyfishing.com

Local fly clubs website

http://www.ffnwf.org

Lake Thingvellir (DF)

Fishing between Europe and America – Þingvallavatn (Lake Thingvellir)

The fishing season in subarctic Iceland is relatively short. The fishing rhythm of the year was to start tying after new year brooding in the dark waiting for the light and return of life. I tied my flies and fantasized about the coming season getting ready for the spring that might be there or not. In the north spring is not set to any date at all. When the migratory birds return spring is official. Certain birds have special meaning for us and the return of the Lóa (Golden Plover) will merit first mention during the evening news irrespective of what is going on in the world. Hearing the Plover calling first time each spring can bring on blurry vision in the most hardened of fly slingers. The return of the Kría (Arctic Tern) is also well received since now we can be fairly certain the there will not be night frosts until next fall. The third important migrant for me is the Hrossagaukur (Galinago galinageo – Snipe). When the male dives in the air patrolling his territory he sounds like a neighing horse (hence the name – hrossagaukur literally horse cuckoo). That this small bird can produce this remarkable sound fascinates me and it is always a joyous sound out in the fields whenever (If you have experienced the silence in the countryside following their departure you can imagine the joy of hearing the birds anew next spring).

Golden Plover

Golden Plover the harbinger of spring (DF)

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern bringing food to the nest (DF)

Then when life returned off you went and kept going as long into the fall as possible. The summers demand a sub-manic phase and sometimes I fished until next morning (the lights were on right?). This fix barely sustained me until next tying season rolled around. Within Reykjavik there are accommodatingly two trout lakes. One of them is very shallow Vífilsstaðavatn and therefore warms fast in the sunshine so aquatic critters start moving and the trout start feeding and cruising. This can happen in late March to April. Anglers are there pronto when the weather warms up (above freezing is good). Then there is a bigger lake called Elliðavatn that opens first of May holding both arctic char and brown  trout. Both these lakes serve to steady you after the long dark winter and it feels great to start there and get your cast and gear in order and the fly boxes sorted (typically you invent a new brilliant system each spring that spectacularly breaks down during the season so a new one is needed). These lakes are such treasures within the city and serve to keep one sane and lakes like that can be found many places around Iceland.

Lake Thingvellir

View from the north end of the lake towards south (DF)

Then there is the real McCoy Þingvallavatn (Lake Thingvellir) that is an unique place and a World Heritage Site since 2004. It is Iceland’s  biggest lake 32 square miles and 367 feet deep and dips below sea level. The rivers that flow into this lake are small and the biggest part of its catchment water is through cold springs in the lake bed (90% estimated). The spring water is gin clear as is the lake. The runoff river is Efra Sog (3800 cubic feet per second) and lower down called Neðra Sog in itself a Salmon river but three waterfalls  there (now with hydroelectric plants) can not be navigated by the salmonoids. The lake is ringed by some volcanic mountains of which the shield volcano Skjaldbreidur is the most distinctive. The area is one of majestic barren beauty year round. Needless to state that it can be bitterly cold there in the spring and the water temperature is just around 39F. We fish from outcroppings in the lava and wade out into the water on submerged lava ridges. You can bet the relief when neoprene waders replaced the rubber ones. Goretex waders are a bad idea any time of the year. Cold water can be quite disfiguring and downright scary! The other option is by belly boats. I have no experience of fishing the lake from a boat.

Skjaldbreidur

The shield volcano Skjaldbreiður (DF)

Þingvellir

Þingvellir view over the national park area (DF)

The lake is 40 minutes drive from Reykjavik and that is where we were headed all the time the other ones just warm ups. This lake is absolutely one of a kind. The lake is in a graben exactly where the Eurasian tectonic plate is separating from the American tectonic plate. This is the place where you can see the earth being torn apart having one leg in Eurasia and the other in America! The surroundings are mostly lava that is very porous. The rain just disappears into the lava fields and then at the interfaces of lava layers it seeps forward towards the lake. It takes the water welling up in the cold springs in the lake bed hundreds of years to percolate through the lava layers. This water is clean, clear and soft with very little calcium and it has a steady temperature of just under 37-38F year round and it is potable.

