Midfjardara, the Queen of all Rivers
by Sindre Mittet
Tuesday 6 September 2011, ten happy fly fishers met at Gardermoen, Oslo’s International Airport, for a cold beer and boarding onto Scandinavian Airlines flight SK4787 to Keflavik, Iceland. Destination: Midfjardara – “a fly fisher’s paradise”.
The river has been described as The Queen of Rivers on Iceland. It is known for its beautiful crystal clear water and an enormous stock of fresh silvery Atlantic salmon. The river has more than two hundred named pools and as only eight to ten rods are allowed on the river at any one time, it is clear that the pools are always well rested when you arrive.
The trip leader, Oddvar Henriksen, had spoken warmly about the river, the food and the arrangements for a whole year, and after some meetings with ‘The Plug from Tokle’ (Terje Nerland) we decided to participate. Oddvar works in the Wilderness shop in Jessheim, and specializes of course in the fishing department. The Wilderness shop and Oddvar are suppliers of Zpey products, and most will realize that he and the undersigned have become very good friends.
It is noteworthy that the group included Mathias Lilleheim, one of the very best fly casters in the world, that is to say caster and not fisher. It is important to differentiate between being a good fly caster and a good fly fisher. Many are fixed in the idea that the further you can cast, the better you are at salmon fishing. For all that, the man is well trained on both fronts: he was the second most successful fisher on the trip. Mathias was also an agent and product developer for Zpey, and honestly, I hoped that his baggage would be full of demonstration tackle from Zpey. I was proved right, and it was a great pleasure of the undersigned to borrow and try out everything from the range of ‘the athlete’ from the top sports college in Oslo.
The trip was expensive, but if you set a few notes aside each month for a year in advance, then you are assured of participation in the trip and a few cold beers in the Blue Lagoon. Alternatively, if you are twisted, you could stay at home and lose at cards in Isa for a lifetime. For my part, it was even more expensive because I had to contact Oddvar directly after I came home. The tackle I had loaned from Mathias obviously had to become part of my collection immediately.
We landed in Keflavik to clear blue skies and sun, where upon the trip proceeded directly to the Blue Lagoon. This is Iceland’s largest attraction and most tourists to Iceland drop in. We were met with a large turquoise blue, steaming lake with a white beach, black cliffs and sulphurous fumes that rose up from the water in every direction. It was a special experience to climb down into the hot spring that measured ca. 35 degrees.
The Plug, otherwise Terje Nerland, had read in a tourist guide about Silica mud that was free for all the guests, and which was provided in wooden boxes in the lagoon. This fine white geothermal mud should, according to the brochure, give you a fine, smooth skin and a number of additional years of life. He was away for a few minutes in the steam and then reappeared with a face that resembled a cross between a great tit and Kermit from the Muppet Show.
Whatever, we passed a few hours in the lagoon in the company of cold local beer before driving onwards to Rejkjavik where we would stay the night. Evening brought the group into the town with a meal in one of the area’s better restaurants. Afterwards, we had a small pub tour where we Norwegians had the ‘luck’ to see Norway beaten by some Danish lads at the ‘Parken’ ground in Copenhagen. Normally, I would have been annoyed by such a loss, but it became insignificant with the panacea of so much adrenalin flowing through me from the thought that the following day at that time I would be standing in water to my thighs in a river full of fresh silver salmon.
I have never thought much of Drillo, I am of the opinion that the man has done more harm than good for Norwegian football. Let me put it another way, we have been good at making others play badly, nothing more. There is a large difference between ‘kicking’ a football and ‘playing’ football, in exactly the same way as between ‘casting’ a fly and ‘fishing’ a fly. Enough of football, it becomes secondary on a fishing trip such as this.
Well, on the following morning, we were picked up by Iceland’s Martin Schanke, a Harley ‘wanna be’ looking guy with dark sunglasses and an appearance that otherwise looked to be built for speed and excitement. The 140 miles (225 km) to Midfjardara were driven fast, really fast. Luckily, my policeman’s authority is valid only within Norway’s borders, so I kept still and quiet as a magpie in the garden and hoped that I would arrive without broken rods and with my health intact.
Two hours later, we landed at the Rabbi lodge, where the landscape and surroundings were more like the picture of Iceland I had had in my head before the trip. Desolate, cold and grey, but also spectacular and beautiful.
The group was greeted and we were shown to our simple rooms with facilities similar to a moderate three star hotel. We were served a really good lunch, and afterwards it just remained for us to assemble our tackle and prepare for the first afternoon session in the river.
Midfjardara is, at least in Norwegian terms, a small river, a really small river. Narrow but long. The river system that is fished is 115 km long in total, divided into four rivers. The river is just called Midfjardara for a few kilometers from the fjord up to a fork, but then it divides into Austura (east river) and Vestura (west river) and in addition, the smaller Nupsa runs into Vestura some kilometers above the fork.
Henrik Mortensen, possibly the world’s very best fly FISHER, has fished in Midfjardara for many years and describes the river thus:
“There is no river that offers more fishing challenges, environments and breathtaking beauty than Midfjardara. This is the real Iceland, from majestic waterfalls and cliffs to rolling lowlands and world class Atlantic salmon.”
A maximum of ten rods can fish at any one time. Two rods share a guide and that guide has obviously an all terrain vehicle that can take you anywhere, including across streams and rocky areas. You draw the order in which you will fish the various zones and will always fish the first zone a second time in the last session.
We were ten anglers that were divided into five pairs, each pair with its own guide and all terrain vehicle. We were together in six fishing sessions in total.
