Brown trout has been the main focus of my fly fishing adventures in the north this season, and it has been absolutely spectacular with many nice fish in the net. But the north has great salmon fishing on offer as well, and after catching my largest trout ever on a dry fly I made my way to the coast in search of the highly coveted Atlantic salmon.
2017 was my first year of fishing for salmon and my experiences so far had been mixed. I had spent over a week in Stjørdalselva near Trondheim in early June, but there were few fish on the river and I did not catch anything. With my body aching from weeks of the intense blind casting my salmon career could have ended there and then, but after catching some trout to get my confidence back I gave it another chance in some of the smaller rivers north of Trondheim. There I got lucky and found a river with lots of smaller salmon jumping all over the place. With so many fish on the river and a large stretch of river all to myself, my chances improved considerably, and several smaller salmon were landed. Satisfied, I decided that salmon fishing was not too bad after all, especially when the salmon were on the river in numbers. I left the Trondheim area and spent the next couple of months fishing for trout up north. But the salmon had left a permanent imprint on my mind and dreams of larger fish haunted me throughout the summer. When autumn came I would explore some of the northern salmon rivers and try my luck again.
In early August I made my way out to the eastern parts of Finnmark where reports were coming in of great salmon runs and plentiful catches. There are many rivers of various sizes and character in the area and although some are quite well known many are not. Instead of going for the big ones, I decided on numbers and one of the smaller rivers to begin with.
As a bonus the salmon in the north also rise to dry flies, making for some spectacular takes and surface action. I had never caught a salmon on a dry fly before, but I had been thinking about it all summer. The fishing in most northern rivers begins at 18:00 and I spent the first evening to recon the middle parts of the river. I did not catch anything this first evening, but got familiar with the river and also met some of the locals that proved very friendly and informative when it came to flies, pools and techniques. The next morning, I got up early and made my way down to the river. There seemed to be a good number of fish on the river and new ones were making their way upstream with jumping fish seen on a regular basis. I rigged the #6 weight and fished with bombers and skater type flies over promising looking pools, necks, and tails. It was also possible to spot some of the salmon in the pools and although this was highly entertaining it was also very frustrating as the salmon seemed to ignore my flies. But suddenly a fish came up from the deep and just smashed the bomber on the surface. It was only a small salmon, but the take was very cool. I caught another one a bit larger and lost some, all on dry flies, mostly when streaking the fly downstream.
The salmon fever was starting to build, and visions of even larger fish haunted me at night. It was like I could sense a big salmon making its way up a river, with my name on it. I decided to move to a different and slightly larger river a bit further up north. The first day was largely spent exploring and getting to know the new river, before picking my beat and giving it a proper go the following day. It was early August, but with all the rain this summer the water levels were still quite high and spotting not so easy. Thankfully there was a lot of fish on the river and they were jumping and revealing their positions regularly. And the fish were definitively larger, one large buck in particular was probably around 10 kg. He was jumping every 10 minutes or so, in the exact same place. I spent many hours trying to hook him, but he just kept on mocking me. I gave up on the big one and targeted some smaller ones instead and caught a couple with the largest weighing in at 3 kg. There were few people fishing the river at the time and I had a large stretch of prime river all to myself, enabling me to fish the best spots over and over. As the high tide moved in more fish started to make their way up from the sea, making a large commotion in the lower pools. Salmon were jumping all over the place and I had several takes. I lost complete track of time and just kept on fishing the beat again and again. I had about given up on the large one, but got the fly out in front of him on one of my passes. Suddenly the monster rose and took the bomber without any hesitation. I set the hook and the fight was on! I was not really prepared for a fish of this size, but I managed to fight it quite well even with the #6 weight. After about 30 minutes I got the fish near land, but it was too large for my XXL McClean net! I tried to grab its tail, but was not successful. The stress was starting to build as I tried to land my largest salmon so far and I was running out of options. I spotted a calm little backwater and decided to land it there some way or another. The salmon followed, stayed cool and seemed ready for the landing. But as I carefully coaxed the salmon towards the river edge, the fish made one decisive movement with its tail and the rod snapped in two! Moving fast I jumped over the fish and tried to grab it. I got a hold of the leader and started to fight the fish with my bare hands. Then the leader broke, and the salmon drifted away slowly back to the same place in the river. The feeling when this happens… Ominous thoughts went through my mind as I mentally replayed what had just happened. What could I have done differently? I concluded that I probably could have used more time to tire the fish out a bit more. It was probably also stupid of me to use a #6 weight rod, especially when I knew bigger fish were present. Landing a large fish by yourself is not easy and sometimes the fish end up as the victor, it’s just part of the game.
After being on the road and fishing every day since early June, I was starting to feel it. The air kind of went out of the balloon, so to speak. The comforts and people of civilization back south tempted me to head home again for some quality R&R. But it did not take many days before I started to daydream about the north and its wonderful fisheries. After about a week down south I headed back up north again for the season finale for both salmon & trout. On my first day of fishing again I got lucky and caught a nice fish weighing in at 5,8 kg. My friend Anders arrived the same evening and he caught a brute around 7 kg. But then came some days with very poor fishing, at least for my part. The salmon were just not interested anymore, at least not in my flies. As the season closing was approaching fast I wanted to check out some other rivers as well. I considered heading back to the small river I had visited some weeks earlier, but decided on another larger river to the west. After a couple of days there I got flashbacks to my week in Stjørdalselva in early June. There were no salmon jumping, so I fished large stretches of river systematically, repeatedly. My line stripping fingers were starting to give me problems. I had experienced this before in tropical waters, but not as bad as this. After a couple of days this problem grew, and when talking with my doctor friend Anders we concluded that it was a case of tendinosis. This was bad timing as there were only days left of the salmon season and the monster salmon of my dreams had still not taken my fly. But my line stripping fingers needed rest and I decided to head inland to the tundra again to catch some more trout and perhaps also some grayling.
Salmon fishing in the north was a blast and I will definitively spend more time on it next season!