Nikulasargja

Nikulásargjá one of the rifts at Þingvellir (DF)

The lake holds 4 morphs of Arctic Char that have evolved there in about 10.000 years from a single strain. The fish became landlocked there post last ice age. In the spring we were mainly fishing for a strain that specializes in water snails on the lake bottom in the littoral areas (Kuðungableikja or Bobbableikja). For that we use intermediate lines and try to stay just above the lake bottom that is lava. Understandably we snag and lose our flies often and as the saying goes “they strike just before you snag” is an apt one. The flies we use are simple bead heads or just something black and round like the water snails. Middle of summer the smaller trout called Murta will appear in huge numbers and now is the time to take kids fishing. They love catching these fish and we usually rig them up with a float and the fly 3 feet away. It takes time to connect with this lake and it took me many a fishless trip to figure it out and start to catch there regularly.

Arctic Char caught by Perla Sol

Arctic Char caught by Perla Sol

The Arctic Char spawns in the fall when the temperature falls. In Þingvallavatn (Lake Thingvellir) the temperature is steady year round in the cold springs just at 37F.  Thus the Char there will spawn much earlier than usual. Huge schools of spawning fish can be seen from land and sometimes it  looks like the fish are swimming towards a cave opening to disappear but in reality they are just disappearing into a ball of fish giving this illusion. The color of these fish is black from above and hard to see against a black lava bottom. The telltale sign is the white edge on the pectoral fins so it looks like white V from above. From the side these fish are sporting stunning colors. These lake holds so much fish that it is ok to to harvest on or two as they are delicious.

Arctic Char

Arctic char with characteristic white stripes on its fins

The river flowing out of the lake southward is Efra Sog. This was the major spawning area of the biggest strain of the Brown Trout. The flow of the river and the Black Fly larvae there were optimal for the fish (Curiously Black Flies in Iceland are North American whereas the Midges or Gnat are European. There are no skeeters in Iceland). The absolute lurkers were caught there. In 1959 a hydroelectric damn was built at the outlet of the lake and the water routed through Dráttarhlíð to Úlfljótsvan to power Steingrímsstöð. There was an accident and a damn gave way and the resultant flood destroyed the gravel beds used for these fish for spawning. This stock collapsed and has not recovered to my knowledge. However the brown trout that by and large disappeared from our catches has reappeared and spawning occurs in small feeder rivers to the lake and in the autumn these fish are tagged and studied. It is seriously bad karma to to kill these fish.

Sibbi with brown trout

Ice age strain of brown trout caught by Sibbi

This is a strain of brown trout that has become landlocked after the rise of the earths crust post ice age. They are believed to have come the British Isles following the rising land. These brown trout are sea going and called Seatrout in the UK in America they are not widely known but the the sea run rainbows are called Stealhead. They have the remarkable characteristic that after gaining reproductive age they will spawn every other year and they will grow the off year. These fish can become very big because there is an abundance of food in the lake.

Iceage strain of brown trout caught by Sibbi

Ice age strain of brown trout caught by Sibbi

Sibbi is my fishing buddy and we have fished the lake countless times solo and together. This was the routine in the evening before. “You free tomorrow morning”? “Yup”. “How is the weather”? “Let´s check the weather station at Þingvellir. Not to bad 39F and calm”.  Then we each packed rods, neoprene waders and flies and all the paraphernalia. We like fast rods (GLX Loomis) but not noddles and broomsticks. You become excited about the trip and we were certain that we are going to catch a good fish. We thought about the flies which is not necessary at all cause they are not the deciding factor there. We rose early and trembled with anticipation. We usually left Reykjavik early when the night revelers and drunk drivers were returning home from their escapades. One managed to sideswipe us and clipped our side mirror but we shrugged that off and continued undeterred. Then when we arrive there calm descends upon us we move slowly and we listen and we look. There were mornings there when no birds could be heard working and singing. You know the feeling, everything is just dead. To be honest we really do not get upset at all. If this was the case we did not even assemble our gear to go fishing. We know it is no use when nothing is moving. We sit and take in the scenery shoot the breeze a bit. Not casting or catching does not bug us. Angling has nothing to do with success. We just went with the mood of nature accepted it and moved on. We were just as happy with this outcome as with a “fishy” one. Then we return home but stop at the National Park shop and have a hot dog.

