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Iceland For Everyone - Fly Fishing on the East Ranga

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The fishing available in Iceland is both scenic and for the time being, more affordable The fishing available in Iceland is both scenic and for the time being, more affordable

If you thought that Iceland is only for finance magnates or celebrities, you are wrong. Not any more! The global financial crisis brings a lot of havoc and ruin, but fortunately also good things.

One of these is that Iceland - at least until the next upswing - has become accessible for mere mortals hooked on salmon fishing. Join Danish fishing journalist and dedicated salmon fisher Jan Delaporte on this journey to East Rangá and learn why your next salmon fishing trip just might be a trip to Iceland!

Shock start
It is 8 o'clock in the morning at the East Rangá River. My Icelandic friend Kolbeinn and I have just arrived to the river and the pool with the enticing name Moldahylur (the Icelandic language has a direct link back to the language the Scandinavian Vikings spoke, when they colonized Iceland at the end of the 9th century). It is a glorious day, and the sun is already beginning to provide the day's first warmth. One gets the sense that this temperature rise - which must also take place in the chilly water - after a cold night - will lead to something... Being the guest I want to display good manners and despite galloping salmon fever and a racing pulse, I let Kolbeinn start the fishing as we are fishing on a shared rod.  While he fishes the top part and fast section of the bend (which this pool really is) I sit down on the grassy riverbank and speculate on tactics and choice of line and fly. The water is cold, probably just 5-6 degrees after a cool night, so I reason that it is going to be the lower part of the pool and the exit of the curve, where the water is more calm, which is going to yield fish. I choose to stick with my floating line with intermediate tip as well as a fast sinking polyleader - despite leaning heavily towards a floating line with a sink 1 tip and a super fast sinking polyleader - but I hope that my large conehead fly, a Green Butt, will make up for that and sink far enough to reach the fish. 

Deadly Volcano
IMG_0129_1_738643934.jpgEast Rangá was primarily a good sea trout river before the Hekla volcano erupted in 1959 and flooded the surroundings plains and waterways with lethal ash and lava. Worst hit was West Rangá, where almost all life was wiped out. By the late 1980’s a large-scale smolt release program was initiated in the two Rangá rivers, and this continues at full impact today. The volcanic eruption has changed the riverbed conditions so much that the salmon can no longer spawn successfully - or at least to a very limited degree. The porous and light lava stones are simply to light and are swept away by the current or when a salmon digs spawning grooves to lay it's eggs. Every year up to ½ million smolt are released from small hatchery dams all along East Rangá connected to the main river through small channels. In the ponds the salmon fry lives a relatively protected life under stretched-out nets protecting them against diving birds and prey, but it is a whole different matter, when they are released into the wild. Estimates reveal that no more than 2-3% of the smolt return to the river after one year at sea, then as salmon from 2-6 kg. East Rangá has a yearly total catch of 3-6.000 salmon, and by Icelandic standards a relatively large proportion of the salmon weigh over 5 kilo. The average size is 2.5 to 3 kg. The Icelandic salmon are incredibly strong and will give you a hard fight.

The magic of the take
Kolbeinn has no contact despite fishing the current quite efficiently with a heavy brass tube Icelandic Snaelda.  Now it is at last my turn, and like a panicking gazelle I jump down the slope and begin to cast right where the current begins to lose momentum at the exit of the curve and right before a small rapid once again speeds up the water flow. I angle the cast 45 degrees across the river, partly so that I can throw in a good mend upstream so the fly can sink, but also to get some speed on the fly as it swings in and across the somewhat slow water.  I am about to discover that this is a wise tactic. 4-5 casts later I feel the magical pull on the line as a salmon smacks his jaws tight on my fly. How this drag on the line and the electrical impulse that comes with it is able to fill you with such emotion and deliverance every single time remains a mystery. I don't expect it to be solved whether it is salmon number 10, 100 or 100,000 (and I hope it never will be).

