Sunday, 31 July 2016

You want to go to Norway?

The purpose of this post is to assist anyone thinking of going to Norway to fish for the first time.  It embodies the key pieces of advice that I received and the things I noted from this year's trip to the Gaula, along the way from inception, through planning and preparation, deployment and arrival, to the eventual return.  Very few of them have anything to do with fishing, not least because the lack of fish prevented my learning many lessons in that department.  Most of them are pretty basic, but in my experience it's often the basic things that get overlooked in great endeavours.  They are certainly not novel or revelatory, but if this post spares somebody one cock-up then it's succeeded in its aim.

Motive

 What led me to the Gaula was, at heart, the realistic prospect of catching a specimen salmon.  The statistics speak for themselves: in an average season, anglers on this single river land more 40 pounders than all the rivers in the UK added together.  One was caught 3 days before we arrived and another lost near the net early on the Saturday.  The fish are silver and feisty, with an average weight in 2016 that was above 15lbs.  All this takes place in beautiful surroundings in crystal water.  There are very good reasons for going to Norway.

The lesson I re-learned was that in salmon fishing there are no guarantees.  You can have low water in Norway, and if you do, the results are just the same as in UK - a blank week.



Cost

 Inevitably going somewhere that requires air travel and a hire car will be more expensive than a trip to a local UK river.  However, the difference may be much less than you expect if you compare like quality with like; allow for the fact that you will fish a full 7 days rather than 6 in Scotland, and for many more hours daily; and if you don't live in Scotland, you account for UK motoring costs at full economic rate.  If you go to one of the big-name fishing travel companies offering packages in Norway they will ask a cardiac price for a week on premium water.  But if you go about it the right way you can get a DIY week on the Gaula or other good rivers for about £1,800 all inclusive.  Here are some tips:
  • Start your planning early: I started 17 months ahead and it worked.  Time saves money across the board.
  • The local members of SFF are incredibly helpful and readily offer invaluable advice.  Listen to what they say; remember your manners; and be generous in your thanks.
  • That advice makes it much easier to build your own solution, dealing directly with the fishery operator (company, club or association in UK parlance).   
  • It is essential to grasp that in Norway the fishing rights are indivisibly attached to the land.  The operator usually rents the rights from farmers via a three-yearly competitive tendering process.  As a result of this process and the fact that many of the farms are small, the operator manages multiple,  non-contiguous beats spread over significant distances (perhaps 6-10 miles).  A hire car is therefore indispensable for moving from beat to beat.  Remember to take your rod clamps (we took 2 sets for 3 people to carry 6 rods).
  • The cost of living in Norway is astronomic by UK standards and the BREXIT vote fall in the value of Sterling has added a further 12%: a pound of streaky bacon was £12.50.   
  • Everything except petrol and car hire costs far more, and Norwegian salaries are proportionately higher.  As a result steering clear of anything that involves a labour input - e.g. catered accommodation, pre-prepared food - will save you a lot of money.  First class self catered accommodation can be had for under £30 per person per night.
  • Buy your duty free spirits at the UK departure airport (half the Norwegian duty free price - litre of good Speyside malt = £70) but your wine at the arrival airport (allowance 6 bottles per person).  Beer is available in supermarkets at sensible prices.   
  • If you smoke don't even think of buying tobacco products in Norway without first talking to your bank manager.
  • Whatever the temptation to save a few pounds by stuffing your kit with bacon and sausages it's not worth running the risk of having your rods and reels impounded until the airport food inspector turns up for work on the Monday.  The Norwegians take food safety and standards and animal disease control very seriously.

Travel

 This was perhaps the easiest thing to get right.
  • If you pay your car hire in advance you get the best price and the pick up process is incredibly quick.  There is none of the southern European bureaucracy and paperwork.  From arriving at the Avis desk to departing with the keys took 2 minutes 40 seconds.  Everyone in your party needs to be registered as a driver: remember to take all the DVLA check-codes.
  • This is not Italy: you don't need the supplementary hire car insurance, which saves you £150, or the SATNAV, because there aren't many road to confuse you.
  • Do not underestimate the volume of kit that you will have when selecting your hire car.  For a party of 3 rods the Skoda Superb was the right size.

