Following on from the previous week’s post, this is the second instalment of my look back at last summer’s trip to the Norwegian fjords.
The trip provided a number of angling ‘firsts’ for me starting with sea fish on the fly – a colourful wrasse from the shore, followed by a beautiful mackerel caught one blissful evening out on the boat.
A small spate river which, by chance, flowed into the fjord just a few miles down the road from our house would provide a few more new experiences over the course of the week.
The stuff dreams are made of …
Discussing our plans for the week’s fishing on the first evening, Andy (who had been travelling in a separate car on our journey from Stavanger to Erfjord) said, “did you see that river we crossed a few miles back?”. Somehow I had missed it – very rare for me – but he duly described a small river than ran down from the mountains and discharged its waters into the fjord at the village of Hålandsosen. The local grocery store happened to be located next to the river just where it met the fjord, so Andy and I duly volunteered to do a shopping run for our families the next day to get a better look.
After parking at the store, we walked across the small car park and could not believe what we saw. After several dry weeks in the region the salmon and sea trout were clearly gathering in the fjord waiting for enough water to run the gauntlet of this small mountain stream and reach their spawning grounds in the high fells. Fish were crashing about everywhere in the bay – some certainly more than ten pounds in weight.
That day happened to be the day the weather broke with the arrival of some heavy rain. For the increasingly restless fish in the bay this was the moment they had been waiting for. As we surveyed the scene, it was clear that some were already beginning to explore upstream with more than a few specimens showing themselves along the length of the ‘sea pool’ (the last length of river before the fjord).
The sea pool was indeed a lovely stretch, and with so many migratory fish in residence it felt like the stars might have been aligning in our favour. At the head of the pool was a small weir that gave way to a long steady glide of around 100 yards. The main flow scoured the far side creating a deep gully along a treelined bank. On the near side, smoother water, perfect for a resting salmon or sea trout, flowed over a mix of sand and gravel that provided both safe wading and perfect fly water. We could not wait to return with our rods. Andy had never caught a salmon or sea trout before, and whilst I had once taken a salmon on a spinner, I was really keen to get one on the fly. Truly the stuff dreams are made of.
A heavy thump …
The heavy rain persisted throughout much of that day. After returning from the grocery store and the sight of all those ‘silver tourists’ (the oft used term for migrating salmon or sea trout fresh from the sea), we braved the elements and took the boat out on the fjord for the first time. Whilst five lovely mackerel were caught and made for a delicious dinner, we got thoroughly soaked and very cold in the process. We were thankful for the log fire back at the house and spent the rest of the afternoon drying out and warming up. Finally, the rain began to ease in the early evening and, after the kids had been put to bed, we were ready to head back to the river for the last hour or so of daylight.
The rain had reduced to light drizzle as we tackled-up in the car park of the grocery store. Andy would try spinning, whilst I tied on a Mickey Finn fly – a red, gold and yellow streamer – that was said to be a favourite of Norwegian salmon and sea trout. With fish still jumping up and down the sea pool our expectations were sky-high.
I entered the water just below the weir pool and was sure it would not take long to connect with something. However, thirty minutes slipped by without a touch and with fish continuing to show a change of fly was in order. As darkness was drawing in, something big and black seemed the right choice. I chose a black leech lure – about three inches long. I reasoned that it would present a good silhouette in the water and the combination of a tungsten bead head and flowing marabou tail would provide lively jigging movement to attract attention.
Having already worked the head of the pool and with some good fish showing lower down in the middle of the river, I decided to move. Halfway down the pool on our side was a pathway and manmade embankment where a few small boats were moored. It was too deep to wade, but, with a good cast from the pathway, the lie of those midstream fish was just within range. It was not a position from where the fly could be swung ‘down and across’ the fish in a traditional manner, but by casting at a 45 degree angle upstream I could strip the black lure quickly over their heads and maybe induce a take that way.
