Exploring Rivers of Nordland’s Forgotten Past – Norway 2019

This Summer I set out on a journey that would be truly pivotal in my life, experiencing a country I would fall in love with, no doubt visiting for many years to come along with experiencing the true thrill of exploratory fishing.

It all started when, as I mentioned in a previous post. I was due to fish Hembre Gård for the week along with a couple other beats that our host James had secured, however…just two days before leaving it came to our attention that the neighbouring Gaula had been closed for all fishing and it wouldn’t be long before we were closed for fishing too. It ended up being closed for C&R and as a group we decided that to fish catch and kill wouldn’t be desirable, especially when law dictated that all females from 1st August be released, not being able to choose if we hook male or female fish we deemed it unsporting to do and with the kindness of Aksel we postponed the trip to the same week next year.

For such a trip that I had been looking forward to all year and having booked the time off work, it left no option but to go away and bite the bullet and set off on an exploratory trip 

With the original trip postponed, yet with the time booked off work and flights non- refundable. It was inevitable that we would head to Norway regardless and continue our pursuit to experience Norway and its Salmon fishing!

We were kindly let crash in an unused tent at Hembre Gard for a night before embarking on the 4 ½ hour journey North the next day.

Our final destination – Mosjøen. Nordland. We had been given advice that the once mighty Vefsna would offer cooler temperatures, and thus reliable fishing after great runs of Salmon all season long.

To shed some light on the Vefsna, it is a large glacial river that flows from the Swedish border to the sea at  Mosjøen.

Vefsna is bound to wonderful history, with some hugely impressive catches in the early 1900’s,  yet tragedy came when it was struck with Glyrodactlys Salaris  through the stocking of Baltic Salmon into the river. It subsequently like many other rivers in Norway, makes the claim to be the first river that the English “Salmon Lords” fished when they sailed North to explore Salmon fishing potential in Norway.

It was in fact Vefsna’s more recenty history that captivated me. After the infestation of GS the river had been closed to Salmon fishing for over 40 years, to prevent the spread of the parasite. However, in 2011 the river was subject to attention of funding to restore the fishery.

Following careful monitoring the river reopened in 2018 with a limited season, which quickly showed the effort was not in vain, followed by figures reporting 9,822 Salmon in 2019, it is quickly becoming its former self.

The Vefsna already had a special place in my heart, for its ability to show the willingness of nature to recover given a helping hand.

Sadly, as we embarked on our journey, not once did the thermometer fall below 29°c. Worrying considering we were in pursuit of cooler temperatures up north. Infact, the afternoon we arrived Mosjøen set record temperatures for Norway.

With this the river quickly rose to unfavourable temperatures and left us with the only option for success and manageable fishing being during the night…

I say night loosely, as in Norway during summer the night never truly becomes dark, you see the sun dip behind the hills, before crimson red and lilac shades fill the sky in the West, until it turns that inky blue light we associate with early mornings, until in the East the kaleidoscope of orange, red and purple fill the sky before the sun pokes above the barely snow capped mountains and broad daylight resumes from 4:00am.

Despite moving fish to our flies on multiple occasions, pulls and three heart stopping moments when fish were hooked and subsequently shook the hook moments later. It was tough fishing, yet the beauty of the river made every moment worth it. It is split along its length with the most incredible of vigorous waterfalls, the most impressive of which being Laksfors, which translates as “falls of the salmon”. However equally spectacular falls can be found at Fellingfoss and Forsjord. We took great enjoyment peering into the ancient fish passes carved into the bed rock that makes the falls, a truly incredible sight that was constructed in the late 1800’s to allow easier passage for the Salmon upstream. The first time we peered into the pass we were astonished to see a salmon resting, the opposite way to which we first expected, obvious however once you paid attention to the circulating flow, the fish was easily over a meter long and had started to colour up slightly. A spectacle to behold! We enjoyed seeing further numbers of Salmon and Sea Trout in the pass over the next few days. Reassurance that the fish were there, it just meant locating them and waiting for the temperatures to drop to bring them on the take.

