This fishing story happened in the 2006 season, fishing in June had been very good, so everything looked promising for the rest of the season. It was the first week of July and I had “moved” to the upper Gaula, in the area of Haltdalen. I had a few days of fishing planned for this trip and had been looking forward to these days for a long time. It is so relaxing to know that you have plenty of time and you can just enjoy life at the riverbank with a fly rod and your fly box in hand. During these longer lasting fishing trips, I also look forward to learn more about salmon fishing by observing the salmon behaviour, and of course from catching salmon on the fly.
I knew this particular week up here could offer good chances for catching large salmon, already last week I had a taste of what could be in store for me. That week I caught an incredibly beautiful salmon of 14,5 kilo. This happened in an exciting run a bit further up, I caught this salmon using a single-handed rod and gave me a memorable evening at the end of the fly rod. This salmon was an angry one, the pressure on the rod was stronger than I thought possible. I was a very happy fisherman when I could finally land this fish, and I was even happier when I realised that this fish was a new personal best for me on the single-hander.
This happened exactly a week ago, but now the water level had dropped quite a bit since then. Because of that I moved to a different spot which I prefer when the river is lower, at this part of the beat there are a few rocks on the river bottom creating various currents. The current created by these rocks goes on for about 10 meters, and at this water level it is a very good resting spot for large salmon. The first night I made sure to take my time, I like to spend a bit of time along the river before starting fishing. I make a fire, boil some water for coffee, and just sit there looking out onto the river, just enjoying my time by the river. Nothing an beat this calm and good feeling you get when sitting by the fire, enjoying a fresh coffee and just looking forward to grabbing the fly rod and start fishing.
I had been sitting there for a while, when suddenly a salmon enters the pool further down, and shortly after I see several more salmon. There is a nice mix of large and medium-sized salmon entering the pool. I have seen this several times before, and the big question now is whether they will just rush through “my” pool or stop to rest. I knew that in a few minutes I would find out, I looked upstream to see if they would show at the top of the pool, which would mean that most of the salmon would keep moving. Now is the time to be patient, with trembling hands I poured a cup of coffee, not everything went into the cup as I did not dare move my focus from the top of the pool. Two minutes pass, ten minutes, everything is quiet – the salmon stopped. Holy s***, this is it! I am not sure how many salmon entered the pool, but I am sure it would have been 10-15 salmon. From experience, I know where salmon will hold at this river level, but nonetheless it is important to do everything right, as you never know when the salmon will continue its upstream journey. The river was not low enough for this beat to act as an obstacle for salmon runs, thus the salmon might continue running upriver at any time.
I had rigged three different fly rods, with the following fly lines: one floater, one with a floating/sink 1, and one with a floating/sink 3. This night, I chose the floating/sink 1 rod, as I knew the run I was fishing first was best fished using this line. This early in July it is usually not very dark during the evening, but this particular night was cloudy and now it was 1 am, so I chose to fish an 8 cm Red Butt tube fly. Everything was ready, I had made a new leader while drinking my coffee, and all knots and details had been thoroughly checked.
Full of the “salmon shivers” I slowly walked towards the hot spot I had chosen based on the situation. Although I have experienced this many times before, the feeling I have when I pull line off the reel and start fishing is indescribable. My head spins, my legs wobble, and I enjoy these moments to the fullest, as this is the most exciting thing I know of. I had decided to “go straight at the target”, i.e. not present the fly upstream of the salmon too many times before it actually gets to the hot spot, I knew exactly where the salmon was holding! This often works really well, the challenge here s to actually do it, and precision is very important, in terms of casting length and in a way so that the cast is perfect, making the fly swim correctly just where the salmon is holding.
