Last minute DIY self-guided fishing trip to Iceland
As the end of the season approached here in Ireland after a rather dry August/September period, a fishing buddy was not holding out for a change in our weather fortunes. On the 23rd as I was about to head away for a couple of days, he said he would love to hit Iceland for the end of the season for a short trip. If he could put it together quickly and in a decent price range, I might join him and spare him a “Billy No Mates” tag. That was a Thursday, we were wheels up for Iceland on the following Tuesday DIY style!
Yes, the river researched, fishing tickets arranged, (self guided), accommodation booked, car hire sorted, flights & excess baggage arranged, PCR test done within the requisite 72 hours and all gear bagged & tagged!
So began 3 full days of hardcore streamer fishing!
As awkward as arranging PCR tests were at very short notice and a weekend to boot, flying itself post covid was pretty ok, like before but with masks on and passenger locator forms to complete.
One tip worth knowing about is that www.icelandair.com allow rod cases /tubes on as carry on. This is a big bonus (note we were bringing 9ft & 10ft (270-300cm) 4 piece rods in tubes, not sure about bringing a big 3 piece salmon cannon though).
As such a short trip and with 3 days on the one river, we opted for self-guided. We got the necessary permits and allocations through www.anglers.is as we were short on time and all sorted electronically and quickly including beat maps etc. The River was the Varma about 45km from Reykavik.
On landing, snow was falling! After picking up a hire CAR (more on that later) we drove to our destination through the snow.. making us a bit nervous about our choice of vehicle if this snow was going to stick. We were looking for “whitetrout “ not a whiteout! We got to the destination river Varma area with a bit of daylight left and did a bit of a recce. The only town on this short river is Hveragerdi and we checked a few possible dinner spots, (waders were as acceptable as dining jackets!) supermarket etc as well as river access before adjourning to the accommodation.
There we unpacked and sorted out fishing kit, rod racks on and rods built so we could be on the road straight away in the morning.
Next morning we hit our beat and began our rotations. The first beat ended up being a long walk from where we parked, a lot longer than it looked on the map. If we had got a jeep instead of a car we would have been able to make it down the lava lane a lot further! (We thought our river was pretty accessible and it is but we would shoot for something with more sump clearance in future ) .
The wind was crazy and full of sleet and rain, a big shock after our Indian summer. To add to this action was very slow on this lower river beat and we were not getting off to a wonderful start. A trek back to the car through the tundra like landscape at least meant we had over 10,000 steps according to the phone! We changed on our rotation, reading maps & google maps and navigating our way upstream. Slightly warmed up and with a little less sleet we hit the river again and also our stride. The action began and we started having a ball, leapfrogging each other down the pools.
We were fishing streamers and the seatrout definitely were buzzed up. We had hook-ups, bangs, chases, pulls, cartwheels all to the pulled streamer and more or less had action from then until the end of the trip.
We had thought we would have a little dry fly action but the wind and rain knocked that on the head. It was streamer time all the time! One McGenius had been in the mouths of more than 30 trout and was still attractive! That’s product testing! On this occasion the big hitters were the Knick-knack, McGenius, Sheelin Humongous, Mary Banger and Pool Shark.
With a lot of fish up to the 3 and 4lb mark we were determined to get a couple of trophy trout in the net. We tried, we hit a few, lost a few. We were teased by big shadows that chased our streamers out and saw some incredible fish that were not in the mood to play.
The Varma is a small river with very clear water in the main. We were fishing seatrout in the day time on streamers! It sounds crazy yet it worked tremendously well and my fishing buddy kept remarking that he would never consider it at home, waiting till dusk/nightfall. No after dark fishing on the Varma prevented that. Due to the cosy nature of the river and proximity of these trout we adopted a low profile in the main when fishing to ensure we did not spook them with our presence and shadows. As a result we were often casting from kneeling and crouching positions to maximise stealth. Banging the far bank with an articulated streamer from a kneeling position in strong winds adds to the pleasure of that ferocious tug of a seatrout interrupting your fast retrieve.
On pools that are small enough for Evil Knievel to jump across on a kids tricycle we were stirring fine trout. Pools that were shelving upwards toward the near bank and which were ominously dark under the earthen far bank were producing trout. Kneeling or crouching down on our bank and casting the skullhead articulated streamer to hit the far clay bank and plop in the water, we would start stripping straight away, thus beginning a weird race.
We had to strip the streamer hard enough to arouse interest and reaction yet be aware that we only had limited water before it shallowed out. On more than one occasion the stripped streamer was chased at the last minute onto the shingle by a large focused trout with it’s belly on the stones before it broke the chase! Bit like those alligators or crocodiles in a nature documentary coming out of the depths at a watering hole after a young water buffalo. Both the streamer and the trout had run out of water yet it was a spectacular sight as the edge of the water exploded violently.
Just when we were sure we had beats and pools sussed out, the sun came out bright and strong on the last afternoon. Too bright, it did not help our quest for the big ones and they were much slower to move than previous days. While still getting attention, the wise guys were well tucked in. The one really big fish we did hook on the last afternoon, in some serious whitewater deserved it’s freedom after a very hard scrap, giving us the slip just prior to netting.
On a scenic note the river rises in a geothermal park and in it’s upper sections there are open spouts of steam and geothermal activity around the upper river and you can be walking by boiling springs of water with snow on the surrounding hills. Even weirder is being overlooked by hotelgoers in a hot tub squiffing drinks as you are wrapped up to beat the windchill and casting for the next big one! I wonder did they pity or envy us?
3 days of sustained fishing seemed to pass by so quickly and we had to get packed on the last night as we had a 4am alarm call to catch an early flight home. So in little over a week from when we had explored the idea we were en route to flying home.
Dropping off the car, which had a few major dents when we picked it up, it got a check over and the huge dent on the door was queried until the car hire dude said “oh that car with the instagram footprints on the roof!” www.bluecarrental.is is the easiest going car hire we have experienced in a long time.
So what were the learnings of this quickfire, self organised trip, this late in the season?
- Do as much research as possible on the river, area etc before booking/travelling especially if not using a guide
- The Reykavik angling club svfr.is is the place to go for fishing permits.
- Available rivers and runs may be limited at this end of the season.
- It’s late September/early October, summer is gone, prepare for wet, cold weather! (same for early season)
- Iceland is windy! Windchill drops your temps and drives the rain and sleet, real feel was minus 10 degrees celcius. Really good waterproof clothing is required and solid, quality base layers underneath. We were toasty!
- Iceland is windy! No way we could have fished a light line rod 4 wt or under with any comfort, plus given some of the fish we saw and their ability to fight you may be well undergunned.
- Get a jeep or an all road with higher clearance. There are a lot of the unsealed roads, lanes, so it will allow you to get closer to the river bank!
- If you find a streamer that fish are responding to or switched on to, keep it on your leader till you know it has slowed down or you must change it. (do check tippet regularly after meeting fish)
- Dusk, normally a great time may not be as productive very late in the season or if the water is high & coloured and temps are down.
- If only have a day, think about a guide to maximise that time. After the first day we had a lot of this small river well covered, understood.
- Be prepared to fish hard! There may be great fishing but it ain’t easy with the conditions etc and you still need an element of luck with water levels etc.
- Fish hard and smart and be stealthy, these are seatrout and you do not have the luxury of darkness.
- Sometimes you just need to go and do it!