Swedish version

Pages from Norwegian diary
by Jurij Shumakov
(Part 1.)

Looking for the right fly

  Frankly speaking, for a Russian fly-fisherman who easily can go to the Kola Peninsula there is no real need to think about places where to go fishing for salmon. Especially for me, who lives in Sweden most of the time. Both countries offer unique opportunities for absolute top quality salmon fishing, with hundreds of rivers for any taste. Be that as it may, a few years ago I still caught myself longing for new horizons: that adventurous spirit in the depths of my soul craved for the challenge of other rivers, to be inspired by fishing traditions from other shores. I have always had the desire to travel, so I had already visited Norway on a "wild" vacation, going as a tourist with my family. After reading articles, watching movies and listening to countless stories from friends who had visited Norway before, I finally decided to go fishing salmon in Norway myself.

  My first experience of Norwegian fishing had been while fishing the river Vosso for trout and char. Then came a summer trip to the river Stjärdalelva. And in the season 2005, I talked with my good friend from Stockholm, Pär Aleljung, about visiting Norway again. We had been tracing our fingers across a map of Norway and, looking in each other's eyes without previous agreement, we both pointed at the river Gaula.

  If there is any river in Norway you should make an effort to visit, that river is without a doubt Gaula. It ranks in Norway as Spey does in Scotland, and has the status of a holy place for fly-fishing pilgrims from other countries. As on the earlier trip to Stjärdalelva, we carefully searched Internet sources for actual info. I have to remark that using the Internet as your only source you have to be quite sceptical about info, because you can get caught by a very small, but perfectly worked trick about daily info on river conditions. The week before the actual trip, we visited the website of a camping close to the town Stjörn and with satisfaction found that the water temperature was about 15 degrees Celsius and the weather report promised rain and cloudy weather. Fine! However, when after tiresome driving from Stockholm to Stjörn we finally came to the river, water temperature was "slightly" different and about 21 degrees Celsius! And that is in Gaula, which feeds on melting mountain snow?! Well, well, well, staff in kiosk at camping place made innocent eyes and said that they had just "forgotten" to change the data. J

Legendary pool at Stern Gaula camp

  Thanks to meteorologists, they gave correct prognoses, but... just for the first day of our stay in Norway. Rain met us at the border between Sweden and Norway. But further on, the weather remained me sooner of the Mediterranean at peak season, rather than austere Scandinavia: air temperature reached 31 degrees Celsius, and over the region a red hot sun brightly watched our expedition. This was summer in the Sahara. Clearly understanding that in such conditions we could easily wind up empty handed, we paid only for 3 days, and the following days showed that we were right. A fine kettle of fish!

  Salmon was lying panting in their lies almost "cooked" and didn't shown the slightest interest in any lures or flies, while I must point out that the camping pool was actually full of fish. On the first day of our arrival, we went to the river to make the most of this opportunity to bath in crystal clear and emerald Gaula's legendary waters. On the riverbank we met a guy from Denmark who had spent about two weeks on the river. Not much hope could be got from his sour looks on our standard question "What about fishing?" Our new Danish friend invited us to have a look at salmon and fishing places, providing snorking equipment, fins and a cyclope. I had nothing against getting a close-up view of this world famous natural aquarium. I swam about 200 metres from the throat of the pool in crystal clear water where I could see each and every little pebble on the bottom, but didn't meet any salmon. "Strange, the Danish guy insisted that there is plenty of fish here", I thought. Continuing my excursion downstream, I understood the reason: all the salmon had grouped at the rear part, close to the tail of the pool. First, I started to meet sea trout coursing close to the bottom, and then I was able to watch Gaula salmon. The size of the fish was, if not impressive, certainly big enough.

That's not extreme wading, we simply bath

  This was the first time in my life I could observe salmon, not taken from the water or looking down though layers of water, but right in its natural environment. It was a breathtaking picture! Males of about 8-10 kg hanging almost without movement in the water, patrolling each 2-3 pretty silver females. Fish lazily moved for a couple of meters towards centre of river when I swam over them, and returned to their lies immediately afterwards. No panic, no sharp movements. It looked like the salmon felt like King and owner of the river indeed.

  Next morning, we decided to fish a stretch downstream of the railway bridge, because the camping pool was tightly occupied by others. The water temperature left us no option but to fish rapids. After a couple of hours of inresultative water hitting, I lost my concentration. Punishment was not slow to follow. On one of the next fly presentations, swift as lightening, fly line, stretched with rod in the same line, pulled on downstream towards opposite bank and... leader hadn't survived under the sharp take. In anguish, I took a deep breath, understanding that such opportunities were not coming every minute and missed salmon could easily be the only one I had a chance of catching. You didn't need to be Cassandra to guess that was true.

