ICELAND- TOP 20 SALMON RIVERS
The list of the ‘Top 20’ Salmon rivers listed below is based on the submitted 2010 salmon catch returns. It does not relate to catch numbers/rod and it is not meant to suggest that one river is better than another. Each river will have its own unique attributes and appeals and it is hoped the synopsis will provide an interesting overview of some of Iceland’s most notable salmon rivers.
1. WEST RANGA
The West Ranga is Iceland’s top producing salmon river with a colossal tally of over 14,000 fish being caught in 2008. The West Range is located 95 kms’s east of Reykjavik near the town of Hella. The success of the West Ranga as a salmon river is attributable to two primary factors; a very intensive smolt release programme and the fact that it is an entirely spring fed river that provides very reliable water levels throughout the season. The West Ranga has a fine sandy bottom with no spawning beds and hence all the salmon that run the West Ranga, a result of the release of smolts, and entirely grilse. The river used to have large runs of big Sea Trout and some Sea Char as well. These stocks are not what they used to be on account of the introduction of the Salmon smolt. The upper reaches still hold some of Iceland’s biggest Brown Trout and each season fish of 10 to 14lbs are caught. There is capacity for 20 salmon rods throughout the season.
2. EAST RANGA
East Ranga shares the crown with West Ranga as the pair of top producing salmon rivers in Iceland. A large volume river which is fished by 18 rods and covers 22 kms of double-bank fishing. It is both a spring and glacier fed salmon river so the can pick up some colour if there is a lot of melt-water following hot weather. Despite this even on days when the water is coloured the river is rarely ever unfishable. Catch returns tell their own story with some years producing over 7000 salmon.
Considered by some as one of the jewels of Icelandic Salmon Rivers the Midfjardara is not only very productive but certainly one of the most attractive. There can be few rivers in Iceland that offer so much space whist fishing with 6-10 rods being rotated over 5 beats and covering 115km of double bank fishing with 220 named pools. The Midfjardara salmon fishing incorporates three tributary rivers (Austura, Nupsa, Vestura) alongside the main river. Long but small the Midjfardara is best fished with single-handed rods and small hitched files. Although the early season has a run of salmon in the 10-18lb range the bulk of the fishing is for grilse. The season runs from late June to late September.
4. THVERA & KJARRA
The upper part of this fishery is the Kjarra, the lower part the Thvera. It is one of the main tributaries to the glacial artery Hvita. The river Thvera/Kjarra is one of Iceland’s five star salmon fisheries and consistently sits in the top 5 salmon producing rivers of Iceland. Along with the Nordura it has one of the earliest runs of salmon in Iceland with the season opening in early June. The early running salmon are mostly in the 10 to 20lb range with the prime weeks when the grilse numbers are at their highest being from early-mid July. 7 rods fish both the Thvera and Kjarra respectively each serviced by its own lodge.
5. BLANDA RIVER
The Blanda has one of the highest salmon to grilse ratios of any of the salmon rivers in Iceland as well as being one of the best early season rivers with the fishing season starting in early June. At 105 kms long it is one of the longest salmon rivers in Iceland with the fishing divided between 4 beats with 3-4 anglers fishing each beat and serviced by a new and very comfortable 12 bedroom lodge. The river used to suffer from colouration as it is partially fed by glacial run-off however this problem has for the best part been resolved by the introduction of a dam servicing a hydro-electric power station. Beat 1 is the most productive stretch on the Blanda and fishes well from early June.
6. NORDURA RIVER
One of the Top 5 producing Rivers in Iceland and a short 1 hr 45 in drive from the main international airport. The Nordura is a very attractive river with over 150 named pools. The river can be fished with a double-handed rod during the early season but is best suited to a single–handed rod from late June onwards. The fishing itself is suitably varied with everything from gorges and waterfalls to the flatter more open sections of the upper river. The fishing starts in early June when good sized salmon run the river with a much bigger grilse run arriving from late June onwards. The river fishes 8-15 rods and is organized by the Reykjavik Angling Club who run and maintain an excellent lodge overlooking the very impressive Laxfoss waterfall.
7. LANGA (Langa a Myrum)
The Langa is one of Iceland’s major salmon rivers with recent catches of 2-3,000 salmon per season. The river is fed by a large inland lake, Langavatn that ensures a very reliable water supply and can means that the Langa continues to fish well even in a dry summer. (A 2nd tributary from Langvatn also supplements the bottom section of the Nordura). The Langa is fished by 12 rods daily who are accommodated in superbly positioned lodge overlooking one of the most charismatic sections of the river. The river is average sized by Icelandic standards, is best fished with a single-handed rod, and comprises of 93 named pools. The Langa is a convenient drive of approx 1 hr 45 mins from Reykjavik.
The Sela located in the Northeast of Iceland near the town of Vopnafjordur is one of Iceland’s largest clear water rivers and one of the most sought after of all Icelandic salmon rivers. Big by Icelandic standards the river is fast, rocky and challenging with the fishing varied throughout the river. Several deep canyon sections that offer very visual fishing in fast deep pools. The Sela has a strong reputation and produces some large MSW fish with salmon over 20lbs being caught each season. Although the river used to have a somewhat inconsistent return of fish this has been evened out by an established stocking system and over recent years catches of 2-2,700 have been recorded. A new full service lodge is due to open in 2012.
