Post by Simon Kitcher.
June has now passed; during this month many thousands of salmon have passed the Agdenes peninsula on the outer South Trøndelag coast in middle Norway before travelling through the Trondheim fjord on their homeward journey to the river Gaula. Hugging the rocky coastline the fish travel in year class schools past the ripening wheat fields of Byneset, the bread basket of middle Norway, before entering the river at Melhus – where the salt of the fjord meets the freshwater of the Gaula.
Spring came early to Gaudal this year, the heat of the May sunshine quickly reduced the Ålen snowfields of the upper Gaula valley and the snowpack of Forollhogna Mountains above the side river valley of the River Bua causing the river to rise from 80 to 500 cubic meters per second for the last two weeks of May. This pulse of cold green snow water filled the river with salmon, and the opening day of June saw the beginning of an amazing period of fly fishing which has continued through into July as I write these words. The salmon have been big this season with three sea winter fish of 8 - 12 kilos the normal catch in the first three weeks of June; the ‘stor lax’ we dream of during the off season, the 13 – 17 kilo salmon are here too, long and deep these returning multiple- spawners and maiden four sea winter fish are in top condition and reflect the quality and quantity of the high-seas feeding grounds over the last years. Joining these fish in increasing numbers in the last week of June are the 4 – 7 kilo two sea winter salmon – the ‘mellom lax’ which begin to run the river after the midsummer bonfires of the valley have been lit.
The valley is full of the sound, colour and scent of the summer; life is everywhere with birdsong dominated by Chiff Chaff’s continuing throughout the 24 hour daylight and swifts screaming in the midnight gloaming. Flowers are everywhere, adding an exquisite perfume and splashes of a hundred shades of purple, yellow, pink and white to the multitude of green shades of the birch, pine and poplar which cover the valley sides and river banks. The flowers attract a multitude of hover flies, bees of all shapes and sizes and butterflies and moths which flutter and float through the riparian meadows where the newly-emerged dragonflies dart and hover on their rainbow wings. The light nights of middle Norway are full of movement as life rushes to produce the next generation before the shortening days and first frosts of September bring an end to the carnival of summer. Through this scene runs the river, the Gaula or ‘golden’ river – so named for the golden tinge the river water takes from the ferrous nature of the watershed geology once the ice and snow water has been exhausted and the river is fed from the lakes and becks on the highlands surrounding the valley.
Our approach in the first weeks of June is to go down to the fish; we use thin but very strong Sawada ‘flat-beam’ running lines with fast sinking shooting heads in conjunction with short heavy fluorocarbon leaders and large, often 10 cm, templedog and monkey tube flies. Hooks are large and strong; Sawada trebles and Partridge Nordic doubles – no room for error here as the fish can potentially be well over 20 kilo in these early season weeks. Casting must be long and at a shallow angle in order to present the fly at the correct angle – it is tiring work casting 35 meters plus all day and often through the night. The take is often gentle; initially just a resistance and then the line stops moving – is it a fish or the bottom. The line begins to run out slowly from the spool, we feel the weight of the fish, the life at the end of the line – it is a fish!! The rod is raised, firmly and for several seconds as the June fish often do not turn as the warmer water fish will in July, meaning we must set the hook ourselves as the fish inhales the fly and drops back downstream.
Other takes are savage, brutal even – it is obviously an attack, a memory of the feeding strategy the salmon have used for so many years in the sea. The rod is hooped over and flattened with the power and weight of these large salmon; no need to set the hook when the fly is taken this way – our challenge is to raise the rod against the size of the fish and the power of the river it is travelling in. The first run is amazing – nonstop for 70 meters and then an 11 kilo fish jumps high and downstream before quartering back for another series of jumps; all this in five seconds – only in Norway.
As June comes to a close the water begins to warm up, gradually creeping over the magical 48 degrees Celsius figure which marks the beginning of the end for the fast sink line approach. Now we use lines fished near the surface; floating, intermediate, intermediate tip, float-hover-intermediate, slo-mo to intermediate and the infamous Skagit system – all have their uses, all have their time and they all work when we can find the fish. Flies are a little more problematic, a little less predictable in the effectiveness of a given size or colour – the range in effective sizes becomes much larger; 12 kilo fish are caught at midnight on 4 mm micro-tubes fished on a floating line, 16 kilo fish are caught in the middle of the day in bright sunshine with 7 cm monkey flies fished on a Skagit loaded with a 10 foot T10 tip – there is no pattern in the pattern. What we must aspire to as salmon fisherman is to offer the fly at the right part of the pool and at the right speed for the size of the fly we have chosen – that is where the pattern is hidden, where the knowledge is tested. Think like a fish to catch a fish, this is what is required. Now the river has fallen to a good summer level with 58 degrees Celsius – time for the really small flies and for the surface fishing with the riffle tubes and hitched doubles using small switch rods and single-handed class 7 or 8 weight rods. Every part of the season has its own unique set of challenges and idiosyncrasies – this is a part of the life of a salmon fisherman. The fish are beginning to get settled in their pools, still a lot of new fish running the river each day but each pool is now building its own spawning stock – these fish are the real challenge as they have seen a lot of flies and chosen to ignore them all.
With July ahead of us we will relish these new challenges in our green-sided and flower-strewn valley. The river of gold flowing effortlessly through the white and rusty-red cobble and shingle banks past us; we are serenaded by the music of the wind in the trees and the birdsong and riversong of the Gaula.
Simon Kitcher began fly fishing for salmon in 1982 at the age of 17 in the Western Isles of Scotland on the Grimersta Fishery. Since 1992 he has been a guide every summer except one at Gaula and Stjordal rivers in Norway; watching, listening, learning, catching fish, refining and experimenting.