Easter crime novel: A salmon fisherman’s nightmare!
I had been fighting this salmon for a long time, almost 30 minutes had passed, the rod was so heavily bent and the pressure was so forceful that my arms and shoulders ached. But the salmon became weaker, and it was almost time to land this big salmon. I still hadn’t seen the fish, but it started swimming more sideways now, so that I should soon get to see it. I was about to pull it towards the bank so that I could wade out and drag it up onto the bank, as I waded out into the river to end the fight the alarm clock rang and the dream abruptly disappeared. I was soaking in sweat in my bed, oh no, not again! This dream (nightmare) reoccurred every year in May when the fishing need was at its strongest. The reason as to why this nightmare kept on reoccurring in May every year you can read about in this year’s Easter crime.
A few years earlier I was on my way to my favourite store to get some fly tying gear. I still remember the harsh words from the old salmon fisherman who was always at the Nor Sport store when I arrived every Saturday.
- Hey boy, are you fishing for salmon or for trout?
- Mostly salmon, I said.
- You’re too small to fish for salmon, the big salmon are too dangerous for you, you could fall in the river or break your fishing rod, the big salmon are so strong that you will lose them because the leader won’t be strong enough either. Nope kid, you’ll just have to fish for trout until you get big enough for the salmon..
This was a well-known “big salmon fisherman” in the Trondheim area, he had landed more large salmon than most people, so he knew what he was talking about. I was shaking when I left the shop, could this be true, are the biggest salmon so strong that they might break my rod?
I was a very young fly fisherman at that time, my biggest salmon thus far weighed 3,5 kilos, and it had been so strong that it was almost impossible to land, and therefore the words of the old salmon fisherman weighed heavily for a “green” fly fisherman. When I got home I went to my room to tie flies, and my mum asked me what I was doing. “Tie some trout flies”, I replied. However, I did not tie any flies at all that evening; instead I went to bed and read an old fishing equipment catalogue instead.
That meeting with the old salmon fisherman influenced my whole childhood. It resulted in many thoughts, and this was also the underlying cause of my reoccurring nightmare. As the years went by, it became quite frustrating to never finding out how big that salmon in my nightmare was, as the alarm clock rang every time I was about to land the fish. After a few years, this nightmare disappeared, but new ones took its place, stay tuned!
The impressions were plentiful in the starting phase as a fly fisherman, I spoke to different salmon fishers and they all told me that the biggest salmon, well that would be the one I would lose. Every time I heard a story at the fire along the river bank of the biggest salmon, the fisherman had of course lost it because it had been so big and strong.
As the years went by I caught bigger salmon, for a while my personal best was 8 kilos. But suddenly one summer I landed a new PB, this was a salmon weighing 12,5 kilos caught on a single hand fly rod. A very happy fisherman sat by the river, admiring the catch, but after a while a voice appeared in my head. It was the old salmon fisherman who again warned me of the biggest and strongest salmon. The fight with the 12,5 kilos salmon had been a nightmare in its own right, it was so heavy and strong that I never thought I would be able to land it, but when I finally did, I wondered how strong the biggest salmon really would be! What was it that the old salmon fisherman really meant, how big must they be before the rod breaks? Another few seasons would pass before I found out.
A couple of seasons later I had yet again set a new PB, this time with a 13,5 kilos salmon caught on a single hander. But although it was bloody heavy and dramatic, both leader and rod were strong enough, and I did not fall into the river either. I wonder if the old salmon fisherman had experienced himself all the stuff he was telling me about.
One beautiful summer’s evening by the “secret spot” I snuck down to the river, I had been waiting a long time for this; the water level was perfect for this spot, and I was convinced that there would be a salmon holding in the big salmon spot behind the boulder. In this pool, the hot spot is quite close to the bank, which means that when the salmon strikes, I’ll only have 14-16 metres of line out. Thus, with the shooting head and the leader stretched out on the water there is not much of the running line outside the rod tip. This is also a nightmare of a place in which to fight a salmon, due to the numerous big rocks and boulders scattered around here. I prefer to pull the salmon out of this pool, to fight it further downstream on the beat.