I was together in a pair with The Plug from Tokle. We were allotted a guide named ‘Dollie’, and as the guide said, “if you forget my name, just think of Donald’s girl, Dolly Duck”. We drew zone five for that afternoon, which is the highest part of Vestura. For us, that played no role as we were both unfamiliar with the place.
Our adrenalin and pulse rate both rose immediately after Dollie stopped the car and let us out at a canyon-looking cliff. Down in the valley lay a beat that was so beautiful and inviting that both The Plug and I got tears in our eyes. We almost jumped down the steep cliff and stood in front of the guide in expectation of further instructions that came: “I let you start here Sindrey”, Yeeees……
Dollie took me downstream along the bank where we waded to the middle of the river, and where he told me. “We are going to fish upstream and we are going to strip the fly towards us”, at the same time Dollie explained that the pool was full of salmon, large salmon, for most of the season. As I tied on a ‘Red Francis’ I had been holding and was ready to cast the Zpey rod, I spotted a back six meters in front of my legs, a back that was so wide that I almost became afraid.
I had set up a one handed rod, Zpey Switch Z1, class 8, with an Ultimo fly line from Zpey, and a tapered leader with a tip of 0.28 mm. Would this tackle survive on that smolt? Nothing happened on the first five or six casts,
but on the following cast, a ‘log’ rose and showed interest in the fly without taking it.
Dollie told me that he and Terje would go a little further down the river and that I should just continue, but that I should change the fly often so long that nothing happened. I did not notice that they went; I was in a completely different world.
After a few more casts with the same fly, I took my time to change it for a ‘Sunray Shadow’. The following cast,
it landed where it should and after a few robust strips towards me, the line tightened and a second later the rod became so bent that it looked like a horseshoe. I looked around me, where on earth were the guys..? The salmon pulled towards the bottom in the deepest part of the pool and I had realized for a long time that this
was a large fish. Several minutes passed with it lying in the same place, when I could not move it. The ‘catch
and release’ principle is followed here, so I had to decide to put more pressure on so that the fish was not exhausted and dying when I eventually brought it up. We talked a little together as I do with most of the salmon that take my fly, and I continued in a clear and calm voice: “now you and I shall fight, you will lose and I will win.”
Thus it progressed, I put pressure on and it ran several times through the pool. At one time, it ran over some rocky areas with a strong current. With cunning, I managed to force it back into the pool and after ten minutes I saw the fish. Was it a new record? I was not a member of the exclusive 10 kg club and began to see the headlines.
I managed to land the fish after 15 minutes, a salmon fight that I had not experienced before. It was a beautiful male salmon that measured exactly 100 cm. Where on earth was everyone? Luckily, I took some photographs
of the fish before I revived it with a little first aid and released it. I sat, satisfied, up on the hillside and pulled out the finest blue De Lucen, with shaking hands, and had it not been for the ears, with a smile all the way around
my head. Dollie and The Plug came along just afterwards, whereupon Dollie’s first comment was:
“Why are you sitting alone here with the blondes?” I had not noticed, but just behind me were two sheep
gazing stupidly at me.
According to the guide, a broad male salmon of 100 cm equates to 10 kg+. I was now a member of the 10 kg club, and on a one handed rod. The Plug and I landed two beautiful salmon each in the evening session and
lost just as many after great experiences.
After the session, everyone was obviously excited to hear how the other groups had got on. It was varied, with most except Mathias, Idar and Einar landing fish. In total, we landed 17 fish in that session, with an average weight of ca. 5 kg.
After a hot shower and dry clothes, we all met in the foyer where precious liquors for every taste were served, while we waited for the evening’s three-course gourmet meal to be served. Some of Iceland’s best chefs share responsibility for preparation of the meals in the Lodge, and the various dishes were both beautifully presented and deliciously prepared. They had also bought in exquisite wines to complement each course in the best possible way. The food was of the highest quality and I am certain it would have brought forth superlatives and possibly tears in the eyes of our famous local chefs Johan Hol and Roger Kavli.
The conditions were nearly perfect during our visit. There had been unusually little rain for Iceland, which
resulted in a relatively lamentable run of salmon (seen from a Midfjardara perspective) and tons of salmon remained out in the fjord waiting for better times. In addition it was bitterly cold up here. Even though it had
been close to twenty degrees in Rejkjavik on the previous day, it was only five or six of the same degrees here, just a few hours drive away. In addition, it was blowing up to 10 m/s (22 mph), and the whole weather situation was, in other words, absolutely ghastly. On one morning session, it was actually below zero, which led at one point to the sections of my rod freezing to ice. Of course, these conditions were inconsequential when
measured against the fishing enthusiasm of ten Norwegians, but nonetheless, worth mentioning.
In total, the group landed 57 salmon in three days. The local guides considered that to be very good, taking the conditions into consideration. The average weight of the salmon was between 4 and 6 kg, but Oddvar, the undersigned and Mathias each landed salmon of over 10 kg. It should be mentioned (although I don’t like to)
that Mathias landed the most salmon and the largest, which measured all of 104 cm.
Oddvar’s travel companions had landed 198 salmon in the same number of days in the previous year, giving an average of ca. 20 salmon per man. Whether that was due to the differences in the conditions or changes in the members of the group is not known. I choose to believe that it was the amount of rain in the days preceding the trip that was decisive.
A fantastic, great trip was closed with a tour in Rejkjavik, the stories were already becoming better, longer and larger after a few days. The Plug and I have obviously booked a new trip, the first instalments are paid and the flight tickets are bought.
A great group, a wonderful trip leader and a fantastic country.
Tight lines, Sindre Mittet