The Hafralonsa is a large volume river fished with six rods and is located in the Northeast corner of Iceland. It is the longest of the Thistilfiord rivers. Although the surroundings are relatively flat in places the river cuts into the landscape with two very notable deep and spectacular gorges. The Hafralonsa has 28kms of fishable water and it is without question one of the wilder and more challenging of the Icelandic Rivers requiring a fair amount of walking and some bumpy 4x4 trails. All parts of the river are nevertheless accessible. A self-catering lodge serves the anglers with catering services available on request.
The Grimsa is another of the top producing salmon rivers in Iceland and it is also one of the most sought after rivers. Grimsa is fished by 10 rods covering 32 kms of fishable water with over 60 named pools. The most productive pool is below the laxfoss waterfall directly beneath the fishing lodge. The Grimsa has a long tradition of salmon fishing being fished by British anglers from 1862. Long and time-honoured traditions alongside great catch returns make this one of the popular salmon rivers in Iceland. The season runs from the 3rd week of June until the 3rd week of September with the best fishing being from mid July to mid August.
11. LAXA IN DOLUM
One of the better rivers in Iceland, Laxa in Dolum is located in the central western area of Iceland and has an impressive average rod catch of nearly 3 fish/rod/day. The Lax-river in Dolum is a medium sized river famous for its large stock of fish and for producing a reasonable number of good-sized MSW salmon. Lax in Dolum has 26 kms of productive salmon fishing water with all the pools being easily accessible by car. The lower beats flow smoothly through a wide isolated valley and are perfect for single-handed rods, floating lines and the riffling hitch. The upper river has some narrower beats with some deep clear pools. The season runs from early July to late September.
12. LAXA in ADALDAL –BIG LAXA
This is one of Iceland’s major salmon rivers and in many quarters simply called the "Big Laxa". It is Iceland’s second greatest spring fed river and originates in the famous bird haven of lake Myvatn. Located in the North of Iceland and a 40-minute drive from Akureyri airport it has a reputation for being the big fish river of Iceland. The Big Laxa fishes up to 18 rod and due to its size pools are frequently fished from by both banks. Although capable of producing over 2,000 salmon in a season the Big is noted for the quality and size of the fish over numbers. The Laxa has two main lodges, at Laxamyri and Arnes. Both are fully staffed and are very comfortable. A dam at the top of the Adaldalur valley stops the salmon running to the upper reaches although this area has some of the world’s best Brown Trout fishing with numerous fish caught from 5-7lb and for some very fortunate anglers upto 12 lbs. There is over 20 miles of Brown Trout fishing divided into 15 beats.
13. VIDIDALSA & TRIBUTARY FITJA
The Vididalsa situated in the North-West of Iceland is famous for its large Multi Sea Winter Salmon with fish in the 20lb+ range being caught each year with a magical 30lb fish being a real possibility. Alongside these very large salmon by Icelandic standards are the regular and prolific run of grilse making the choice of tackle particularly tricky with broken leaders and straightened hooks being an ever-present concern. The Vididalsa is 38 km long and is divided into 4 beats fished by 2 rods/beat. The tributary Fitja is one of those beats and can account for in the region of half the annual catch on the whole river. The Fitja is a small river with lots of fast running pools whilst the Vididalsa is wider and flatter in the upper section although it also has a fast flowing canyon. The anglers stay in comfort in a full service, Tjarnarbrekka with 8 ensuite twin-bedrooms. Of note the river also has very good Arctic Char fishing.
The Vatnsdalsa is famous for both its big salmon and for being Iceland’s first ever compulsory catch and release fishery. The main salmon fishing covers a distance of approx 20kms that is fished by 6-8 rods divided amongst 3 beats although salmon run a distance of 40kms up to the very impressive Dalsfoss waterfall. The upper section consists of a long sweeping canyon with fast flowing pools amongst the white water. Downstream the river opens up into a lush valley with slower cut bank pools and gentle gravel edges. The salmon run through two lakes which are not salmon water and a middle beat which is sold separately, about 12kms in length is considered to have excellent Arctic Char fishing. Salmon fishermen stay in a modern and newly refurbished lodge-Flodvangur.
The Hofsa is a large River located on the North East Coast of Iceland and is considered one of the elite Icelandic salmon rivers. Alongside good catch returns it has an unusually high proportion of MSW for Icelandic Rivers (in 2008 it was 46%). The Hofsa is one of the two major Vopnafjordur Rivers, the other being the Sela. The upper section of the river has an impassable waterfall followed by an impressive canyon with a series of challenging pools however lower down the river opens up and becomes a series of long slow flowing pools where the bulk of the fishing is. The river has a full service fishing lodge with ten bedrooms catering for 7 anglers. It is a 7 hr drive from Reykjavik or a 1 ½ hr drive from Egilsstadir airport that has daily flights from Keflavik airport. The Hofsa is a catch and release river and is strictly fly only.
