Iceland For Everyone
If you thought that Iceland is only for finance magnates or celebrities, you are wrong. Not any more! The global financial crisis brings a lot of havoc and ruin, but fortunately also good things.
One of these is that Iceland - at least until the next upswing - has become accessible for mere mortals hooked on salmon fishing. Join Danish fishing journalist and dedicated salmon fisher Jan Delaporte on this journey to East Rangá and learn why your next salmon fishing trip just might be a trip to Iceland!
It is 8 o'clock in the morning at the East Rangá River. My Icelandic friend Kolbeinn and I have just arrived to the river and the pool with the enticing name Moldahylur (the Icelandic language has a direct link back to the language the Scandinavian Vikings spoke, when they colonized Iceland at the end of the 9th century). It is a glorious day, and the sun is already beginning to provide the day's first warmth. One gets the sense that this temperature rise - which must also take place in the chilly water - after a cold night - will lead to something... Being the guest I want to display good manners and despite galloping salmon fever and a racing pulse, I let Kolbeinn start the fishing as we are fishing on a shared rod. While he fishes the top part and fast section of the bend (which this pool really is) I sit down on the grassy riverbank and speculate on tactics and choice of line and fly. The water is cold, probably just 5-6 degrees after a cool night, so I reason that it is going to be the lower part of the pool and the exit of the curve, where the water is more calm, which is going to yield fish. I choose to stick with my floating line with intermediate tip as well as a fast sinking polyleader - despite leaning heavily towards a floating line with a sink 1 tip and a super fast sinking polyleader - but I hope that my large conehead fly, a Green Butt, will make up for that and sink far enough to reach the fish.
East Rangá was primarily a good sea trout river before the Hekla volcano erupted in 1959 and flooded the surroundings plains and waterways with lethal ash and lava. Worst hit was West Rangá, where almost all life was wiped out. By the late 1980’s a large-scale smolt release program was initiated in the two Rangá rivers, and this continues at full impact today. The volcanic eruption has changed the riverbed conditions so much that the salmon can no longer spawn successfully - or at least to a very limited degree. The porous and light lava stones are simply to light and are swept away by the current or when a salmon digs spawning grooves to lay it's eggs. Every year up to ½ million smolt are released from small hatchery dams all along East Rangá connected to the main river through small channels. In the ponds the salmon fry lives a relatively protected life under stretched-out nets protecting them against diving birds and prey, but it is a whole different matter, when they are released into the wild. Estimates reveal that no more than 2-3% of the smolt return to the river after one year at sea, then as salmon from 2-6 kg. East Rangá has a yearly total catch of 3-6.000 salmon, and by Icelandic standards a relatively large proportion of the salmon weigh over 5 kilo. The average size is 2.5 to 3 kg. The Icelandic salmon are incredibly strong and will give you a hard fight.
The magic of the take
Kolbeinn has no contact despite fishing the current quite efficiently with a heavy brass tube Icelandic Snaelda. Now it is at last my turn, and like a panicking gazelle I jump down the slope and begin to cast right where the current begins to lose momentum at the exit of the curve and right before a small rapid once again speeds up the water flow. I angle the cast 45 degrees across the river, partly so that I can throw in a good mend upstream so the fly can sink, but also to get some speed on the fly as it swings in and across the somewhat slow water. I am about to discover that this is a wise tactic. 4-5 casts later I feel the magical pull on the line as a salmon smacks his jaws tight on my fly. How this drag on the line and the electrical impulse that comes with it is able to fill you with such emotion and deliverance every single time remains a mystery. I don't expect it to be solved whether it is salmon number 10, 100 or 100,000 (and I hope it never will be).
Plenty of space
East Rangá has 9 beats (zones), fished by two rods 2 x 6 hours per day. The river is given a daily rest between 13:00 and 16:00. There is rotation between morning and afternoon beats. Fishing ends at 22:00 and starts the next day at 07:00. A maximum of 18 rods at a time fish the 22 km long stretch of fishable water, before the Tungufoss stops any further upstream migration in the river That provides for almost infinite space and tranquility in the fishing, and if you are fishing with a friend (on individual rods) you have an entire beat for yourself for 6 undisturbed hours! Sublime!
It is very easy to get around along the river in a car, and you will have no problems in a normal 'sissy' and cheap rental car. Furthermore East Rangá has the advantage that it is close to Keflavik airport and Reykjavik, just 1½ hours drive. As always it is an advantage if you master Spey or underhand casting, but in most places you can actually fish the river with a normal overhand cast.