Fly fishing for Monster Icelandic Sea trout- A photo Essay.
Words by T.C Kingsmill Mick. Photos by Keith McDonnell, T.C Kingsmill Mick and Maros Zatko.
Over the last couple of years we have seen some stunning big seatrout pictures coming out of Iceland that really caught our attention and got into our dreams. Maroš Zatko, a Slovakian guide living in Iceland had been regularly posting some extraordinary fish. When we got talking, we discovered that some very common ground existed between us with regards to our approach to fishing, methods and experiences. This was going to be an opportunity to learn a lot from him about his local systems and potentially target a stamp of fish that aren’t available in to us in Ireland. Both of us, (Keith & T.C) having fished Iceland separately on a number of different occasions knew that we had to get over there together and try for a big one. We decided if we could manage a double figure trout we would consider the trip to be a massive success.
Every density of line ready for action, Preparation for a trip is a large part of the fun
After a very warm summer and much lower than normal fishing activity here in Ireland we were extremely motivated. We planned 5 nights in Iceland and we were going to hit three different systems. It was a tight schedule and knowing how unforgiving the Icelandic weather can be, we needed some good fortune to assist us. We took lots of time to prepare our tackle and our mentality for an Icelandic seatrout adventure.
Travelling only builds up the anticipation. All went to plan.
Having landed and picked up a nice old beater we christened “Dusty” we hit the road to the south east of the Island. After a food stop we got out for last knockings on a lake system to get the lines wet. Thanks to Sindri at www.fishpartner.com for assisting us with access to a lake that was close by. We found a flat calm lake with midges hatching and no sooner had we uttered the words 'dry fly', the breeze killed the idea and we turned to streamers. T.C picked up a beautiful silver Icelandic lake trout to get his eye in.. (Thanks Lester)
september night at 8pm- the light disappeared very quickly
Silver trout on the small lake, He liked the Lester after dark
Next morning, our focus was on a small river south east of Reyjkavik. There was some reasonable cloud clover there that slowed the dawn while we grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel and sorted out our gear in “Dusty”. We couldn’t wait to get to the allocated beat.
Early man in his prime
Sunrise on the south coast of Iceland
We got straight into a system of covering water and leapfrogging each other down through beautiful pools. The takes from both resident trout and seatrout were numerous and exciting as the cloud was there to help. After an hour the sun had burned off the cloud and it beat down on us and the trout for the day. We came upon a group of local Icelandic anglers who possibly had a more sensible idea to lie down on the bank and soak up the vitamin D and have a few beers in the beach like conditions.
8am start. Low water and clearing skies. Not the conditions we wanted but not a chance we'd complain about fishing in a place like this
Classic streamer water but getting bright quickly
We, being on holiday were full of enthusiasm and kept fishing. We picked up some nice trout despite the conditions, including a cracker for T.C in a deeper shaded pool that came to the knick knack streamer on a sinking line. We had promised to pace ourselves as the main event was coming up tomorrow but ignored our own advice and fished hard all day into dusk on a tricky but absorbing and enjoyable day. T.C headed straight for the outdoor hot tub, under the stars to fix his aching wading legs. Photos of T.C in just his Deerstalker in said tub are withheld for obvious reasons.
Keith very happy with his first trout of the trip. A brown trout who was sitting in the undercut riffle above, right where he should be
A beautiful autumn day in Iceland
The Mary Banger worked for Keith on this handsome little guy he looks Irish like many of the natives
Possibly the most tree cover that you are likely to see in Iceland in this stunning gorge- the seatrout were there too.
T.C scores in really Glaring tough conditions. It shows there is always a chance
Knick knack does the job
76cm sea trout. We remarked at the time if we managed to get one this size we'd be happy
Nice pool but low and bright
The following morning we were back in “Dusty” and on the road heading further southeast to the main event and those magnificent seatrout that had been causing so much excitement for months. Driving through spectacular scenery and over innumerable bridges and enticing rivers the excitement was really building.
Sunset on the south coast
Arriving at our fishing cabin and de-camping again from “Dusty” we waited with anticipation for Maroš to pick us up. The sound of the big 4×4 approaching at speed down the gravel road to our cabin gave us both a great thrill signalling that things were about to kick off.
