Posts

Below the Réttarfoss

Réttarfoss

In a previous post I covered this river – see below. The current post deals exclusively with the two uppermost fishing spots – i.e. the Réttarfoss pool and the Réttarstrengur run.

The crew for this trip was my fishing partner and friend Sibbihttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=1783 – and Hilmar Konráðsson, with whom I had not fished before – but I will gladly fish with again. Then there was my American friend and traveling companion Odell Mullis in the role of photographer. His job was the hardest – fingers freezing – electronics sluggish, and rain constantly splattering the lens.

The salmon in Hrútafjarðará can get up to Réttarfoss, but can’t jump that waterfall. Therefore, the pool below the waterfall invariably holds numerous fish at the tail end of the season. However, it is awkward to fish, and casting in the canyon can be problematic. The position taken by most anglers is close to the middle of the outflow from the pool. That is not an ideal position. You get too close to the fish to my liking, and you are practically on top of some of them. This violates two of my fly fishing tenets: no unnecessary wading and don’t get too close to the fish.

We were fishing there in late August ’19, and the conditions were challenging. Just a few degrees above freezing, and wind was barreling up the canyons from the north, and the blessed rain was there too, and there was a lot of both. The amount of water flowing was quite a bit over the average. No fun wading in those conditions.

Pool below Réttarfoss
Pool below Réttarfoss
Below the Réttarfoss
Below the Réttarfoss

By tiptoeing close to the black basaltic rocks to the position you see on the photograph above, we were in a relatively concealed position to cast over the outflow tract of the pool. However, the fly was not going to move across the water in a way we like it to do. After some rumination Sibbi says “let’s try a hitching tube here, and just strip it across the outflow.” This is why I love this guy – he is always ready to try something unconventional. The salmon loved this, too, and we had great fun for a while with multiple salmon striking the flies, and there were some takes and then some salmon landed. (It is called hitching when the fly is riding the surface and a V shaped disturbance on the surface forms – see video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0TYgn_oO2Q )

The current is usually sufficient to make this happen, but by stripping the fly we made it go faster than the current, thus making the V on the surface. This strategy saved the day for us and will certainly be tried again. This is a very good reminder not to get stuck in some routine. If your approach does not work, try something else. It really does not matter how you don’t catch fish – does it?

Réttarstrengur

After leaving the Réttarfoss pool the river flows over some rocks, and is shallow and spread out with no channel. At the rock formation – seen clearly in the third picture below – the river forms a channel, Réttarstrengur, that is pushed up against the west canyon wall. The salmon will be there from the run’s beginning, and can be found for 100 meters (more or less depending on the amount of water). There are always salmon there – you may not catch them, but they are there. We take great care not to get too close (no wading there), instead we use longer casts, and the fly must be delivered on the opposite side of the current for best results. Then you pull it into the current and now you mend. Small flies are our choice there. Take care to cast with quite a sharp angle not more than 45 degrees to insure the fly swings first over the fish – not the line then the fly. To do that you need longer casts as you do not want to wade or get close to the channel. Make an effort to keep the line and leader straight, that way the fly is fishing from the get-go. For the Icelandic crowd – see the excellent book Af Flugum, Löxum og Mönnum by Sigurður Héðinn a.k.a. Haugurinn page 72 on Smáflugur. Réttarstrengur is without doubt one of the premium runs in Icelandic salmon rivers.

Correct casting angle
Correct casting angle

You really should practice before your fishing trips, preferably with a casting instructor. I have witnessed multiple times anglers in expensive rivers with no cast at all. It is a mystery to me why anyone buys those costly permits, and shows up with no cast. Most anglers I come across in salmon rivers would do well to take some lessons. When you are riverside it is too late to learn how to cast.

You have expensive gear – why not spend on learning how to use it?
Fishing the Réttarstrengur
Fishing the Réttarstrengur

This is how far away from the river’s edge we like to be. There is no sense in getting closer if we can cast over the run with a sharp angle from where we are at. By and large anglers wade too close and also too deep. If you get too close – the fish see you, and it is game over. If you wade too deep you lose height and your cast suffers.

Fishing the Réttarstrengur
Fishing the Réttarstrengur

Sibbi keeps his distance and is rewarded with a beautiful salmon.

Sibbi has a salmon on in Réttarstrengur
Sibbi has a salmon on in Réttarstrengur

Subsequently released into the river.

Salmon released by Sibbi
Salmon released by Sibbi

Odell and Hilmar seeking shelter from the wind, cold and rain.

Shelter from the rain and wind
Shelter from the rain and wind

Here is a short video from Réttarstrengur.

