I see a pearl moon rising
The Prof enlists the help of a young guide called Sibbi in a quest to conquer salmon and sea trout, including the biggest fish landed on the Grimsa this season, on some of Iceland’s most prolific rivers
RENOWNED for its volcanoes, Viking sagas and the defeat of the English soccer team, Iceland has a population roughly the size of Cardiff, but can boast nearly 100 salmon rivers. British sportsmen have been visiting since the 1880s and a favourite destination is the lovely Laxá í Kjos—a medium-sized ‘first XI’ river flowing through a verdant glacier-forged valley on the west coast. When I arrived this September, they had experienced a tough season, with a month of near drought. The water was weedy and pitifully low. ‘It’s been the Costa Kjos,’ lamented Sibbi, my young guide. But we do like a challenge.
With more than 80 named pools of striking variety, from miniature canyons to long, pastoral meanders, the Kjos is sometimes called ‘the salmon fisher’s university’; if you learn to fish here, you’ll acquire versatile skills that last forever. Graduates include Kevin Costner, Jack Hemingway and Mick Hucknall.
Depending on conditions, you might try multiple techniques in one day (this used to be Lobworm Central, but is now strictly fly only). You can swing a conventional wet fly, quickly retrieve a micro-treble, work a surface lure, such as the classic Sunray Shadow, ‘chuck ’n’ duck’ a ponderous Cone Head or work the Riffling Hitch. The latter method involves a controlled skating of the fly to scratch an enticing V onto the stream and such visible offers effectively double your fun. The fish can be fickle and there are numerous currents to decipher and hidey-holes to explore.
As top English guide John Hotchkiss, who arranged our trip, told me, the river is also notable for its run of hefty sea trout. A delicate upstream nymph is used for these beauties and, often, you can sightfish for them in the aquarially-clear water. Bring light tackle and your finest polarising glasses.
We thundered upstream the first morning in Sibbi’s 4x4 and, despite a Thor-hammer wind, we encountered fish in almost every pool. We tried Kambshylur and Skuggi, then, in gargling Stekkjarfljot (these Icelandic pool names sure do test the spellchecker), my Sunray was intercepted by two coloured fish, which I then disappointingly ‘long-distance released’. On bouldery Kroarhamar, Sibbi called in the shots from atop a bridge parapet. He could see six salmon dawdling in an area the size of a card table. I missed the first, but nailed the second on a tiny Undertaker pattern.
In retrospect, four strikes in one morning looked semi-miraculous. An average season here produces some 1,300 fish, but, this year, they were just reaching 500. Those sea trout are a wonderful bonus, mind. On the last morning of our three days, Sibbi took me up to… let’s call it Pool 35. Drifting my twin Bead Heads down below a cliff face, I saw the sight-indicator dither and I lifted
Guide Sibbi nets the author’s 7lb sea trout from pool 35 of the Laxá í Kjos