"Ole Kristian and the school salmon".
“Don’t forget that I want to participate on the Haltdalen fishing school next year”, Ole Kristian from Sarpsborg told me over the phone. It was still a good part remaining of the 2007 season, so I thought to myself that it was indeed very early to sign up to the course for next year already. But after a while I realised that this guy meant business, as we talked a lot over the phone about fishing strategies and fly choices throughout autumn.
Ole Kristian is a very keen salmon fisher; I actually don’t think I have ever met anyone more keen than him. I had been to Sarpsborg several times before with fly tying classes, casting lessons and slideshow seminars, and Ole Kristian had been to all these events. He had also fished in Haltdalen a few times before, and was already very enthusiastic about this part of the river. But he had a dream of learning more about single hand fly rod fishing for the really large salmon. Late one Friday night during winter I spoke to him on the phone, we discussed river conditions and fly choices – he wanted to be well prepared for the course, so he tied flies throughout the winter for any water temperatures and water levels imaginable. I told him that normally, the period in which we would fish is an exciting one, and Ole Kristian asked about the possibilities for getting in contact with the big salmon. This is when I might have become a bit too enthusiastic, as I suddenly heard myself say that I could guarantee he would get to experience this. After we hung up I very much regretted saying that, how could I say something like that!!? It was impossible for me to know anything about that this many months prior to the start of the school – I had no idea what the season and conditions would be like. This was indeed a promise it would be tricky to deliver on, imagine being so stupid and create such expectations for a course participant. I thought a lot about this throughout the winter, and found comfort in the fact that Ole Kristian is a very skilled caster and a keen fisherman, so should the conditions be good, the possibility for us to succeed would be there.
Winter passed, spring arrived, and finally it was the opening of the season. The fishing start was good on the Gaula, I arranged several courses in June and July prior to the Haltdalen course, and most of these resulted in landed fish. I fished a bit myself too; my son and I had several great experiences at the end of the fly rod, with many big salmon. The river conditions were mostly good throughout July, with a good water level and many large salmon entering the river. The last week before the Haltdalen fishing school I had a weeks fishing holiday together with Steffen, this week would be spent enjoying our time by the river and also to prepare for the start of the course. During this week we experienced everything: the summer weather was definitively here, heating up the river to a nice temperature. Thus, it was swimming during the day and fishing at night. But I should admit that I had a project going where I wanted to find out if the salmon would take a fly even when it was swimming activity in the pools. My son was lying in the water in the middle of the pool, whereas I fished a 6 weight rod with a 4 weight fly line at the current in the inflow at the top of the pool, I will write about this later. Our week turned out to be fantastic; with swimming in the Gaula, grayling fishing at Røros, and many salmon fights in our favourite Gaula runs. We also had plenty of time for air rifle shooting, as the daily bag limit sometimes was secured long before the sun set over the beautiful Gaula valley. The fishing was really so good that I had a great feeling in terms of the fishing school. The river dropped a lot during these days, but that did not worry me as the river does not get too small when using a single hander. This period of nice weather had not lasted for very long, so the salmon still eagerly took a fly even at water levels as low as we got towards the end of the week. It can be more difficult if we do not have rain for weeks, then the salmon are a bit more difficult to get in touch with, although it is never impossible according to my theories.
The course would commence on Sunday, but already on Saturday afternoon most of the participants arrived. It was almost a party mood as excited salmon fishers got out of their cars, all stiff and sore following their long journeys. All of them had read my fishing diary for the weeks leading up to the course, which added to the expectations for the coming few days. It was especially one guy with a look in his eyes screaming of expectations of large salmon, and then I suddenly remembered this bloody agreement I had promised to Ole Kristian last winter. Ok, now things were serious, I had to deliver on my promise – this could never end well!
