The Laxá I Asum is one of those names that feature in any salmon fisherman’s top ten rivers in the world to fish. Its catch records have set it apart from Icelandic salmon rivers for decades. When I got the call from the new leaseholders, Salmon Tails, asking if not only would I like to represent this prestigious river but also an invite to the opening I jumped at the opportunity like a drowning man being thrown a life line!
As the river has been fished only by the top echelons of society and whispered about in dark corners there is very little background information or photographs of the river, so I decided to take photographer and journalist Matt Harris along as my partner in crime so that we could do it justice.
Matt and I met at Heathrow and after a short flight on Iceland Air (that flew by as we talked global fishing solidly the entire way) we were met by head guide and director of Salmon Tails, Arnar Agnarsson, at Keflavik for the three hour drive to the north west coast and the Asum river valley. Matt and I grilled Arnar for information the entire way as we drove over the bridges of numerous famous salmon rivers before turning off the highway and down the short track to the brand new lodge. The old lodge at Asum was really nothing to write home about and Eric Clapton who is a regular at Asum once remarked that he would not let his dog sleep there.
Matt and I arrived at the lodge in a total frenzy of excitement and straight away threw our stuff into our room and starting pulling things out of bags. By the time kit had been extracted and a sensible selection of tackle had been made Arnar was pacing around outside like a caged animal waiting to head out onto the water.
We piled back into the landcruiser which was now bristling with rods and made the short drive to the upper beat to the top waterfall called Mánafoss. There are two ways to fish this pool, traditional or unorthodox… I am sure you can guess which we chose, and Arnar and I descended down the steep bank to the river and waded out to the stone island in the middle. I am always intrigued by waterfalls, and love fishing them. They have so many eddies and currents that you have to really think about how to fish them. Mánafoss has three plumes coming off the waterfall, and the pool below is really very deep. Under Arnar’s expert eye I threw a couple of casts on the Hardy Proaxis 9’6# straight up the wall and gave a couple of mends before proceeding to strip the small gold hooked red Francis back down the left side. I had to strip supper fast to keep up with the fly and also give it some kind of movement. After two or three cast the line went tight and I felt a vicious tug as something hidden showed its displeasure at being disturbed. Unfortunately as there was so much slack in the line I could not connect properly.
I began to scatter cast around the pool and about five minutes later in the dark flat water in between the two tongues the line all went tight and I hooked a lively little grilse of about 4 lbs. He gave me a good scrap on the 6# and once he had burnt off some energy I managed to hand tail him and land the first salmon on the Laxá I Asum in 2012. Very satisfying. Matt fished for a while and also tried the more traditional approach of sitting on one of the top rocks of the waterfall fishing like a heron from its vaulted perch. Unfortunately nothing else decided to play ball, and we headed back to the lodge for dinner. And what a dinner!
The chef at the new lodge in Laxá I Asum is simply one of the finest I have ever encountered. The entre consisted of a 30 day matured beef Carpaccio over green strawberries and a bunch of other taste twisting ingredients. The white and red wine presented had been matched to the food exactly and Matt and I piled into very comfortable beds and slept like dead men.
The following morning Matt and I got a chance to really see the rest of the river. The Laxá I Asum is approximately 14km long with over 70 named pools. The river for the most part has lovely grass banks that you can wander down at your leisure. All this to just two rods! The actual character of the river is very interesting. The pools tend to be pretty short but are littered with small boulders, pots and eddies. Each one might have a fresh salmon hiding behind it. Arnar drove us up to the middle beat which is all of 5 minutes from the lodge. The track finishes where the outflow from lake comes in, providing richly oxygenated water and a lovely little pool. It was time for some hitching! I put a small “Evening Dress” tube on (a specialty of Asum) and kneeling on the edge of the bank put one cast across the stream so that the tube skated across the surface. Immediately a silver flank came up sideways and slashed at the fly making my heart thump. I cast again and this time the fish came straight up and hammered the fly before cart wheeling across the pool. There is nothing more exciting than fighting an enraged salmon on a 6#! After a solid fight I managed to swing him into the slack water and clabbered down the bank to grab his tail, a lovely 7 lbs salmon with sea lice all over his gill plate. A good start to the morning!
