The curse of low-water and excessively high water temperatures is every anglers nightmare. Prospects and individual optimism take a nose-dive when faced with such conditions. Guides do their best to put on a brave face and anglers rush to the shop to buy up the last remaining micro-tubes and size 14 flies! My first experience of the fishing at Aunan was in late July on a sweltering hot year. Across Norway, there were reports of salmon dying due to the heat and enforced fishing bans being applied. Despite this, the middle and lower section of the Aunan beats on the Orkla river remained in very good health with nothing short of a strong flow of water and very surprisingly, the water was surprisingly cold! This was no miracle of nature, an outlet from the hydro that sources water from the Granasjoen Reservoir delivers a steady supply of water to the Orkla a little distance above Aunan lodge and although in cold conditions the water temperature can hold the salmon back, over warm periods it can be a godsend.
Vegard Heggem the owner of Aunan explain all below
The average temperature in the county of Trøndelag is 1,5 centigrades warmer than in it was back in 1960. The effects on our salmon rivers are becoming more and more obvious. Climate change has caused more extreme weather; more torrential rain and more drought, and this has been particularly noticeable since 1990. Increased temperatures cause the snow to melt earlier in the winter, and often there can be several snow melts during the same winter. This being a fact, it is useful for those considering booking a fishing trip on the Orkla to be aware of the hydropower regulation of the river, and how this affects the water flow.
Waterflow and water temperature may hugely affect the behaviour of the salmon. Salmon fishers will first and foremost worry about there being enough water so that the fish can easily enter the rivers and run upstream. Low water might cause salmon to hold in the estuary, and the salmon already in the river will become stationary and shy.
Early in the season, melting snow will feed the river sufficiently, whereas later in the summer one must rely upon rain. For the Orkla, the situation is different than for many other rivers. In the period 1978 – 1985, Orkla was regulated for the production of hydropower. 5 hydroelectric power stations are in operation along the river, and several controlled reservoirs ensure a stable supply of water to the turbines. The operator of the hydropower production, Kraftverkene I Orkla (KVO), are obliged to sustain a minimum water flow of 20 m3/sec below the Bjørset dam. KVO can obtain this by letting water from the reservoirs through the Brattset and/or the Grana power station.
After 15 years of operating Aunan Lodge, our experience is that 20 m3/sec is enough water for the salmon to enter the Orkla and swim upstream. The set minimum water flow on the Orkla makes for exciting fishing at most of the 18 pools on the Aunan Lodge beat. Some of our pools, like Litjmoen, Bruholt and Gorsetøya, Gamshølen and Skjelsenghølen, are actually at their most productive on low water. Other less fortunate salmon rivers struggle with hydropower regimes with levels of mandatory minimum water flow that are too low for the salmon to migrate upriver. And, of course, rivers without hydropower production reservoirs at all, are depending on nature alone for water and might get almost totally dried out during periods of prolonged drought.
The outlet of the Grana power station runs into the Korshølen pool at Aunan Lodge and is, therefore, influencing 13 of the 18 pools on our beat. When in operation, the normal water flow through the power station is 12 – 20 m3/sec. The water comes from the Granasjøen reservoir. The intake is located at the bottom of the lake, which means that the water temperature is close to 4 centigrades. When the Grana power station is in operation during the summer, the water temperature in the river downstream from the outlet will be colder than it would be under natural conditions. It’s believed that the salmon is most active when the water temperature is between 8 and 14 centigrades and that the ideal temperature for fishing is between 10 and 12. During cold periods of the season, electricity production at the Grana power station could cause the water temperature in the river to be lower than ideal, whereas during warm and dry summer days it could represent a cooling relief for a that otherwise would hold temperatures between 15 – 20 centigrades.
Most salmon anglers have experienced the frustration of being sat on the riverbank, staring at a river that is not fishable, either due to low and warm water flowing with weeds, or a highly flooded river with chocolate brown water. KVO’s reservoirs in the mountains collect snowmelt and rain, making the fishery less vulnerable for the extreme weather that we’ll be seeing more of in the future.
But there will be exceptions, and the 2018 season was indeed one of those. The average temperature for the whole of Norway for the period of May till July was the highest that has ever been measured. Because of the extreme conditions, the authorities granted KVO a reduced minimum water flow of 10 m3/sec for a period. It was still fishable at this height, and we caught several salmon at Aunan after the reduced water flow came into effect. But with the drought continuing for another 3 weeks, the conditions eventually became dire. Thankfully it never became so critical that the fishing had to be closed. This event in 2018 is the only time during 30 years of hydropower production on the Orkla that the minimum water flow had to be reduced like that, and hopefully, it will be long till next time.
So what’s the ideal water level that you should wish for when visiting the Orkla and Aunan Lodge? There is no single answer to that question. Early in the season, we at Aunan Lodge would prefer the river not to be too big and cold, as this will slow the fish going past the outlet of the Svorkmo power station. For Aunan Lodge and other fisheries on the upper river, this was painfully felt in the 2012 season, with a cold spring and late snow melt. We do wish for a marked flood in the spring, as this is important for the smolt to leave the river successfully, but we prefer this flood to have finished during the second half of May so that the water temperature will exceed 7 centigrade well in time before the 1st of June. The average water flow at Aunan Lodge throughout the fishing season has been around 50 m3/sec the last 10 years (a bit more in June and August, and a bit less in July), and this is a good all-round water flow for the Aunan Lodge salmon beat. But if you ask our guides, they’ll be more concerned about the water level not becoming too static over time, as it is the changes in water flow that make the fish move and hence become more likely to take.
Hourly updates on water levels on different places on the river are published on the Orkla river board’s web site. The readings from the Syrstad gauge is the most relevant for the situation at Aunan, as there are no major tributaries or power stations between Aunan Lodge and the Bjørset dam.
The Aunan Lodge beat is 5,5 km long with 18 different pools. This offers a variation that very few Norwegian salmon fishing lodges can match. A mix of pools that fishes well on different water levels is very valuable in a time where the weather is going to be more and more unpredictable. Combine this with a guaranteed and sufficient minimum water level, and the risk of having your trip partly or totally spoiled because of water conditions is heavily reduced.
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The great salmon rivers of Norway such as the Alta, Gaula, Namsen and Orkla were probably responsible for the earliest breed of travelling anglers. Primarily it was sportsmen from Great Britain who travelled to Norway in pursuit of the finest salmon fishing available. Not only were the numbers of fish high but maybe more ...