I knew that most of the participants would arrive early, so I had just managed to organise a surprise for them; an evening’s free fishing on the course beats before the course started. Never have I seen bodies this stiff and sore become so supple in such a short time, you should have seen the level of activity this resulted in at the camp grounds, with rods and fly boxes almost floating around in and outside cars and cabins. It did not take long before we were by the river. We also had a bit of rain earlier in the day, not much but just enough to make the river that much “fresher”. The forecast also predicted we would have a few showers throughout the week – perfect. Steffen was here as a guide for this course, he has practically grown up in these pools, and let me tell you this: this boy knows where the large salmon lies. Steffen joined Sven Arild as guide on a great pool, Steffen and I would have close contact via telephone while I guided Audun and Ole Kristian in a pool further downstream. It did not take long before I had Steffen on the phone, he could report that Sven Arild already had hooked a salmon and the fight was happening right there and then, it was possibly a mid-sized salmon. I was going up to them to take pictures, but I was not finished helping the guys in this pool yet. Another 10 minutes passed, and then Steffen called me again. I could barely understand what he was saying, but the babbling revolved around a potential personal best, the large salmon broke the rod, and Sven Arild had jumped into the river to get the salmon. I decided that I’d better go up to them to figure out if this was possible. As I arrived they had weighed the salmon, it weighed 10,5 kilos and this was a personal best for Sven Arild, and he caught it on a single handed fly rod. I witnessed a guide and a salmon fisher who had become very good friends following this experience, and it is not a secret to say that the fisherman was very impressed with the 10 year old fishing guide who had told him exactly where to start fishing and where to put the fly, Steffen had also picked the fly for this occasion.
Two good mates after an exciting salmon fight.
This was a flying start to the course, and there would be more fights with large salmon, many more. It actually became difficult to keep track of everything that happened, reports came in of lost salmon, landed salmon, broken hooks, broken tippets – so all in all these became some very good days along the banks of the Gaula.
But then it was this agreement with Ole Kristian, the course was nearing its end and he had been in touch with a couple of salmon which he also fought for a while, but this salmon fisherman was not a lucky man, being hit by one accident after the other. The boys had fished really hard, some were resting due to stiff shoulders, whereas others rested as they had already caught their daily bag limit. Ole Kristian was to fish for a few hours in the morning alone in an exciting “big salmon pool”. He had asked me several times during the course if I perhaps could fish a couple of rounds so that he could watch what I was doing and as such learn more. This question appears every now and then during my courses, and this increases the excitement during fishing down a stretch considerably, you sort of fish with an audience behind you. However, it is not always easy to deliver with a bent rod as a result in these situations, as the pools often have been fished hard during the day so that the odds are against you.
We had a bit of rain the previous day, so that the river rose and became perfect for the remainder of the course. As I got down to the pool where Ole Kristian was fishing he told me that he had fished it 4 times, but to no avail. As he was alone in the pool, we agreed that I should fish it once so that he could study my fishing strategy for this pool at this water level. After hearing what he had used, I rigged the single hander with a floating/sink 5 line and my own Granbokhorva tube fly which was perfect for the water colour at the time. I was definitively a bit nervous before this round down the pool, favourable conditions and the audience behind me meant that the excitement was peaking as I felt the current against my waders placed the first cast out into the river. How do you think I felt when a large salmon grabbed the fly already on the fourth cast, well let me tell you: I do not remember! But I quickly noticed that this was a large and strong salmon, because the single hander was already bent all the way down to the cork. I played this salmon very hard for several reasons, “man you’re playing that fish mighty hard!” I heard from behind me, Ole Kristian was taking pictures and felt that my rod was bending a bit too much. Man, what a fight this was, it could not get any better… I thought! After around 10-15 minutes a salmon of around 8 kilos was landed by a proud and relieved fisherman – everything was right this time, and even with an audience!
