Field Stories: Four Great Rivers in Iceland – Part 2

Ice2013-10On our second day we got up early and headed west and north to the Midfjardara. It was a very foggy morning with a strong wind coming off the glacier. (I can never understand how the fog can be so stationary yet there is a howling wind blowing.) The Thvera Lodge is about an hour and a half from Reykjavik; the Kjarra Lodge is forty minutes up a track from Thvera. Midfjardara is about two and half to three hours from Reykjavik. Thvera can be fished on the day of arrival at a stretch and one can also depart after fishing too if one is prepared to miss a little fishing, but Kjarra, with its long rocky track, and Midfjardara require nights before and after fishing if one is not to miss a significant amount of fishing, unless you use a small aircraft or helicopter.

We arrived at the Midfjardara in good time to spend most of the morning driving the river. Midfjardara is a ten rod river with two rods to each beat. It was Iceland’s top producing river with 3554 salmon for the 2013 season. It has a good head of multi sea-winter fish comparatively and a strong run of grilse and small salmon as well. At this point I should explain the Midfjardara. I’ll take it from the sea upwards. The lower water which is 15 kilometres long is actually one beat but they sometimes carve it up to make the beats more balanced. This whole beat is Beat One and is the main Midfjardara stem. There is little canyon to this beat and most of the pools are very easily driven to. Some pools are stable, others move around according to the winter floods.

The first tributary is the Vestura which provides two beats. This is the most wonderful river with every conceivable pool, pot and run. It is physically pretty easy though there is some clambering into and out of small canyons. The Vestura can take a lot of credit for why so many people love the Midfjardara. It is one of the classic rivers in Iceland where you really can see the salmon you are fishing for while actually fishing for them. There are many rivers where one can the fish before actually fishing for them either from the top of a cliff or some vantage point before clambering down, but to be able to see them while fishing for them is the ultimate experience. I remember a wonderful moment with Rabbi, the current proprietor, a few years back. We were crouched half way down the canyon, could see two fish and were casting to them and watching their reaction, which was very little to start. We tried a micro-conehead and still no reaction. We changed tactics and cast the conehead a little upriver to allow it to sink before drawing away from the salmon. This got movement from the fish. We did it again and again, each time improving the angle and depth until the larger of the fish took. We saw it all! The Vestura is split into two beats and has the famous Túnhylur or Bridge Pool where one can see literally hundreds of salmon.

The next beat is a combination of the Austura and its tributary the Nupsa. This is the shortest beat but when the Nupsa is in its prime there is a huge amount of fishing. Again, there are small canyons here but nothing too demanding or substantial. Again, many opportunities to see fish and have that intimate experience of casting small flies to fish you know are there because you have seen them.

The final beat is the Upper Austura, which is physically demanding getting in and out of this dramatic canyon but it is so worth it. It is probably the longest beat and has to be, and often is rated, as one of the most stunning beats in the world for salmon fishing. There is no doubt that for some, this beat might be too demanding physically but I am impressed every year by those that persevere and go for it. If you do not feel up to the canyon, this is not a reason to miss the Midfjardara as the team are always willing to swap beats around to allow you to go elsewhere because there is always someone willing to go to the Austura canyon.

If one needed the most classic example of what is so appealing about fishing in Iceland and why, the Midfjardara is it. It is the ultimate in pool variation from shingle runs full of fresh fish willing to take a riffled tube to rocky canyon pools where fish are easily seen and have to be coaxed with smaller flies gently presented. There is one further reason why Midfjardara is a strong choice and that is the caliber and experience of its guides. They are mostly the same every year, led by the proprietor Rabbi Alfredsson with his partner Jonni Birgisson but also include two superb international guides in the form of Alejandro Martello from Argentina and Jason Jagger from Colorado, both also superb photographers. The lodge, food and accommodation is typical of the high standard now achieved by all the top rivers in Iceland.

My final word on Midjardara needs to be about how it performs in low water. To travel anywhere to fish for salmon and find low water is perhaps the greatest disappointment and therefore a river’s ability to perform and offer continued interest and opportunities to catch fish in low water is very important. Of course every river suffers in extremely low water but I have been very impressed with how Midfjardara not only continues to catch fish in low water but how fresh fish seem to still run. One looks at the river in disbelief that fresh fish still run and take in such low water. It is not infallible but for not a big river it continues to perform long after other rivers have started to struggle badly and that adds to its value in my book.

By: Tarquin Millington-Drake

Read the first, third and fourth parts of this story here.