Our Fisherman's cottage for a few days
You know you've found the right guide when there are big flies everywhere
Introductions over, gear packed, we boarded the 4×4 and headed off through a strange alien looking lichen covered desert to arrive at the river. Its black lava sands appearing deceptively close through the very clear water. With lots of big fish in the system and fish still running, we could not wait to get going and get flies in the water. Conditions were difficult with variable sun/cloud cover and very clear water. Maroš knew where the fish preferred and made the relevant suggestions. Unique to this river is the size of the trout and a dearth of smaller fish, any take we got was likely to be a serious fish.
A solid start
Keith is very happy with his first fish on this river
Keith got off the mark after an hour or so with a nice seatrout that would be a season maker at home, its always great to get the first one out of the way early on and then everyone can relax a little.
A short period of cloud cover changed the light to more favourable fishing conditions. Keith’s fly was taken with a vengeance and he knew immediately by the heavy weight speeding away from him that he was into his dream fish. The screams coming from his Cascapedia seatrout reel indicated the fish was significant and could take line at will. Keith was locked into an epic arm wrestle with a really huge seatrout and it gave him the fight of a lifetime. Both of us have experienced big wild trout over the years and some very good salmon to boot, but this fish was on another level. We like to play fish hard and give no quarter but these really big seatrout are in control and go where they want. Keith kept maximum pressure on the fish and had faith in the tackle while praying that the hook held. Maroš likes to net fish as early as possible and he continously stalked the fish, net ready, while keeping a low profile.
A true Icelandic giant sea trout 90cm, 10kg or 22lbs in old money
These fish are more capable of bullying than being bullied. When the big trout made a dangerous run around the back of an island on the far side of the river, there was no option for Keith but to follow it across. With eyes firmly on the fish, he chased the fish and came off a gravel bar into deep water over wader height. He started to tread water with rod hand elevated like the lady of the lake brandishing Excalibur! Not where you want to be with a 6 degree celcius water temperature. Eventually the upper hand was gained and the fish was scooped into the huge waiting net by the expert eye and sharp hand of Maroš, clearly very experienced with such large fish. The whoop of delight echoed across the tundra and frightened some nearby Ptarmigans. The big hugs and handshakes began as all of the hopes and dreams of the previous months became a reality.
The tail of a Donkey- Adipose fin the size of a...??-we are used to saying thumb!
What a feeling when a fish that occupies your dreams ends up taking your fly and gives you an epic battle, graces you with a photograph and swims off strongly and with a certain arrogance. It makes the planning, travel, Daydreaming and expense all worth it.
His grin didn't disappear for a long time but the fish went off like nothing had happened
That was just the first day! Day two brought twelve hours of horizontal rain! Another large fish was hooked by Keith, a monster fish and another exciting sparring match began. The big fish showed his size with an acrobatic leap and after a long tussle then decided to change the game to ‘Lava-rock, Fluorocarbon, Scissors” and won that one that first try. The silence around the pool was deafening.
A respectable fish by any standards
Regardless, Keith was getting results in what were challenging conditions and big specimen trout like these do not come easy. Lots of time and long casting required, patience and belief. The rewards were simply wonderful.
The home pool on a moody day two- It could be mistaken for Connemara
On our last morning, Keith hooked a beautiful big hen fish that jumped clean out of the water at short range and then for reasons unknown, threw the hook after a short scrap. He sat down as he does and was silent again for a few minutes. Was this the last roll of the dice? Maroš was also visibly deflated as the hook ups were not coming easy. A moment later, a big fish head and tailed in front of them in the fast water. It was all the encouragement that was needed and Keith made a number of casts into the area. A beautiful v-loop sailed across the water and turned over perfectly. A moment later, a sharp strike and the fish threw itself clean out of the water with a tremendous splash having felt the sharp hook set and the battle was on again.
Seeing the size of this fish and having the Lava rock cut off and swimming experiences of the previous days, Keith followed the fish on as short a line as possible and left nothing to chance. The big cock fish ran up through the white water at the head of the pool and into the next pool above(we have never seen a trout run upstream like that). Maroš was ready in the new pool tail, Keith turned its head and the fish came back downstream, an expert scoop and the fish was in the net within ten minutes of hooking it. Keith believes the previous losses had taught him a number of lessons. The fish were strong and could not be bullied however, moving quickly with the fish and keeping it on a shorter line had helped significantly in this case.