There turned out to be a blessing in disguise, when on a gusty afternoon as temperatures begun to drop. The heavy conehead fly I was using to cut the surface tension in the rapid head of a pool came colliding into my double hander during a Snap-T cast, as I pulled down with my bottom hand to make the cast, it watched the blank splice into fragments. Having not bought a spare double hander with me, we set off to the nearby Mosjøen in search of a tackle shop. It was quickly apparent that the turnover of stock here for fly fishing tackle was low and as a result prices of rods were reflectively high. I could not find another #8 or #9 double hander for under £700…my budget simply could not stretch to this!

However, while visiting the shop we were fortunate to be shared invaluable information of an even lesser known river that had only opened that year in 2019, which offered limited tickets on prime beats from the tidal water up to the falls. The kind gentleman explained that he had fished it the previous week before the heatwave and witnessed good numbers of fish present. We took the booking details and decided that we would go for a reconnaissance mission.

Well, to say it was not love at first sight with the river would be an understatement. We were greeted by a fast-flowing river that was easily manageable with a single hander and switch rod, the only rods I had left. It was quickly apparent that water temps were still very high here, the weather forecast showed that temperatures would fall sharply that night to single figures and I hedged the bet that the small body of water would quickly fall to ample temperatures compared to the Vefsna, Sam agreed, and the decision was made to book tickets for the next day. We enjoyed a final evening on the banks of Vefsna, a couple of local IPA’s enjoyed, and we bid farewell to our newly made Norwegian & Swedish friends.

The camaraderie between Salmon anglers in Norway was truly special and reflects the more abundant of salmon & salmon rivers in the willingness to share information by comparison to UK waters.

Waking the next morning we set off for the Fusta, ready to explore and hopefully locate some salmon! Our brains bouncing with ideas and tactics that could work in this new water.

We arrived at one of the main pools for the first beat we had booked, a fishing hut is always a good giveaway, and decided we would take it in turns to pass through the pool, while the other maintained the fire and got a hearty breakfast of omelettes filled with a manner of food that would soon go off…

We swung flies and stripped sunrays about the pools disturbing fish, some large brown trout and two large coloured salmon that had been in the river for some time. However, it was the smallest and most simple fly that soon meant we had located the freshly arrived salmon we had hoped to find.

This simple fly was the most uncomplicated fly imaginable, a hitch tube; black tube body, wing of arctic runner just longer than the body and hook with 2 strands of pearl flash finished with a bright red head of fluorescent thread. We fished the fly carefully through the riffles and runs, focusing on the broken water which bought oxygen and cover for the fish in the low & bright conditions. The trick with the hitch is to keep a little tension on the line all the time, guiding it across he flow and manipulating the line where needed. It seemed that a nice slow swimming of the fly was the key part as it waked in the surface. The take from the fish is electric, rising and turning on the fly it is a visual affair and with these being grilse, taking an acrobatic reaction to setting the hook.

At this point, we had already become content with the fact that fishing trips are about a lot more than just simply catching fish, but truth be told it is by catching fish that we justify the expense and time of trips. By having finally shook hands with the salmon we travelled all this way to catch took a lot of pressure off. Suddenly the birds sang louder, the foliage greener and the world was a better place.

It would have been easy to keep a hitch on the line for the rest of the trip. However, it became apparent that the fish were not always willing to attack the hitch and there were quite a few resident fish that would begin to stir in the midnight sunsets and different tactics would again be needed. We continued to stir up fish, alternating tactics with each pass of the pool. We would start with small flies high in the water, slowly increasing the size and depths we fished with each pass. 

Having well and truly fished till we could fish no more, I’ll hold my hands up to bit of an exhausted mess up I encountered, teaching me there really is a point when we should stop fishing if we want a realistic chance of improving things. Having fished from the morning till the early hours of the next, we had decided to call an end, head back to the car to our DIY beds and get some rest. Having finished my final pass through, I waded the fast-shallow water back to the left bank. It was not a particularly a difficult wade, but tired legs failed me and I slipped, kicking my legs about I found a firm foothold on the boulders, however, it was not to mean I hadn’t just completely filled my waders with water and the 2am lack of sunshine meant I was quickly about to feel the cold of Norway. On rushing back to the car to get the waders off and into some dry clothes, I realised my quite sentimental single hander which for ease of getting about I had taking apart to four sections was no only 3 sections nor was my shooting head in my chest pocket anymore… Yes there is such thing as fishing for too long and there are negatives that come from it!