This time everything was right; the first cast resulted in a slow pull of the line, and the salmon hooked itself. My goodness what a mess this would be, I knew that this salmon had swam through a long and powerful set of rapids just 10-15 minutes ago, so I was very surprised when I felt its strength, and I quickly felt that this was a big salmon. Initially it just held still at the spot where it took the fly, just shaking its head, the weight of the salmon and the pressure on the rod meant that I really hoped this fish would not enter the rapids 50 meters below. I was still standing out in the river, and I did not like this situation as I was positioned quite close to the salmon, as this spot is only 15-17 meters out from the bank. Therefore, I started moving towards the bank in order to enable some side-strain on the fish. This was obviously a mistake, now the salmon did move, making a powerful run that I could do nothing about, towards the rapids with such a force I only had negative thoughts in my head. I had to try and make it turn around, but after a few minutes and a two-stage run of around 80 meters I could se my running line disappear over the edge of the rapids. I also saw the large salmon roll on the surface in the chaos of currents way downstream, before it excused itself and disappeared.
Sh**!!!! What an experience! I did not stand a chance against this salmon, I realised that as soon as I hooked it. In that respect it was ok to drop it, sometimes you are not your own boss in the salmon river. This is perhaps one of the reasons you never tire of salmon fishing. After this, I sat at the fire for a long time while going through the experience in my mind, I did not fish any more that night. It was a very tired salmon fisherman walking home from the river early that morning, longing for a few hours in the sleeping bag. The plan for the following night was already made; I would go there again!
I got up late the following day, covered in sweat, I don’t know if it due was the warm weather or the nightmare of last night’s lost giant. However, after a shower and a good breakfast I could continue the planning for the following night of fishing. This was one of those days when it was good to be a fisherman, the camp site was full of life, you could hear salmon fishers talk about fishing and river conditions all around. Many people tested fishing rods and lines on the lawn. It was just great to sit outside the campervan with a cup of coffee, just watching the mood that can only be found at a salmon fishing camp. Many people popped by to hear about last night’s fishing, and I had to admit that I lost the really big one…! Oh well, they had heard that story from many fishermen before, so it did not take long before they told me about their results throughout the night. It was obviously a good time to be on the upper Gaula, as many people had succeeded and caught great fish. I took the time to dig out my fly tying gear; it would be good to have a couple of spare Red Butts in my fly box. The rest of the afternoon was spent planning the fishing to come, dinner was prepared and consumed, and a nigh time meal coupled with some biscuits for the coffee was put in the bag with the new tubes. The floating/sink 1 rod was ready, I just had to change the leader and everything should be ready.
The river conditions were great, god water levels during this period meant that most fishermen fished many different beats, they packed the equipment in their cars and got ready for the evening and night fishing. I noticed that no one drove in the direction of my dream spot; this was god news for my plans for the evening. The weather had remained stable this day, a little bit of sunshine during the morning had not affected the river level much, and just like last afternoon the clouds came in towards the evening – perfect! I was at the spot even earlier this evening, I wanted to spend even more time observing as I had a hope that the large salmon from yesterday remained in the pool.
But something was wrong with me this evening; I had the “salmon shivers” already when making the fire, what is this? I thought – and what was I to experience this night? I sat by the fire for a long while, the coffee pot was refilled twice, knots were checked and I almost sat there cuddling the floating/sink 1 fly rod. For a long time I just sat there, watching the river, it seemed dead this evening, but it was important not to think negatively. I knew at this time of the season, and at this river level, more salmon would arrive. For around two hours I sat like this, it felt like just a few minutes but it was very important to obtain information in terms of fresh salmon entering the pool, or aggressive splashed in the pool itself.
I had only seen a couple of grilse jumping in the middle of the pool, but I had no plans of going for these fish. No, my plan was to do exactly what I did last night. It was almost 1 am again, it was really dark now. Last night was exciting when walking down towards the river, this night the levels of excitement skyrocketed! The lost salmon of last night grabbed the fly only seconds after it landed on the water. I remember thinking ‘man, I was lucky with that one’, had the cast landed only a metre further downstream, the line would surely have spooked the salmon. Thus, I created a better angle to the cast this time, again it was the “straight at the target” approach I was going to use. I knew that no one else had fished this run earlier in the day, so this was one of those times where I really had the opportunity to provoke the salmon enough to take my fly. The cast went out, I got it just where I wanted it to land, the sink tip sank into the right position before the line swung towards the seam where I thought the salmon would be.