After only a couple of casts there was a heavy thump on my line as a fish took the lure. It was not the tap-tap-tug take of small fish, but a single solid pull – could this be an elusive ‘silver tourist’? The fish was strong and from the pathway a couple of metres above water level landing it would be tricky without a net. A boat moored upstream of me blocked the way back to the grassy bank and slipway at the top of the pool where the fish could have been easily beached. My only option was to climb down a ladder to my left and into an old red rowing boat that was tied up. From here I might be able to bring the fish to hand.
After another few minutes the fish was tiring and was brought alongside the boat. Taking great care not to capsize the tiny and rather unstable craft, I leaned over the side. On the second attempt I managed to gently grasp the fish just behind the gills and lift it into the boat. Sadly, it was neither the salmon or the sea trout I was after, but I could not complain with a beautiful wild brown trout probably weighing between 2 and 3 pounds. It was quickly dispatched and made a lovely meal the next night simply grilled on the barbecue.
Shortly after that fish I did manage a small (and my first) sea trout. Just before darkness, I had noticed a couple of splashy rises by one of the moored boats. Off came the black leech and on went a straggly Zulu – a buggy looking fly that would kick up a fuss in the surface film and hopefully fool one of these small risers. A couple of drifts of this fly alongside the boat was all it took and a spritely, silver sea trout of about 3/4 of a pound closed a memorable evening.
This has to be a salmon …
Chances to return to the river were limited due to other family activities, but I vowed to get up early on the last day of the holiday and go all out for a salmon or big sea trout on the river. First light was around 5am which meant I could get a couple of hours in before the kids awoke and duty called back me at the house. Andy is not one for an early start, so this would be a solo mission.
It was still dark when I woke, so I enjoyed a peaceful coffee in the kitchen until the first light began to appear above the mountains that surrounded the fjord and signalled it was time to head to the river.
The narrow road hugged the shoreline of the fjord that, at this hour, was as still as a millpond. A family of deer leisurely crossed the road before the sound of my car approaching caused them to bolt into the dense pine forests that clung to the mountainside. With the windows down, despite the chill in the early morning air, I savoured the sights, sounds and smells of the Norwegian dawn – too soon the holiday would be over and I would be back in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Unlike on the previous vist, after several days without further rain, the river was running much lower than before and was extremely clear. The clarity of the water meant a more delicate approach was required than with the big lures and gaudy streamers of the first evening.
I started with a small Ally’s Shrimp on an eight pound breaking strain tippet and first cast there was a lovely boil at the fly as it swung midstream. A momentary pause to allow the fish to turn with the fly and a raise of the rod tip hooked it firmly. Immediately the fish turned downstream and headed for the sea. With such a light leader I had to give line and the fish immediately ran the entire length of the pool towards the fjord, stripping me down to my backing in the process. This has to be a salmon I thought. However, after that initial explosive run I regained line easily and was somewhat disappointed when a mackerel of around a pound was beached on the slipway. Nonetheless, it got the adrenalin running for a moment and made for a lovely breakfast.
I returned to the top of the pool and began working my way back towards the fjord. The river level continued to drop and in turn I changed to even smaller flies on a six pound tippet. A size 14 Teal, Blue and Silver took a small sea trout shortly after the mackerel and, after a number of further plucks and pulls on a variety of other flies, I eventually tempted a slightly bigger specimen, just under a pound, on a Red Tag. This last fish was caught just as Andy and his son Teddy showed up to see how I was doing and to call me back to the house for breakfast.
Back at the house I sat with Andy on the veranda, enjoying a coffee and looking out over the tranquil waters of the fjord. I recalled the morning’s events, from seeing the family of deer at dawn to the wonderful fishing on that small, intimate river – wading in my shorts, the cold water around my shins, listening to the rush of the weir, watching the line swing across the current, straining my eyes to track the path of my fly, full of hope and expectation, and, for those few hours, without a care in the world.
“I bloody love fishing” I said to him … and I truly do.