I pulled the right amount of line off the reel, and prepared to put the fly precisely where I knew the fish would be. This time around I managed to remain calm, the fly landed perfectly where it was supposed to land, and an upstream mend resulted in the fly swinging perfectly towards the lie. Just as the fly reached the expected lie, the thing that would make me completely lose my cool and make everything into a panicky blur occurred. In less than a second I actually stood there without the rod in my hands, the salmon struck so extremely hard that it ripped the rod right out of my hands. Thus, the rod and reel went into the river, the feeling I had there when I suddenly was without a rod is hard to explain. How could this happen, what do I do now, this was a nightmare I did not expect to experience, and the old salmon fisherman had not told me of this. I had to find my rod; I leant forward and spotted the shiny fly reel at the river bottom. The reel had snagged onto something, stopping the rod from drifting further downstream, I could see the handle of the reel turning, so it was obvious that the salmon was still attached to the fly and making a long run. My goodness what a mess, I had to simply jump into the river, reach out my hand and lift up the rod. After a while I managed to get hold of the rod and lifted it out of the water.
The line was still tight, the salmon was still hooked, but as I applied some pressure I saw a massive salmon flank turn in the water at the tail of the pool, and the line went slack. Man, what a sick experience, what a nightmare! How big was this salmon? Not easily estimated of course, but all experiences from previous catches told me that this was a salmon weighing somewhere between 15-17 kilos. Although the old salmon fisherman had not mentioned the possibility of dropping the rod into the river when the salmon struck, I still began to comprehend the strength of the biggest salmon. This fight brought with it many feelings, and I noticed that when I was telling my fishing mates about it, it was a very strange experience; now I was suddenly the one who had to tell tales of the big salmon that was so strong and angry that I had no chance of landing it.
It is strange how, with time, despair can be turned into optimism; it did not take long before the disappointment from losing this salmon was gone, and I was hungry for new fights with THE big salmon. But I also want to add that the respect for the sheer power and unpredictable attacks of the big salmon now was even stronger.
Now I will tell you of a 3 day long nightmare that happened in the summer of 2001. My fishing buddies Ole Bjørn and Bjørn Tore had experienced nightmares on their own at the end of a single hander during these days. They had both lost a large salmon from the same pool, this happened 2 days in a row. It was obvious that a few really big salmon had arrived at this pool. Both had been completely helpless against these fish, it was not easy to understand how dramatic this had been. One salmon jumped right into the rock cliff dropping into the pool, thus my friend lost that one, and the other salmon had jumped clear of the water upstream of my friend, while the fly line was pointing downstream, resulting in the leader braking with a loud crack. This was the reasons as to why they had eventually lost their fish, but before it got to that there had been a drama like no other. And it is not easy even for a writer from Trøndelag to explain everything that had happened. I must add that this occurred in a very small pool, and it seems that the biggest salmon knows that if they just go at it with short and powerful runs, interrupted only by wild jumps in the surface; they will be victorious in the end. After this, the stories by the evening fire reminded me of what many salmon fishers, including the old salmon fisherman had told me – “You’ll lose them big fish, son!” The mood among the guys was almost magical throughout that summer’s night.
The following day it was my turn to once more experience the wrath of the big salmon. With trembling hands due to the stories of my fishing buddies I started fishing. Bjørn Tore sat in the “salmon hut” and watched me fishing, and just as I felt the salmon grab the fly I heard Bjørn Tore say “Oh my God”. He had seen the salmon rise to the fly, he was sitting a bit higher up above the river than I was, so he had VIP seats for the whole show.
“This one is big, really big!” he said. The rod was now under so much pressure that I felt I had nothing more to push this salmon with, it had moved into deeper water and had just moved a few metres. There in the depth of the pool it was now holding like a rock, it was less than 20 metres from where I was standing, so the pressure on the rod was of a kind that makes the rod blank “sing”. I had heard this sound a few times before, and this had become a signal of big fish, and also a warning to perhaps decrease the tension somewhat. However, that is easier said than done, you kind of get a pressure in the rod that is difficult to change without creating uneven, sudden movements from the reel, and such movements are bad news for the leader. I tried to wade onto the bank while slowly releasing some line without these sudden movements occurring, and managed to do so. The salmon reacted a bit to this, because I managed to apply a good sideways pressure, and it suddenly came right towards me, all I could do was to reel in as fast as I could. It came so close to the bank that I was frightened, it swam almost right below the rod now, and it was almost so that my leader would be inside the top ring. What is this, what will I experience now? The thoughts of the salmon that ripped the rod out of my hand emerged, and I prepared for the worst!