Santa Rosa Island Bayside

I moved to the Florida Panhandle ten years ago, and when it was time to go fishing I found Baz’s website, and off we went. I was into fish on my second cast, so all the jitters were settled quickly. After the trip I paid my bill, but I was unaware of the tipping culture. Sorry Baz, you are never getting that money. Baz and I were on insulting terms from the get-go and have since made countless fishing trips together and have since become friends. Baz has a keen sense of humor which is required when dealing with me.

Baz’s website: http://gulfbreezeguideservice.com

I had learned a little bit about fishing in the salt living in Corpus Christi for two years. Since I moved here, Baz has taught me all I know about fly fishing the salt. Which rod to use – fly lines – leaders – knots – flies – the whole shebang. And how to catch the different species of fish found here, etc. The tidal movement is an issue too. It has been a tremendously rewarding apprenticeship for which I am grateful. I can now do most of what is required, except I don’t see the fish in the water as well as he does. Sometimes he sees fish that don’t know they are there. He is like a pointer, I swear, but curiously sticks his rear end out a bit when he spots a fish. When beginners look for fish in the water, they have a mental image of a fish and expect to see something like that in the water. Forget that and look for a dark moving spot, sometimes you only see the shadow of the fish. Dark spots that do not move alas will be stones or vegetation.

I can emphatically say that Baz is my saltwater muse. At first I was not able to deal with the conditions here casting wise. The wind was an issue and the boat movement was troublesome when casting. So, I had to go and learn how to cast properly. That done, Baz was pleased with the outcome and now prodded me to become a casting instructor – so I did. I have derived a great deal of pleasure from teaching fly casting. There is some truth in “if you want to learn something – teach it.”

Becoming a certified instructor: https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=611

We have fished from boats out in the Gulf and in Pensacola Bay. We have fished the flats from the boat where poling is required. Baz has even started teaching me how to pole a skiff. That is not a task to be undertaken lightly. On top of that he has introduced me to bonefish in the Bahamas. I am not sure I should thank him for that because it is going to be a seriously costly addiction for sure.

Out in the Gulf: https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=251

Bonefishing: https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=1896

Our latest endeavor is to wade the flats around here and then cast to the fish we spot. We go minimalistic – light tackle – couple of flies – skinny wading (water still is 75-80F). Most commonly we are after redfish and to have a chance of catching them you must move very slowly. Just creep along the flat and be on the lookout for dark spots that move. Baz has taught me to pay attention to the position of the sun. Mostly have it behind you – sometimes it works sideways but never into the sun. The glare from the surface just makes it impossible to spot fish.

10/21/19 we went wadefishing for a couple of hours. When we had covered some 200 yards of flat and seen some reds, but mostly too late, they were already wise to our presence. Having gotten a few hits but no serious takes and we called it a day. I was ready to go but Baz was in the process of winding up his line when we see a black drum come cruising in 2′ of water about 3′ from the water’s edge. Even I saw it clearly. The fish was just in front of us, and Baz lobs out the small Clouser just for fun. The drum just ate the fly and off it went. Black Drum are very difficult to catch on the fly. The fly needs to be put just in front of their noses, and then they might take it, but mostly don’t. They are bottom feeders.

Black Drum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_drum

The cast Baz made is not going to win any awards but who cares? However, to subdue a big black drum on a 6# fly rod and a ten pound tippet takes some serious skills.

Capt. Baz does it again
Capt. Baz does it again

The proof – the fly was securely lodged in the corner of the drum’s mouth and did not come loose – fish brought to hand.

The Black Drum is revived
The black drum is revived

The fish needs a little bit to recover.

The Drum is released
The drum is released

It is seriously bad karma to harm a fish like that. This is the largest black drum Captain Baz has caught on a fly rod. Probably around 34 pound is our guesstimate.

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.

 

Blanda –

is a long glacial river running north that has been dammed for hydroelectric power. That turned the river into a major salmon river. The resident salmon is very compact, and has a big tail. I like to smoke the few salmon I harvest. The gentleman running the smoking business can easily peg the salmon from Blanda because of those characteristics. The dam was constructed, and the river was directed into a new channel to the intake of the power plant. This picture explains it neatly.

Blanda IV and how it became gin clear

Blanda IV and how it became gin clear

The dam was built in a good area for a reservoir. The Blanda Reservoir has a live storage capacity of 412 Gl and is the third-largest lake in Iceland. The water is diverted through diversion canals and lakes on a 25 km long route to the station’s intake reservoir. From the intake reservoir, water runs through a 1300 m long canal to the station’s intake, where it is diverted to the turbines in the powerhouse. The drop to the turbines from the harnessed head is 287 m. From the turbines, the water is lead through a 1700 m tailrace tunnel back into the river channel.