Plenty of space
East Rangá has 9 beats (zones), fished by two rods 2 x 6 hours per day. The river is given a daily rest between 13:00 and 16:00. There is rotation between morning and afternoon beats. Fishing ends at 22:00 and starts the next day at 07:00. A maximum of 18 rods at a time fish the 22 km long stretch of fishable water, before the Tungufoss stops any further upstream migration in the river That provides for almost infinite space and tranquility in the fishing, and if you are fishing with a friend (on individual rods) you have an entire beat for yourself for 6 undisturbed hours! Sublime!
It is very easy to get around along the river in a car, and you will have no problems in a normal 'sissy' and cheap rental car. Furthermore East Rangá has the advantage that it is close to Keflavik airport and Reykjavik, just 1½ hours drive. As always it is an advantage if you master Spey or underhand casting, but in most places you can actually fish the river with a normal overhand cast.

East Rangá, Iceland at its best
Back on the river time flies under such circumstances, and we are already fast approaching 11 o'clock. We have already detected each other to be true gentlemen, so naturally it is Kolbeinn's turn to fish the pool after I land a hard fighting grilse of about 2 kg. Immediately he hooks a fish on the same spot and quickly beaches a handsome 3.5 kg salmon onto the bank. The salmon fever is now full-blown, especially for the next guy in line - me! I only have to take three steps downstream, take one cast and immediately I have a hard pull on the fly line. The salmon lets go, but just split seconds later, and in the same drift, the fly is taken with a brutal yank. Crazy! This one is landed as well after a couple of spectacular jumps, but gets its well deserved freedom again. Shortly thereafter I get another silvery salmon in the deeper water close to shore, before the current spills over a long row of large rocks. I think to myself; this is Iceland at its best. And we have only just started… If you are fishing in East Rangá you have the possibility of experiencing salmon fishing like in the 'good old days' . If you strike lucky with ideal conditions, you run the 'risk' of catching 20-30 salmon in a day. A reasonably experienced salmon angler should have a daily average of 5-10 salmon, unless you are unlucky and hit extreme conditions.

Iceland's salmon fishing in the future
After having landed four salmon and lost a couple in three hours fishing it is time for the river to rest between 13:00 and 16:00, and I have a chat with Kolbeinn on the future prospects of salmon fishing on the saga island, Iceland. He tninks a lot has happened the last 10 years. Flyfishers have become much more numerous in the sport, and a lot of rivers have become 'fly only' rivers. The days of the worm fishermen are almost numbered, and times when all the salmon were killed on the rivers of Iceland are over. Overall there is a much wider element of environmental protection in the fishing now, and a lot of people are practicing catch-and-release. Furthermore many rivers have seen the introduction of daily catch quotas. All in all things look really good for the Icelandic salmon (are the Norwegians authorities listening to this?) according to Kolbeinn, who manages the website laxaonline.com. The Icelandic salmon fishing and the salmon stocks are under meticulous control and management: all rivers keep accurate journals with every single landed fish, everything is recorded. Kolbeinn predicts the fishing will get even better in the coming years - even food seeking Icelanders have begun to understand that in modern times a salmon is a sporting fish equal to an experience - not a food commodity.

IMG_0139_1_326895559.jpgKolbeinn tells me that laxaonline.com is focusing on offering more do-it-yourself packages to visiting fishermen: this can be in the form of a package containing car rental, 3 days fishing in East and West Rangá and 3 days in Blandá. But the combinations are limitless. The primary objective is to make it possible for customers to arrange their own trip, just like many people are already doing on the Internet with airline companies etc.

Fresh ocean-run fish
We have reached the last day on the river and time has just flown by in these wonderful surroundings. It is a fantastic feeling to get up in the morning and from your comfortable cabin look out on a blood-red sun rising over the enormous plain, where sandpipers and oystercatchers flutter wildly in the air, while the snow-capped volcano Hekla rises majestically in the background. And to know that today you are going to catch salmon. We fish a beautiful pool, which last season yielded 700 salmon, and I lose a really nice fish that takes while I am stripping the fly towards me close to the bank. Always remember to do that, when you are fishing a cold river, as the salmon will often lie close to shore in the warmer and calmer water. It also pays off to perform a slow lift of the line at the start of the cast, as the take will often happen just there. We drive further downstream and find a long pool with rather fast water. We already feel like experienced 'Rangá bums' and have already detected the channel over by the far bank, where the current is slow and calm - that is where the salmon will be! And sure enough - the first time I put the fly over - after having made a couple of ‘visits’ to the grass on the opposite bank - with a long cast with several line loops between the fingers of my left-hand and one between the lips, a salmon jolts out from the slow current and strikes hard. It is well hooked and the fight is unproblematic. Just as my salmon is thrashing on the shore Kolbeinn is in the water and puts a long overhand cast right over the hot-spot. Bang! The salmon almost somersaulted in order to get at the long winged tube fly. These are fresh ocean-run fish with all their aggressiveness intact from a merciless life at sea. And so we take turns in wading out and catching fish every time the fly swings across the slow water on the other side of the main current. After 5 fish we do however unavoidably disturb the pool, and we must gratefully depart and move on. But what an experience…