  We didn't want to fish at noon, basically because it was absolutely hopeless. But on our way back to the camping site, we met a couple fishers from continental Europe who stubbornly continued to "heat" water with their fly lines over the lies at the tail of camping pool, exterminating salmon parrs and smolts with their flies tied on size 14-16 trebles in futile attempts to tempt big salmon half dead of heat. On my question if they weren't demanding too high a price from the river by killing smolts, one of them melancholically shrugged his shoulders and remarked: "We paid. I am on my vacation." "O-o, - I thought, - to be civilised is a very conditional and mobile conception".

Fishing Gaula rapids

  For myself, I decided a long time ago, never to go below a size 8 hook under any conditions, and sooner go for early spring or late autumn harsh fishing than for comfortable summer fishing. One of the reasons is that parrs and smolts attack small flies with high frequency. If a small fly is required, what stops you from tying on size 6 or 8 in Low Water style? On my tubes, I then only feel the hit from attacking parr or smolt, because they can't take the hook in their mouth, while deadly 14-18 doubles and trebles hook them firmly, often with all hooks. Meeting with such a hook is fatal for the parr or smolt in most cases, and the style of "releasing" hooked baby-fish still needs systematic propaganda and improvement among fly fishermen.

  Most fishers accept the hooking of smolt or parr as annoying trouble, and take fish in dry hands with irritation. But that isn't the worst you can do. I have watched so-called fly-fishermen "releasing" hooked parrs with idle back casts! They simply don't care to face the sharply clear fact that fish "released" in this way will die for sure, and will never return to the river as the powerful silver torpedo they are looking for. And what is the point in having all those talks about "Catch and Release", day limits of catch, banned net fishing in sea and shores, millions of Euros for buying quotes of net fishing from local industrial fishers, programmes and efforts to restore salmon and produce parrs in hatcheries, if fly-fishermen themselves kill thousands and thousands of salmon just by use of unjustified small hooks for flies? Hope this isn't a rhetoric question.

  We, fly-fishermen, often show our neglect and scorn towards spin fishers who fish with worms or shrimps for salmon, considering their method of fishing primitive. Some time ago, I started to think that those primitive fishers, at least, are much more environmentally friendly and ethically and morally right, addressing their hooks only to grown up salmon. But... moral questions aren't the main aim of this article, I just want to express my point of view, hoping that it might make some of those who never thought about these questions understand the facts I faced. At the end of the day, everybody has their own criteria of morals.

  August nights were still short, so we decided to change our orientation slightly and try our luck with evening and night fishing for sea trout. Sadly, here we faced disappointment as well. Fish came to throat of pool to "wash" itself in stream waters, jumping all the time, but consistently refusing to take our flies. I was able to hook a single sea trout of very modest size only at our very last night. Goodbye Gaula, the Norwegian legend!

  We had no great urge to spend the rest of our stay in Norway bathing and watching the extermination of salmon youngsters, so we decided to change river. That is the advantage when you travel by car in a region with about five different rivers as an alternative. Our choice fell on river Surna, medium size and running to another fjord than Trondheim's one. This river is quite unique, because the upper part is typical rain type. In dry weather, it can hardly be seen, running like a shallow brook in the gravel of the wider riverbed. Approximately one third of distance along from mouth, Surna becomes a full water stream. 

Magnificant pool on Surna

  Norwegians burrowed a long tunnel in the mountain over the river, where a huge lake is situated, building a power plant that uses falling lake water for this purpose. So this crystal clear and emerald snow melted water makes the lower third part of Surna quite stable in level and water temperature. After checking out a few camping sites and discussing conditions with fishermen we met, we finally settled for a special fishing camping site. Prices were very affordable and, additionally, the camping has its own stretch of about 1.5 km. Unfortunately, here we faced almost the same situation. Usually, Surna has summer water temperatures of about 12-13 degrees Celsius, but this sweltering hot summer water temperature rose to 18 degrees Celsius. Definitely, we had no desire to change river once again, because most of the rivers in this region had dried up by now, or become unfishable brooks. Of course, three days spent on Surna enriched our knowledge and experience in the art of finding fish lies. We used our ingenuity experimenting with all sorts of flies. Certainly, the situation was novel and challenging, but results were discouragingly poor: a couple of undersize sea trout and some uncertain pulls on salmon lies.

