In Iceland most, if not all of the fishing water is privately owned. Landowners own the fishing rights on their land and so several different landowners can own a single river. To avoid conflict the laws state that the owners must form an alliance regarding the river and matters concerning the river. This means that most rivers and some lakes and lake clusters have what we the locals call a fishing club. This club is made up of people that own parts of the rivers or lakes and each gets a vote.
The club then either sells fishing permits itself or leases the river to companies that take care of the river, sell permits and operate angling related tourism on said river (or lake). A governing body in angling matters issues guidelines for the well being of the river such as number of rods, method of fishing and that sort of thing. Netting in fresh water is forbidden. The fishing club takes these guidelines into consideration and sets the rules for their river.
The law states that fishing for salmon in Iceland can only be done from May 20th – September 30th each year with minor exceptions allowing some rivers to stay open through October. However, rivers can only stay open for 105 days within the given time-frame and it is up to the fishing club of each river to decide when to open and when to close. Obviously they’ll try and maximize prime time dates and open the river for fishing when the first salmon have started running the rivers in the early summer.
Fishing for sea run species of trout and char can be done from April 1st – October 10th each year with minor exceptions. Fishing for resident trout and char can be done year round (according to the law) but rarely do the rivers stay open through winter.
All anglers entering the country must have a certificate of disinfection for their gear. More info here. The disinfection can be done at Keflavik airport for a small price. This is to keep our rivers clean and with our fragile, mostly unpolluted rivers and eco system we ask you to Please help us keep our rivers clean.
This system of managing the rivers of course has it’s pros and cons and while some love it, others hate it. The arguments against this system are many and one of the loudest ones is that it keeps the price of fishing permits high and seemingly the sport of fly fishing as an elite sport for only the very rich. While that can be said about most of the big name salmon rivers we still have untouched, semi – unexplored rivers and streams in the highlands as well smaller trout streams that are still affordable and at the same time offering fantastic trout fishing.
The fishing permit market obeys the same rules as anything on the free market – the law of supply and demand. I guess the demand for good salmon fishing must be very high in the world as Iceland is a very popular place for visiting salmon anglers adding to the local demand making it exceed the supply. The strict rules also add to the demand as here you can experience fishing a river or a beat in a river without ever seeing another angler nor run out of pools to fish. I think that is what draws a lot of the foreign anglers to Iceland – to get away from it all and be able to fish in peace and quiet in a beautiful scenery still mostly unpolluted.