Northern lights - A common sight when sea trout fishing in Iceland. Photo by Toby Coe
I don‘t think I‘m making any false claims when I say that most of Europe‘s serious fly fishermen have heard of the world class Atlantic salmon and brown trout fishing to be had in Iceland. However outside of Iceland the sea trout fishing here is not very well known. So in this article I hope to shed some light on the fantastic sea trout fishing in Iceland, a personal preference of mine.
But before we begin I need to tell you that I am in no way an expert on the fish nor am I 100% accurate on all occasions. All claims made in this article are my own personal opinions and cannot be backed up with any sort of scientific data. That being, said let me tell you a little more about sea trout fishing in Iceland.
Sea trout season
Magnificent spring sea trout from Huseyjarkvisl
In Iceland the laws for fishing migratory fish state that the season shall be open from April 1. – October 10. . In April we catch two kinds of sea trout. The long thin fish that have stayed in the river for the winter and spawned and the fat, silvery fish that certainly do not show any signs of "dieting" nor spawning during the winter. Here in Iceland we call those "geldfiskur" and they are favored for obvious reasons. In mid-May, depending on the part of the country, the sea trout migrate back to sea for the summer. For the most part they seem to start coming back in late July, again depending on part of the country. As the season progresses the runs get bigger to finally reach their peak in September through October. So in general the favored time to be chasing sea trout in Iceland is in April and again from late August to October.
Catch and release?
All over Iceland we have quality sea trout rivers but sadly many of them "suffer" from the fact they share freshwater habitat with Atlantic salmon that are (in most cases) the preferred fish. The laws on salmon fishing allow much shorter fishing time and so these rivers open late and close early to fit with the runs of Atlantic salmon. On the south coast we have several "pure" sea trout rivers that offer fantastic fishing in breathtaking scenery. Those rivers also "suffer" in my opinion as they are open to spinning and bait fishing and killing of fish is allowed. Some of these rivers have seen better days and it is my opinion that we anglers have pushed them too hard.
As I am a strong believer in catch and release on sea trout I frequent one of the few sea trout rivers in Iceland that is purely catch and release. I would like to take this opportunity and tell you about this river that is also my favorite sea trout river, the Huseyjarkvisl River.
The gem of the north: Huseyjarkvisl River
Fishing on the lower beats of the Huseyjarkvisl. Photo by Toby Coe
The Huseyjarkvisl River is located in the Skagafjordur region in the north-west of Iceland. It originates in part at mountain springs deep in the central highlands of Iceland not far from the Hofsjokull glacier. The river runs a long way before it meets the glacial waters of the Heradsvotn glacial river a few kilometers from sea. The area fished in this case is below a waterfall called Reykjafoss that is impassable by migratory fish. With total length of around 23 kilometers of prime fly water this river is fished with the maximum of five rods when the salmon beats are open but when the salmon beats are closed we have approx. 16 kilometers to be shared between three rods.
In 2002 the fishing was close to nothing really as the river was fished with all methods and almost everything caught was killed. Sea trout were on average about 2 pounds in size and numbers declined every year. Salmon catch rates were in the double figures with 31 salmon landed in 2000. In 2002 the river was leased to a new company and the rules changed. The river was to be fished with fly only and all fish released back safely. 10 years later we the anglers who love this river are reaping the benefits of that major change in policy. Five year average catch rates now are around 200 salmon and 700 trout. In April 2012, 192 fish were caught on the Huseyjarkvisl with an average length of 55 cm. The biggest sea trout caught in the last 10 years weighed 11 kilos and every year fish closing in on 10 kilos is caught. Huseyjarkvisl is one of Iceland‘s best sea trout rivers and I love it. Let me tell you why.
Hooked on Sea trout
A magnificent 82 cm spring sea trout from the Huseyjarkvisl
My first encounter with the Huseyjarkvisl was in beginning of August 2008. I was working as a guide and chef for one of the big outfitters in Iceland and I was asked to accompany the guide working on the river and take care of a group of Spanish anglers fishing on the river. When I first saw the river it was love at first sight as there was something magical about this river that totally appealed to me.
The following year I did three trips to that river, two of which I did in the late season targeting sea trout specifically although I had very little experience with sea trout fishing myself. In short we had a blast and landed a few nice sea trout during those trips but I wanted to know more so I booked a three day slot for the spring sea trout fishing in April.
Come April I was lucky enough to be fishing there with a man who had been fishing the river for about 15 years and knew it quite well. He told me stories of the time when he was starting to fish there and how they used to fish with spinners and bait up until the year 2002 when the rules changed and there was a strict fly only, catch and release rule implemented. The man told me that every year since then the sea trout had been getting bigger and bigger. I was intrigued by this and could not wait to get started.
The fishing went off with a bang and the group ended up landing over 50 fish in those 3 days spent there. My most memorable were 6 fish, all that I lost. I managed to hook 5 in 5 casts and lose them all, one running me way down to the backing before the leader broke. Another one ran me so far down to the backing but then decided to turn around and come back towards me. With barbless hooks you know what happened next.
