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2018 – a different fishing season

Posted by on 01/09/2018

Success at last

What a strange year it has been. After the coldest and most snowy winter I can remember, we got the summer we hoped for – and more. Many salmon rivers have been extremely low and warm, some were even closed for a period of time, in order to protect the fish. Some of us still managed to connect with the odd salmon, and here is a review of my season – month by month. Hope you enjoy it. Feel free to leave a comment or feedback.

January was bloody cold. The incredible amount of snow coming down was rather frustrating, even though it reminded me of my childhood winters. The only sensible things to do were reading books, go skiing and looking forward to fishing the Dee. February 1 was the magical date, when my brother Terje and I were going to kick our season off – several weeks before we usually do. We did not expect anything really, but freezing our nuts off and maybe – just maybe – connect with a fish. But, as the opening day rapidly approached, we agreed on a plan (I’ll come back to that) which could possibly increase our chance to catch a springer – the finest specimen of salmon I know. So, on January 31 we boarded a plane to Aberdeen and got settled at the lovely Banchory Lodge. That evening, I was doing a talk at the local Orvis shop. Good turn up and great fun.

Opening morning on the Dee

Lower Woodend, Dee

February 1 came early. I believe we got up at 5.30 am, in order to prepare, have breakfast and be on the river at 7.30 am – before anyone else. Fishing a pool that hasn’t been disturbed, do increase your chance of catching a fish. So, that morning, just as the sun worked its way up, we met proprietor Michael Buchan at the Lower Woodend beat. We got our rods up, lit the fire in the fishing hut, had a coffee and then blessed the river. At 8 am, we started fishing – just as we’d planned! My brother worked his way down the lovely Hut Pool, while I covered the smaller pools further downstream. We had an hour or so of fishing available, before we were to attend the opening ceremony at Banchory Lodge. To cut a long story short, Terje was soon into a fish. It took a Gold Willie Gunn about half way down the pool, and after an enjoyable fight, he landed a beautiful 8-pounder – the very first Dee springer of 2018.

After the ceremony, where my brother was presented with a nice bottle of malt for his fish, we returned to Lower Woodend. After having landed a kelt, I managed to catch a springer, too. I picked it up from the very last pool on the beat, on a Tosh, if I remember correctly. So, the opening day on the Dee turned out to be a successful one for us both. Around 6 pm we packed up and drove back to Banchory Lodge, having a proper meal and a few drams. We did fish the following day, as well, but did not touch a thing. Part of the reason, was the fact that we enjoyed most of the day relaxing in the sun, soaking in the sense of spring. At the time, there was still a lot of snow back home in Norway and I believe it was then – exactly then – we decided to return for opening day next year.

The very first Dee springer of 2018!

Chairman of the River Dee Trust & Factor at Balmoral, Richard Gledson, presents Terje with a bottle of malt for his springer

We’d just got home, when I noticed a Facebook competition where the prize was two days fishing for two rods….on the Dee! I entered, not expecting to win, and quickly forgot about it. Then, one Saturday morning, I had an email congratulating me on winning the bloody thing. Now what? With the two fishing days being no more than a couple weeks away, it took some effort to clear our calendars and get a flight booked.  But both Terje and I worked it  out, and suddenly we were back on the Dee! The prize included a stay at the wonderful Tor Na Coille Hotel, just outside Banchory, and fishing a beat just across the street: Little Blackhall and Inchmarlo, where Martin Robson is the ghillie.

If opening day was cold, late February was freezing! Apart from a kelt, nor my brother or I had any particular action. But the beat was lovely and our company brilliant, so we thoroughly enjoyed our bonus days in Scotland. When a fellow angler hooked, played and landed a lovely 17 pound springer, too, it just could not be any better. So I’d like let to take this opportunity to once again thank Corin @ the Wild Rise Company for this lovely surprise, to the Tor Na Coille Hotel for a very pleasant stay and to Martin Robson for working so hard, in order to get us into a fish or two. Don’t be surprised if we come back one day (warmer).

