After a short drive, south east from reykjavik, a small farm road leads us the last few kilometers to the fishing lodge at Minnivallækur, the weather was perfect, for September. A little overcast, with small patches of blue, a slight breeze and 14 degrees “dry fly fishing was written all over the sky.
Jan and I where so hyped, we could almost hear heavy brown trout rolling in the surface and sucking in size 22 midges, over the sound of the engine of our four wheel drive hire car. But in true Icelandic fashion, by the time we had pulled on our waders and put up our rods, Ice cold pounding rain and hail , that with the help of a force 10 gale from the north, made not only up-stream dry fly fishing, but any kind of fly fishing, down right impossible.
Minnivallækur is approximately one and a half hours drive along the coast road south east of Reykjavik, through the most interesting volcanic landscape. If you mention Iceland to most fishermen, they immediately think of fast flowing rocky rivers and million dollar salmon fishing. This is of course what Iceland is internationally known for, but the fantastic fishing that is to be found in it’s slow – winding trout rivers and streams can only be compared to that of Patagonia and the Russian tundra.
Situated in the shadow of Mount Hekla, Europe’s most active volcano, Minnivallækur is small to Scandinavian standards, and for the most is quite shallow. Snaking it’s way slowly through the impressive treeless landscape of flat volcanic fields and improvised farm land, like a giant serpent, each bend in the river revealing new pools and new fish.
It was my fishing friend and companion for this trip, Jan Idar Løndal, that first turned me on to Minnivallækur. He had fished the river for the first time some years ago, and Jan being a hardened salmon fisher, this was a little out of character to be so enthusiastic about brown trout fishing, so I immediately new that it had to be something special !
Our first day was, to say the least, disappointing, NO – disastrous! After arriving late in the afternoon to be met by the worst weather imaginable, we could only manage a couple of hours of waving carbon. We retired to the fishing lodge, and indulged ourselves in 12 year old Scottish culture, while searching text TV for the mornings weather forecast, and admiring the two monster brown trout trophies the walls of the sitting room taken from the river last year. One of 8 kg taken on a nymph and another of 10 kg that was found dying in one of the pools.
The next morning we where out and fishing at day break. The wind had dropped but there was still a light rain, and heavy black clouds hung low in the sky hiding Mount Hekla. We began fishing at the hatchery pool. This is one of the widest stretches of Minnivallækur and the uppermost beat. Not the prettiest beat, as there is an old hatchery research center on the west bank, one of the few buildings to be found on the rivers banks. This hatchery caused some problems a few years ago. Some visiting foreign fishermen had travelled long and far to fish for these monster wild trout. While two of them where fishing the hatchery pool one of the employees emerged from the hatchery with a big landing net containing some huge brown trout, made his way down to the river, and released them !!! To say the least the fishermen where shocked ! This was supposed to be a wild fishery, with NO stocked fish. The fact that the trout are so big fueled there misunderstanding. There was no way that such a small river could possibly grow such large wild fish. Our host Throstur Ellidson explained that several times each year the hatchery which grow salmon to fingerling size have to remove the brown trout that have made their way into the settlement pond of the hatchery in search of food. And as for this river not being able to sustain trout to this size: this is nonsense.
Jan began fishing with the fly that produced the most fish for him on his last vist, a tiny #22 dry. Constructed of nothing but a little dubbed body of black seals fur. After a short while when our eyes adjusted to the low light and the ripple of the uppermost part of the pool, we began to see small steady careful rises, but still no sign of insects. I positioned myself up on top of the highest advantage point of the pool upstream form Jan. As I approached the river a huge long thick shadow shot out from under the bank and into deeper water. This was a fish of 5-6 kg. I turned and gestured to Jan with both my hands wide apart, he responded with the same gesture and then pointed a few meters up stream for him, this is what we had come for. Like most big fish rivers, Minnivallælakur doesn’t grow fish. These huge trout spend the winter months in large lakes and migrate up this small river in search of food and spawning. Thrustor Ellidson who,s is as a fresh water biologist, leases this river along will several others in Iceland told me about this special strain of brown trout in Minnivallalækur. We believe that they are some of the very last remaining trout of this strain. It was this brown trout that was over the whole of Northern Europe, this is the original “Salmo Trutta”
It didn’t take long before I heard Jan shout “Fish On” . His # 5 weight rod was bent double as he tried to back his way out from the middle of the river to the east bank. The fish managed to round him twice before he reached terra firma. After several powerful runs, ripping line of his reel, our first Minnivallækur brown trout was in the net. We where both, nothing but astonished!
