Fishing under volcanoes – Atlantic salmon in Iceland

Photos and text by Tom Sutcliffe

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The lesser of two volcanoes, the Eyjafjallajökull (you could get into trouble trying to say it out loud), erupted on the 25th of March 2010 in Iceland, but was still smoldering in August when Robin Renwick and I visited for the salmon run.  From our lodge in Reykjavik we could see the volcano about 15 kilometres to the south, a tall mountain trailing a wisp of smoke like some giant chimney.  There was talk about the risk of it erupting again and at first its proximity was vaguely threatening.  A day later I never gave it a passing thought.  Neither did anybody else.  It had nothing to do with good fishing eclipsing our sense of self-preservation, as much as the fascinating proclivity we humans have to quickly come to terms with risks we can’t do much about.  We finally came to the conclusion that there’s not much you can do if a volcano decides to spew a few thousand tons of molten stone into the sky.

Although most headed for the East Ranga River during Iceland’s Atlantic salmon run, we fished the West Ranga, a great big spring creek.  In comparison to any other Atlantic salmon fishing the world can offer, the East and West Ranga Rivers are ridiculously productive, just as good as the Ponoi in the Kola Peninsula (Russia).  Our choice, even though at the time the difference meant very little enough to me, was justified when we later heard that the fishing on the East Ranga had stayed pretty grim the entire five days we were in Iceland.

Brown trout and sea trout are taken here from time to time.  I saw one brown come out on this trip, a fish of around 2.5 kg, but nobody took much notice of it.  The salmon average 3.5 kg, are beautiful in an aggressive-looking way and mighty powerful and they’re the fish you’ve come here to catch.

I followed the guide, Riki’s (full name Ríkarður Hjálmarsson) instructions and cast a big blue tube fly into the boil near the foot of the Ranga Falls, the first beat we drew.  As the bright green floating line swung at speed from the white water I hooked a salmon.  This was the first Atlantic salmon of my life and that reality was draining deep into my senses like an opiate.  There were eight other fish caught on this beat that day and later back at the lodge they said the fishing had been slow!  That evening, we fished Beat 3, nearer the mouth of the river, from 6.00 to 10.00 pm, by when it’s almost still as bright as it was at midday.

Travelling back to Reykjavik, the rods were strapped onto a small rod rack on the bonnet, the tips sticking far into the air over the back of the cab, making Riki’s truck look like a gun toting Libyan rebel vehicle.  The thundering sound of its leaking exhaust added to the illusion of war.  We boomed down the road scattering flocks of birds in our path.  The landscape was tundra-like; mostly treeless, sweeping, endlessly green pastures dotted with wild flowers, sheep and strange looking hairy ponies.  The backdrop far to the east was a formidable mountain range.  It was a sort of clinically pure countryside that could have been designed by a Nordic architect with a bent for wide spaces and minimalism.

 

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