Field Stories: Four Great Rivers in Iceland – Part 3

Ice2013-51Having passed the Vididalsa, Vastnesdalsa, the wonderful little Asum and the Blanda we continued north before turning east for the northern city of Akureyri. Akureyri, also known as ‘Danish Town’ is the capital of the north and Iceland’s fourth largest town. It is very attractive and there is some good shopping to be had. All the Icelandic brands are well represented here. It is also a city of art with plenty of galleries, schools and a university. The church is considered one of the most beautiful in the country and well worth a visit.

Just by the church is the Kea Hotel, one of three in Akureyri, but this one is ideally situated to walk into the best parts of town. It has good rooms and an excellent dining room where lobster tails heavily feature on the menu. Check out the restaurant opposite, it is called Rub23. The ‘Rub’ is the seasoning they use on various dishes. This is a good fish restaurant but with other dishes. In fact everything looked great on every passing plate I checked out. When I was last there I had some sushi followed by wonderful Lobster Tails Rub23! They were wonderful! For pudding I felt that the chocolate mousse needed to be sampled and it was superb too!

From there we pushed on to Myvatn. We were very lucky that it was a sunny day and witnessed the ‘midge towers’ in person. It was the most extraordinary site. As we were driving past the lake we saw what we thought was fine water spray, before we realised that it was in fact midges in fine towers moving up and down. For the next mile or two these towers popped up and disappeared from everywhere until we reached town. It was spectacular.

A quick stop in town for a snack and on to Jarobobin, where there is a mini-blue lagoon and you can swim in geothermal, mineral rich waters, and then over the orange hill to Namaskard to see the steaming and violently bubbling sulphurous mud pits amid a weird orange and yellow landscape.

Quickly on to the contrast of the lupins growing in the Dimmifligardur desert. After we had crossed the mighty Jokulsa river where 30 km downstream is the huge Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe at 44 m high and 100 m wide. The lupins were not as good as last year.

Having crossed the Dimmifligardur desert we took a left turn to go and have a quick look at the Sela and Hofsa, the two most famous north-east rivers which have good numbers of bigger fish. They did not have such good years in 2012 but a little better for 2013. A new road has been built which takes you straight to Vopnafjordur which made getting to Sela easier. Quick lunch in Vopnafjordur and then on to see some other clients at the newly and impressively upgraded Hofsa Lodge. Gone are the days of walking down the hall to the showers. All the bedrooms are a great size with excellent bathrooms now.

From there we headed over the mountain to the Jokla valley where we met up with my friend and river owner Throstur Ellidasson.

Throstur is one of Iceland’s most highly regarded characters in salmon fishing. He created the now well-known Ranga fishing but had to leave after losing the lease. He returned to his home river the Breidalsa and began a new project on the Jokla. We were to spend time with him on the Jokla for a day and a half before moving on to the Breidalsa. Throstur keeps saying that the Jokla Lodge is a temporary build until he is sure that his project to increase the runs has worked but it is a perfectly nice, comfortable and cosy set up. Perhaps the bathrooms could be a fraction bigger but everything else was fine and in keeping with standards across Iceland or better.

The secret to the Jokla system is…well actually there are many. First, one needs to understand what has taken place. The Jokla used to be an unfishable glacial river with salmon in it. Due to the development of the aluminium smelting plant at Reydarfjordur there was a massive water diversion project to supply water to the plant and this has meant that all the glacial water has been diverted to Egilsstadir and on to Reydarfjordur which now leaves the Jokla clear. Throstur has taken the natural stocks and worked to enhance them. He now has five rivers, the Jokla, Laxa, Kalda, Fossa and Fögruhlíðará , all with stocks of salmon, sea trout and arctic char. All the rivers are a different size from the Jokla being the largest to Fossa and Fögruhlíðará being very small. The Laxa, though short, and the Kalda, are the pick, and fun rivers to fish, the Laxa with a single hander and the Kalda with a single or double. If you come and stay at Jokla you will need a full array of rods.

On our second day with Throstur he decided to take us speculating and it turned out to be a very memorable day. In the spring, he and the farmers that own the land along the Jokla had decided to surgically blow part of a barrier on the river. It was a big waterfall in a canyon of black polished rock which nobody ever really was aware was there. They blew one side of it just to ease the path for the salmon. They had been putting parr in the upper river beyond and the fish were stacking up below the falls as they had hoped they would. This was the year to allow them to run the river. A few days before Throstur had taken guests who had caught fish both just below and above the falls and it was here that we started our day. I fished a lovely tail above the falls and caught a fish, which of course delighted Throstur. We then drove way up river to unfished waters to look to see if we could find fish that Throstur hoped and believed would be up there somewhere. He showed us where he has stocked from and we decided to fish the main pools below one specific stocking area. I caught a grilse, which was the first salmon ever to be caught there, but Fliss and Cass were with the Throstur and to his enormous delight he caught three fish of 8, 12 and 15lbs, all bright. This was the culmination of years of work and a big day for him. It was a real pleasure being with him for this special event.

Next season he will be running his Jokla Lodge but also a guesthouse for six rods on the upper water.

By: Tarquin Millington-Drake

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