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Jerking off an Elf- A Fly Fishing trip to iceland for Sea trout

Photography by Ciaran O'Kelly & Keith McDonnell

Iceland has become an annual trip for us, simply because the fishing and the rivers are incredible. After last years success with big sea trout we were keen to go back and see more. We had an amazing experience with Maroš Zatko as our guide last year. Maroš is a complete sea trout nut and we stayed in touch over the winter and made plans for a new adventure. Maroš understood the type of anglers we are and how much we like to explore and stay on the move. He messaged Keith last November to say he had the perfect river for us to try with varied pools, fast water and opportunities to throw streamers, perfect for the type of fishing we like to do. We didn’t need any more encouragement and set about planning a trip.

keeping the streamer working along the shore was the key on the lake

The permissions to fish the river allowed for 4 anglers so we needed a couple more guys to join us. Ciaran O’Kelly didn’t have to be asked twice having been in Iceland a number of times previously and T.C’s buddy Larry was also keen to go having been to the Varma two years ago. We set up a whatsapp group to talk fishies. For me the preparation and research is a huge part of the fun of going abroad to fish. I started tying flies last winter and driving the group and Maroš mad with too many pictures of flies.

Before we knew it August had arrived and we were off once again to incredible Iceland. We already knew from speaking to Maroš and getting obsessive about weather forecasts that Iceland had a ridiculously dry summer. Quite the opposite of what we experienced here in Ireland. We have had plenty of rain all summer! We were watching the forecast for Kirkjubaejarklaustar and there was no rain whatsoever in the weeks leading up to the trip. When we landed in Iceland and saw how low the rivers were, we started to worry just a little.

Trout everywhere eat Peanut envys

As per normal, the flight from Dublin gets into Reykjavik at 2pm so we needed some fishing for the evening to get gear unpacked,  have a cast and relax before driving out to Klaustar the following day. We had researched this too and had a small lake lined up where Ciaran had fished before.

The lake turned out to be brilliant fun. We cast our big articulated streamers out and had them hammered by beautiful and enthusiastic trout. What was really remarkable was how shallow the fish were along the lake shore. In spring in Ireland we like to throw wet flies up on the stones but this was another level. At one point the wind died and the midges came out and walking along the bank, I spooked a few trout and char in literally inches of water! All of my trout that evening were caught within a rod length of the shore and many of those were as a result of casting parallel to the shore.

Beautiful colours

T.C didn’t fish on the first evening as a few weeks before the trip he developed a bad case of tendonitus that had almost prevented him from travelling. The rest of us had great fun until we ran out of light and we headed for bed.

The following morning we were full of excitement to see our river for the next 4 days. As we drove out past Vik on the south coast would you believe it started to rain? There was much debate about whether it would be in the right place or whether there would be enough but the mountains looked dark and moody and we were enthusiastic. While the low cloud and wet windscreen and wipers deprived us of sightseeing it definitely cheered us up. We arrived at the river and it was clearly dead low and a blue bird sunny day. By the time we got into our log cabin, met up with Maroš and headed for the river, conditions had changed and it rained hard. In hind sight the river had probably already begun to rise slightly due to rain in the mountains. We had a look at a couple of pools and then made our way upriver for the evening. On a huge crystal clear pool with a tongue of current running through it. I opted for a deep nymphing method that I learned from Ron Giles in New Zealand many years ago. After a couple of adjustments it wasn’t long before I was attached to a big trout that put up a big fight and decided to leave the pool. Things became a little anxious and to add to it the handle started to come off my reel. I mentioned it to Maroš who was hot in pursuit with the net and he nervously replied I really wish you didn’t tell me that. The fish put up a serious battle and I roared as I do when Maroš  lifted the net with a stunning double figure cock fish safely inside.

A lot of love for the fish in this picture

First Sea trout of the trip 10lbs even

I gave Larry pole position for the nymphing rig and moved up to the very top of the pool to try a streamer. A couple of casts later I was into a beautiful brown trout who must have snuck in to grab the fly before the big guys got hold of it. The fish left the pool and I beached him in time for Maroš to arrive to take a picture. The whole place reminded us of Connemara. Good sized brown trout are special around Klaustar as they don’t grow as big as other parts of the Island. I appreciated this one as Maroš knows many of the brown trout that reside in the river year long.

Brown trout that took an olive bugger

No sooner had Maroš left and a big sea trout grabbed my streamer and all hell broke loose. By the time Maroš came back, would you believe the handle had come completely off my second reel. I had to play the fish without a handle on the reel. For 5 or 6 minutes nobody spoke a word and I focused on retrieving line, slapping the spool to get line on the reel and palming to keep the fish from taking too much line. Before long the second sea trout was in the net and was once again into double figures. Did I mention that it was my birthday? One of the reels I’ve had for 15 years without issue. The black sand in Iceland plays havoc with fly reels so be sure to give it a shake in the water before casting so there is less chance that grit will jam up reel handles etc. I was lucky to get away with it as the fish as so strong and don’t give up easily.