And just at the same spot as last night, a salmon grabbed my fly. The difference from last night was that I now was standing on the bank, rather than in the river, meaning that I had to cast a few meters further this time, which gives a better start to the fight as I do not have to deal with the hard knocks and pulls on the rod on a short line. Thus, the salmon behaved differently, and I was still in control – so far. For a variety of reasons I like to play the salmon hard in this spot, one advantage of this is you will early on find out how big the fish is. And this salmon felt really heavy, I was almost scared as it felt very similar to the pressure on the rod from last night. It also reminded me of the fight with the 14,5 kilo salmon I caught last week.
Oh my God, was it possible that I had another personal best on the single-hander within reach? Well, ‘within reach’ was perhaps somewhat optimistic, as the salmon was heading for those rapids again. But this time I was ready for it; I held on as much as I could, and that strange ‘noise’ from the rod appeared, the blank was kind of ‘singing’. I had heard this sound before, it was like a warning: take it easy now, Jan Erik! Now I really had the opportunity to make the large salmon tired. I managed to apply a heavy side-strain with the rod, for a long time we just remained still, comparing our strengths, and after a while it swam upstream again. When this happens I hold back using a calm, controlled pressure, which always tire the salmon that extra bit. Now it was important to be prepared for another downstream run, the danger of this is that the line might go slack so that the fly loses its grip. As it turned I lifted the rod a bit higher, ensuring that the line was tight at all times. The salmon stopped in the middle of the river now, so I applied very heavy pressure, applying a constant side-strain. Now life as a salmon was not easy, as I applied the “Haltdal grip”.
The next phase of the fight would be scary, as it became shallower so that the leader easily could touch the rocks on the riverbed, thus a high level of concentration was paramount. My arm was aching, and now I was nearing what is the most difficult part of fighting such a large salmon on a single-handed rod; the landing! The salmon was exhausted, flapping onto the side. It was almost so it would feel the rocks along the side of its body, which often makes it panic, and a chaos of jumping and short runs ensues. However, that did not happen this time, I maintained a heavy and steady pressure enabling me to force the salmon closer to the bank, I was using just the right amount of force required. After a few seconds, it was lying motionless in the water in front of me, ready to be landed. I did not carry a net or a gaff, as I prefer to use my own hand, on my way to the salmon I held my hand in the water for a few seconds, this ensures that my skin has the same temperature as the salmon, avoiding that the salmon fights too much in the moment of landing it. It will not feel me touching it, everything was right this time, and the salmon was lying in the grass a few meters up on the bank. Man, I was happy, it was a massive salmon and I was sure it would be a new personal best on the single-hander. Imagine catching a personal best twice in one week, it was almost unbelievable! But I knew that this was a good big salmon week up here, and this time everything came together. Now it was important to weigh the fish, I had not brought a set of scales, so I had to call one of the other fishermen on this beat. Tom Presthus arrived fairly soon when he heard how excited I was, and he brought the scales.
As we finally got to weigh the fish I could not believe my own eyes, this was impossible… it had to be a mistake, as this salmon also weighed exactly 14,5 kilos. Tom was confident that the scales were correct; in reality it was no reason to doubt this anyway, as this guy had caught lots of big salmon from the Gaula as well. Still, this was one of the strangest things I have experienced, to large salmon in the same week, both weighing the same, and being new personal bests – I would never forget this.
When I finally arrived back at the camp and calmed down a bit, I sent a few text messages to a few friends, telling them about the catch. The replies were: “oh, so the fishing is so bad now that you send the same story twice eh?”. I had to call them and explain the whole thing so people did not think I had gone mad. It was late at night before I could sit down, reflect on the evenings fishing, and really savour the experience. Quickly I decided that this had to be celebrated with a small glass of Cognac – I would not be able o sleep anyway.
As I sat outside the campervan enjoying life, this great feeling came over me – a mixture of gratitude to the river and to the Red Butt, and of course that great feeling of being a fly fisherman, and that life at the end of the fly rod really is well worth living!