Salmon fishing at Midfjardara, Iceland
By Bob Sherwood of Halstead and Bolton
Perched high on a rock face, I peer down into the clear water below and can see literally dozens of salmon. From the far bank, Richard casts his fly across and I can see it almost bouncing off the noses of some of the fish. But they are not interested.
I signal for a change of fly. “I’ve got just the thing,” calls back Richard. He switches to a small bottle tube fly and drops it back into the run. The change is instant - and startling. The fish’s fins are bristling and I can sense a heightened alertness among them. Some of the salmon deliberately move out of the path of the fly, but others begin to follow it for a short distance. I’ve never seen such a sudden change in salmon behavior.
“They’re reacting completely differently now, Rich,” I call to him. “You’ll get a take in a moment, I’m sure of it.”
Richard is staying away from the fish so as not to spook them in the low water – so it is up to me to be his “eyes”. I watch one salmon mouth the fly and call for a strike, but Richard feels and sees nothing and the chance is gone. I can sense Richard tensing – this is exciting stuff.
The next cast is different. He drops it right onto the pod of fish and one salmon simple rises up and sips it in like a taking trout. The water explodes and the single-handed 7-weight rod hoops over. This is Icelandic salmon fishing at its heart-stopping best.
We had returned to Midfjardara – “Queen of the rivers” – for our annual hosted trip in August, when the system is full of fish. Midfjardara, one of the top-producing Icelandic rivers with a growing reputation for larger fish, is a firm favourite of ours. It offers classic Icelandic salmon fishing, with a river of waterfalls, a breathtaking canyon, crystal-clear water and small pools, fished with single-handed rods. It is always intimate, exciting and usually highly visual fishing.
We kitted up with six- and seven-weight rods, long leaders and small flies. Nick Moody, back for the second year running, and Guy Titchmarsh, started us off in spectacular style with a seven-fish session from beat four, after finding the famed Tynhylur, or Bridge pool, crammed with salmon.
It wasn't long before the rest of the team were into fish. Ailsa Smith had a salmon on beat two within ten minutes of starting, while I watched from high on a rocky cliff face as Richard Williams latched into his first salmon on a single-hander on beat five the following morning (and enjoyed a precarious sliding descent to be at the water in time to take the photographs!). Suffice it to say Richard was clearly impressed by the fighting abilities of these fish on the light rods.
Among our 84 salmon landed for the week by six rods (plenty more lost), were some truly memorable moments. Nico Stephens opened his account with a spectacular fight from an 84 cm fish while I watched his wife Avril, who was sharing Nico’s rod, lean her whole body into the battle with one strong fish.
After a walk down into the depths of the canyon section, Richard and I watched stunned as an 80cm-plus hen rocketed from the depths to take his tiny size 16 fly twitched in the surface, just beating a far, far larger fish to the fly. The resulting battle was nerve-jangling as the fish went ballistic – and every twist and turn was clearly visible.
And then there was Paul Lalwan's continuing incredible run of form. After catching not one but two 26lb-plus sea trout on his first trip to Argentina, Paul insisted he would be happy just to catch a salmon. To no one's surprise, he continued in the same vein, landing a 96cm fish as his first ever salmon. He also entertained us on the final day by catching a fish immediately after going for a short, unplanned swim in just a few inches of water - truly irrepressible.
As ever, the food, the service, the standard of the lodge and the guiding was superb. At times the wind howled and at others the sun shone down brightly, showing off Midfjardara's mountains, glacier backdrop and canyons in their best light. To top it all, we even had a breathtaking show of the northern lights on a couple of clear evenings.
We’ll be back this August, and we’ll hope for higher water and more running fish. But Midfjardara has shown us that whatever the conditions, we can expect the spectacular, visual salmon fishing that only Iceland can provide.