Pictures marked DF are my Wife’s Drífa Freysdóttir

Websites pertaining to Þingvellir

Research – Icelandic spoken in this video but the Brown Trout does not mind and neither should you

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F3uNXPipus

Silfra is a diving site famous for its clear water

https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/

The national park website

http://www.thingvellir.is/english.aspx

Sibbi with a trout

https://vimeo.com/42804675

Our favorite rods

http://www.gloomis.com

The choice, the sun and Icelandic crepes

After graduating Med School I worked for six months as a general practitioner during the coming winter. At that time it was a requirement for obtaining a license as a doctor before you could embark on your chosen speciality. I took a post in a small village in the countryside where I was the sole doctor. It was remote from Reykjavik. The villages around Iceland are mostly coastal with fishing interests and service to what is left of the farming community around. The movement of people from the country to the towns and villages had already depleted areas that once were thriving communities. Where I was posted the fjords are deep and the mountains are layered up to a flat tabletop. The mountain sides are steep and they will block the sun if the village is so located. These fjords are ringed by mountains where the foothills run into the sea with limited lowland. Some places the mountains cascade into the sea with vertical cliffs and the surf pounding the walls. The ocean is a part of the allure sometimes flat and other times raging and cold it is. These fjords are barren devoid of trees, mostly stones and tundra but exceptionally beautiful even majestic.

The preceding summer I worked as an intern in one of the hospitals where I got to know a young patient in her twenties. She was battling a cancer. She was from the rural area where I became posted and her only wish was to live in there. South of the mountains in the next fjord she lived with her husband on a farm in a valley where there were no other inhabitants. Mountains both sides and then a bay with yes you guessed it more mountains. There were no lights from any other settlements to be seen from where she lived.  When the snow started in the fall it became impossible to to get there driving. There was a an airstrip at villages north and south of her but if you can not get there it is useless. The lady had a relapsing condition and after each treatment and actually from the first treatment she absolutely refused to be in Reykjavik extended periods for follow up and such. She could not stand the city and would go back to her farm immediately after the chemo. She had had a number of relapses and then recovered. This lady was very intelligent and understood well her predicament. However living on her farm was the only thing she would accept despite the consequences.

In these fjords the mountains are so high they will block off the winter sun that only manages to get up over the horizon some few degrees in the wintertime. It takes for ever for the sun to rise and it sets slowly. Some villages do not get any direct sun at all for a while. You can see the mountain tops across the fjord illuminated and you track when the rays are creeping lower as the sun rises after the winter solstice.  So winter at these latitudes is prolonged periods of dusk little bit of sun but mostly pitch dark. To not feel the sun on your skin for an extended period of time is depressing and you long for the caress of the sun again. The feeling of the sun on your skin after this period of deprivation is indescribable even wonderful. The day will come that the sun manages to get over the mountains blocking it and shine on our village and that day is understandably a very special day. This day we have the sólarkaffi (sun coffee). We bake what is locally called pönnukökur (pancakes) but the rest of the world calls crepes (we think everyone else has it wrong). We do not care so pönnukökur (or pönnsur a nickname) it is. We bake them on flat round crepe pans that must not ever be washed and are not used for anything else. These pans become heirlooms. My sisters wondered what became of momma’s pan but I know. There are many recipes and I for instance put a little bit of coffee in the batter to get a better color, I actually prefer instant coffee if it is to be had. We like them thin and roll them up warm with sugar brown or white or we we put whipped cream and fruit jam on top and fold them twice so they look like a padded quarter circle. This is a great tradition as we indulge in crepes and the revitalizing rays of the sun. This is the best celebration I have experienced in my life.

The winter I was working there I took some blood samples which were sent to follow up on her condition. The winter was uneventful and I returned to the City and soldiered on. Next year in the fall I learned that the lady was getting weaker again. She understood the situation and as she was snowed in the Coast Guard was summoned to help out. Before that she in her weakened state hiked up the mountain and sat down on a stone and awaited the return of the sun. When the sun reached her she sat there and soaked it up and then hiked back to the farm. Pönnukökur  were baked and she enjoyed her sólarkaffi (sun coffee). Now she was ready and the Coast Guard got her out of the isolation and she had to return to the hospital. She did not make it back alive. I am certain that her spirit, if there is such a thing, is there in these barren isolated majestic valleys. The memory of her certainly is.

That damn fireplace is smoking again irritating my eyes so I have to fix that.

Pictures Drifa Freysdottir