Nordura - Iceland

24-27 June 2021

3 Days of Icelandic Freedom

Destination: Iceland

Holiday: Nordura River

Iceland, throughout the last 15 months has been one of the very few beacons of opportunity, for what has otherwise been another miserable year for travel.  Although various entrance requirements were in place crucially there was no quarantine or self-isolation on return.  What was needed was  a double vaccination certificate, although also accepted was proof of antibodies from a past covid infection (a single vaccination dose did the trick).  Although there was a very slim chance that Iceland could be bumped off the travel green list, given that it had been open throughout 2021 the coast was clear for a WWMF return trip to the Nordura.   Now all that remained was for the weather and the fish to follow the same schedule.

Worries about low water conditions were unfounded! Late July and the river at approx 25 m3/s. Ideal height woud have been about 15 m3/s to allow the fish to reach the uppermost beat

On that count I was nervous!  Reports of another very dry spring were surfacing with the potential to affect salmon rivers on the west coast of Iceland.  Generally snow-melt is not considered a contributory factor to river levels in Iceland by the start of the salmon season, however wet conditions over the spring are, and that had been missing up until May.   What followed was un-expected and caught everyone off-guard.  May turned out to be extremely cold which, whilst holding up water levels, also set the regular schedules back by 2 weeks or more.   Consequently, by the opening of the season on the Nordura, on the 10th of June, the river was too high and too cold!   The race was now on for  the water to warm up, the salmon to run and the river to drop to a level which would allow the salmon to run the full length of the river.  The variables in getting a fishing trip right sometimes seem to be almost unsurmountable.

The lowest section of the Nordura

The Nordura is a truly spectacular river.  In every way impressive, with three jaw-dropping waterfalls, and an array of very varied pools, ranging from a wide-open valley section to a deep canyon and pretty much everything in between.  From the pictures it can appear to be quite intimidating in size and the realm of larger double-handed rods, but the reality is that a switch rod should really cover all eventualities and a single-handed rod is fine for most pools.   The predominant run of salmon are grilse although that is not to say larger fish are not caught, more commonly during the early part of the season in June.  

 

Mid-canyon on the Nordura. Despite its apparent size single-handed or switch rods will allow you to cover almost all the available water

Tackling a feisty grilse, fresh from the sea, from amongst a fast flowing, sharp edged channel, amidst the volcanic rock, with hook sizes that are rarely above a size 12 and commonly down to size 16 or 18, requires a very Icelandic approach with stealth and suitable tactics essential. Skidding a small grilse across the surface on the end of a 15ft rod is about as far from the Icelandic fishing experience as you can get.  Light rods, long leaders and some tiny flies represent very different fishing conditions.      The crystalline water clarity mans that it can also be very visual, both from suitable vantage points where you can spot the salmon in the river, but equally on account of their aggressive response when presented with a hitched fly.  

Glanni Waterfall

Coming from a Scottish salmon fishing background, where even in low water summer conditions, the water commonly retains a darkish peaty hue, the clarity amongst almost all Iceland rivers never fails to astonish, with the water unerringly clear.  Charge in heavy-handed or peer from a silhouetted position on the sky-line and your guide will probably down tools and leave you to it.  It is equally important to fish your allocated pools with consideration for the time you have available.  Going in heavy and deep may get you an early fish but it may also wreck the pool and your chance of a 2nd fish for the rest of your session.

The guides on the Nordura will drill into you a top-down approach, starting small and on the surface, frequently with a hitched fly, followed by a very small treble or lightly dressed double, a small but heavy conehead to get into the deep holes and finally a sunray on the surface.   Time will dictate what you try and for how long, but it is worth taking on board one of the fundamental differences when you are fishing in Iceland.   A great many pools require a targeted approach.  You are not going to work your way down a 50-100M pool, one cast one step, covering the water, but rather working what is frequently a very specific area where the salmon are known to lie and trying a range of techniques to elicit a reaction.

 

Icelandic introduction over…how did we fare!  We were fishing 24-27 June and our team consisted of two pairs sharing 2 rods.  As we arrived at the very impressive lodge, which has a wonderful commanding position overlooking the river, the main waterfall and the gorge below, our first intro by a departing angler was that the fishing had been tough.  This is never a good sign, especially coming from a hardened Icelandic veteran, even if he was carrying a bagged and shiny bright grilse to take home.  Einar, our host and lodge manager gave us a comprehensive brief, elaborating much of the above but with a more positive twist than that we received by the departing guest.  The river was warming up nicely, the fish were running, a spring tide was due and fingers crossed, we might have timed it just right!

