I will leave the English translation up to you, but cross paths with any Norwegian Salmon angler during the months of June through August, and if you engage in conversation, you will, before you wet a line again, hear this term sincerely. Tight lines is really all they’re saying. Yet the ring to it out the mouth of a Norwegian, around a crackling morning campfire in the misty early hours, just sounds far better. The morning chill is eased, the smoky trail from the fire takes away with it the fishy stories and cognac from the night before. That strong scent of ‘kokmalt’ coffee, an integral part of the morning ritual. Long two handed fly rods lined up against trees and bushes, as they assemble themselves for another session on the water. The ambiance, the mood, quiet and yet understood. Waders on, another sip of that strong coffee, a swig of something strong from a hip flask. Then the leisurely but determined stroll towards the head of the pool. This country is blessed like no other when it comes to fishing for Atlantic Salmon. However this season was a tough one.
Picture a Salmon River. Picture glorious fjords and glacial mountains and icy blue water. Picture Atlantic Salmon in raging torrents that reach the crazy 60lb mark. Then realise that there are over 400 salmon rivers in a country with around 100 000 sportsfishers. That’s at least a river on its own for every 250 people. We are spoilt, but the 2018 season was a reminder to us all…….fishing is fishing, and there are circumstances, both natural and un-natural that threaten these magnificent fish.
2018 was a season to forget. Simple. I am sure that said, that there are a few anglers here and there that broke their PB this season. Possibly a few that got extremely lucky and hit the river in early August under perfect conditions and even caught some numbers. BUT….for the rest, the majority, this season was ‘raeva’……
Alta, Laerdal, Vosso, Årøy, Gaula, Lakselv. Not one of these big name rivers will be sad to see the end of this season, and will all be looking forward to a better 2019. Or so we hope. These rivers produced some incredible fish this year, especially late season. I know personally of at least 4 fish over the 40lb mark landed on a fly, yet their general numbers and river conditions failed them through what was, for the most part, a far too warm summer.
We are lucky on the little river I guide on. We have the lower section which runs into the fjord and so we get fish on the tides and can monitor fish movement very early on well before our season kicks off. My head guide and fellow Fulling Mill pro James Topham and I, are at the lodge getting pre-season work done from early May. A month before our season starts. For the last 5 years we have been diving the river. This entails chucking on a dry suit, snorkel, and mask and getting out into the 4 degree water and drifting downstream. You get yourself facing downs rivers and let the current take you. Sounds a little scary and I can promise you when you do it the first time it is. Manoeuvring around rocks, riffles, and getting your timing right so as not to end up down the waterfall are imperative, and this a certainly a safety first kind of activity. As we drift down the pools we look for and count fish. Primarily Salmon but also to get a feel for juvenile fish counts in the river as well as possible escaped farm fish which we can then spear out.
We have been doing this every weekend in May for the last 5 years and have built up a great understanding of the runs. When the first fish come in, how they move, where they are, how quickly they move through the system and how that relates to temperature and season.
As we headed down the very lower section roughly 300m from the fjord, a week before our season opened, there were fish everywhere. It is quite a sight seeing 20-30lb chrome bright Atlantic Salmon school after school a yard away from you, in their environment. We are a relatively small river by Norwegian standards and so the channels where these fish hold are relatively concentrated. You can’t really miss them. We captured a great little bit of video of one of the schools just holding behind a large rock, in fact, a short pool called ‘Steinen’. It took a few minutes before we could feel our faces and hands again after the hour-long drift in the cold water, but when we came to, Jamo and I looked at each other and smiled. “should be a good one (season) ey?
Little did we know. The fish knew what was coming. From that day in May until the end of July it did not rain. Our river runs at around 20 cubic at a steady height. She was below 5 for the larger part of our season!! A salmon angler never really likes to hear the temp in the river too much higher than 15c (60F). Okay we can live with 18 (65) but when your guide tells you it is 21 degrees celsius (70F) and you can see every rock in the pool and walk across most, your optimism fades. Hopeless, just hopeless.
The finest and driest summer in over 60 years for the West Coast of Norway. Fabulous if you’re a family and decided to stay in Norway for the summer. If you are a Salmon Fisher, rubbish. The days and weeks of sunshine never seemed to end. The midges, wasps and horse flies were immense. Guides consoling guides, anglers consoling anglers, at least we stick together when times are tough.
There was just no river anymore and it was tough even to motivate oneself to cast a lighter line for sea trout. I was receiving drone footage from rivers in Scotland where the schools of salmon accumulated at the river mouths waiting. You can stand on bridges in Norway and watch hundreds of salmon doing the same below waterfalls. Surely the rain would come, surely….
Of course, it did. I woke up on the 3rd August to the glorious sounds of torrential rain filling the gutters of our staff house. As I write this article I am on a plane to Africa for some holiday and it has basically not stopped raining since that day in August. Our river is in flood now and the earth soaked. The boletus are rotten in the forests and the Instagram feeds have moved on from the odd post of a lucky salmon angler to Sitka sights and rifles and culled dear lying in the mountain grass. Salmon anglers flee to the amazon to get their fix on monster Golden Dorado and Peacock Bass, and a season is forgotten and the countdown to the next begins.
In a blink we find ourselves looking at the calendar and realising we now have another winter ahead, another 9 months before we can swing a sunray through a pool on a Norwegian river. Till then, the tying bench, a wee dram, the Instagram feed and till next season…….
Skitt Fiske, they’ll say and it was.