Our piece of water had 15 pools on it between us and the lodge, so Matt and I worked our way down expecting a hit from behind every slot and rock. Matt moved one but did not connect. The sun was a little bright and not ideal salmon fishing conditions but I find this kind of fishing incredibly exciting. About 250 yards below where we started, the river takes a dive to the left and on the bend is a magical pool numbered 56. This is one of those atypical Icelandic pools with a hard rock band at the head that creates three chutes of white water and a main current that provides the perfect lie. I hopped in above the pool to keep my profile low and began to work the hitched tube through the top of the white water on a very shot line. My usual practice is to work the hitch across and then extend the line 4 inches before running it down again. This way the pool is methodically covered and the hitch is an excellent way of locating fish, especially fresh fish that can’t seem to resist. The Laxá I Asum fish have a reputation for being particularly aggressive and I was not disappointed. The fly gave that perfect V-wake and just coming off the main current in the dark glassy part I was rewarded by a flash of silver and a salmon hit the fly hard. Unfortunately at the time there was a relatively strong upstream wind and as I was high sticking the line to hitch I could not take up the slack enough to hit it properly and shortly afterwards the silver missile released me.
After some harsh words from Matt mostly consisting of phrases such as “School boy error” and “Muppet” we moved on. As the Laxá I Asum is crystal clear certain sections of it are very difficult to gauge the depth and I know for a fact I walked over one run tucked up to the bank before realising it would have held a fish. We took it turns fishing down the remainder of the beat, searching behind rocks and discovering pools. We had no further action unfortunately, but the sun was high in a blue sky so all we caught was a sun tan. By the time we got down to the lodge (conveniently located 50 yards from one of the most productive pools on the river) it was a lunch time. The chef greeted us with cold beers in frozen glasses which was like nectar from the gods. Another sublime lunch of lamb and lobster tails found us thinking of a small siesta which would be customary for the Icelandic fishing rotation was sacked in favour of a group outing to the estuary to try our hand at fly fishing for sea run Arctic Char. Oh yes… the other guests at the lodge sharing the other rod joined us for this along with the Chef Farnar who is also a keen fly fisherman.
We piled into the big Landcruiser and headed for the shore like excited schools kids. Obviously when headed to one of the most exclusive salmon fisheries on the planet the main reason to get excited is to fish for Arctic char. The group piled out and spaced out along the sandy shore as the tide pushed in. The Sea run Arctic char here run to about 5 – 6 lbs max, but fight very hard on 7 and 8 weights and provide a fantastic diversion. I for one have never caught a Sea run Arctic char, and I always excited about targeting new species. We caught a few between us, and I broke my duck with a nice 2 lbs fish that fought hard. Unfortunately for them they taste delicious and we had the chef with us… The char sashimi we had that night was simply sublime and everyone had seconds.
Matt and I were on the lower beat in the afternoon session and the water down there runs through a lovely canyon section with a three tiered waterfall. We started here and again took the unconventional method of casting upstream and stripping the fly back. The sun was just beginning to come of the left of the pool and as my fly drifted back I was desperately trying to keep contact with it. Suddenly everything tightened up and the line was wrenched from my hands… the rod went up, but nothing. The brief connection was over. “That felt like a proper fish and not a grilse” I remarked to Arnar and he concurred. This waterfall is one of the first obstructions to running fish straight from the sea pool and is a perfect resting spot of the fresh fish. Matt took over and also connected with something but could not hang on but fishing all the big swirlies, eddies and white water was highly exciting. We fished a number of other pools above the road bridge, but with the water a little low the fish were not holding and just running the river in one hit.