Massive 75 cm sea trout again from the Huseyjarkvisl River
That trip made my year and turned me on to sea trout fishing. Later that same year I and my father had a trip booked to the Huseyjarkvisl again for the late September fishing. The dates in question were September 22nd to 25th.
I must admit that when I arrived to the lodge for that September trip my sea trout enthusiasm had cooled down a bit. I had barely been fishing myself that season due to my busy schedule guiding but the trips I had done had been mostly for salmon so I had a touch of salmon fever. For our first afternoon session we had mild weather, temperatures at around 10 degrees and slight breeze from the north. Not too bad for late season salmon fishing.
We split up and each fished a salmon beat of our own. Just before last light we met up at a pool on one of the salmon beats and by that time my father had not landed any fish but I had 2 brown trout landed. Right before it was too dark to see we landed one salmon and decided to call it a day. That night we had a spectacular display of northern lights on the sky above the lodge. You can‘t beat that feeling of soaking tired bones in a hot tub and looking at the northern lights in the sky above. We both knew that this meant a cold night ahead.
Authors heaviest sea trout. 74 cm in lenght, 46 cm in girth.
The following morning we were in no hurry to get up due to the cold night but we were both quite surprised to see the thermometer at 8:30 in the morning. It was at minus 3 degrees and the sun was even out so that told us that temps had been even lower during the night. Neither of us had any interest in chasing salmon in those conditions so we agreed on giving the trout beats a chance and see if we could find some sea trout. A decision we did not regret in the end.
Mid way down the trout beats a small branch of a bigger glacial river flows into the Huseyjarkvisl River. At the junction we have that much sought after mix of muddy glacial water and the crystal clear water of the Huseyjarkvisl. The muddy water creates a shelter for sea trout to hide in where the clear water comes in so that is a real go-to place when chasing sea trout. So that is where we headed. When we arrived on the scene we saw that with these conditions and the cold night the, once muddy water of the glacial river, was now a pale milky color.
Photo by Toby Coe
We tried the junction without luck but then quickly moved on when we had no offers in our initial casts. We had a lot of water to cover and so we did not spend much time in the same spot. A few hundred meters below the junction we came into some fish. A precisely placed cast tight up against the far bank, 2 seconds and then a slow retrieve is deadly for the Huseyjarkvisl sea trout and that was exactly what enticed that first sea trout of about 60 cm to jump on the fly. Good start of the day. To make a long story short we ended up landing 51 fish on the two rods in 3 days of fishing. Of those 51 we had 2 salmon and the rest were either brown trout or sea trout. Of these 51 fish 32 were over 50 cm including fish at 74, 75 and 77 cm. The last morning we finished the fishing trip at pool 21, a pool that since has become one of my favorites in the river. I was fishing a 24 foot, 300 grain sink tip line and a deadly streamer pattern called Dyrbitur. The name of the game on the Huseyjarkvisl is to get your fly as close to the far bank as possible as very often the big sea trout sit in deep runs by high, undercut banks.
About half way down the run one cast landed particularly nicely right where I wanted it. You know how some casts just feel so perfect you almost know it‘s the winner. Fly landed and I gave it the mandatory 2 seconds to sink before starting that slow retrieve. Second pull and the fly line was ripped from my hands. Right hand raised the rod tip while the left one fumbled for the fly line. Hook set, explosion, screaming reel and big fish. This is what I love about sea trout fishing. After a long hard fight up and down the run and with good help from my father we managed to land the fish. It turned out to be a stunning bar of silver at 74 cm in length but a whopping 46 cm in girth. Not my longest but definitely my heaviest ever sea trout.
April sea trout from Huseyjarkvisl
I now have pretty much all of September booked up on the Huseyjarkvisl River as well as seven days in April, four of which I fish myself. It is the trip I dream about all year and look forward to from the minute I drive away on the last day until I pull up to the lodge the following year. My September days I now use for my clients and we have pretty much all the spots booked up at least a year in advance. My biggest sea trout landed on the Huseyjarkvisl is an 82 cm hen fish caught in April 2011 but in April this year I lost a magnificent beast.
Fishing with an 8 weight fast action rod this fish got my completely beat. Never have I ever had runs this fast nor strong and never have I ever had anything as heavy on the end of my line. After 25 minutes of fighting it I made a mistake and the fish was gone. Now all I have to do is wait my time, endure the Icelandic winter and be ready for it in April 2013. We have unfinished business.
Please practice catch and release. Photo by Toby Coe
The future is bright for the Huseyjarkvisl River because it is highly unlikely the rules on the river will chance from now on. We are likely to see all fish caught in the river released safely to spawn, go back to sea, grow and come back even bigger for years to come. I hope someday I‘ll be able to take my children fishing there and show them the magic of sea trout fishing.
I also hope that someday soon the managers of the other sea trout rivers in Iceland will wake up and change the rules of fishing there so more and more rivers in Iceland can reach their full potential for sea trout fishing. I hope more and more people will be able to experience what I have been fortunate enough to experience on the Huseyjarkvisl and can hardly be explained with words. That magic of sea trout fishing, those amazing animals that can be so unpredictable and fussy one day but then so aggressive and willing the next. I hope I get to spend my lifetime chasing these fish and try and understand them.
Tight lines and VIVA LA SEA TROUT!!!