While Norway holds a special place in the Atlantic Salmon fishing community, northern Norway’s Finnmark region stands out for its incredible density of larger Salmon. Lakselva literally means “Salmon River” – a not so subtle hint for fly anglers and fishing enthusiasts that its worth its while. I was lucky enough to be sharing a rotation with my good friend Tom Leslie from Fin&Game (IG: @finandgame
) in Scotland last August. The two of us were the guests of the fairly new Oldero Lodge neatly located on a somewhat “private” island in the middle of the river. Since it’s existence, Oldero has lived up to its reputation of operating on the banks of arguably one of the best Atlantic Salmon fisheries in the world. The incredible level of service and the amenities can turn a blank day of fishing into a culinary experience that is on the same level as any fine dining and lodging on the globe.
Quite frankly, our week was done by day number 1 with one fish each, biggest one tipping the scale at 12 kilograms. A head start. It would only prepare us for what days number 3 and 4 held for us. The initial high water did not settle all the way but the water level was slowly decreasing. We were back at the spot that had produced the magnificent hen fish for us on day 1, so we fished it overly confident the same way we did before. Midway into the run, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the speed and size of my fly. The water may have dropped only a few centimeters, enough though to justify some extra commotion on the presentation or to downsize the actual size of the fly. I found a small temple-dog-style US bottle tube fly that I had snatched from a good friend on a previous trip. I decided to fish it on a sink tip and a long tapered leader in a slow swing. I am not a big fan of multi-tip scandi lines usually, but the LOOP SDS prototype performed exceptionally well considering that it has yet another dreaded connection in-between. Well, it didn’t “hinge” like so many other multi-tip lines – a big bonus. The little fly would blend in perfectly with the backdrop – exactly what I like in small and fairly clear waters. A simple underhand cast would cover the width of the river easily – a good 70-degree downstream cast sailed over the pool and delivered the fly just right over the current line on the far bank. About 1-2 meters into the swing, a big fish moved a lot of water and the line came tight. Nothing better than a take on a long line really. My attempts to close the gap between me and the fish resulted in a deep tug-o-war with the unseen force on the other end of the line. Tom and I agreed that it be the best to get both net and camera, just in case. I got a little too excited fighting the 12kg fish on day number 1 and had overestimated by a fair bit. And, I wasn’t going to rush into overestimations again time on this trip…not before we could get our hands on this fish. After a little back and forth, the fish came close to my own bank and revealed itself as a huge thick hen Atlantic Salmon. On first sight, I knew she was going to shatter my personal best by a fair bit and potentially the 20 kg barrier. In an instant, my mouth went dry. Tom was still on the run for the net and no one else was around to witness this…so I called the Fly Fishing Nation HQ for Paulo, who had to listen to the struggle on the other end of the line. Listen to me swearing after a 200-meter run downstream while I tried to get all the line back. Nothing better than a comforting voice of reason while you are struggling with a potential once in a lifetime opportunity. I was very aware of that; and, to be honest, in case of failure, I would have blamed him at least for 80% of the disaster! It’s good to have a scapegoat.
If she would have reached the fast channel, this whole thing would have turned into a fiasco over an extended amount of time that would ultimately result in a pulled hook. I decided it was best to open the drag entirely, let the fish slow down in the slack water and slowly walk her back upstream. In theory. I have witnessed some skillful anglers in Sweden doing this to stop Salmon from leaving over the neck of a pool into the rapids. It has worked more often than not. Till that very day, I had pulled this technique on various river fish but never on an Atlantic. I wasn’t overly confident in this move but it worked like a charm. I could walk her back, inch by inch and as gentle as humanly possible. Tom came back just in time to witness another gut-wrenching run. Ultimately, we managed to bring the fish out and move it into slower current close to the reeds. Less than 10-meters away now, it was my task to lift the head up so Tom could scoop her out with the big landing net. Feeling the actual weight I was pulling on, this was easier said than done. Tom kept his cool though and masterfully slipped the net under this magnificent animal on the first sight of her moving her head. There she was! A thousand tons of lead dropped off my shoulders. I screamed in ecstasy, threw my gear away and ran off into the woods to scream my guts out for what felt like 5 minutes. Paulo was still on the phone, deaf by now but thirsty to hear if my initial thoughts about the weight were accurate. She tipped the scale at a little over 42 1/2 lb on the McLean Salmon net. That’s 19kg and something on old money. What an absolute beast. There was no way in heaven I could lift this magnificent fish out of the water without doing some damage, that’s why we kept her in the water, handled her with utmost care till she was ready to go. Before I could wipe that blank stare of mine out of my face, Tom connected with a 25 lb male fish that required all of my attention… what a day, what a river!”
Stefan Dombaj is a founder of The Fly Fishing Nation. Check him out there @theflyfishingnation
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