I could see the fish as it turned right in front of me, and it was terrifyingly big, I now know that this fish would have weighed somewhere between 17-20 kilos. Imagine the experience when the salmon began its run around 4 metres from the rod tip, you think that created an unforgettable pressure on the fly rod or what? At this stage the salmon was not tired at all, it had been in the pool for a while, and had just been hooked for a few short minutes. This was a run I will never forget, it was so calm and determined, directed downstream the whole time. The run lasted several minutes after the running line disappeared through the rod guides, what awesome power! I tried to hold back as much as I possibly could to try and stop it from leaving the pool and enter the rapids 200 metres below me. The pressure on the rod increased more and more; now the rod tip was submerged under water. In that same moment I noticed a burning smell, I was worried that it was the fly reel that gave in and tried to cool it down by moistening it, but it did not help; the smell just got stronger and stronger. Now Bjørn Tore came down to help me lift the rod back into position, and together we lifted the rod as controlled as we could. But then the line went slack; the salmon had once more left the fight victorious.
The old salmon fisherman knew what he was talking about! It was just no way. I was a grown-up salmon fisher now, but still I did not have a chance. These salmon are just too strong, I very much wanted to find out what had happened, did the hook slip, or was the leader too weak? And sure enough, the old salmon fisherman was right again, the leader was broken off. After having some coffee, and trying to calm my nerves, I noticed that bl**dy burnt smell again. What the hell had happened? After a closer look I realised that the fly reel had burnt a hole in my wading jacket, this must have been happening when the rod was pointing straight ahead and the rod tip was submerged under water. What drama, what an experience! That evening I barely managed to sit by the fire and tell new fishing stories, as this started to get to me.
The term “jinx” is an old superstition, and I felt that I had felt the consequences of this a bit. I was now so spell-bound and impressed by the raw power and cunning of these fish nearing 20 kilos that I was completely consumed by this. I thought about big salmon in everything I did. This changed a lot of the my fishing strategies, and this would be important in terms of my development as a salmon fisherman in the years to come. I learnt the periods of the season where the chances of catching a big salmon were at their best, studied water levels and water temperatures, and kept an eye on the salmon run patterns. After a while, a pattern emerged in terms of where and when I just had to be on the river. I also realised that it was a point to get in touch with the biggest salmon in the pool as often as possible in order to learn more about these leviathans, and not least to learn how to adapt the equipment in such a way that it would last for the whole fight. I knew that I was slowly getting closer, and I hoped that within 1 to 2 more of these big salmon encounters I would succeed.
I was back at the “secret spot” this evening. I had landed several salmon between 8 and 13 kilos here since I lost the rod in the river when the really big one had surprised me. This meant that I, with all the later salmon, had been holding on to the rod very hard when the strike occurred. I planned to do the same this evening as well.
The fight and the development of this, which I am about to tell you about now, I do not think I would have been able to plan, unless I had listened to the words of the old salmon fisherman one last time I guess. When the salmon struck at the same spot as last time, the rod was glued to my hand. I instantly felt that I had experienced this before; the pressure on the rod with a short length of line out was not to be mistaken, once more I was fighting the biggest salmon in the pool. Initially I was very happy, having succeeded in fooling this salmon to take the fly, this would give me the opportunity to learn even more about what it takes to tire out this natural wonder. But then I realised where I was fishing, and in this pool it is neigh on impossible to land a salmon exceeding 15 kilos. Just that was also experienced by several fishing buddies. To be clear; I did not stand a chance. For the first 15-20 minutes I fought the salmon with no more than 15-20 metres of line outside the top ring, the salmon was undoubtedly in the 20 kilo class, and all this the slender 8 weight rod be responsible for. The salmon wanted to go upriver, this is always a good opportunity to tire it out by applying some extra pressure, but one should not “lock” the reel, this rarely ends well. But applying an even pressure will tire it out, as it at the same time will use its strength swimming against the current. The run above the “secret spot” is not inviting when it comes to fighting big salmon, it is shallow with lots of rocks and boulders sticking out of the water. Thus, it is impossible to control the line in any meaningful way. This is why I decided to pull as hard as I managed, it would end badly regardless should the salmon continue upriver.
