I woke up feeling rather spry considering I had less than five hours sleep and been going hard since I arrived in Iceland. Ingo and I polished off a few coffees and a Euro breakfast before wadering up and heading for the river. This morning we had beat 3, the only beat to produce Atlantic salmon yesterday.
The Laxá Adaldal didn’t look in any better condition than yesterday. But it wasn’t worse. The cold weather that moved in was still here. Skies were overcast. There was a steady drizzle but the air was still for the first time.
Ingo and I began our fishing on a not so obvious slow swirling pool that glassed out at the bottom before running over some shallow gravel. If not for Ingo I’d of walked right past looking for more noticeable water. But after spending two hours there taking turns fishing with Ingo, I can see what makes it a good run.
The smooth or “glassy” spots on the surface of the river are where salmon often raise to the fly. Sure enough, as my fly swung through the one at the bottom of the pool I had a wave. What I mean is, a salmon raised and pushed water as he tracked my fly. But when the swing of my fly ended and hung in the current, the salmon split the scene leaving nothing more than a funneling boil. My salmon jinx was still on.
I landed a respectable sea run brown trout. I didn’t bother to break out the camera. This is unusual for me because I generally get stoked on all fish. But yesterday it hit me – I want to catch a big Atlantic salmon – I’m not here for sea run browns.
I dreamt of catching an Atlantic salmon when I was a kid growing up in New England. The 70’s were tough times for Atlantic salmon in the US so it’s no surprise I never caught one. Once I was a guest of Hardy and famous Spey caster Andy Murray treated me to a day on the Tweed in Scotland. I had no luck there. And in 2010, my great friend Vladi Trzebunia of Poland took me to his old stomping grounds in Norway. In ten days of fishing nearly around the clock, one of the most tiring trips of my life, I landed only two small Atlantics. During that trip I had my chance. A huge salmon took my fly and I botched the hook set. As I look back, that moment was an absolute disaster that’s haunted me often.
So here I was again, this time fishing in Iceland, one of the last great frontiers of Atlantic salmon fishing, on one of the best rivers in the world and not getting it done. I think every serious angler on the planet has had a war with a certain species. I was having a bad one with Atlantic salmon.
Meanwhile, Hilmar and Loa were downstream fishing the lower part of beat 3. For them also the fishing has been slow. Ingo and I headed to meet them for coffee and a mini cigar break. I can call it a mini cigar, but actually the salmon have driven me to smoke!
We sipped and smoked while gazing at an incredible looking pool. The trollers caught one of their fish here last night. But Hilmar, whom has years of Atlantic salmon fishing experience worked it this morning and didn’t raise a fish. Hilmar saw a large one roll but he couldn’t get him to eat. After our break Ingo marched me down to the head of this super looking pool.
I won’t lie, when Ingo handed me the famous Laxá Adaldal single hook fly pattern called the Sally size 12 to tie on I hadn’t an ounce of confidence. I was simply ready to go through the motions and hope for a miracle. On cast number five, I felt what I suspected was the usual moss sticking to my fly. Less than a second later a shockingly giant salmon porpised exactly where I thought my fly should be. I could see his eyes and every one of his spots. Could he be the tension I was feeling?
I wasn’t repeating my mistake in Norway. I entered a trance. Seconds seemed like hours. I waited and the delicate feel of weed on my fly turned more like a sinking anchor. I raised the rod, not like setting the hook on a trout but only a lift with my 9-weight Winston.
Meanwhile (and remember this is a matter of seconds), Ingo, who had no idea that I was actually methodically in action on this fish, shrieked when the salmon rolled. He thought it was a roller that “might” take my fly. Ingo had no idea, I had the salmon on.
The second I hooked the salmon he jumped, only it was more like a half a jump. My salmon was huge and like many huge fish, they don’t quite get themselves all the way out of the water. The jump is how Ingo found out I had the salmon on and he went absolutely bizerk.
As I cleared my loose line to the now speeding salmon Ingo shouted all kinds of instructions. Sure, Ingo is aware of my experience but he’s never seen me in action. What he knows, as do all experienced fly fishers, is exactly how dangerous clearing the line can be. If line catches on anything during the initial run of a big fish, catastrophe follows. Furthermore Ingo had no idea how I had my drag set or just how crazed I might get under the pressure of finally hooking THE salmon. But I continued on in my trance.
Because I was in such a trance I can’t remember all the details of the battle. And I’m no Lee Wulff anyhow so it’s best I don’t bore you trying to write and describe the fight. What remember is that the magnificent Atlantic jumped four times and ran me into my backing and the fight lasted more than ten minutes. The fight was long and hard enough to tire my forearm and put muscles to work I didn’t know I had.
Ingo, who may possibly be more thrilled than I, was a nervous wreck from start till finish. He’s never seen someone put heat on their first salmon like I did. He tells me now he thought I would break the salmon off at least five times. But I have total confidence in my Scientific Anglers 22lb Flouro and when I gave the heavy salmon the down and dirty, I bent my Winston deep into the butt. There was no way I was breaking the tippet.
After a few unsuccessful sweeps with the net, finally Ingo trapped the salmon. You’ve never seen two such happy guys to net a fish in your life. The salmon was far too heavy to lift so we dragged the hoop to the bank and I got my first good look. Holy *** *** I screamed! It happened. I didn’t only have my first good Atlantic salmon, I had a monster!
The handsome male Atlantic was 96cm and nearly tipped the scale in the net handle to 10k. The salmon was 20lbs, not only a huge one for Iceland but even big for the famous Laxá Adaldal. I spent the next five minutes with one of the greatest fish I’ve ever caught in my life!
I relished in my glory immediately afterwards with an Einstöc Icelandic White Ale and watched Ingo work through the same hole I caught my fish from. As I took my last sip Ingo hooked up. Ten minutes later I netted an 81cm female salmon for him. That was the end of a phenomenal session on beat 3!
We returned to the Vökuholt Lodge or better known in Iceland as Laxamýri Laxá í Ađaldal for lunch and our break before the afternoon session. During lunch we celebrated with at least three beers a piece amongst Ingo, Hilmar and Loa. We didn’t start the afternoon session till after 5. We fished beat 1 below the falls again and I lost a grilse and Hilmar landed a 74cm. I did more relaxing in the boat than fishing. Then tonight we celebrated again – this time late into the night – past 2 AM. I have finally caught my big Atlantic salmon!!!!!!!!
A special thanks to Ingo Helgason and Icelandic Fly Fishermen for making this incredible day in my life possible!