I will not go into a blow by blow account of each fish hooked lost or landed suffice to say that between our 2 rods we landed 12 fish over our 3 days fishing.   The salmon had not breached the 2nd waterfall in any numbers so beat 6, the uppermost beat was not producing, even if it allowed for some photo opportunities at the uppermost waterfall under leaden skies, a ferocious upstream wind and some unseasonal and unusually unwelcome driving rain  Maybe fortuitously we were allocated the non-productive beat over the day with the worst conditions allowing for an early bath. Consequently, we hit the other 5 beats with good fishing conditions, which were all producing salmon in ever increasing numbers.

 

Upper waterfall under some testing conditions

A few years past, the superbly located Nordura lodge received a significant upgrade with an entirely new accommodation wing adjoining the existing lodge.  The bedrooms now have an unrivalled view to the canyon and river below.  All the rooms have twin beds although a full rod would have the room to themselves.  The original bedrooms behind the main lodge are still available and for a small surcharge, if you are sharing a rod, you can have a room to yourself.   No matter how much you might enjoy the company of your fishing partner, escaping from a snorer is a very welcome bonus.

The new accommodation at the lodge alongside the original building, all with spectacular views

Sharing a rod is common practice in Iceland.  The available fishing hours are long and if you utilise all the available time, it can feel as if the trip is something of  an endurance competition rather than a fishing holiday!  Sharing a rod significantly reduces the costs, the surcharge for a sharer being approx. £750 extra for 3 days fishing on top of the cost of a full rod.  If you felt that 50% is a little tight on your fishing hours, then a team of three sharing two rods becomes an equally good option.  It probably does not need saying but you do not need to fish all the available hours in the day. Returning for early refreshments need not be frowned upon!  A final point worth mentioning is that although the evening meal is on the late side, at 10.30 pm, typical of all Icelandic lodges due to the fishing schedule, the menu at the Nordura now consists of a fuller lunch with a lighter evening meal, which certainly helps with the digestion, even if it makes arising from a brief afternoon siesta all the harder.   The cuisine at Nordura remains at an extremely high standard.

Looking upriver past the lodge towards the Glanni waterfall, the first of three major waterfalls on the Nordura

Regardless of your proficiency, perceived or otherwise, the contribution of a guide is invaluable, maybe more so in Iceland than in other locations. It has been my experience that Icelandic guides are of a universally high standard.  Jon who looked after us was no exception, diligently pointing out our errors and ensuring we did not stampede into a pool both with our feet and or the wrong flies.  

In my case I have to thank Jon for coming to my rescue.  Possibly on account of my being married two days previously, my packing was a little erratic and I found myself bereft of one of my key Icelandic fly boxes.  Not only did Jon provide us with all with a steady flow of flies, in my case, despite having the benefit of a fly-tying business, Shadow Flies, with 150 employees behind me and supplier of the greater majority of salmon flies in Iceland, I was 100% in his debt for his contributions to my fly box!!

Guides are included as standard within the fishing package and their river knowledge is invaluable.   Targeting the specific lies rather than fruitlessly ‘foaming’ the river on water which looks interesting but may not have produced  a fish in seasons makes a huge difference!

A guide is worth his weight in silver!!

There are so many uncertainties with salmon fishing and the variables from week to week, which must take into account the anglers fishing that period, that I urge anyone considering a trip not to embark on a forensic investigation of catch statistics, even though they are available, unless a suitable background knowledge of the fishing party is taken into account.  The difference in what a pair of seasoned Icelandic anglers, who have been fishing the river for the last decade, vs a novice to Icelandic fishing methods will be significant.   The Nordura is a productive river in an amazing setting.  There will be good seasons and bad weeks, early runs and late.  For a truly rough ballpark to cover most eventualities expectations might sit at approx. 1-3 fish/rod/day.  Regardless of what you catch the river, lodge and location offers a superlative Icelandic experience.

Ben with this father John. Sharing a rod need not be onerous!

  • WhereWiseMenFish only organise first class fishing trips and our trip to the Nordura river in Iceland was no exception. Our booking was timed perfectly with the start of the main salmon run, daily shoals of fresh fish entering all the main pools. Everyone had numerous encounters and plenty of action on the river bank. It has to be one of the most picturesque and productive rivers on the west coast of Iceland. Justin’s company meant everything ran smoothly and his comprehensive knowledge of the fishing and the local environment just make it truly enlightening. Ben Shipley-July 2021

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