I actually managed to turn it! Then I wondered whether this salmon had arrived in the pool recently, so that it was already somewhat tired when it grabbed my fly. I would soon get an answer to this question as I now planned to pull it out of the pool in order to land it further downstream. Thus, I walked further downstream as the salmon entered the pool once more, this was a deep and nice spot where I could fight it better. I now had made sure to create a greater distance between us, this creates the sense of better control as one does not get the hard pulling movements one gets when fighting a salmon on a short line. I engaged the “Haltdalen grip” as I was about to try and pull it out of the pool, it was a matter of all or nothing, and I would now get an answer to whether it had recently arrived in the pool or if it had been in the pool for a while. And indeed, I most definitively got an answer, as I applied maximum pressure the salmon answered by showing itself in the surface. Man what a massive fish, the length from the tail to where the leader disappeared into the water was so impressive that I responded with a hysterical laughter. I did not seriously believe that I could land this massive fish in this rock pile, equipped only with a single hand rod, and then the salmon began another upstream run, even more powerful than the previous one. I just had to stop it, I thought that after 25 minutes of fighting it would have been tired enough for me to turn it again, but alas; at this moment there was no more power left in the rod, and I had bent backwards as much as I could.
It ended as it had to, and the old salmon fisherman was completely right in the end, when he said “the big ones are so strong that they’ll break your rod, and you can fall right into the river”. And that was just what happened. The rod broke, the line broke off, and I had nothing to balance me where I was standing, heavily bent backwards, and so I fell on my back right into the river. What a nightmare, would this never end? Jinxing, the old salmon fisherman, big strong salmon being lost, no this was it! I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Everything was in the river, the rod, the line, the salmon of course, and not least me, I was soaking!
It was bad when I lost my rod in the river following the brutal attack of the big salmon on a short line, but I did not know what was worse; no rod, or a fly rod the length of a ice fishing pole. That evening I avoided the evening fire, I did not have it in me to tell anyone about this yet.
Bjørn Tore called me the following day.
- Hi, have you been fighting the big one again?
- Yes, I replied.
- Didn’t go to well I understand?
- How did you know that?
- I found a broken single handed fly rod in the river 500 metres downstream of the “secret spot”.
- Yeah, it didn’t end all that well, I replied.
- I’m by the river now, should we make a fire?
- Ok, I’m ready to tell that story now.
Many years have passed since the old salmon fisherman made an impression on a young fly fisherman. Many exciting things have happened at the end of the fly rod during the years passing when an inexperienced fly fisherman slowly grew bigger, and became more experienced. The rod and the flies got bigger, so did the salmon landed. That meeting with the “famous” old salmon fisherman at Nor Sport many years ago made a grim impact on many years of my life as a fisherman. This has been the nightmare of my life, how many times I have heard the words of the old salmon fisherman in my head as I have waded into position at a favourite spot, I do not know. But one thing I do know; I am forever grateful to this experienced salmon fisherman.
He helped me in many ways, I developed an enthusiasm towards my salmon fishing that made me never give up, I developed a kind of feeling for the salmon that gave me many fantastic moments throughout my entire youth. This also gave me a nice balance in my life, as I learned to love the outdoors, and perhaps most importantly; I learnt to respect the enormous power of the big salmon.
I wanted to succeed, I was strong enough now, but not wise enough. I realised that many things had to be right in order to land a 20 kilo salmon, the equipment must be up to the challenge, and of course there are some conditions that are better than others in the river when trying to tire the strongest salmon in the pool.
This Easter crime novel describes only a few of my fights with the big salmon, and these were indeed the largest salmon I have ever fought, and lost – and they are the ones I remember the most. Although I am not that old, I have lived a long life by the salmon river, and my triumph in the shape of a new personal best was landed in my 30th season as a salmon fly fisherman. This was like a dream come through, and therefore that story does not fit into an Easter crime about a salmon fisherman’s nightmare. Thus, I will write about that fight with a big salmon another time.
These stories were nightmares to experience, but a joy to write.
Hilsen Jan Erik.
There are no pictures accompanying this article; the reason for this is that all these fights with big salmon happened in very dramatic circumstances, so that the camera was never out of my pocket. I never even had the time to think about taking pictures. But I will tell you: these stories are 100% true.