The Breiddalsa is a river that is gaining a well-earned reputation as one of the most impressive Icelandic Salmon rivers with very good runs of MSW fish. Catch returns used to be 100-200 salmon/year however as a result of good management and a smolt release programme those figures are now up to the 1,000 salmon/season mark. Below the junctions where the Breidalsa is joined by the Tinnudalsa and the Tinna the Breidalsa can be considered a big river with many anglers choosing to fish with double-handed rods. The surrounding are no less impressive than the river with awesome mountain ranges complete with craggy tops overlooking the river. A newly built and absolutely first class lodge caters for teams of 6-8 anglers.
17. LAXA in LEIRARSVEIT
This is one of Iceland’s main rivers which over the last 4 years had a significantly increased catch return. Laxa in Leirarsveit is a medium volume river that is suitable for single-handed rods. The salmon fishing is 14km long with 45 named pools divided into 7 beats and it is fished daily by 7 rods. Excellent water clarity provides great sight-fishing opportunities. 2008 was the record season on the Leirarsveit with 1600 salmon being caught giving an impressive average of over 200 fish / rod during the course of the season which runs from 20 June to 20 September. The river is located in the South West of Iceland a short drive from Reykjavik with accommodation provided by a full service lodge with eight twin bedrooms.
The Haukadalsa is an exclusive salmon river fished by just 5 rods on a daily basis. Although just 8 kms long the fishing is relatively concentrated with 40 named pools. It also benefits from a reasonably consistent water height it has a good concentration of pools and retains reasonably consistent water levels as a result of a good-sized lake that feeds the river. The salmon pools are all easily wadeable and can all be accessed by 4WD making it popular for those who are not as mobile. Anglers fishing Haukadalsa stay in a luxury full service lodge. The river has a good stock of sea-run char although they rarely are caught in the salmon beats. The arctic char run the lower sections rapidly before entering the lake and the Upper Haukadalsa beyond. The Upper-Haukadalsa is a popular trout beat.
19. LAXA IN KJOS & TRIBUTARY- BUGDA
Laxa in Kjos is an intimate medium-sized river in the South West of Iceland less than an hours drive from Reykjavik. Rarely out of the top 10 producing Icelandic Rivers it is a delightful salmon river particularly suited to light fishing gear. There is an enormous variety of water to cover over the 24 kms of fishable water shared between the main river and smaller tributary Budga. The river is fished by 10 rods with pairs of anglers rotating over 4 beats on the main river and a further 2 anglers fishing the Budga beat. In addition there is a very strong run of Sea Trout that can be caught during the midst of the day. During lower water conditions the fishing tends to be more focused around the deeper pools, many of them to be found in the two scenic canyons. Anglers stay in the very comfortable and newly built lodge. The season runs from mid June until September.
The Ellidaar is a small volume river within the boundaries of the Reykjavik. It is almost unique in the world in being a salmon river that has retained very healthy catches despite the potential ravages of human urban pressure. Although it suffered a significant blip in fortunes catch returns over the previous 5 years have pushed the annual average catch to over 1,000 salmon making it exceptionally productive on a per rod basis. It is exceptionally popular with Icelanders due to its accessibility and as such is let one shift at a time.
CLOSE CONTENDERS & OTHER IMPORTANT RIVERS
Situated in the North of Iceland near the Northern Capital of Akureyri the Fnjoska is a very large river by Icelandic standards which discharges into the Eyjafiord. The salmon beats cover 40 kms fished by 8 rods divided amongst 4 beats. During the early season the lowest beat is very productive with the salmon stacking up below the fish ladder before conditions are favourable for them to run the upper stretches. Te Fnjoska has a good run or Arctic Char that can provide great sport when the salmon are being less obliging. The prime time is from mid July to mid-August.
Originating in the Hitarvatn mountains the Hitara is one of Iceland’s most picturesque rivers. The fishing is split into two beats with the upper section along with tributaries Talmi and Grjota being fished by three rods from a self-catering lodge. Anglers fishing the main Hitara beat stay at the delightful old-fashioned lodge stone built ‘castle’ perched on a cliff face overlooking Breidin one of the rivers most notable pools. The inside of the lodge is full of hunting heirlooms with a magnificent collection of stuffed birds amongst many other historical curiosities. The lower Hitara beats fishes 6 rods and it is an ideal location for small groups to book for an exclusive week. The river had a record season in 2008 with 1,289 salmon being caught in total.
Notable as this was the first salmon river in Iceland that I fished! The river fishes 4 rods split over 4 beats. The upper section is fast flowing with the water running out of a dam followed by as series of very charismatic pools. The aptly names aquarium is visually the most exciting allowing anglers to view the salmon as they rise and drop through the water of this very deep pool. The lower section runs through an open valley with gravel banks and cut banks. View some action from the trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-euYT0Kewk
Booking Salmon Fishing Trips to Iceland
With so many rivers to choose from and each with its own peculiarities of season, style of fishing, cost and 101 other variables booking a holiday is no easy matter. If you would like advice or assistance in arranging a trip to Iceland then please email Justin@WhereWiseMenFish.com or call +44 (0) 208 123 3516 or +44 (0)7711 519 857
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