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 fly fishing 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 fly fishing 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 fly. 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 fly.
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.
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.