We woke the next day, excited and somewhat rested. A short walk from the car confirmed that with the again cooler temperatures overnight, the late morning tide was bringing in a run of small grilse that had been waiting in the fjord amidst the heatwave.

This day we were fishing one of the lower beats, a short distance above the tide with a series of shallow runs, long pools that screamed salmon. It was however the shallow runs with small holes where we found fish eager to snap at small Francis’ swung slowly. These were fresh fish and as often

It seemed with the again cooler temperatures overnight, the late morning tide was bringing in a run of small grilse that had been waiting on the tide amidst the heatwave. However, as often happens with fresh fish, hooks pull and Sam was quickly in and out of fish. Despite trying small tube flies swung across the current, it seemed the best method to get the fish to react was to with a slow and controlled swing, with the aid of an intermediate tip to dangle the fly in the salmon’s face without skating or the fly rising to the surface.

This method was reflected later at the top of the beat where we found a small hole in the tail of a long glide which was a mix of broken and calm water. It was clear that this noticeably deeper trench no doubt scoured by some of the large boulders above was going to have some fish taking residence, so we focused some time here. We wanted to keep the Francis as a last reserve option and after trying a couple of different flies swung and fished various ways. Yet despite Sam moving a fish on a small blue and white tube, nothing had been obliging this afternoon, so I got in the water tied on the strange little Francis and begun a slow methodical swing. “Right there” Sam called out, “take a step down and put the cast right over there again they’re just below that yellow rock” so I made another cast, and the fish grabbed hard and my rod hooped into the arch we all dream of. The line was close to one of the many boulders so before I could get the fish on the reel I had to run towards the fish stripping line with my hand as I ran, once I was in a position where the line was no longer at risk of getting pulled around the rocks I took the fish onto the reel and enjoyed the pleasure till I was able to safely tail the fish as it hung around long enough for a quick photo and safe release.

Having watched the fish dart back strong, Sam and I sat there both glowing with joy feeling as though we both earnt that fish, we had offered words of guidance to each other throughout each pass and had it not been for Sam’s advice I may have lapsed concentration and perhaps wouldn’t have fished the hot spot as methodically as I did. Despite not being the largest Salmon I hope I’ll ever hook, it was a special fish and we were both bursting with satisfaction as we decided the occasion called for one of the celebratory Cuban’s that we had purchased in the duty free.

One thing that was clear was that some of the deep slower pools in the river held some real lumps that given time observing the pool would occasionally stir, we managed to disturb some with Sunrays later that evening, but never did we go tight on one. It quickly made you think of the potential of the river earlier in the year, was the river primarily a grilse river or could the large lake system that makes up the catchment of Fusta be host to some “Storlaks”. It was clear that only time would tell, nevertheless we were lucky to be amongst some of the first to be fishing this river again in its rebirth.

One thing that we really needed though to top the whole trip off was a fish landed for Sam, despite hooking into fish and his flies having plenty attention, luck had been against him and in his usual collected manner he persevered. As is often the case in Salmon fishing your levels of perseverance are rewarded and on the final hour of the last evening fishing he decided that the hitch fly needed some final attention, he decided to focus on the run that held a little honey pot I had landed a fish from earlier that day along with witnessed other anglers catch from.

It was an inconspicuous spot but focusing here soon paid off and on his second pass around the scattering of boulders before the “hole in the tail”, I looked up, go pro in hand to see the surface erupt as an eager grilse took the hitch fly off the surface with gusto! I was overjoyed to see this, and Sam enjoyed every second of the battle sliding the fish into the shallows tailing the fish before a quick release.

It was a magic moment, both witnessing the take and the perfect way to wrap the trip up before a long journey back to Trondheim.

The journey back was even more special realising we were passing the headwaters of many famous rivers we had not been aware of on the journey up. Moose occasionally crossed the road and we were in true Norwegian wilderness driving back in the early morning hours.

We reflected on the trip, both glad we made the gamble, yes the fishing wasn’t as consistent as we would have hoped but the exploration made up for that and we had tested ourselves as anglers with a desire to continue to explore more rivers in many more years to come.

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