Second Double figure Trout of the Day on a Streamer

Netting fish is an art for Maroš

Ciaran and T.C were fishing a pool below us and caught a lovely brown trout before the light went and we retreated to our cabin. Next morning I took a back seat as I was conscious that that guys had to get off the bus. We fished some amazing water and it was clear that the fish were running even though the river had only risen a few inches. After a few hours of tough casting in the wind I bumped into a beautiful fresh run trout on a sunray shadow. The sunray is an interesting fly and there is a lot to be learned from the Icelandic anglers. A certain Icelandic fishing guide I know perfectly describes the retrieve as “Jerking off an Elf” The shallow angle that you cast the fly is also critically important. So if you consider both of those things, the fish sees a very sparse long silouette coming up over their heads, darting sharply and it can really upset them. It is quite a skill to be able to move the stripping hand fast enough and keep the thumb and forefinger landing on the flyline for an entire retrieve. T.C was the first casualty of this method and his hand swelled quite badly having jerked into a stripping basket for an entire day!. His elf pedaling days were unfortunately over after day 2.

Ciaran very happy with that one

T.C, our man of mystery scores a beauty on the Purdie minnow

On the third day he rose again…I’m joking I’m joking! We started with some dry fly fishing and I got a lovely Char on a big Gobstopper dry fly. Soon after Larry got a big brown on the same fly and in the evening we had a ball with many sea trout landed up to double figures on streamers and nymphs. The Purdie minnow, Klaustar minnow and olive skull head bugger get special mention.

The amazing purdie minnow

A stunning hen for Ciaran

Arctic Char on the dry fly- this one took a Gobstopper

Strike! A brilliant photo of Larry by Ciaran

Larry with a lovely Brown Trout on the Gobstobber Dry fly

T.C searching with the streamer

Day four was sunny and we divided into two group with Larry and I opting to see some canyon pool reputed to be  stunningly beautiful and holding an occassional brown trout. T.C and Ciaran opted for a pool that had some fresh grilse. I had hooked one and played it for a few minutes the day before on a riffle hitch before it threw the hook mid air. T.C got his Salmon and was first one of the group to get the Icelandic grandslam of all four species in the river.

off shoulder delivery- essential for dealing with Icelandic wind

sea trout on Streamer in bright sunlight

An incredible looking hen on the Impact Black bugger

A fresh one in bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky

Stunning creature for Larry

Cool looking 12lbs cock fish for Ciaran

12lbs hen on the nymph for Larry

One on the NZ Nymph rig for Keith

Beautiful Colours on this big cock fish

Big fish for Larry - This place became a popular spot

Don't rent a hairdressers car

Sending out the hitch tube

On the last day, I figured having caught sea trout, resident browns and char I should go for a Salmon to complete the species in the river. The weather was blustery and cold. I worked my way down the pool with a small hitched tube and was expecting to have to repeat the pool with aforementioned elf method as it wasnt ideal conditions for the riffle hitch. Half way down the pool a fish rose to the tube but didnt hit it, the fish rose twice more to the fly on subsequent casts and on the fourth cast we connected. It was then i realised that both landing nets were with Maroš, Ciaran and T.C so we called Maroš and he arrived just in time to net the fish. Big hugs were exchanged on what had been an incredible few days fishing. 

I left the salmon pool to Larry in the hope that he could get the four species done too and he got one just before we wrapped up on one of Maroš salmon nymphs. 

Grilse on the riffle hitched tube on the last day

team work and a double figure sea trout in the net for T.C


Maroš on spotting duty

T.C  and I walked up a high sketchy cliff to look out over the river and reflect on what had been a super few days fishing. We talked about how lucky we are to be able to visit a place where fish are in abundance and nature is as it should be. Relatively untouched by humans and how lucky we were that the fish arrived for us. We learned afterwards that neighbouring rivers in Klaustar hadn’t yet got the run of fish due to dry conditions. While we had not got anything like a flood the fresh water had really helped the group achieve some great fishing. While we were so lucky to get a change in river conditions and some fresh water we fished very hard on that river using a variety of techniques to target the different species. We moved pools frequently and put in long hours dispersed in pairs over the river alternating with Maroš and using the first day to orientate ourselves to the different sections and pools on the river. We carried different setups depending on the pools and conditions and had rod racks maxed out as we bounced around the gravel in the 4 x 4


Looking for Silver and Gold

If you want to see the potential for sea trout fishing in Iceland have a look at Maroš Zatko’s instagram page. The guy is one of the fishiest people we have ever met. Maroš had a 102cm Sea trout in spring this year. There is no doubt in our minds that there is a world record sea trout coming to him very soon!

How beautiful?

What a spot- Shocking long arming though!


Walking back from the home pool

Wild Icelandic Blueberries

The view from below the canyon

Nothing lasts forever

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