In 2020, we spoke with Ahed El-Najar, an avid angler in Norway and abroad, about his impressive Atlantic salmon season in Norway while their borders were closed. The closures eased angling pressures on the Scandinavian country’s legendary salmon rivers, and you can see the results of that season in our interview with Ahed, here. We were curious to compare his 2020 and 2021 seasons, to see how re-opening the Norwegian borders affected the fishing, and to hear more about Ahed’s season. Check out our interview with him below, and definitely keep scrolling if you love seeing beautiful, large Atlantic salmon!
Flylords: How did you get into Atlantic salmon fishing?
Ahed: I joined two friends of mine on an early summer trip. We had a weekend fishing where I actually blanked which is not unusual for your first salmon trip. I couldn’t sleep for a week and decided to bring another friend of mine to the same beat a week later, that’s when I hooked my first Atlantic and my first big one too. It didn’t take long before I was really hooked. And, I ended up landing 87 salmon that year.
Flylords: What gear are you using to chase salmon in Norway?
Ahed: It kinda depends on location, time, and the river levels where I’m fishing. Early season (June) when the rivers are high and wide, I use 14- to 15-foot two-handed rods in 9 or 10 weight and often heavy sinking lines. Depending on the river and water temperature, the fish will even come close to the bank when the rivers are high, which makes having a floating back section of the fly line very useful.
During the mid-season, I switch to lighter 8 to 7 WT 13.5- and 12.5-foot rods with light fly lines. For sure, my most used line is a Sink Type 1-3 and Float/Sink Type 1-2. You generally want a fully caged reel for salmon as you use the shooting lines that are thin and can come in between your reel body and the spool. I like to use Skagit heads when I’m using heavy flies, and heavy sink and scandi lines for presentation casts and later in the season. I guess for a beginner salmon swinger, a Skagit setup is very easy to cast and is preferred for a wider range of fishing needs.
Flylords: What is your go-to fly pattern for salmon? In the early season? In the late season?
Ahed: Early season I use more bulky and long flies, designed to push water. I often find myself fishing orange/black flies like Sierrakorvas and Phatakorvas. I also love fishing Sunrays in different lengths.
Mid-season, I start fishing 5-7cm (2-4 in.) flies that are sparser and less intrusive, but this also depends on the rivers I’m fishing.
Of course, I love hitching when I have the chance and the water temperature and level are right!
Flylords: What was your most memorable catch?
Ahed: The 2021 season was really tough, our river levels were low and it got unseasonably warm. Lots of rivers started closing, and we had a huge amount of pink salmon enter our rivers. All in, I landed 64 salmon and lost around 150 fish which are some insane numbers…
But I remember one really big fish that took me a crazy ride and put up a hell of a fight. A chrome male that was 114cm and 62cm around the girth, estimating around 15kg. A truly unreal fish and fight!
Flylords: How did this 2021’s salmon season compare to 2020’s? Did you see more people on the water? How was the run?
Ahed: This season we definitely saw a lot more people on the water. We managed to reserve some really nice beats due to closed borders and quarantine which was favorable for us Norwegians and sad for our visitors, but I guess it goes both ways sometimes.
We also noticed a lot more locals fishing this year than in previous seasons. The season was way tougher than last season, not only because of the pressure of anglers but also due to very low water. An example is the Orkla. Last year the river was running at around 90-130 cubic meters per second (3178-4590 CFS), and we fished on the exact same date this year, the flows were only 25 cubic meters per second (882 CFS), which was total crap for fishing.
The temperature in the water was getting quite high too. Ethically, a lot of rivers chose to close due to C&R being too risky for fish survival post-release once the temps pushed over 20C (68F). For some reason, there were way fewer fish in most Norwegian rivers. The Orkla and Gaula Rivers in Trøndelag produced 5-7 metric tonnes fewer fish than last year, but again the 2020 season was extremely good compared to years before so it’s difficult to compare the two.
Flylords: You mentioned that this year you were seeing a lot of invasive Pink salmon in your Atlantic salmon rivers. How did they get there? Do you like catching them?
Ahed: Yes, every second year there is a pink salmon run in Norway. This year, there were a record number of pink salmon. We really don’t want these salmon here as they will destroy habitat and out-compete our native Atlantic salmon. They will compete with food sources in the ocean and spawning space in the river, and they also carry diseases that can infect our Atlantics. They’re voracious and will eat the Atlantic smolts and dine on the Atlantic salmon eggs when they get the chance. They’re beginning to cause quite a lot of problems.
Flylords: What advice would you give to someone looking to catch salmon in Norway next season?
Ahed: Patience is definitely the biggest thing. Prepare your gear and read a bit about the river you’re fishing, and talk to the locals, you’ll be surprised how helpful their insight can be. If it’s possible, definitely hire a guide they’ll shorten the learning curve for sure. And after all that, just keep grinding it out, salmon fishing takes time and eventually, you will get rewarded. Once you hook your first monster salmon you will surely become addicted to the species!
Flylords: How do the early season and late season fish compare? Would you rather catch a chrome fish or one that is colored-up in the autumn prior to spawning?
Ahed: I really love the chrome fish fight because they’re so wild with lots of energy and power during the fight. But, I must admit I love the autumn colors of our salmon, they’re such beautiful fish that we should take care of for further generations and new salmon runs!