Arnar decided to head back up to the top waterfall at Manafoss and lead us onto the strangest experience I have ever had salmon fishing. Arnar and I headed out onto the rocks above the waterfall while Matt set up some pictures as the light was fantastic. I was holding a small tube fly out in the current with Arnar looking on and as I cast I realised I had a small salmon parr attached to the fly, but it was so small that I cast it before really registering. Almost as soon as it hit the water the rod gave a massive buck straight down and I was connected to an electric blue streak of silver and scales. This larger fish began to cartwheel around the pool as I tried to bring it under control, but the fish had other ideas. It turned tail and shot out of the bottom of the pool and began screaming off line. I held the rod high bonefish style as I watched my orange backing begin to stream out of the rings. Arnar and I began to run across the rocks and round the high banks. We passed a very bemused Matt who had been looking down the view finder for a long exposure shot to find that his subjects had blurred across the lens and exited stage right…. I was desperately trying to keep up with Arnar’s loping stride as I half ran half fell down the side of the bank reeling in line as I went, all the while giggling to myself. I followed Arnar out into the stream and over to the other side where the fish had taken up residence in some slack water. Just as I had regained my line and was reaching for the leader the hook pulled and again the electric blue rocket shot past my legs back into the pool. A lovely spanking fresh 7 lbs or so. It was not to be, but what a battle! I had to sit down for a while to recover from that! Time to head home for a cold beer and another fantastic dinner.
The following day the sun continued to shine on us and my tan was beginning to look very convincing. Lovely weather to be out, not ideal for salmon fishing. Matt and I were up on the middle beat again, and this time Matt went ahead first while I poddled around playing with my new video camera. He put a small hitched sunray behind the rock where I had caught my fish the previous morning. Sure enough there was a swirl, a boil and he was in! I have to say this was a little larger than mine and it gave a couple of great jumps. I think Matt was still slightly in a state of shock that a salmon would come up and take something so small, and the whole thing had unfolded in front of his eyes. Matt is a big salmon specialist, more used to throwing a 2 ½“ Templedog on a 15’ 11# shooting head set up as far as the eye can see, and I could see he got a real kick out of being up close and personal. The 9’ 6# Hardy Zenith he was using was bucking like a bronco as he kept it on a short line and guided the silver bar into the slack water. Just as he was clambering down the bank to unhook it the salmon gave a thrash of its tail and the tiny treble popped out and it glided back from whence it came. He stared at the spot the fish had been and then began to laugh.. more coffee I think Matt!
We took it in turns to flick flies behind any likely rock and hole we could find on our way back down to the lodge, but apart from a very brief hook up from Matt in the Runki pool, we did not touch another fish. I was down to shirt sleeves by now and the sun was high over our heads as we crawled in to the lodge for lunch which was another gourmet extravaganza. I could get used to this!! Matt slunk off for a micro siesta, Farnar went char fishing, and the rest of us chatted until it was time to head back to the river at 1600. Arnar’s plan of attack after lunch was to try and intercept the fish coming off the tide on the sea pool and then follow them up the river. Good plan… the fish had other ideas. The sea pool was very quiet, but we saw more lovely pools with rocky surrounds and deep runs. At this point it was becoming more likely that small runs coming in on each tide were just charging up the river in the shallow water and stopping at Manafoss. We did go and take a look above Manafoss in one of the very long pools, but with little current it was hard going. The pool below that had a bouldery lip with very quiet calm water above. Here we had a couple of follows as fish bow waved up behind the fly stopping out hearts in out mouths, but nothing latched on. Finally we finished the day back at Manafoss which was beginning to feel like a second home.
Matt and I both hooked fish and both lost them, along with countless whacks, swirls and follows. The pool was stuffed with fish, but from the angle of the waterfall it was tough to get a good hook set… or something.. the day grew to a close along with our time on Laxá I Asum.
I feel very privileged to have fished its hallowed waters, and have to say I see why it has such a huge following. We knew before arriving that we were going to be there before the big runs arrived and targeting the advanced parties off the tide, but even so I was surprised how many fish were around albeit concentrated in certain areas. Above all Laxá I Asum offers peace, tranquillity and privacy. 16 km of prime salmon river to just two rods makes you feel very spoilt, and it is the rivers characteristics contain all the facets that make a river attractive to me to fish – pocket water, light rods, boulder strewn pools, consistent water flows and small rods and tiny hitched flies. There is plenty of fishing for shared rods, and that is the ideal way to fish Laxá I Asum. The new lodge is set up for a room per person making it perfect for a small intact party. Then there are the catch statistics; through the main part of the season it averages 15 fish per rod per day!
There are still some rods available in 3 – 6 & 15 – 17 August on the Laxá I Asum if anyone is thinking of a last minute hop over there. Despite the low water conditions being experienced on the west coast the Laxá I Asum has a steady water flow and temperature from the lake above. Please contact us for more details.