We had calmed down a bit after catching the salmon, and it was now Ole Kristian’s turn, it was now or never, I had to deliver on my promise (can I never learn…). Ole Kristian changed to a floating/sink 5 fly line as well, he had initially used a floating/sink 1 which is not the right fly line to use in these conditions. The river was cold, and a bit of debris in the river from the rainfall was also floating downstream, and then it is important to get the fly down past all of this as visibility is better further down in the current. He too had a Granbokhorva ready in his fly box so everything was set. I guided him as we moved down the pool, I waded before him with the camera at the ready, and the excitement was electrical. I don’t know if Ole Kristian felt any kind of pressure, but he kept calm – I could see that from his beautiful casts touching the water perfectly every time. We talked about various aerial mends, and I told him to try an upstream mend as he got closer to a hot spot in the run. The plan was to make the fly hang in front of the salmon for a while before he would give speed to the fly by utilising a downstream mend. However, we never got that far before the salmon struck, the take was among the best I have ever seen. From my angle from the bank I could only see the shooting head being abruptly pulled under the surface in one long and strong motion, and then a stripe of water was lifted airborne as Ole Kristian lifted the rod and hooked the fish – what a sight! He used a powerful 10 feet 8 weight single handed fly rod, I became somewhat worried as I could see the entire rod forming a round curve, even when the salmon made its hard and fast runs the rod looked like a wheel out from Ole Kristian’s body, which meant that he was playing it as hard as he could. The fight initially occurred with a nice and tidy amount of line out, but then the salmon started some insane short and heavy runs, increasing the amount of line out each time. After around 40-50 metres of these runs, the salmon did one of the longest runs I have seen in a long while. Ole Kristian did not manage to stop the salmon, and the fish just pulled line out as it wished in a run that was probably nearing 100 metres. I could see that this was a salmon weighing way more than 10 kilos, exactly how much is hard to say, but no doubt this would be a personal best for Ole Kristian!
Sven Arild caught a salmon of 8 kilos from this pool, his salmon actually made one single run for around 150 metres, and was all the way down to the end of the pool. Sven Arild played this fish as hard as he could, and did actually manage to turn the fish so that it swam back upstreams. The challenge then was that the salmon swam on the other side of the river in this pool that is very wide down there, but Sven Arild managed to land his fish even with all the challenges this presented. Ole Kristian’s fight develop in a similar fashion to that of Sven Arild’s fight, except for Ole Kristian’s salmon turned in the current earlier and swam to the other side of the river. I had a good feeling about this and was quite positive to us being able to land this fish, as this looked better than Sven Arild’s fight. But the other difference between these fights was that this salmon was much larger, which proved to be the deciding difference too, as after a hard fight with a lot of line out in the middle of the pool, Ole Kristian’s salmon managed to get the line stuck in a submerged tree. This normally does not end well, we tried everything we could but we did not stabnd a chance of getting the line free from that tree. This was so dramatic that in the end, Ole Kristian ended up losing both the salmon and his shooting head. The luck had not yet changed for the salmon fisherman from Sarpsborg, who did not know what to believe when he stood there with his rod in his hand without both the salmon and the fly line. It was an empty feeling to reel the running line onto the reel and then walk with heavy steps to a comforting cup of coffee in the salmon hut.
Both salmon and fly line remained in the river.
I did not know whether to laugh or cry, in a way this fight had lasted for more than a year in relation to the phone conversation we had last winter, where I in somewhat of a too brave moment had made mad promises! I have never experienced such a long fight, and such emptiness after losing a salmon – I did not really know what to say, and I assume some well hidden tears lied behind the laughter that eventually surfaced throughout the evening. Ole Kristian told me this autumn that he thinks about this every single day, and he has already booked himself on next year’s school. But should he call again one late Friday night this winter to make some special deals, I will not make any promises… I hope!
I would like to thank Ole Kristian, Sven Arild, the other participants, and extreme guide Steffen (a new nickname given to him by the participants), for giving me the pleasure of being able to write such an exciting and totally true fishing story from the banks of the Gaula.
Thank you for a memorable course.