Having flown from Heathrow in the evening and spent the night in a hotel just a brief 5-minute taxi ride away from Reykjavik airport, I woke up the next morning to enjoy a light breakfast before meeting my first client, Chris, who had arrived earlier from Manchester. We waited for our transfer to arrive, which would not only bring the remaining six who were part of our group but would also take us on the 3-hour journey together to the Highlands. We stopped enroute for a refreshment break and to grab some breakfast, as the American contingent hadn’t had time to get breakfast after their flight.

Once we arrived at the Highlands Lodge, we were greeted by our guides and lodge hosts with a very warm welcome. They had an air of relaxed competence that immediately put us at ease. On arrival the guides disinfected all our fishing kit that would come into contact with water; rods/ reels/ waders/ boots were requested so that the guides could get on with that while we orientated ourselves with our rooms, unpacked, freshened up and got ready for our first fishing session.  Fabi had prepared packed lunches for us to take out and devour river-side (this was a daily occurrence here). The excitement in the air was palpable as we were paired up with fishing partners – two anglers per guide.

I was partnered with Chris and we had Mats as our guide. Mats is the head guide in the Highlands and as time went on throughout the week he was often in contact with the other guides, always checking in that everyone was ok and happy with where they were fishing and suggesting other areas to try if needs be. He took myself and Chris to the Tungnaa river and although the river was carrying some colour and the wind was very strong, we could still make out the shapes of char feeding actively. I put on a dry fly and within a few minutes was connected to my first ever arctic char!  This is what I had dreamed of occurring and I couldn’t believe it had happened – a gleaming fish weighing about 2 ½ lb which fought way harder than I had imagined char would – every time I thought it was ready to net, off it would bolt again as though I hadn’t played it at all. 

Whilst I netted the fish I looked up and saw that Mats had got Chris into his first fish of the trip too, slightly larger than mine at around 3 lb. I didn’t persevere with a dry fly for long, the chalky coloured water called for streamers, which is what we both fished. Olive, black, and white streamers all caught fish and a short spell nymphing had me briefly connected to a big brown trout that threw the hook in the air.  I’d had a good glimpse of what this river offered and I had got the taste for it!  Back at the lodge after fishing the atmosphere was superb.  The guides were hanging out and debriefing about areas fished, catches and methods, while I had chance to check in with the other members of the group and see how they did.  I was shown photo after photo of amazing fish – mainly char being caught but what had blown us all away was the average size of the fish here – a 2 lb fish was a small one with fish at 3 – 4 lb being the average. The scenery and the backdrop to this fishery is spectacular. In conversations with Ben, he had shown a keen interest in the canyons and waterfalls after seeing pictures of them. I made sure to arrange a visit for him by speaking with his guide and requesting a trip to those destinations the following day.

On the second day, Mats took Chris and I to fish the Kaldakvisl. We were greeted with a wide expanse of pocket water, flatter pools dotted here and there that you could see char holding in from the high hillside overlooking the river. Chris was nymphing using an indicator under the guidance of Mats very successfully and caught quite a few fish – he was really enjoying this. I assembled my euro-nymphing rod and began fishing the pockets and promising holding spots. Employing this technique led to catching a char weighing 5.5 lb. It was truly satisfying to have employed a range of fishing methods, all yielding success on the water. I found that my own nymphs, which are effective back home, worked just as well here; the key was ensuring the right weight and presentation. 

After a couple of hours on the Kaldakvisl we moved to the Tungnaa. Mats directed Chris into a pool fishing a streamer for big brown trout. I watched Chris fish for a bit and catch a couple of nice char, but I fancied a break and a walk so I wondered off downstream just to see what the river looked like. About half a mile downstream I realised I should have taken a rod with me!  I could see a decent char sipping down what looked like gnats. The fish lay in six inches of water, so I stomped back to the truck to get my dry fly rod. I had to be very careful entering the water trying to get within casting distance of it, keeping very low and moving slowly so I didn’t push a bow wave towards it. I cast a size 18 black gnat over it and watched, heart thumping in my chest. As the fly drifted towards it, the fish immediately inhaled and all hell broke loose. This char went berserk, tearing around all over the place trying to free itself, going aerial, the works. I was shattered after the scrap with it, the nerves before, the anticipation of the cast, the eat, the battle. After that experience I didn’t need to catch another fish in Iceland. I regaled Mats my story soon after. He said let’s see if we can get you a big brown trout and then see you still don’t need to catch another fish!

That afternoon we headed to the micro-canyon – just as the name suggests the river is 12 feet below the lava rocks you scramble over for banks.  Where you walk would have been the old river bed before the hydro dam was built – you look up from where you stand to see the top of the old banks. Fishing a streamer 12 feet below where you are standing was a new experience for me, but what fun we had there. The fish were extremely aggressive, and we were getting some big hits to the articulated Sid flies. A black and red version Mats had tied was doing the damage. The crown in the jewel of the highlands for me fish-wise, was a stunning 62cm brown trout. The first cast I put in his lair received a big swirl beside the fly. I cast again and the fish went for the fly and missed it. I thought I’d blown my chances like the rivers I’m used to fishing. You usually only get one shot at a trout with a streamer, but Mats convinced me to make another cast and I’m so glad he did; poor Sid was demolished and the biggest brown trout I’d ever caught was netted.

The videos and photos from the other members of the party were outstanding and the scenery here in the Highlands has to be seen to be believed. Everyone had their own stories of big fish and highlights from the day.  Each day was equally spectacular and each piece of water we visited provided different challenges. We would fish about three or four different spots each day and what surprised me was the variation of flies and methods that people were catching on. Fishing spiders, either by themselves or one on a dropper under a dry fly also worked well for me. After four days it was time to say farewell to the Highlands, our lodge and our guides, who had all been amazing and everything you could ask for. The food in the lodge was fantastic, the accommodation perfectly comfortable and we had been well looked after.