Little Blackhall and Inchmarlo, River Dee

Signs of spring

March wasn’t an interesting month in terms of fishing. While anglers in Scotland can go fishing from January to November, the salmon fishing season in Norway is rather limited. So unless you like ice fishing or go fishing in the sea – which can be great fun – March is the perfect month to book a trip to Italy, Spain or Greece, just to get away from the winter for a few days. That is basically what I did, accompanied by my girlfriend. We had a wonderful time along the Lake Garda and eating our way through Parma. Highly recommended. Also, March is a month where I do quite a lot of talks and write various fishing articles, so I’m usually quite busy. If you are member of a fishing Club, run a store or know about events where a talk may fit in, do get in touch with me. Trout, seatrout or salmon – Scandinavia, Europe or the US – it is up to you. My talks cover it all.

April is a highlight of my flyfishing season. Our annual trip to Scotland’s famous River Spey has become a very dear tradition, much because of the fine company of great fishing chums from England. In late April, we fish the lovely Ballindalloch beat, upstream of Aberlour, and this year was among the better ones, if you look at the number of fish caught. When meeting up with our ghillie Steve Brand on Monday April 23, the river was on the high side after a period of rain. But it was dropping – and throughout the week, it kept dropping towards perfect conditions. So, our party was optimistic and our efforts were rewarded.

Terje playing a Spey springer

Happy angler

On Tuesday evening, just before I was returning to our house, something big grabbed my fly. It wasn’t a textbook pull, my Cascade tube just stopped – and then nothing happened, until I slowly lifted my rod a few seconds later. Was it still there? Hell yes! The fish was heavy and took off towards the far bank, where it stopped just a few inches from the grass. I tried to make it move, but it would not leave whatever safe spot it had found. So there we were on each side of the river. My bent rod attracted the attention of people driving along the Spey, and we slowly, but surely built up an audience. After a little while of putting significant pressure on the salmon, it decided that enough was enough. It moved upstream, then turned downstream. I could feel how it shook its head – and suddenly the hooked slipped. No great surprise, but still disappointing. For the crowd, the show was over. For me, it was time for a GT. And to speculate how big that fish was.

As the river dropped away, we had our fair share of action. Another member of the party, landed 3 springers in the 7 to 8 lbs range. My brother caught the best fish of the week, a lovely 14 pounder which took a Posh Tosh, fished rather deep. It put up a serious fight, but was luckily hooked right in the scissors and it was just a question of time before we could net him. I made up for the giant (I am sure it was!) lost, when I got a beautiful 7 pounder from the Junction Pool. It took a small, slim brown and black tube fly.

A perfect springer

Ballindalloch, Spey

Junction, where the Avon joins the Spey, is my favourite Ballindalloch pool. I have been caught most of my Spey fish there (not that many, but still…), and it seems a fairly safe bet on most heights. Having said that, the whole Ballindalloch beat is a pleasure to fish. The pools vary in size and characteristics, but each and every one of them are very attractive, from a salmon angler’s point of view. To be able to fish Ballindalloch is a great privilege, especially in the colorful spring, with dafodills everywhere, pheasants running around and watching the wonderful trees getting greener day by day. If it is warm enough, it’s quite enjoyable to have a pint on the river bank, too. That, my friends, is the recipe for a great day!

May is the first proper spring month in Norway. The lower part of my local salmon river opens for fishing, but in May, I focus on trout fishing. There are several nice lakes in Lardal, the area where I grew up, which can offer good sport. My flyfishing season is simply not complete without a couple of trips up there. But this year, in late May, I also went to Hampshire, England, to visit friends. I had of course brought my travel rod, and managed to squeeze in some chalk stream fishing, too. As I am sure you know, late May is prime time on the famous chalk streams, as the mighty Ephemera danica – the Mayfly – hatches in big numbers. I sure had some funs, with a mix of rain and sun, and excellent sport in both the Itchen, upstream of Winchester, and the Test, fishing around the lovely village of Stockbridge.

River Itchen

Mayfly time

June continued as hot as May had been. So far, we all enjoyed it. On June 10, the upper part of my local salmon river, the Numedalslågen, opened and I had booked a beat for myself on June 14. The Numedalslågen is a late river, and the best part of the season is usually from mid July onwards. So it was a pleasant surprise when I connected with a fish after just a few casts. It was not the biggest fish in the world, but a grilse of about 5 pounds is most welcome. The weather was horrible, with heavy rain and strong winds, obviously making the casting a bit difficult. But I didn’t give up and an hour later, I was into another fish. But this one behaved very strangely, and when showing on the surface, I realized it was a pike. A few seconds later it released itself, taking off with my leader and the fly.

