A Northern Gem - The Fljotaa

WWMF Trip 30 July-1 August 2021

by Alistair Rogers

Destination: Iceland

Holiday: Fljotaa River

We all know how challenging any overseas fishing has been this year, but the four of us were determined to make the best of it and with Justin’s guidance and our enthusiasm, what could possibly go wrong!  Steve, Ed, Alistair and Justin therefore committed to a short notice trip to Northern Iceland to fish the little-known River Fljotta at the end of July.

For Salmon Anglers, the Fljotta has a mythical quality, not least because of its seclusion, but also because the lease to its 7km fishable length was held, during his lifetime, by the legendary Orri Vigfusson, the founder of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund; it is now pleasingly in the hands of his son Vivvi, who is carefully increasing the opportunities for foreign anglers to fish this small, exclusive and very exciting glacial river. 

Left-Beats 3 & 4 towards the sea - Right Beats 1&2 towards the hydro

The Fljotta tumbles from the Hydro at its headwaters to the sea through a combination of farmland and steep gorges, which is reflected in the often deep pools, cuts and pots that hold hard-fighting Arctic Char and strong, fit, silvery Grilse and the occasional Summer Salmon.  The fishing is low-pressure: four rods fish the four beats with a multiplicity of options and, in good conditions, several pools will hold fish across the river’s length. 

Steve at the uppermost pool on Beat 1 and a Beat 2 pool in the gorge

Getting there was an adventure in itself – a five hour journey from Reykjavik.  Steve and Ed travelled from Keflavik straight from the flight and were tucked up in bed by the time that Justin and Alistair finally arrived via stop-offs to seek Vivvi Vigfusson’s wisdom, collect provisions and importantly stock up on Arctic Char flies.  Significantly we were in need of advice on cars and are indebted to Tomasz for his continued loyalty and short notice support in the provision of the ‘Monster Truck’ which made access to the Fljotta and our subsequent visit to the Hitara so much more achievable!  

 

Saved by the Big Red Truck-Thank you Tomasz - The Late Orri Vigfusson who originally held the lease to the Fljotaa

It was an early start after a late arrival.  Jon, our fantastic guide (2 days guiding is always advisable while you get to know which pools will fish best at a given water height), lined us up with a plan, which was initially for us to explore with targeted advice. Alistair and Justin went to Beats 1 and 4, while Ed and Steve went to the tumbling gorges of Beats 2 and 3 – cracking deep pools and runs through a steep gradient. 

We arrived in a blanket of low-cloud and rain but left to a spectacular sunrise

Conditions were cold and misty, but the cloud later cleared to give us our first sight of the most stunning highland landscape – a reminder that fishing isn’t all about fishing.  Day 1 was hard and largely unproductive, punctuated by plucks, pulls and the pleasing presence of suicidal char!  The weather conditions by Day 2 had settled and despite blazing sunshine we were all into fish, the biggest caught by Steve at the top of Beat 1 as our second session of the day ended.  Day 3 produced plenty of opportunities and a superb afternoon for Alistair and Justin on Beat 4; most of our 16 salmon (many more lost, some of them big) were caught on days 2 and 3, but we lost count of the number of char after lunchtime on Day 2!

And the birdlife!  You do not have to be remotely into birds to be impressed by the simply enormous quanity that make use of the river and surrounding pasture and uplands.  From varied ducks with accompanying chicks to ptarmigan alongside huge number of assorted waders, snipe and terns.  About the only thing we did not see was a puffin ;-)

We were all relatively new to nymphing however it proved as succesful for Salmon as it was for Char. Justin with a fish on a Squirmy Wormy

So what about how to fish?  What should you be thinking about for a visit to the Fljotta, or a similar Icelandic river?  The first point is you need to forget traditional UK salmon tactics; you will be fishing the edge of raging currents often nymphing deep for both salmon and char (salmon frequently fall for char flies); unsurprisingly 7 weight single-handers, or light switch rods are best for this. 

Although surrounded by productive pasture land, much of the river is cut deep into the terrain making for impressive surroundings

The second point is that in the right conditions there can be no more exciting way of fishing than a ‘hitch’ (ideally with a trailing point) and don’t assume that you need to see the hitch fly; obviously the fish needs to, but contrary to received wisdom, salmon will still take a surface lure even in turbulent water. 

Despite its small size, the river is surprisingly powerful along the bulk of its 7km length which makes for plenty of drama when fighting fish on light rods and small flies . Be prepared to go for a run when fighting even a relatively small fresh grilse!

The final point is be prepared to go small, very small (16), but as the light changes reconsider and put something more imposing on – Steve’s big fish took a 1.5 inch tube at dusk, while Alistair’s biggest took a tiny ‘Blue Charm’ after breakfast!  Finally always listen to the guide, but be prepared to think ‘outside the box’ – conditions change and where a fish chooses to briefly hold will often change with them.

Go small...a size 14 Char nymph on a good Fljotaa salmon...which stayed on by a sliver of sinew and a fortuitous nose noose!!!

We all had tremendous fun exchanging stories and ideas over a whisky in the comfortable Bergland lodge; Katrin’s home-cooked food was excellent and plentiful, just don’t be fooled (as Ed and Alistair were) into eating the fermented Greenland Shark appetiser! 

All in all our visit to the Fljotta was an amazing trip; it is a fantastic river to fish and a wonderful combination of salmon fishing nostalgia and forward thinking conservation and fishery management, which will ensure that this little Hydro-fed glacial river remains an Icelandic gem.

Evening light at Berghylur, one of the most productive pools on the river and most memorable on account of the small cliff which overlooks the pool, allowing a birds eye view on to any salmon within

  • The Fljotaa was in a absolutely stunning location and well worth a return visit ,the guide was great and taught us a lot about fishing in Iceland. I will definitely be in touch for more fishing adventures.

    Steve Ramshaw-UK-Aug 2021

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