If you spend much of your time swinging a two hander on large rivers and fishing down and across it is easy to think “this is salmon fishing, and this is the way silver tourists are and should be caught”. Hours of unrolling the line like a metronome and methodically covering peaty water might be therapeutic and delightful, but, it is not the only way. I was to discover this after fishing in Iceland.
Iceland broadened my horizon to a slightly different form of salmon fishing, where a more thoughtful and careful approach was required to have success. Many of the rivers are small and well featured and the water runs blue and crystal clear. It tumbles over heavily featured river beds to create waterfalls, gorges and endless fishy pockets. The landscape and environment are quite unique and almost alien.
Given the right conditions fish can be seen before each cast is made, by either you or your guide. Even when this is not the case, this is by no means a game of chucking and chancing. Sight fishing in these small rivers can be the fishing equivalent of a game of chess. For me this kind of salmon fishing seems a perfect blend between the salmon fishing I know and the trout fishing I love, the best of both worlds. The technical nature of trout fishing combined with catching a larger and more powerful species.
Many of Iceland’s rivers require small flies, long leaders and a stealthy approach. Some of the techniques can seem a little out of the box those used to more traditional methods. But, when you see a salmon rise from the depths and through the water column towards your hitch fly it is an image that is hard to shake off. Sometimes only the head breaks the surface to take, others the whole fish leaps into the air in an acrobatic dance. Catching any salmon is special but to me catching on the hitch is just a little more so, and Iceland is undoubtedly one of the best places for this technique.
Not only does the clarity of the water provide opportunities for sight fishing in the right conditions but it also means you are often able to observe fish once they are hooked. I am not sure if this makes the fight better or worse, but it certainly makes it exciting and nerve wracking.
To me what also makes the fishing there such a delight is knowing you are constantly covering fish, whether the fish can be seen or not, every nook and cranny is likely to hold something. It is then the case of tinkering with various techniques to figure out how to come tight. I can think of few better places to observe the behaviour of Atlantic salmon than in Iceland’s wonderful rivers, certainly none that are only a few hours flight away.
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