Later that month, I was back on the river, fishing a pool called Stubben. Once a favourite of the Victorian anglers. There were plenty of fish about, but the river was low and warm. I didn’t have a pull, nor had the other anglers, who were spinning and worming. Reports coming in from other Numedalslågen beats and other rivers in the Southern part of Norway, told about similar conditions. It was obvious that we needed rain. Quickly – and a lot of it. But our prayers didn’t help much. We hardly got a drop and while most people were thrilled with the extraordinary weather, the fishing became poorer and poorer – and our rivers were more suitable for bathing than fishing. I had to reconsider my fishing plans for July.

My local salmon river – Numedalslågen

Works everywhere

July came and nothing changed. I cancelled my fishing on three different locations, including Scotland. I must admit I found the regulations that were introduced on some rivers, following the drought, quite strange. Is it wise to practice catch and release in rivers where the water temperature exceeds 20 degrees? Not in my book. If you play a fish until its exhausted, it will most likely die if you put it back.  If one truly cares for the salmon, it is better to either allow the angler to kill a fish – and then stop fishing for the rest of the day – or to simply close the river for fishing until the conditions improve. But, unfortunately, some river owners and estates introduced mandatory catch and release as the appropriate “answer” to the unusually dry conditions. Kudos to those proprietors who went the other way.

August turned out to be the month of change, at least for me. It started as hopeless and dry as May, June and July all had been. Our annual trip to the famous Lærdal wasn’t very successful. But I can not imagine a more beautiful place on Earth not to catch fish :)  The steep, dramatic mountains and wonderful river, with its clear and green-ish water, should be on every flyfisherman’s bucket list. Going to the Lærdal in August means you can fish both for salmon and huge seatrout. But here, as in so many rivers this year, the catches have been rather disappointing. We did not see many fish and, as one would expect, we did not connect with a single one. Having said that, we only fished for a couple of days and the chaps who remained for the full week, eventually caught a few seatrout, including one weighing about 8 pounds.

Fish on!

5,5 kilo

I shall not bother you with my last attempt to catch a proper Numedalslågen salmon, but instead tell you about the most successful salmon fishing trip of my life! I have never experienced anything like it and I may never experience anything like it again. But I will certainly treasure the memories of my three excellent days on a small Trøndelag river called the Søråa. This is a tributary of the Bjøra, which again is a tributary of the mighty River Namsen, which I am sure needs no further introduction.

When my chum Øystein and I arrived at Raaum farm in Høylandet, on August 16, the long awaited rain had finally come. It had actually been pouring down, and the Søråa had transformed from…nothing…to a powerful river, with lots of fish running. We realized that we – at last – were at the right place at the right time. Anything could happen – and it did. That first afternoon, following setting up the camp and having an early supper, I had two grilse and two seatrouts, plus a few pulls. No big fish yet, but judging from all the salmon we’d seen, it was obvious that our chances of catching a good fish or two, was better than in a long, long time.

River Søråa

Autumn salmon

The next morning, I was up at 4 am. I was too excited to sleep and I just love fishing in the mornings, when the sun rises and everything comes to life. It did not take long before the action begun. An absolutely crazy 13 pounder grabbed my blue and black tube, and gave me one of the most memorable salmon fights I’ve ever had. It came out of the water over and over again, and made several attempts to leave the pool, which I just had to stop – beacuse following the fish downstream was impossible. Fortunately, the angry salmon was well hooked and I finally managed to bring it in. Wow! Later on that day, following breakfast and a power nap, I had a similar fish from another pool. When Øystein also caught a fish about 12 pounds, the day is complete. But it did not stop there. On the contrary! Before we returned home, I alone had landed 11 grilse and salmon, plus five seatrout, and I am sure I had +/- 30 pulls. What a fantastic end to my salmon fishing season.

September is here. I like the autumn, with the crisp air and wonderful colors, but its also a little bit sad. Numedalslågen has closed for fishing. My brother and I usually do a trip to Scotland in the autumn, but not this year. Instead, we’re soon off to Hampshire again, to fish a bit and to celebrate a friend who’s about to retire as riverkeeper on the Test. Looking very much forward to that. Then, we have to start planning our 2019 season, which I hope will bring some more rain than we had this year. If not, well, we’ll just have to make the most of it, don’t we? To those of you who still have some fishing to do in 2018: Tight lines.

There is more to fishing than catching fish…

A river of dreams

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