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I fished for salmon on the Vididalsa River in northwestern Iceland this past August on a trip handled for me by Arni Baldursson of Club Lax-A. Club Lax-a’s US agent is Fred Clough.
The numbers of salmon in the Vididalsa River thrilled me! There were lots of taking fish, enough to produce almost constant action. All totaled, I landed 24 salmon ranging from six to 15 pounds in five days of fishing. It was the best week of salmon fishing I’ve ever experienced and all I could have asked for! Though they were scarce and I didn’t target them, I also landed one nice sea trout.
All of my salmon fishing to this point had been on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada, at Camp Bonaventure and Salmon Camp. My last trip there was very disappointing, and I decided I had simply had enough of the Quebec lottery and “daily draw” system. Much as I love the Gaspé itself, I think I’ve now converted to Iceland forever.
Getting to Iceland was no problem. I flew Business Class on Icelandair from Logan Airport in Boston to Reykjavik overnight. A driver arranged by Club Lax-a picked me up in Reykjavik for the drive to Vididalsa Lodge with a stop at a local fly shop on the way. Since the size of productive flies (mostly tubes) varies greatly throughout the season, it is probably best to buy flies once you have arrived in Iceland. I wound up fishing a number of “hitched” (riffling hitch) wet flies and tube flies throughout my trip.
The fishing on the Vididalsa is all done by wading. The guides, including my personal guide Stefan Krist, were excellent in all regards. They will drive you in an SUV right onto the stony beaches of each pool you fish, which is an ideal situation for those who do not or cannot walk far, or who have bad backs. Also, having the vehicle nearby means you can use it to rest in comfort.
Although you could use a two-handed rod on this river if you prefer, the river does not demand it. I used a nine-foot, 8-weight Kerry Burkheimer single-handed rod which I could cast all day; my back gave out before my casting arm!
Weather conditions were ideal throughout my stay. We had nice, somewhat sunny or overcast days with very little wind or rain. I was very lucky, as most visiting anglers experience wind and more rain than I did.
My only real complaint about the trip has to do with the lodge at Tjarnarbrekka. It has very small double rooms with two single beds, spaced only far apart enough for two people to shuffle between them. There is no space at all to store your “stuff.” The gear room is also too small. Arni Baldursson says he has more spacious rooms in his immediate plans. The food is basic but OK. Understandably, given its location, Iceland has problems varying its menus.
The Iceland countryside near the Vididalsa is absolutely beautiful. For the non-angler, there are long walks and hikes that can be arranged. Riding one of those amazing, unique Icelandic horses is a thrill in itself. But, other than the ponies and hikes near the lodge and, of course, Reykjavik, the real draw is the fishing.
I recommend this salmon trip to fellow subscribers. In fact, I’m taking a beginning salmon angler with me in July 2010 and I know she will catch some fish; I could never guarantee that on the Gaspé. There are lots of salmon in this river and, apparently, in all the rivers Lax-a represents. Unlike conditions that prevail on the Gaspé in Canada, you typical raise many salmon in a day here and that gives you a chance to hone your skills. That is something you don’t get to do in most other places. Here, you can make mistakes, correct them and still have more fish to catch.
To be honest, the salmon I saw in Iceland were generally smaller than those on the Gaspé, and Icelanders do not make a distinction between grilse and salmon. However, it seemed to me that all the salmon fight twice as hard for their weight as they do on the Gaspé. Most of the fish I hooked, leapt and ran and provided an unimaginable amount of fun.
My five days on the Vididalsa in 2009 cost $10,000 for a single rod/single room. In 2010, the price is $8,500 per person for two anglers sharing a rod and a room. This year, I’m going to spend an extra night on arrival in Reykjavik at the excellent Hotel Holt, which has a wonderful restaurant called 3 Frakkar nearby. That way, I’ll arrive on the river fully rested, well-fed and ready to fish.
(Postscript: McIntosh’s report left us wondering if there’s still time to get a prime rod in Iceland for this summer’s fishing. After all, 2008 and 2009 were both record-breaking years for salmon returns in Iceland and there’s no reason other than the fabled unpredict- ability of salmon to expect things to be much different in 2010. According to Arni Baldursson of Club Lax-a, prime time in Iceland is from the 10th of July though the end of August, though that can vary slightly from year to year and river to river. The basic answer is, yes, there are rods available in Iceland in both prime and shoulder weeks. It is worth noting that, due to the very long fishing days available, two anglers sharing a rod is a common practice in Iceland. This typically reduces the individual cost substantially.
If you want to get on the Vididalsa River, specifically, the only week available is opening week, June 24 – 30. The price is €5,040 (about $6,900 at this writing) for a single rod; €3,190 ($4,300) per person for a shared rod. Arni admits that this is not prime time on the Vididalsa, but it is prime time for “big” salmon, with 60 large fish falling to eight rods in this same week last season.
Elsewhere, Baldursson says he has prime openings on East and West Ranga, Tungufljot and Blanda, all of which he describes as bigger rivers with high-volume fishing and better result using sink tips and bigger flies. He also has openings on the Svarta and Asum during prime weeks. These are “typical” smaller rivers (like the Vididalsa) fished with floating lines and smaller flies, often hitched to fish on the surface. Prices range from €7,740/€4,550 ($10,500/$6,200) for single/shared rods on the Blanda, to €7,140/€4,250 ($9,700/$5,800) on the Rangas, to less-pricey options like the Svarta, where the most expensive rods are €4,380/€2,220 ($6,000/$3,000).
Peter Rippin of Fly Fish Iceland, who runs the program on the Laxa in Kjos and sells rods on the Grimsa, Langa, Hafralonsa, Svalbardsa and the rarely-available Sela and Hofsa, tells us that Iceland has sold well this year but he still has some prime weeks available as of mid-April. Among these are three days of fishing on the Grimsa July 11 to 14 for GB£3,100 (about $4,800 at this writing) and four days of fishing August 2 to 6 at GB£4,100 ($6,300). On the Laxa in Kjos, Rippin still has rods available July 14 to 18, four days of fishing at GB£3,900 ($6,000) and July 24 to 30, six days of fishing for GB£5,800 ($8,950). On the Hafra- lonsa July 25 to 31, he has six days of fishing for GB£5,250 ($8,000). Typically, those sharing a rod with these programs pay an added GB£150 ($230) per day for lodging and meals. For more general information on Iceland’s fishing opportunities (some make perfect add-ons to a salmon trek), check out http://angling.is/en/, which is the website of the Federation of Icelandic River Owners. Enjoy!)