Closed borders and empty river beats made the 2020 Norwegian Atlantic Salmon season one that local anglers will not forget for years to come, especially Ahed El-Najar. The 2020 fishing season brought a lot of changes to anglers around the globe, the lucky echelon of destination anglers that are usually headed to far-flung regions of the world were forced to stay home, giving local anglers unrivaled access to waters that are usually reserved or booked years – sometimes decades in advance.
In Norway, most fishing regions require buying a fishing license and the costs of those can vary based on the rivers you’re looking to fish. For most salmon rivers, you’ll also be issued a specific beat section of the river that your license gives you access to. Not all beats on the rivers are created equal and drawing the prime beats can be a challenge in normal years. However, with COVID holding back the usual groups of traveling anglers, Norwegian anglers like Ahed took the opportunity to dip their toes into serious salmon fishing on uncrowded waters.
Making the most of his COVID fun-employment, Ahed hit the road north from Oslo with some of the country’s finest Salmon beats in his sights. After 45 total days on the water, Ahed had accomplished some incredible angling feats, including breaking the record for a fly-caught Sea Trout and landing a massive 20kg Atlantic Salmon amongst dozens of other catches. If you were looking for inspiration to take full advantage of the work-from-home life, let us introduce you to Ahed, and the incredible waters of Scandinavia.
After seeing more than a few incredible fish Ahed brought to hand, and the images he captured, we caught up with him to ask a few questions about his season and the wild fish he encountered this season. Check out the interview and photo essay below!
Flylords: What was the most difficult aspect of salmon fishing to learn for you?
Ahed: The most difficult aspect of salmon fishing, hmmm. Learning to cast with two hand rods was certainly advantageous in windy conditions, and of course, being able to make long-distance casts in some of the larger rivers. Being able to read the water was also a challenge starting out, but my experience as a trout angler helped quite a bit. We always do our best to read the water before we step foot in it or even make a cast. But for the most part, I think that hard work and perseverance are the biggest factors required to find your fish. Sometimes it can take kilometers of wading and days of fishing before you come tight to a Norwegian trophy. If you focus on those two aspects, you will definitely be rewarded!
Flylords: Would this be considered a trophy Norwegian sea trout?
Ahed: This was the biggest sea trout recorded and measured on a fly rod in Norway. A lot claim bigger but no one recorded it, it is the standing Norwegian record in fishing and hunting site. The story behind this fish is even wilder. When my partner hooked the fish, we initially thought it was a big salmon as it tore up and downstream. It put on quite the show as I worked with my buddy to get the fish to the bank. As soon as I realized that the beast attached to his line wasn’t a salmon, but the largest sea trout I’ve ever seen in a river, I knew I couldn’t tell him what the fish was for fear of psyching my partner out. Once we got it to hand, the shouts of joy, relief, and awe could be heard for kilometers up the river.
Flylords: How has COVID affected fishing pressure and access in Norway?
Ahed: COVID has had positive and negative impacts on fishing pressure and access in Norway this year. For normal guys like me and my partner, it was a blessing. In a normal season, we would probably not have access to the best beats/rivers because they usually are booked out years in advance, but this year those beats/rivers were available. The pressure has certainly been lighter since the usual out-of-country anglers weren’t traveling here. The sad part of the situation was for the river owners who really had a bad business year, but so did we all. I lost my job from March to August and that’s what spurred me to make something positive out of it and go fly fishing. With no tourists running about this year, I decided to go all-in for this year’s salmon season and got really great results. Now I don’t expect to have the same season next year but I will definitely fish for salmon the coming years, as well.
Flylords: What are the best times to come salmon fish in Norway?
Ahed: If you have the ability to time it right, early season and late season is when the fishing is prime. Our fish enter the rivers angry and chromed-up on their upstream mission, but in the middle of the season they mellow out, biding their time until their spawn. Just before that, the action turns on again as the fish get territorial and aggressive.
Early season is always a safe bet because the fish have not been in the system long, and haven’t experienced many anglers or flies, so you have a good chance of landing big ones. During our midseason, most of the small salmon and grilse come in. Then late in the season, the large breeding salmon start getting angry and colored up, that’s usually your second, and last window to land a trophy.
Ahed El-Najar is a traveling angler and photographer from Norway. When he’s not exploring his Scandinavian homeland, you can find him journeying south of the equator to New Zealand and the warm tropical flats. Check him out on Instagram: @AhedsFly!