Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Jet streams and fish dreams

The dust settled slowly as the growl of the big 4x4 gradually faded into the distance to be replaced by...nothing, complete silence. This was the start of my latest fishing adventure and Steinar, the driver of the rapidly disappearing vehicle would be the last person I would see for nearly a week. I had eagerly anticipated this moment for many months and now that it was here it felt a little strange, excitement mixed with a little apprehension and a hint of 'what the hell am I doing here' scepticism.
'Here' was Iceland, a popular fishing holiday destination, but not this bit, not this way. At my feet lay approximately 35 kilos of kit, food, clothes, survival gear and fishing gear, for the next 9 days my home was to be the remote Highlands of Iceland and I was going to do it the hard way - no guides, no lodges, no creature comforts, just me, surviving and fishing. What definitely wasn't what I had expected, was the weather.  Iceland was in the grips of a drought, the exact opposite to what we had been seeing in the UK up to this point of the summer. apparently this was something to do with the Jet Stream which had been stuck to the south of where it should be giving us record rainfall and Iceland the blue skies and warm sunshine that I felt as I began my slow journey deeper into the Highlands and the first river destination. More about this jet stream thing later.    
Not really typical Icelandic weather, the glacier bathed in warm sunshine. 
The first few days passed in a flash as I quickly settled in to a routine, pitching somewhere in the middle of the river course and spending a day searching downstream of that point and a day upstream, before moving on to the next one. The rivers were roughly the same width as what I am used in Devon but what was interesting was how they changed in nature along their course. In the UK many rivers start in the mountains as fast, narrow, rocky streams and gradually become wider and slower as they wind their way to the estuary. Here it was the opposite the rivers were born in the high plateaus, relatively flat land, the waters are wide, slow and relatively featureless, the riverbanks soft and muddy. As the streams get towards the point were they meet the glacial river they fall off the plateau, steeper ground, faster water, with pools, pockets and glides. 
A typical lower stretch of highland river, pools, pockets and glides.

The fishing was good, the fish were superb. There was an abundance of fly life, buzzers and sedge in the main, but very few rising fish. Nevertheless dry flies worked well, very well, with fish upto 5 pounds or so coming to delicately sip klinkhammers and sedge imitations. And boy did they fight, I saw my backing knot rattle through the tip ring on a daily basis and frequently had to chase running fish up or downstream. As I ventured upstream away from the fast moving water the fishing became less inspiring, long reaches of slow moving shallow water with no sign of fish. Then out of nowhere I would discover a massive boulder, placed midstream by some massive forces years ago. Surrounding the boulder would be deep blue water where the stream has scoured away the riverbed, habitat the absolutely screamed 'FISH'. A streamer placed upstream, allowed to sink and worked quickly so that it enters this blue water produced many fish. Aggressive chases and arm wrenching takes all very visible in the clear water. And so I walked along the rivers looking for these features, racking up perhaps 8-10miles per day.

Jonesy attempts the one handed fish cuddle photograph
Chewed up streamer.
Here comes the rain.

 All the while the cloud gradually built, I was getting hit by frequent heavy showers, at least you 
could see them coming across the flat tundra. As I worked my way South I had to cross two glacial rivers, very different beasts to what I was used to. A milky blue coloured water, heavy with tiny rock particles from the mechanical grinding of the bedrock, these rivers move fast and strong. Luckily I had arranged a vehicle to cross these rivers, prior to that the only contact with the human race had been when I turned my phone on once a day to send updates home and suck in any text messages. Tom, the driver warned me of an impending storm. It turns out that two days after I left the UK so did the jet stream, heading straight for Iceland, take a look at what the BBC had to say about it all Here 

Tom, my saviour across the glacial river and first human contact for days
Hope it doesn't get any deeper...

Now I am at 800m, in between two glaciers, with (as you can see) a storm in bound, finding somewhere out of the wind to pitch my tent is difficult when the area is billiard table flat. Up until now I had been pitching within the confines of the riverbed, right beside the river, to get the shelter but now with lots of rain forecast that may not be wise. For a while things got uncomfortable. After a rough night I made my way downstream, hoping to find some shelter where the gradient increased. It was here I met the Iceland Mountain Rescue volunteers that were out patrolling the track that runs through the middle of the Highlands warning anybody they found of worsening weather, they suggested perhaps an alternative accommodation for the approaching night.

Upper stretch of a highland river, shallow and slow. No chance of any shelter from the impending storm.

I didn't need asking twice. That night as I cowered in a remote Highland shelter the winds reached 60mph, the same rescue organisation that advised me to leave, rescued more than 20 people that night. And so my Iceland fishing adventure came to a premature end, I was just grateful that the storm hit two days from the end and not right at the start. So 6 days self sufficient in the highlands, fishing numerous rivers, catching great fish in an amazing environment, Iceland Adventure done.

