The Gaula River


In the distance, deep in the forest that covers the hills, I hear the bellow of a moose, louder than the sound of the running water, only disturbed by the whistle of my rod in the dark. I swing my flies in this magnificent pool in the darkness of a Norwegian night in July. On every drift, I play with the line between the fingers of my left hand, searching for the feeling my eyes don’t have in this darkness.

“Have faith”

I repeat that repeatedly in my head, trying to connect myself with nature, keeping it away from all the questions that any salmon angler has when fish are not active.

“Have faith”

I have to recognize that sometimes it is not easy. However, at dawn, our brain seems to be less rational, and it perceives things around us in a different way. That is why I love fishing at night; the sounds, temperature, water, light, and my rod becomes a mantra that keeps me awake and focused on my goal. Step by step, cast by cast, waiting with faith.

It is as if I were hypnotized, and everything ran with the pace of a symphony in which the tug would be the dissonant note. Higher, louder, and deeper, it goes through all the neurons of your nervous system.

After that, everything turns into the dark chaos of the fight. Sometimes, the Gaula lets you touch the sky with the tip of your fingers.

The Golden River

Every salmon angler in the world has read about it. It has its legend. Its name is synonymous with greatness, wild, invincible… one of the only few rivers still undamed, with its pure golden waters running free. And, of course, Gaula means giant salmon. Thousands of stories about huge Atlantic salmon have been told by the banks of this river.

Not in vain, the number of 20 pounders caught every year here is outstanding, but the amount of 30 or even 40 pounders shows that we are in one of the best rivers in the world when it comes to landing the fish of our lifetime.

Possibly, that was what the British bourgeoisie searched for when they came here during the summers of the XIX century, more than 150 years ago. That was the beginning of the fishing tourism industry that nowadays we find along the banks of the Gaula, with world-class waters like the Norwegian Flyfishers Club, where I am fishing tonight. Fishing tourism has evolved during the last two centuries; lodges like this support a sustainable business based on catch and release.

As I said, the Gaula river is entirely wild, without dams or hydroelectric stations, one of the few big ones left in Norway and Europe. With more than 150 km, its golden waters run through deep valleys covered by lush coniferous forest in its high reaches. The forest turns to meadows and traditional Norwegian farmlands in its middle and lower reaches till the Gaula reaches the Trondheim fjord.

The Gaula is a river with a strong personality. Its pools are deep and stable, with its bottom covered by small-medium boulders, offering the perfect scenario for the fly fisher who loves long casts and good tension during the drift.

As the natural river it is, the Gaula tends to suffer from pronounced flow variations caused by the unpredictable Norwegian summer weather. In the middle of Norway, close to the arctic circle, the summer is short but excellent. It’s like spring and summer were mixed and concentrated into three months, getting the best of each. Although sometimes you have to be ready for the unexpected.

A River to Graduate

Peak time on the Gaula goes from the beginning of June till mid-July, depending on the conditions. This time is when you find the big fish and an endless number of them. And, of course, the unpredictable but fantastic late August, when the amount of fish in the river reaches its peak and salmon start to feel the spawn, turning more aggressive and prone to take our flies.

During those first weeks of the season, we fish long rods in the 14-15 foot range with heavy sinking lines and big flies. It is a challenging but rewarding job.

Later during July and August, we change to something lighter and shorter. Floating lines with sinking tips and smaller flies are the setup of choice. Under these low water conditions, anglers who enjoy tactical fishing, accurate swings, and smaller flies will get their perfect playground.

Despite the healthy population of salmon that runs into Gaula, we should manage our expectations. The Gaula is a challenging river; it is capricious and demands excellent technique, tactical knowledge, and good physical and mental shape. We can not forget that we are in Norway, the land of the midnight sun. When fishing the Gaula, you will deal with long fishing if you want to catch your dream fish. You might be rewarded if you put in the hours, fish hard, and try your best.

There are only a few things more frustrating than casting over and over into a pool full of fish, rolling every minute while your brain struggles to get the correct answer. These extraordinary fish will always have the last word though.

We are not in Iceland, and this is not where you catch ten fish per day. We are in the Gaula; you have to visualize the fish, see your fish, and go for it on every cast. Trust me. Nothing can beat that feeling of getting hooked up.

The challenge is there. The Gaula is a river where you can touch the sky. The best canvas to paint your dreams. The river where many anglers could fight with the fish of their lifetime, some won, others did not. In the meantime, I will keep searching for it. While it arrives, we share experiences, laugh, and share unique moments with our fishing buddies because, overall, salmon fishing is what you experience between every fish landed.

Article from Focus on the Fly Media, Alvaro Santillán. Find him on Instagram at @focusontheflymedia. Special mentions to @brodie_jordan, @bergues.fabrice, @the_purest_mischief, and @roar113.

Check out the articles below:

A Dream Called New Zealand

Why You Need to Fly Fish Norway

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