  On the last night before our departure, my friend decided to sleep early, because we a drive of about 800 km ahead of us, via mountain roads requiring his full and undivided concentration. As for me, I couldn't sleep, because that "0" on my account simply wouldn't give me a chance to forget my frustration. I decided to fish night and very early morning. There is certain plus in the fact that most fishermen sleep at night and refuse to change their timetable. The last fisherman, hunting for night sea trout, had left the scene at about 24.00, and the river was immersed in a dreamlike mood of drowsiness and peace. I walked about one kilometre downstream through dense raspberry bushes, and came to the throat of the pool I had chosen the evening before. Untouched raspberry showed that at least nobody had fished from this side of the river for the last couple of days.

Surna grilse

  Nights on the Norwegian coast are quite chilly, so an additional fleece and flask of good Scottish single malt made my waiting hours more comfortable. I went downstream a bit from the pool, where the water runs quicker and where I had a notion of tempting, perhaps, some night active sea trout with a silhouette fly. Indeed, in the early hours after midnight, about 2.30 am, I had already hooked and released a couple of small sea trout. I was so concentrated on the calm presentation of fly that I hadn't even noticed how the first touch of dawn came along, Venus hanging over the horizon, huge, like my fist. "Time to go to work", I thought.

  I quietly went back to the salmon pool, took a few drops of lovely Glenlivet, lighted my cigar, and sat listening and waiting for the first sign of life in the pool. Magic dawn flowered more and more, lightening up the silhouettes of the dark expectant mountains around me. Nature was absolutely quiet, preparing for the coming day. I think that only in such moments of life do I really feel nature as sharply as it is possible. Suddenly, a sweet and well-known sound reached my ears - "Blob" - yanking me immediately from nirvana down to more basic instincts: I remembered that I was a hunter. The light was still poor, and I couldn't identify the exact place salmon had risen to the surface. I attached to the leader small fly tied on aluminium LR tube and sent it on its mission in the dark waters of the river. After each presentation, I added half a metre of line, staying at the same place. These are the tactics I use when fishing for sea trout by night in Sweden, allowing me to cover each and every square inch of the river without missing fish lie, while keeping as silent as possible.

  Usually, fishing for salmon or sea trout at night or at dawn, I do two different presentations on the same fish lie: one traditional "across and down", and then "speedy across" with line mending towards my bank. Sometimes it helps to tempt fish, because salmon takes just speeded fly.

Surna grilse

  This is what happened that time, on that still and magical pool between the Norwegian mountains. A fish take at twilight, when you present your fly sharply across, is always absolutely sudden and very powerful. It releases hell of a lot of adrenalin! My 14 foot rod bends like a bow, but just for the few first seconds. My "trophy" is just a small grilse of about one kilo. It doesn't matter! I had escaped flat zero! I continue to fish whole body of pool for about half an hour, but nothing happens. Again, I hear a "Blob", coming from behind and upstream of me. I return to the throat of pool, changing previous fly to one of my lovely favourites, Black & Yellow Pearl. Another half hour fishing, and line is again suddenly pulled by fish. Nice take! It fights for real, but finally I lose it after a few minutes' drilling. I again fish whole pool, but without further success. Short break, a few drops of whiskey, a few puffs of smoke from my Havana "scuba dub", and I continue to cover promising pool again. I change fly for the third time. It was just a feeling that I had to present each new run with a new fly. Now is the turn of my summer favourite Murmanskaja Nr.1. I've seen salmon rising at opposite bank's shallow flat, and immediately cover the lie. Take! Fish jumps and runs for a few minutes before landing and turns out to be 1,8 kilo grilse. Oh, where are you, legendary Norwegian monsters, praised in songs for centuries?

  With the first rays of sun, all activity in pool stopped. I continued to fish lazily another hour, but without results, feeling that the spectacle was over. Pär smiled ironically from tent watching me: "OK, at least we'll have sushi for dinner!"

  The most important lesson I got from this visit was not about flies and their choice or size, but learning to change flies quite often and to fish at "uncomfortable" times if conditions so require. Sleepless hours gave me Surna grilse. Even with overwhelming odds against us, battling outrageous fortune we can still shape our destiny... up to a point.

  Lightly dressed tube flies are very good medicine for summer salmon. At least for me and my friends. Perhaps, you might find a few patterns below useful. These flies have showed very good results for the past three seasons in England, Ireland, Norway, Russia, Scotland and Sweden.

Article continue on page 2


Text and photos by Jurij Shumakov 2006 ©



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