Finnmark 2018 – Autumn trout

After an exhilarating season finale for Atlantic salmon, it was now time to head back inland in search of more brown trout. The trout fishing had been very good at the very beginning of the season, before mother nature decided to turn up the heat in what became one of the hottest summers on record. The water levels receded quickly, and it didn’t take long before the scorching heat made both trout and fly-fishermen in waders very uncomfortable indeed. The fly-fisherman can escape the waders and go wet, but the fish has no other option than to seek out colder and more oxygenated water. Thus, the trout fishing was slow for most parts of the summer, at least in the areas where I fished. Now I was hoping that colder temps and a bit of rain would get things going again. Perhaps this would be the autumn I finally figured out the late season spawning runs in the creeks flowing into the big lakes? And how long would I keep at it before fleeing southwards in pursuit of the sun?

Luckily for me I was joined by my buddy Monrad, who gotten permission from both wife & work for another week of fishing before the season ended. After picking him up at the airport, we decided to do a bit of recon checking out various spots across the tundra to get our bearings, as we usually do. Unfortunately, the usual autumn rain had not made its presence known so far. The water levels were at the shockingly low levels in most places. Some of the smaller streams we fished with success in previous years now hardly had any water in them at all! We quickly realized that the fishing would be challenging and tried to figure out where our chances of finding decent fish would be the highest. Our first stop would be a medium sized river, at least it is under normal circumstances. Now it was a no more than a tiny creek, but the few pools are deep and could hold fish anyway. We checked the water temperature and it was 12 °C, good for the trout. I maneuvered into a position where I could peer into our chosen pool from above, with the sun at my back. Monrad was eagerly getting ready to fish, searching out tippet and flies to rig himself a dry-dropper combo, bordering on the edge of stress when thinking about what could potentially live in that pool.

The weather was nice with scattered clouds, the sun baking the now autumn-colored leaves with the last warmth of the season. I waited for some clouds to pass, then stared into the deep for a sign that something was in there. From previous experiences in this pool, there are usually a few fish in there, positioned both at the head and patrolling the middle part and the edges. They usually show themselves and go for dries, but now there were few insects to be seen on the surface and thus, no rising trout. Then suddenly I saw a yellow flash below water exactly where I was looking. “Monrad, there is a big one right there!!!” The fish, a trout between 2-3 kg, had just eaten a nymph about 1 meter below surface, well within casting range. To suddenly find yourself in this situation after just having escaped the “real” world of work, wife and kids must feel quite surreal, but Monrad seemed to handle it like a pro.

The dry-dropper rig he had just made was perfect for the scenario, and he carefully positioned himself for the cast. The first one was a bit short, but the second cast was perfect. The flies landed well ahead of the fish, letting the nymph sink to the correct depth before passing by the fish. As the dry-indicator fly floated downstream, I saw the fish move again and the dry went under. Monrad was a bit slow to set the hook, so I yelled “STRIKE!”. Monrad did just that, albeit with a wee bit too much force, resulting in the tippet snapping in half… All things considered, this was a good beginning to our week of fishing. Spotting and hooking such a nice trout after only hours of fishing was pretty good, especially considering the conditions with no rising fish. Monrad brushed it off and we headed further towards the next pool, where it was my turn to try. The water there was low too, but there was a good current running into the pool and plenty of space for a trout to feel comfortable enough to feed. Since there were no bugs on the water surface, I also went for a dry-dropper combo. The nymph I had chosen was a highly realistic looking mayfly nymph from J:son with rubber legs. To fish this pool effectively you only really need to make 3 casts. If that doesn’t entice a reaction, there is probably not a fish in there.  I slowly made my way into casting position and flicked my flies out, just at the edge of the main current where it flows into the pool. Just that place where a trout can hold in slightly slower water, without using too much energy, ready to pick off floating by snacks. And sure enough, the dry went under and I set the hook. It was not a giant, but a beautiful fall colored brown trout weighing 1,1 kg.

Most of the other smaller streams were not productive because of the low water conditions, so we decided to continue our adventure along some of the larger rivers. These rivers can almost be too big to fly-fish during normal water levels, restricting your wading to a couple of steps from the edge in many places. These rivers have trout, some of them extremely large. But there is also pike, perch and whitefish. Lots of whitefish. When fishing this river earlier in the season, there seemed to be only whitefish there. They come eagerly after smaller dries and nymphs but have no fight in them, so I try to avoid them most of the time. They are good eating when smoked though, and sometimes I do take some and give them to friends who appreciate it.

We could not spot any rising fish as we made our way down to the river. But there were decent numbers of smaller mayflies in the air that had to be hatching upstream. We crossed the river effortlessly in places usually not even wadable and fished good looking spots blindly with both nymphs and small streamers. We both had a couple of hits, but they would not stick. Maybe it was whitefish with mouths not even big enough to eat our flies? We crossed again and made our way up on a high bank to look down into the river. Spotting is usually impossible in this river, but we thought that with the low water maybe it was possible anyway. If we could find places along the river edge with sandy bottom, we might get lucky. We followed the river further upstream, eyes strained on trouty looking spots along the river edge. We spooked one that sat right up against the bank. It’s always a good sign when you see fish where they are supposed to be, and it wouldn’t take long before we got another chance. A bit further upstream I saw a fish rise in the current coming out of a large corner pool. It was a very gentle rise as the fish ate something below the surface. It turned out there was a whole pod of trout hanging around in this area, feeding mostly on small mayfly nymphs, but also larger servings as one trout puked out a fish 1/3 its size. Some hours later we had both landed a decent number of trout around 1 kg. We had not seen any whitefish, perch or pike. Only trout, and good numbers too! We fished until sunset, picking up wild mushrooms and cranberries along the way to make an excellent dinner back at the campsite.

We continued to explore the many different watersheds and rivers, with varied degrees of success. Some rivers that had produced very good earlier in the season, now appeared devoid of fish. This was even the case in some of the larger rivers that still had water in them. Maybe the fish were still in there, but they sure as hell were not showing themselves or any interest in our flies. Everything was different compared to other seasons and we had to work hard to catch the ones we did. The average size was around 1 kg, but the larger individuals were not to be seen. They had either moved to deeper waters elsewhere or were sulking it out on the bottom waiting for the water levels to increase again. At least those are my theories. There is a high probability that something completely different is going on and that I have absolutely no clue whatsoever. As with many things in fly-fishing, you never know for certain. And that is part of the attraction and what keeps me coming back for more.

After a week of fishing Monrad had to return to the duties of the civilized world once again, leaving me alone on the tundra for the trout season finale. The weather was getting colder with frost at nighttime, a new experience for me as I had never stayed this long in the north before. The days were magical with clear autumn air in comfortable temperatures, while the northern lights dominated the sky at night. Some days had very good fishing with several fish up to 1,5 kg in the net, while others were completely dead. The falling temperatures, low water levels, highly variable fishing combined with the absence of larger fish finally made me decide to end my fishing season in the far north. It had been another amazing adventure, but now it was time to head south for some R&R. New adventures in southern latitudes coming up soon.

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