So where next...? 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The one that got away.


What fishing blog can be without a 'one that got away' story, here's mine from last week.

The river was fining down nicely, still quite high following the latest band of heavy summer rain, but the muddy spate river chocolate colour had drained away. I was fishing for summer peal, without success, I had fished the river down already with not even a sniff and I had dropped my landing net into the river whilst sliding / falling down a steep bank. So now I was heading home. But there is a pool on my way home which is often worth a look, I had hammered it at the start of the day, but with fish moving through the river on the spate I felt it could be worth another try.

I entered the river  at the head of the pool and fished down the small pool with a large black fly cast square across the stream and retrieved quickly, a favourite peal technique in these conditions. I was using my standard peal setup, a 9ft 6 weight with a sinking line with 8lb breaking strain leader. Towards the tail of the pool I thought I moved a fish, a flash of silver and a small swirl in the stream but felt nothing. I continued to work my way downstream to the end of the pool, nothing. Encouraged by the brief encounter with a fish I decided to back up the pool with a more conventionally fished, smaller fly. Third cast as I worked back upstream came the steady draw on the line that I instantly recognised as a salmon. Now I have taken salmon here before, not for a while and I certainly wasn't geared up for one today. I was stood up to my waist in fast water, surrounded by lots more fast water, connected to a strong salmon, with light gear and no net. However, despite my misgivings the opening fight sequence went remarkably well. The fish stayed deep and seemed content to head upstream slightly, so far so good. I cursed losing the net.

Upon reflection (and believe me, I have reflected upon this encounter extensively) those first few minutes were the only time in the whole episode where I actually felt any modicum of control, the only time where I felt I had the upper hand. At that point the fish turned around and within a nanosecond was 20 yards downstream of me and  into the fast water at the tail. He jumped ( I don't know if it was a 'he' but when I pleaded with it at various stages throughout the fight I referred to it in the masculine, eg - 'come on boy, please turn around') and I cursed losing my net. 

Those of you that follow this blog know that I am prone to falling in from time to time, today though I ran / waded / floated downstream at breakneck speed in pursuit of this fish without so much as a stumble. Applying massive pressure on the fish, recovering line as I headed downstream I managed to get somewhere near the fish again but we were now in the stream immediately above the next pool. The next pool down was a mass of white water, not a waterfall, but not far off, if he was to get in there it would be all over (in fact if I had got in there it would probably be all over too). With maximum pressure on the fish I edged my way upstream, coaxing / begging the fish to follow. I managed to get perhaps 10 - 15 yards upstream and just started to feel a little more positive about things when the fish jumped and for the first time I saw the fish. Not for the first time I cursed losing my landing net.

We battled up and down this fast moving water between the two pools for perhaps 10 minutes, I would edge the fish back towards the original pool only for the fish to change his mind and power ever closer to the white water below. I was going to have to up the ante somewhat. Big sidestrain, recovering line as I ran yet again towards the fish, spray and expletives flying everywhere, I quickly closed the gap to the fish. At this stage the fish was relatively calm (more than can be said for me), facing downstream planning its next daring attempt to hit the white water below. I took the opportunity to reduce the gap further. So the scene looked like this; me thigh deep in water stood side on to the current that was threatening to lift me off my feet. 2 yards in towards the bank sat this stunning, silver, fresh run salmon of something between 15 and 18lbs in weight, 2 yards beyond that, the riverbank. 15 yards downstream was the pandemonium of the head of the next pool. At this point I tried to tail the fish, I got fingers around the wrist of the tail before all hell broke loose and I found myself cursing the fact that I had lost my landing net.

Hell remained loose for a good few minutes as the fish clearly demonstrated its objection to being grabbed by cartwheeling across the river and close, very close to the white water below and generally roughing me up. It must have been close to another 10 minutes before I could get on to something approaching equal terms with the fish again. This time I was a little further upstream, I had hatched a plan. The farmer drives his tractor across the river in the shallows between the two pools, only when there is considerably less water in the river than on this day, but just where the tractor leaves the river there was a shallowly sloping sandy bay. It was small, perhaps 2 yards long and 1 deep, but I thought if I could steer the fish in to there I could either try and tail him again or just basically trap him in there with my body and just flop on to him. It took a few goes to steer him in there, he was clearly tiring, but still far from obedient. Suddenly he was in there, the tailing, trapping, grabbing and flopping moment was upon me almost before I was ready. It didn't go as well as I hoped, I got a hand on him, briefly. And he was gone. I haven't really worked out how or where he went, I don't know if he went between my legs or back the way he came in, I just know that he suddenly wasn't there anymore. 

And I cursed the fact I had lost my landing net.