A fish of no more than 600 grams. Even Jan who had fished this river before was amazed by the sheer fighting power and strength of this fish. On closer examination this trout was very different from any trout that I had ever seen. Apart from the condition of the fish, short and deep, with a small well proportioned head, the spots on its side continued around and under it’s stomach.
The next few hours we explored the pools of the upper 3 km of the river. Its essential while fishing in Iceland that you have a four wheel drive, as there are no roads, only farm tracks that follow the river, if your lucky. The last part of the day produced several more fish up-to, and just over the kilo mark, most of which fought with just as much passion and determination as the first.
Our last days fishing produced better weather, with the occasional sunny period, we could now observe the smallest midges hatching everywhere and the odd caddis fly coming off, but for some reason there where less rising to be seen. This is a challenging river to fish as these big trout are spooked easily, with gin clear water, high banks and a minimum cover. We spent a lot of time on all fours crawling to the bank and spotting fish, rather like fishing for big trout in New Zealand. The traditional Icelandic method of fishing here is with large normally traditional streamers, Black ghost, Muddler minnow etc; in the early part of the season fished down and across stream, and later on it the year with small weighted nymphs fished upstream in combination with a strike indicator when fishing deep. Iceland has no tradition with dry fly fishing.
We had spotted several big fish during first half of the day but with no results, we tried fishing some of the pools Iceland style with streamers and heavy nymphs, but without producing a single take. We both agreed to move back up stream.
As we made our way to the uppermost pool it looked like the weather was about to go sour on us again, we had to hurry. While crossing the bridge, some 100 meters below the pool we saw a good fish, tight into our bank, he was a steady riser. We played stone, paper, scissors, and it was decided that Jan would put the first fly over him. I moved up stream to the bend above the pool, giving his fish a good birth so as not to spook it. To my surprise as I crawled to the edge I saw several fish rising just of a point some 15 meters above me, a sandy coloured caddis fly danced across the surface in a back eddy just behind the rising fish, “SPLOSH” it was gone. I quickly clipped of my tiny midge and and tied on a streaking caddis. With the minimum false casting possible I placed my fly behind the rising fish, and as my fly line hit the water, that big dark shadow, right under me shot out into deeper water, F****!! How could I be so stupid. To make things worse just at that moment another fish rose, splosh, my fly was gone. I lifted into my rod to find only slack line and a drowned streaking caddis.
Jan on the other hand was doing things right! He was into another fish, but this time it was bigger. After a good fight and several acrobatic leaps the best and last fish of our three days at Minnvallalækur was in Jans net, not a monster but a perfect specimen of a brown trout. We never did catch that huge trout, but we saw them!! Not just one but several. Taking into the weather factor and that we fished the very end of the season, I am without doubt that this is some of the best dry fly trout fishing in the world. Our return trip is already booked.
Our short stay at Minnivallalækur, produced 16 fish, the majority of which where taken on dry fly, with a couple of fish on small gold head nymphs.
The fishing at Minnivallalækur is fly only and catch and release, but you are allowed to take the occasional fish for the table. The beat covers about 7 km of river, which is fished by only four rods at one time. The season runs from 1 April – 30 September. The average size of the fish in Minnivallalækur is an amazing 1 to 2 kg. The new fishing lodge is first class and has 4 double bedrooms and a view from the sitting room over home pool. A visit to www.strengir.is will give you all the info you need.
