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Hrútafjarðará og Síká

Hrútafjarðará (á – river/stream) is a two hour drive north from Reykjavík. The lodge there is one of the nicest in Iceland with self catering. The river is fished by 3 rods and is fly only. Most of the pools are easily accessible by any car. For the upper parts of the river some walking down into the gullies is required, but nothing too strenuous. For over 20 years the river was leased by R.N. Stewart, author of Salmon Rivers of Iceland.

Réttarfoss - Salmon can not navigate this one

Réttarfoss – Salmon cannot navigate this one

His description is spot on –  “The Hrútafjarðará from the Réttarfoss north, is a delightful mixture of rocky gorges, open flat pools, swirly pools, fast runs, still pools and then opening out for the last two miles into a flat plain of gravel and pastures with several excellent pools until it reaches the long narrow fiord leading to the Arctic Ocean.” The catchment area for the river and its tributary Síká is 367 km².  This river system is fed by a myriad of rivulets coming together (a spate river), and as such the water levels will fall and rise in harmony with the local rains. Each river  has a waterfall in its course stopping the salmon’s ascent. Hrútafjarðará has 9 km of bank length and Síká 3 km. The rivers have 42 named pools and between 200 to 700 salmon per year are caught there.

From Réttarfoss (foss – waterfall) the river flows straight north through rocky gorges. The pools and holding places do not change in this part but the water level does. The salmon will concentrate in the deeper pools during a drought, and spread out when there is more water. The pools between the old main road bridge and the ocean course through gravel beds, and here the channels and holding places are at the whim of the water and the flow.

Trophy arctic char

Trophy arctic char – from the lower part

The gravelly river part also holds some trophy sized sea-run char. The lowest part is tidal, and during high tide that is the place to be. I love catching the arctic char whenever I can find them. The trophy char are every bit as strong as the salmon and fight hard. Síká is similar to the main river but smaller, with the stream coursing through a rocky gorge for most of its length. Síká joins the main river about 1 km from the sea. On this trip we did not fish the Síká because of low water.

#14 - #16 Salmon flies that work

#14 – #16 Salmon flies that work

Now for the fishing – it was just phenomenal! The river is gin-clear and is just perfect for the tiny flies that we like to use. When you swing those, the takes are exciting (beginners will  experience rectal spasms). In addition to those we mostly used small unweighted black tubes. There were salmon in all parts of the river, and they were duly caught. There are maybe 1-2 pools where something heavy is useful.

Gosi with his first salmon

Gosi with his first salmon

In Iceland we call the first salmon a person catches his/her “María salmon,” and that salmon will stay with you forever. One such salmon was caught by master Gosi (his nickname – Pinocchio!). His father calls him that, and everybody falls in line (Johny Cash´s  “A boy named Sue” comes to mind?), his real name is forgotten even by his kin, but his smile is infectious and well earned……..

Gosi with his first salmon

Gosi with his first salmon

…. before he realized that tradition dictates that he eats its adipose fin. This is an ironclad rule in Icelandic angling circles.

Réttarstrengur - upper part

Réttarstrengur – upper part

The pool Réttarstrengur is a long chute, and the salmon are stacked up under the hill in a long line. If they just stay put it is very hard to spot them, but they are there. Then they give the game away by jumping, and we duly note that.

Salmon - upper part

Salmon – upper part

This one moved in the current at the top of the pool, giving his position away, and Sibbi caught him.

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

Fish on - from the middle part

Fish on – from the middle part (broke off)

Salmon - from the middle part

Salmon – from the middle part

Fish on - from the middle part

Fish on – from the middle part

The middle part pools are just incredible – the scenery – the solitude and the clear water makes for an unforgettable experience.

Sibbi fishing the Sírus pool

Sibbi fishing the Sírus pool

The pool Sírus is magnificent but did not produce this time. Note how Sibbi is using the rock to be invisible to the fish.

The flat gravelly part from the lodge

The flat gravelly part from the lodge

Fish on - lower part

Fish on – lower part

Salmon - lower part

Salmon – lower part

Lowest part - gravel bed

Lowest part – gravel bed

In the valley bottom the river courses through gravel, and the pools are constantly changing. Here in addition to the salmon you can find the arctic char. In the open you will have to contend with the wind, but in the gorges the wind is not a problem.

This river is just a wonderful place place, and I will always welcome the opportunity to return.

 

Lake Thingvellir (DF)

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