Where the glacial and clear water meet

Where the glacial and clear water meet

During summer, when water is stored in the reservoir (the silt accumulates there), the glacial part of Blanda became  much clearer and fishable, and thus becomes a major addition to our to our salmon river menu. Blanda IV now is a clear water river that forms as rivulet fed stream. The surrounding landscape is igneous rock and volcanic soil. Water just disappears into the ground when it rains, and reappears as rivulets that that little by little form the river, which is clear as gin. I think this type of a river in Scotland is called a spate river,  which has no fixed flow. Rain will make it grow, and then the surface falls again. And during long periods of drought the surface is very low. Now you will have big deep pools here and there, and the water just trickles between them. If you see the river like that it is hard to understand how the big fish got into the pools. However, when the water fills the reservoir, glacial water will make fishing impossible in all the Blanda beats.

Blanda IV fishing map

Blanda IV fishing map

Just a glance of the map will tell you that this is going to be a river in a deep V valley. This cannot be a river in an U-shaped valley. The giveaway is its relative straight course, where it has cut a gorge into the rock formations.

Blanda IV gorge

Blanda IV gorge

A lady at the center of previous picture

A lady at the center of previous picture. She is trying to spot salmon in the pool below.

These two pictures give a good idea how steep and deep the gorge is. These next pictures tell the story.

To get to truck you cross a river

To get to the truck you cross a river

The crossing

The crossing

On my way

On my way

Beer earned?

Beer earned?

No son, you go down there

No son, you go down there

 

However, this is a very majestic place. The pools are exquisite in the rugged barren landscape.

 

The pool Krókur high on the mountain

The pool Krókur high on the mountain

The pool Breiðan

The pool Breiðan

The lowest pools are easily accessible but for the rest of the river one needs to be in shape. Probably the best/most enjoyable way to fish this river is to drop the angler/anglers at the very top pool Rugludalshylur. From the road to this pool there is a half an hour walk. Then it is possible to hike down river and fish the various pools en route to civilization.

The friends Skúli and Rossi enjoying a break

My friends Skúli and Rossi enjoying a break

Skúli and Rossi opted for the lowest pools only and enjoyed their time with the beer. The cars you need are definitely of the SUV persuasion.

A glorified tackle box

A glorified tackle box

This one is great for the job. It is built like a tank and can get you anywhere. The only thing that does not currently work is the air conditioning. Do not worry the country is air conditioned. Notice how we transport the rods. Suction cups fasten the rod holders securely to the car.

Now for the fishing – it was great. The pools are small, and the river is clear. Stay away from the water´s edge and lengthen your cast instead. We like to stay 15-20 feet from the pool edges. Of course our lines will sometimes be on the ground, but we counteract that by using a bit longer rods. Sibbi was using a ten footer #7, and I was using a eleven footer #5 that can double as a two handed rod. Anything big has no place in this part of Blanda. We start by using the small flies and

#14 - #16 Salmon flies that work

#14 – #16 Salmon flies that work

if that does not elicit a response we might try small light tubes. When all else fails, out comes the Sunray Shadow tube, and as a rule it will get the salmon moving. Only once did I throw a slightly weighted tube. Be advised  – the rocks in this river are treacherously slippery. I had my wading boots fitted out with metal studs and I slipped at least 3 times. I have no idea why the stones are so damn slippery but trust me they are. For the usual fishing porn – see below.

https://vimeo.com/233997651

https://vimeo.com/234058516

Fly fishing in the salt

Went fishing with my friend Baz who is a fly fishing guide (http://www.gulfbreezeguideservice.com) late September. No clouds and a light northerly wind. This always makes a trip to the Gulf enticing. We went out through the Pensacola Pass and turned west. The Gulf can be flat in such a wind and it was. Close to the beach there tend to be deeper pockets of water with a channel to it’s south west. These pockets can be around football field size. We were using Baz’s flats skiff and just beached the boat.

Fly fishing in the salt

On first sandbar casting into the first trough

Just jumped in and waded bare footed in the warm water. Then we saw that each of those pockets held a school of Bluefish. They tend to be cooperative so we opted for a small white popper because surface takes are spectacular. We had 5 rods strung up and ready but as it turned out we only used one rod and only the one popper (we have hundreds of flies) and took turns casting. We use a short multi strand wire because of the Blue´s sharp teeth.

Bluefish on a Popper

Bluefish on beach ready to be released

We caught the Blues by sharp short strips and then we paused for a moment to give them a chance to grab the fly. They attacked it from the side and half out of the water they turned down and tore into it. I strip strike meaning I keep the rod down and give a sharp pull with the line hand then I raise the rod. It was just wonderful to be out there witnessing these takes. After a while we had a snack and as we were relaxing a Bald Eagle circles above us and higher up another one. It was just a perfect end to a great morning of fishing.

Bluefish caught on a popper

Wading the sandbar, fishing the first trough

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluefish