The Adaldalur valley has enchanted me since I first visited it in 2002 to fish the Nes beats for salmon. At that time I heard tales of the incredible trout fishing found on the upper stretches above the falls that wound their way down from Lake Myvatn. At this point only those in the know and the Icelandics themselves fished these waters, and when I finally did come up to fish I was astounded by the size and ferocity of these wild brown trout.
Once again I have returned to tangle with these monsters as my buddy and fellow trout bum Will Proger and I headed north on the flight to Akureyri to try our luck. There are two lodges on the Upper Adaldal, Raudholar and Hof, and this year we stayed in the lower lodge at Raudholar to fish the Laxardal beats. There are 10 rods fishing this section with approximately 12 km of double banked fishing. Unlike the braided sections of the Myvatnssveit beats that flow out of the lake the river here is wide and interspersed with islands. On first view it can certainly appear intimidating to the chalkstream angler. However the fish are normally tucked in against the bank in the numerous islets and bays along its course, and the fish down on Laxardal generally have a much higher average weight. Although the river looks deep and menacing this is a product of the black larval sand on the bed punctuated with rocks making the perfect lies. It is easily waded the whole way across to thigh height.
The first morning we went out together the wind had swung round from the north and a cold blast punctuated by horizontal rain greeted us as we donned several layers and waders. Bjarni Höskuldsson, our guide, picked us up from the lodge and we headed out. Bjarni drove to the top of the Laxardal beats, and we stepped out into the elements armed with 5# rods and floating lines. The air temperature was 8 degrees centigrade, but as we followed Bjarni he led us through the ancient lava flows to “Hólmakvísl”. T here was an island in the river offering some protection from the strong gusts. The rig for this stretch was New Zealand style, a large boyant dry fly such as an ether foam hopper with a stretch of nylon tied directly to the hook shank with a small weighted nymph suspended below. We had asked Bjarni to fish with us, and he started in below us in the deeper current. After a little while of working up the river there was a yell from behind and Bjarni was into a fish that tore off downstream heading for the white water. As his rod bucked up and down he made his way towards the shore. Will and I continued fishing and after about five minutes Bjarni was still playing the fish so I thought I had better offer some assistance.
As I tromped down the bank it quickly became obvious that this was a large trout that was giving him a very hard time and as I grabbed the net and moved below into the current I caught site of the brown golden flank as it finned across the current. What a slab! I moved up behind and slowly brought the paddle net up and under and we all took an inhale of breath. The fish when measured was 64 cm and approximately 6 ½ lbs. He then explained that it had hit the bottom nymph tumbling in the current before hammering for the fast water in an effort to escape. Several times he had thought he would lose it but had managed to turn its head at the last minute. What a beast! We carried on and as I worked my way up another seam in the current I hear a squeak of surprise from Will to my left and he was into a fish. He was laughing hysterically as this fish tore line of the reel in a wide arc and headed downstream. It transpired that he had cast in front of him and after he had finished retrieving the line as it drifted towards him and was raising the rod a large trout had emerged from the depths and jumped at him as it chased the nymph nearly giving him a heart attack! After an intense battle this fish was skilfully netted by Bjarni and was again over 60 cm and just over 5 ½ lbs.
We moved downstream to a small inlet called “Nestá”, also protected from the wind by the high bank above. The current swung from the upper edge and across the middle of the inlet, a small stream of foam jogging down stream and looked extremely promising. I cast upstream and allowed the bob fly to move down the current. After about the third run down and just below the riffle the hopper disappeared and I struck. My hand was immediately met with solid resistance and the tip of the rod began to dance. The angry brown trout charged out into the main current, ripping line off as it went and putting a savage bend in the Hardy Zenith 5#. I can not believe how hard these fish fight! They are like some prehistoric toothy brown trout with an axe to grind. After nearly putting me into my backing and a couple of close calls I pulled his head up for two seconds and Bjarni slipped the net under his flank. A stunning cock fish of 58cm and about 4 ½ lbs. Almost immediately I then hit another on the outside of the current but it released me. I saw a massive side of gold in the water before everything went slack again. Honour was restored and we headed for the warmth of the lodge and some lunch.
After a cracking lunch of roast chicken and a small siesta it was back to the wader rooms to get kitted up. In the wader room is an incredible wader dryer taken out of one of the arctic fishing boats with arms that blow hot air up the legs. Having warm and toasty waders is a big plus before jumping into Bjarni’s car and trundling off down the track. We started at the same small inlet at “Nestá” we finished on to remain out of the wind. Will hopped in first and after half a dozen casts a fish smashed the fly as it had drawn level with him, another cracker of 59 cm and again 4 ½ lbs. In this instance the fish seemed to be induced by the cream and black Davy Wooten Woven Nymph escaping to be recast. One of the other fishermen in the lodge had shown us some large red sedge larvae he had collected from the river and had in a bowl next to the fly tying bench, the Davy Wooten woven nymph a dead ringer for the pupae. I must again state how rubbish the weather was and we were layered up to the eyeballs in fleece. There is no way I would be fishing in the UK in conditions like this and it was deeply satisfying to still be catching large fish. We fished a couple more pools and I managed one more fish almost an identical size, and by this stage we were feeling pretty cold and headed back to the lodge for a beer and a sauna to warm up.
The next morning I awoke at half past five to hear…. nothing…. The rain and wind had disappeared, the river outside was flat calm mirroring the hills surrounding it. I began to get VERY excited… I could not believe the change in conditions from one day to another and I immediately began to admin my kit. When breakfast came around Will and I were hopping up and down and in waders ready to go by 0830. Bjarni too was excited and we drove over the bridge and round to the other side of the river opposite the lodge. We picked our way through the old larva field until we came to the banks of “Ullarnef” pool and in the bay just above some fish were rising, quietly dimplying in the morning light. They appeared to be sipping small black midges and were barely breaking the surface. Bjarni and Will crept up and will began flicking a line out like and angry cat swishing its tail. I slipped into the river below and waded up to my chest before coming out on a black sandbar above. A fish rose just above me on the edge of the main current and I put the small black Klinkhammer over him again and again. He just came up intermittently, on some occasions nearly on top of the 5 lbs leader. Having cycled through a few other patterns I finally opted for a small size 14 Fulling Mill Pearly Spider. The fly went up, and as it came in line with the fish the leader stopped and I struck.
The angry brownie cart-wheeled out of the water before tearing away and almost immediately had me into my backing. Again, I was just staggered as to their power as the Zenith 5# started its merry jig as the line streaked out of the rings. I had to tuck the rod butt up against my hip and start leaning into it, reminiscent of bonefish…. but this was a trout! Bjarni sauntered over with the net and asked what all the noise was about… He came up behind it and slotted it carefully into his large paddle net. Another 4 ½ lbs football complete with lovely butter colour stomach and a spade tail. We moved higher up the West bank though “Ystipartur” and then up to “Djúpidráttur”. There were fish rising everywhere, sometimes sporadically and sometimes consistently and I could not believe the difference from the previous days. Will and I both landed a few more fish, and again the spider for me proved successful.
Lunch in the lodge looked out across the river and all we could see were rings of rises right across the wide part of the river. It was an extraordinary thing to witness, especially as we could see some of these huge fish rising 200 yards away. I was watching the clock click down to 1600 when we could get back out there. No siesta today, and Will and I charged out like a pair of teenagers straight down onto the water below the lodge. We cast at numerous large fish along the bank before venturing into the river and wading out. This was the nearest thing to bonefishing I have done with waders on. Will and I waded up the centre of Birningsstaðaflói, line abreast casting at rises as we went. Bjarni joined us after a little while as he had moved the car higher up the pool before walking back. Will caught two smaller fish of about 3 lbs in quick succession on a small green CDC emerger. I also caught a couple of fishing of a similar size in quick succession on a size 16 pheasant tail Klinkhammer.
We switched sides in the same way would circle each other on the salt flats before I found a large fish head and tailing in the boil of a rock. I cast the small Klinkhammer over the rise again and again, and Bjarni explained that it was just a question of persistence. We suddenly heard an exclamation as Will hooked up. There were a few convulsions in the surface before this creature powered off across the river towards the west bank. I suppose due to the nature of the river these large fish will always take off like a bonefish as they can’t sound on you and therefore just run. He was down to his backing in short order and began wading fast across the current in hot pursuit. In the mean time the large fish I was casting at continued rising as if the commotion that had started a mere 20 ft away was nothing to bother about. Bjarni explained this was perfectly normal and even if a fish was taken out of a wolf pack of feeding fish the others would carry on regardless. With no natural predators up here apart from the odd bird they have little to fear. After five minutes of consistent casting we looked across to see Will now struggling to land his fish. Bjarni took pity and waded over to give him a hand. The large cock fish ticked the scale at 5 lbs and 59 cm.
While observing the action from afar the fish I had been concentrating on suddenly decided mine was the right fly and came up to sip it off the surface. I set the hook and now it was my turn to chase a bundle of golden fury across the pool. I was beginning to get blasé about these large fish, even though I had more fish of a lager size in two days than ever I would find on my home waters in Hampshire. The evening progressed and we caught a few more, lost a few more, and never having waded more that 500 yards from the lodge. Incredible. The last fish of the evening I was trying to catch had nestled amidst the larval boulders towards the head of the pool and came up consistently only two rod length from me. Every time it broke the surface I could see the whole mouth, eye, and then a couple of seconds later the tail would roll back down again. I estimated the fish at approximately 8 lbs judging by the breadth of the body which I could clearly see was between 10 – 15 cm across. It took a small F Fly on a 16 hook which just slid out of its mouth when I struck. Never even felt it… and then it carried on rising. At this point I waved it good bye, sated from all the action and ready to head home.
The Raudholar lodge is comfortable with typically Scandinavian rooms, each with two beds. The food was great, nothing fancy and plenty of it. The staff was kind and efficient and the guide team outstanding. It is an extremely functional lodge for serious fishermen. I have returned a little shell shocked.. again. The fishery is so huge with such a density of fish that I think there is no other brown trout fishery like it. In two and a half days Will and I had 22 fish between us, the smallest at 2 ½ lbs and the largest at 6 ½ lbs with numerous fish between 4 – 5 lbs. The Laxardalur valley has captured my heart and I will be returning next year for a re match with those prehistoric trout. Many of these fish have teeth that will cut 5 lbs leader, and they have been seen to hit ducklings off the surface. Yet these same brutal monsters will happily sip a tiny emerging midge off the surface like a 6 inch fingerling. You never know what you are going to hit. It is potentially one of the most exciting trout fisheries in the world, and for those that say that trout don’t fight, wait until you hook into one of these!