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...? 


  1. What an experience! So far, I have never encountered bad weather when I go fishing. I’ll definitely freak out when it happens. Good thing the water didn’t get any deeper and you’re both safe. Well, I hope to read more of your adventures soon. :)
    {Melanie Daryl}

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