Blue Sunray
Pink Sunray
Red Francis Cone head


Iceland  is the  newest country  on the planet. It’s  volcanic  rock has been  spewed out from the diverging plates of the Mid Atlantic ridge. The landscape  varies from  barren volcanic  lava  fields  to  verdant valleys adorned  with  wildflowers, birdlife and exceptional  rivers.   Iceland  has  64 salmon rivers  which  vary  from small crystal clear  rivers  to the  more  turbid glacial rivers. Salmon catch returns in Iceland are astounding which is  probably  a  combination of healthy clean rivers, low  fishing  pressure, smolt release programs, absence of drift nets and  the preservation of the marine habitat around  Iceland.  

The  Cod wars between the Iceland and the UK culminated in 1976 with a 200 mile exclusion zone to preserve fish stocks. This has not   only preserved marine fish stocks but has retained    the feedstock  for developing salmon; whereas  the rest if  Europe has been at the  mercy of the disastrous   common fishery’s policy.   Icelandic salmon rivers vary considerably in their size, geography, catch returns and water clarity so that the fishing techniques are equally different depending on the type of river.

Local knowledge of the fishing techniques pertaining to each river is therefore essential. Many rivers are crystal clear Miðfjarðará and Blanda will dictate very light tackle with small flies down to 12-14 , both dry fly and waked fly, whereas other rivers like The Ranga are colder and the fishing is with larger 1-2 inch flies, sink tip lines and often double handed rods. Our fishing in July 2010 was efficiently arranged for us by Stjani Ben from with a remit to find a double handed river with reasonable size salmon. The East Ranga fitted the bill perfectly where we fished for three days through beats 6/5, 4/3 and 2/1, with half a day per beat, and two fishermen per beat there

A MSW salmon beat 5 . East Ranga

was ample fishing and a chance to different waters as we progressed downstream to beat 1 which although not tidal experiences a backing of the water on the full-tide. The East Ranga is located in southern Iceland which is dominated by the Hekla volcano to the north and Eyjafjallajojull to the East. This meandering river has seen a remarkable recovery process following adverse volcanic ash deposits where there has in the past been disruption to the fishing reds. The river is very well managed with an active smolt release programme. Salmon cages are located on every beat whereby fishermen are encouraged to deposit large hen and cock salmon which are collected regularly and stripped of their eggs and milt. Large nearby pens allow the salmon par to develop unmolested form predation until they are released as smolts only when the river is coloured to reduce the attack from birds. Remarkably rod caught salmon which are destined for the cages can be temporarily transported in polythene tube bags half filled with water and these will survive considerable periods bagged as such and transported until they are deposited in the cages. This structured process has led to the Ranga River being declared the most productive Icelandic salmon river. The larger West has a marginally higher catch return.

When the the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in April 2010 it

The Eyjarfjallajokull volcano, beat 2

seemed likely that the fishing on the southern Icelandic rivers was untenable but to our good fortune the volcanic eruption appeared to have little impact on the fishing although on the night of our arrival heavy rain in the East Ranga catchment area did repeatedly colour the water but this cleared by the afternoon.

Beat 6 on the first morning introduced us Sibbi who guided us for the first half day when the fishing commenced at seven to midday and accounted for one grilse. In the afternoon we fished beat five. Everything about this beat looked enticing. The patchy sky which was now brighter, illuminated the slightly blue water which had a perfect riffle and fly speed and we were not disappointed. We landed five fish at least 2 over 10lbs using large 3 inch silver bodied, blue winged Sunray shadows. The salmon took these flies aggressively both on the swing and also on the dead drift and retrieve.

The following day we fished beat 4/3 taking fish both in the morning and afternoon but with the slightly turbid water and gale force southerly winds the fishing was moderately compromised.

The final day we fished beat 2/1 which was towards the mouth of the river and at first sight appeared featureless and unwelcoming but we still manage one fish in the morning. Rather down spirited we returned to the fishing lodge where as usual we were met with welcoming advice from the fishing guides associated with Beat 1. we were reassured was the most productive

Fishing Guide Sindri at the East Ranga Lodge

beat on the river. Quite how productive this was, was soon evident as our salmon catches rose to double figures both in number and size, the Sunray shadow in both blue and pink proving supreme.

On this last day it's easy to see why Iceland is such a perfect salmon destination. To fish such high-quality rivers, to the cacophony of birdlife without any fishing pressure is a indeed a privilege.



Brown trout and Sea trout in Iceland

Do brown trout need an introduction? Perhaps not but the ones you encounter in Iceland certainly does. They are called the ice age brown trout or the ‘dinosaur’. These are thought to have been landlocked in Iceland from the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago when the ice retreated and land rose. These grow genetically faster reaching maturity later than and hence can grow to an enormous size.

Normal size of the brown trout in Iceland are 15 - 25 inches or 40-60 cm but it is common to catch a fish ranging from 25-30 inches but only the lucky few catch one the bigger ones. Brown trout both lakes and rivers have been making their presence felt in both in quantity and quality all over the country in recent years. There are a few theories regarding this change and some blame it on higher water temperatures.

The brown trout season is all year long although most lakes commence from the 1st April which coincides with the start of the sea run trout. From April 1st till end of May you can expect chilly conditions and the trout feed mostly on sticklebacks, smolts and caddis. June through September midges and caddis are the main food source but it depends on different rivers and lakes.

Brown trout can be found all over Iceland but the specimens most commonly sought by anglers (the big ones) reside in lakes and rivers in the volcanic area of the country that runs straight through from north to south. The reason for this is the water quality in the volcanic area where you find the most productive and nutritious spring fed water.

The south coast is famous for it‘s runs of sea trout which occur both in great numbers and size. Sea trout vary from the usual 15-30 inches with the trophy fish between 30-40 inches.

Although the season comences for migratory fish as they return to the sea the prime time for sea trout is from early September to October when the season closes. The non spawners which are sterile fish are the optimum trout to target.

Arctic char and Sea run Arctic char in Iceland

Non migratory arctic char are found in lakes and rivers all over Iceland but are more common in the North and East of the country where the rivers are colder. Char are the most widespread freshwater species in Iceland and can range from a half a pound up to over 10 pounds with Icelandic record of 22 pounds. Char have very similar diets as the resident brown trout and and are caught by similar fishing techniques. Char prefers slower and colder water than brown trout so are usually found in differebt lies in the rivers. The best flies are flashy flies particularly pink and orange in colour. Nymphs also work especially those with a black body and a red or orange tail or hot spot.

Sea run char is the migratory version of arctic char these are a bit more streamline in shape and amazing fighters so plenty of backing is essential. Sea run charm move up and down rivers with the tidal flow but from mid June the runs commence fisrt with the larger char and continie into August where they spawn in the freshwater. Sea run char in caught in the mouth of rivers test the anglers skill as a 4-5 pound char will make your reel scream and certainly give you a run for your money.

Article and images by
Stjani Ben


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