Monster Icelandic hook-jawed male Sea trout - The stuff of Dreams!
Nice angle on an amazing creature
This is tough to hold up. 89 cm in length
Maroš Zatko- rockstar fishing guide
T.C was having a slower time on this system with nowt to show for his efforts apart from a missed take to a really fast stripped fly. It is so difficult mentally to face a blank on such a system after travelling and fishing hard and it appeared to be on the cards. T.C stuck to fishing hard from beginning to end and kept believing that the fish were behind his fly.
T.C with fish on as MAROŠ moves for an early scoop
Maroš told a story of a guest who had no joy on a trip for several days and on the last day with only minutes to go, hooked into the biggest fish the group had encountered. Maroš told the story to keep flagging spirits up. On the third and last day of the trip, Keith had two more fish and nothing had stuck for T.C. T.C came back to the home pool and fished away with both Maroš and Keith offering advice and encouragement. On the (really) last cast, the line tightened and water erupted and the fish was on, another specimen sea trout and the goal of the trip for T.C was within sight. A tense fight and another expert scoop and the job was done! With that fish returned safely to the water, the group retreated to the 4×4 and put rods in the rod rack for the last time and headed back to the cabin elated..
T.C, Our mystery caped crusader got the job done on the last cast.
A stunning Hen fish to end the day
Our Doggie friend at the cabin was sad that we were packing up- she would have to wait for a new stick thrower to arrive
An interesting story caught our intention when checking out of the cabin. We were discussing our experience with our super friendly host Birna, who had an inspiring tale about the river having almost dried up four summers ago. Locals were extremely worried that the runs of fish would be finished and it seemed that there was a blockage in the lava fields up in the headwaters causing the problem. Officialdom had been contacted and nothing appeared to be happening and time as well as water seemed to be running out..
An elderly man, then in his seventies, felt so strongly about the importance of the fish and their significance to the local people that something had be done. Late at night he drove a bulldozer high up into the hills and cleared the obstruction himself, restoring the water to normal, saving that seasons run and future fishing. On hearing that story, caps were doffed and a silent thank you said to that man by us or our remarkable fishing would never have been experienced.
Leaving Iceland and reflecting on the trip, much had been experienced and learned. Specimen trout are not easily caught. The pictures of the fish above belie the effort that went into each of them. Our effort and the accumulated experience of an excellent guide were really needed. Fish over 70 cm are a huge league above 45-60 cm trout and their strength is something to experience. Landing them is not a foregone conclusion even with finely tuned tackle. By finely tuned we don’t mean fine, rod weights were 7 and 8wt. This is also one of the rare fresh water situations where a good drag is a real bonus.
You can’t catch what is not there, so these trout and river systems need to be protected for future generations. Icelanders appear to be on the right track in this regard. In the last ten to fifteen years, the size of seatrout being caught by anglers in Iceland has increased significantly and that appears to coincide with catch and release being implemented on their fisheries. They don’t appear to have commercial fisheries that exploit the trouts food source. These fish are repeat spawners and the largest fish we caught and released were possibly ten to twelve years old.
The Icelandic seatrout fisheries are quite different to Irish fisheries in terms of migration. Large numbers of trout will spend winter in the lower reaches of the massive braided glacial rivers in Iceland, feeding with no spawning intentions. This may explain to us outsiders why there is a viable spring fishery for seatrout in Iceland.
We were very keen to explain to anyone in Iceland who would listen to us about the irreparable destruction of our seatrout fisheries in Ireland by the salmon farming industry and the intense commercial fishing for the fishes food source. If we had protected and maintained those fisheries, could we have fish like this in Ireland?
As a final note, it is important to say that these trout adopt a dark colour very quickly on entering fresh water in their home system to match the black lava sand river bed and are not stale early run fish.
We are most grateful to our friend and amazing guide Maroš Zatko for all his help. If you are interested in fishing in Iceland you can contact him via instagram or facebook: @jungleindatrout.