We were picked in a minibus and the drive across the middle of this dramatic Island was a bit like what I imagine being on Mars must be like. It was very impressive to see lumps of lava, rocks and volcanos in the distance.  Eventually the landscape became less stark, lusher and we dropped into the valley of Laxardal. This is the upper valley of the Laxa I Adaldal, right up on the north coast of Iceland. Our lodge here was more spacious, with single occupancy rooms. Our new guides greeted us and were keen to question us as to our expectations and see how they would manage them. We were all open minded – everyone had caught plenty of fish in the Highlands, so people were keen to get a big fish. This was a real possibility here.

Raven, head guide here at the Raudholar Lodge on Laxardal, was extremely conscientious and ran a great team of guides that were the epitome of professionalism. They found the perfect balance of providing guidance, tuition if needed and conviviality.  When the clients had gone to bed after dinner I enjoyed my time with all the guides, learning about their lives on the island and the rivers they guide, how their tactics might differ from my own in different situations. I always felt like there was an inexhaustible pool of knowledge that I could just keep firing questions at, and we could dissect theories.  Nerdy stuff I know, but that’s what we do and we all enjoyed learning a bit from each other.

The fishing times were different to the Highlands, where we fished from 0900 -1700 is. Here at Laxadal we would have stricter fishing times; 0800 -1400 then 1600 – 2200, which you could do as little or much fishing as you wanted within those times. Dinner was served at 2230 and was always exceptional. The group was very comfortable at this lodge and the guides were once again superb, very knowledgeable and everyone caught some huge fish. Photos and tales of battles fought, some won, some lost, as you’d expect but it was a river that certainly blew my mind for the stamp of fish that I saw in it. The average seemed to be an incredible 4 – 5 lb. We mixed the groups up a bit at this lodge and I really enjoyed spending time with the other members of the party. A highlight for me was seeing Chuck catch a 7 lb whopper at the beginning of the first session. Alan also had a beauty in his first session, a similar size as Chuck’s. Five out of eight of us were off the mark after the first session, with a healthy bit of banter flying around the dinner table about that.

The river here is big and wide but wadable for the most part – thigh to waist deep with a steady strong flow. It’s almost overwhelming just how much water there is to cover here, but the guides couldn’t have been more helpful in getting their clients into good water with a very good chance of catching a special fish. What I really wanted to achieve was a big trout on a dry fly. That was my mission and why this place was so appealing to me before our arrival.  I persevered, having not moved anything for the first session. I woke up the next morning very keen to get off the mark and see a brownies nose break the surface of the film for my fly. I was fishing with Chuck again, Olé our guide had him fishing the main river beside a side channel. I fished my way up that stream and low and behold a fish came up and looked at my dry but went back down again. My legs were shaking, this fish was huge. I tried putting a nymph below my dry fly to see if that would tempt it, but after a few drifts I changed to another nymph, then another. I wasn’t sure if this monster had moved out of position, but I couldn’t see a more favourable holding position for it in that channel around me, so I decided to go back to a dry fly. The fly I tied on was a rather special one for me….

In March last year I was guiding on the river Usk in Wales and my client caught so many fish with a new nymph pattern of mine. She asked what it was called and I said it didn’t have a name yet, so she decided it should be named after my daughter. When I got home, I told her about this and she loved that story. My son then piped up and asked if I’d named a fly after him. I hadn’t but said if my daughter has a nymph named after her, he might like to have a dry fly named after him. I had an idea for a high floating sedge but told him it would need to prove itself before I named it after him. I took two of them to Iceland with me and with huge anticipation tied one on. First cast over where the fish had shown itself before and up it came, very quickly then rolled down on the fly, the length of it’s back breaking clean out of the water as it went down with my fly in its mouth. I struck and was into my first Laxadal trout and on a dry fly that had earned it’s stripes to be named after my son, no doubt about it. Although we didn’t weigh this fish we did measure it at 70 cm, fin perfect, one of the healthiest looking trout you could ever hope to set eyes on. 

I didn’t fish for the rest of that session, I was made up, preferring instead to watch Chuck fish and take photos of the other guys fishing. It was lovley seeing everyone in the groove here, enjoying the fishing, the scenery, the friendliness of the guides, the accommodation and the food! A variety of methods were working well for people here too. Streamers were bringing a lot of action, as did skating caddis. Upstream nymphing seemed to be the most successful here, but whatever method people used seemed to move fish and everyone had a good ‘big fish’ story to tell at the dinner table. I have a story of a lost big fish of my own, the very thought of it writing this still makes me wince, so I’ll just say that when I hooked it, it jumped clean out of the water then straightened my hook out. I have never seen a trout that big in my life and wonder if I ever will again. I need help…

I can only say that Iceland had exceeded my expectations! Everyone we met and dealt with at both lodges were so friendly and lovely to deal with and I hadn’t expected the fishing at the Highlands and Laxardal to be so different, yet utterly enjoyable each in their own way. As a final farewell from Iceland, for our journey back to Reykjavik, we took an internal flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik. A volcano had erupted before our take-off near the capital. It wasn’t a danger to our flights, but we hoped to get a glimpse of it. We certainly did!  Our pilot circled it so we could see the lava flow. We could also see it clearly from the bar at our hotel stop-over before our flight back to England.  Truly a magical sight that we were very lucky to see.  What a place!

Pete Buckey will be returning to host this trip in Iceland again in 2024. Please click HERE for the details or contact Peter McLeod or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.