August 24, 2012 | Categories: Fly Fishing, Fly Photography, Fly Tying | Tags: Big Brown trout, Brown trout, Caddis, Dry Fly, fishing in Iceland, Fly Fishing, huge brown trout, midge, Minnivallalækur, photography, River of silver and Gold, small flies, streamer, wild trout | 1 Comment
Tied in Hand
Odyssey of a Fly-Tyer
In his early teens, Sven-Olov Hård began attaching yarn and hackles to the shank of a fishing hook with thread, struggling to copy the illustrations of salmon flies he found in old Hardy fishing catalogues. Little did he know, that a little over three decades later, he would be a master of the craft and one of the most distinguished ‘in-hand’ fly tyers of our time.
I myself have been tying flies for many years, and have gained through my contributions to fishing magazines and books, the unfortunate label of an “Expert” but when I examine a salmon fly tied in hand by Sven-Olov, I am soon brought down to earth, feeling rather like a second rate art student, studying an old master. Anyone who has ever tried to tie a fully dressed salmon fly, will know of the patience required for building a mixed wing, or a flawless floss body! Sven-Olov does all this without a vice!
Tied in hand, takes you on the fascinating journey of a salmon fly-tyer, that begins with a young boys interest in fishing and results with a grown mans obsession with the classic salmon fly, ending in Scotland on the rivers Tay and Spey to cast his flies into the waters they where originally made for. With every step along the way wonderfully illustrated with full page photographs of his flies and charming water colours by Lars Sundström. He writes, not only with a great knowledge on the subject of materials and the techniques of tying in hand but also with a heartfelt affection for his passion.
This is a delightful book, full of beautiful fishing flies tied as originally intended and accompanied by their history and recipes.
This is a simple but but effective mayfly pattern that fly tyers of any level can tie with a little practice. Once you have masterd this technique all you have to do is change the size and colour to match most mayfly hatches.
The chioce of colours and sizes of fly to be used when tying this pattern is determined by what mayfly you intend to imitate and under what conditions. In still water fishing, trout can be extremly sellective when feeding on mayflies, they have good time to check them out before sucking them in.
Body form: Upholsterers needle
Hook: Standard dry Mustad 94840 # 16-10
Tail: Peccary or moose hair
Body: Flyrite dubbing
Wing: CDC fibres
Although I don’t fish with realistic patterns, I do enjoy tying them every now and then. If you are starting from scratch, as I did with this crayfish, it takes a little time to actually work out the fundamentals, scale, hook size, proportions, materials and techniques.
I always start with a morphology image from the visual dictionary, this gives you the basic shape, scale, body segment and leg count. Once this is established I select the materials and then try and plan the correct order to put them together. This can be rather like building a piece of IKEA furniture without the instructions, you get half way and realize that you have left something out! and have to start again.
But for those of you that would like to have a go, I have photographed each step of this pattern, trying not to miss anything out and explaining each stage as I go. Although it looks complicated, its not difficult, but does take some time. You can tie it in stages tie up the legs one day, the claws another etc. So give it a go!
If you have any questions post them in the comments box at the foot of the article and i will try and answer them ASAP.
Two great patterns but do they really have the X factor ?
We all have patterns that for some reason or another, deliver every time, here are two that I just wouldn’t go fishing without. But its strange, some of my fishing friends know how many fish I catch with these patterns, especially when nothing else will work, but they still wont use them. They wouldn’t even consider having them in their box, not to mention tying them on !
What’s that about ? No really, I mean it, is it all down to personal taste or does it go deeper into aesthetics and traditions or is it just down right stubbornness ? Which leads to the next question, do you have to really believe in a pattern for it to work ?
“If you fish the wrong fly long and hard enough it sooner or later becomes the right fly” – John Gierach
Although I tie flies to fish for just about everything that has fins, and then some… When it comes to trout fishing I am a simple soul, and could probably manage with a handfull of patterns, that would cover most situations on most waters. But what about you ?
Let me know why you choose the flies you do and why you don’t or wont fish with others.