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This August I had the pleasure to join a group of Frontiers clients on Iceland’s famed Big Laxa. The lower stretches of this mighty river, known as Laxa I Adaldal, are renowned for holding a run of some of the largest Atlantic salmon in Iceland. A somewhat lesser known fact is that the upper river is home to an amazing population of quality brown trout.
After arrival in the beautiful city of Reykjavik and a transfer to the domestic terminal near the city center, the commute to the Laxardal lodge required a 45-minute flight to Akureyri then a 45-minute drive to on the upper stretches of the Big Laxa, known as Laxardalur.
The lodge itself is situated in the middle of an expansive valley, and though the river itself is quite wide, more than one hundred yards in some stretches, for the most part it is quite shallow. Conditions were admittedly less than ideal when we arrived. It was windy, raining and unseasonably cold. We met our five guides for the week, and they assured us that the weather was certainly not indicative of normal conditions in the valley in early August, but we would soldier on and begin chasing brown trout that afternoon.
Fishing was difficult that first day, and for the next couple of days as well. Even though this river is known as a productive dry fly fishery (there are no smaller fish species in the system for the browns to eat), we spent a good bit of time targeting these bruisers with streamers and wet flies as the wind kept any hatches to a minimum. We had some limited success at the beginning with a few large browns in the 3- to 5-pound range landed in the first couple of days. However, we were all watching the weather closely in hopes that more favorable conditions would help to bring about the surface action we came all this way to experience.
After about three and a half days of working hard for each fish hooked and landed, the weather finally broke. The wind turned from the north to the south, and it was as if someone upstairs had simply flipped a switch. Lake Myvatn, the headwaters of the Laxa to the south, is a shallow lake so it didn’t take long for the water temperatures to return to normal. All of a sudden, we could see masses of midges lifting from the surface of the river and rise forms presented themselves to us all along the Laxardalur Valley.
It was then that we experienced what Laxardal is really all about. Our tactics changed from working runs and pools to making precision casts to specific rising fish. And what wonderful fish they were! Everyone in the group had the opportunity to experience that long handshake with big, strong, native brown trout, many of which had probably never had a fly presented to them before. These wonderful fish averaged in the 3- to 5-pound range, with a good number of fish taken at around 7 pounds. I found myself outgunned on a 5-weight rod more than once!
Once conditions leveled themselves out, we found this to be a dry fly purist’s dream. There is more than enough water in this valley for ten anglers to fish without feeling pressured in the slightest. Like any other river that holds high-quality fish such as these, it was obvious that if you put in the work, you will most certainly be rewarded. And there aren’t many places on the globe where you can find native trout of this caliber.
For those looking for a diversion (especially if the Iceland weather takes a turn), there are myriad other distractions that are not too far from the lodge. Iceland is famous for its geological curiosities including natural hot springs, geysers, boiling mud pools and ice caves. And the guides at Laxardal are more than happy to share these with you. Of course, a day or two fishing for Iceland’s famous Atlantic salmon can always be arranged.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip. Great guides, a comfortable lodge, wonderful food, and of course, there was the world-class dry fly fishing for giant brown trout. I made great friends on this trip and can’t wait to return.
By: Stew Armstrong, Iceland Trout Program Manager