And I could go on this way: the salmon full of sea lice that took while I was roll casting the shooting head out through the eyes not even fishing yet. Or the 8 pounder that took in the fast current (one of the few) behind a rock and thought so hard I thought he was foul hooked. The double hook sat firmly and cleanly in its mouth, he was just fat as a sausage and strong as an ox. Or the three salmon that took on the exact same spot, where a wedge in the current pushed them towards land and up against a shallow and flat rocky platform. Or the clean air, the sharp light, friendship and dreams at night of salmon simply unable to leave the fly alone…

Now is the time
The timing and circumstances have perhaps never been better for a trip to Iceland and to experience the fantastic salmon fishing this island has to offer. It is not likely ever to become very cheap, but in the current situation the possibility is within reach for most people. Keep an eye on the auction at www.laxaonline.com or contact the different operators early and try to bargain for a good price. The saga island is waiting for you!

East Rangá

Season: 1. July – 10th of October
Prime time: mid-July  – mid-August
Length: 32 km (22 km fishable, 9 beats)
Width: 15 – 45 meters
Average depth: 1-2 meters
Temperature: 2-8 degrees
Colour: Green-bluish tinge, slightly colored but clear - can become colored by prolonged rain or strong heat
It is permissible to fish with spinning gear and worms in East Rangá.
Operator: Angling Club Laxá + www.laxaonline.com

IMG_0299_1_736289219.jpgGear for your first trip to Iceland
7-8 weight, singlehanded rod
9/10 weight, two-handed rod
Floating line
Floating line with sinktip
Sinking line or intermediate line
Fast sinking or super fast sinking polyleaders

Flies for salmon:
Black and Blue,
Red and Black Frances
Hairy Mary
Sunray Shadow
Hitch-flies (for riffling hitch)
And do experiment!

Flies for sea trout:
Black Ghost
Mickey Finn
Black Nobler

Flies for sea run arctic char:
Nobler in black, green and yellow

***Remember compulsory disinfection of all equipment (rods, reels, waders, boots, flies etc.- and do it: you are helping to preserve the fantastic fishing in Iceland). Disinfection can be done at the airport on arrival for approximately €35.***

Iceland and the financial crisis
The Icelandic Krona has hit rock bottom, and everything is obtainable at half price, when paying in Icelandic currency. This means car rental, food, petrol/gas etc. It is another matter in regards to fishing, lodges, guides etc. This is almost always traded  in euro or US dollars.

However the leases for fishing rights, which the farmers/landowners rent out, run for five years and they are up for renegotiation soon. Those prices have been held up on an artificially high level in the crazy upswing the world has witnessed, and Icelandic banks bought a lot of rods for sky high prices. That party is now over, Icelandic investors are no longer buying department stores in Denmark and other places, and basic prices for salmon fishing in Iceland will probably drop at least 10 - 15 % next year according to Kolbeinn.

In Iceland there is a long tradition for sharing a rod, i.e. taking turns in the actual fishing (each person is allowed to bring his/her own rod). A rod is often sold including accommodation at a lodge, and one rod always entitles 2 beds, as it is very usual for local Icelanders to share a rod.

All this creates the right conditions for your next salmon trip going to Iceland this summer!

Price example, 2 travelers:
3 days of fishing (shared rod) in East Rangá, bought on laxaonline.com auction 1.500 €
3 days of fishing (shared rod) in East Rangá, bought on laxaonline.com auction 1.500 €
Flight tickets, major European city – Keflavik, return x 2    670 €
Car rental, small car 6 days      600 €
Total 2 travelers     4.270 €
Or 3,050 US dollars or £1,850 pr. person.

Expensive? No, not if you compare with Norway or Scotland, where the number of fish caught often is substantially lower…

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salmon, iceland, east ranga

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