Fully loaded with 3 people's kit
The centre section of the seat folds down to take the rods
 
  • Norway is the land of the 50mph/80kph speed limit on rural roads.  Most inhabited areas, however sparsely populated, are 60 or 50kph.  It takes a fair time to cover long distances and despite the joys of the views for the passengers, it can be seriously dull for the driver.  Consequently, following the advice I got from an SFF member, I strongly recommend flying into Trondheim Vaernes (1 hour) rather than Oslo (6+ hours) despite the extra cost.
  • Beware: driving under the influence of alcohol is a very serious offence in Norway, and the threshold is far lower than in England (and lower even than in Scotland).  In the event of an accident it's zero.  Bearing in mind that you'll be driving between beats during the night and early hours, the 'duty driver' cannot afford to indulge at supper time or celebrate his PB fish too enthusiastically.
  • We flew from Leeds Bradford with KLM via Amsterdam to Trondheim, which was easy and efficient.  We bought the tickets 8 months ahead at an excellent price.  The significant extra costs were the checked in bags - 3 suitcases and 2 rod carriers, each with a 23kg limit.
  • The rod carriers were a brilliant success.  Actually they are golf club transit containers that we hired from the local driving range for £18.  The internal length is 48".  They cost no more to transport than a standard checked bag or specialist rod carrier, and swallowed a mountain of kit, including 3-4 rods (13-15 footers) in tubes, 2 sets of chest waders and boots, plus other items.  For 2 anglers, one carrier would suffice.
 
Shown part loaded for illustration



Lockable, secure and very robust
Trundle wheels at right end


Fishing and Tackle

  • The river conditions can change markedly and quickly so you need to cover the most likely options.  In our party the choice, guided by local advice, was one large rod (14 or 15); one light (13); and either a switch or 10' single hander.  This proved to be sound.
  • You will fish off both banks and often in swirling wind.  It therefore pays to be well practised in a range of casts with both right and left hand.
  • With the variability of the conditions you need the full range of lines, tips and polyleaders.   
  • Bankside vegetation is rarely an issue so there's ample scope for full Spey lines.  However, you won't want to wade deep in the lumpy pools (look at the photo below) and the boulders at the water's edge are ever-ready to catch your D loop, which makes shooting heads a good answer in many situations.   
  • Running lines with brightly coloured thicker head sections are a real boon in darkness.
  • In my previous post J1W in Norway - The Preparations I explained the background to the advice to use ultra-strong leader materials: 40lbs for the short header; and 30lbs for the main body.  It's all to do with abrasion on rocks rather than the size of the fish.  Just in case you have doubts, this is what the bottom of some pools looks like.

In this pool the 'standard' boulder is 2'/75cm in diameter
which makes it easy for fish to get between them


  • During our week Patrick got a bit carried away and hooked the far bank.  The effort required to detach was immense: eventually the hook gave way.  If your running line is 30lbs BS there is a 50% chance that it will break before the leader, especially if you've previously stressed it with some heavy rock salmon.  In response to Patrick's experience I inserted a 3"/7cm breakable link of 23lbs between the header and main body of the leader.  An alternative would be to tie the upper loop in the 30lbs with only a single turn in the Surgeon's knot, thereby reducing the knot strength to 23-25lbs, without compromising the abrasion resistance.
  • As an aside, don't dingle at the dangle in Norway: the rocks are aggressive takers. 
  • Only take reels that will hold 200 metres or more of backing.  Remember that the capacity of many reels is grossly over-stated.  Moving over the large pebbles, let alone the boulders, is seriously difficult, even without the distraction of a 25lbs salmon going downstream with 100 tons/second of water behind it.

Run? It's an assault course.
Avoiding a broken ankle is your highest priority

  • I covered fly selection in The Preparations.   A novelty I tried on the Gaula was a hitched Sunray, which rose the only fish that came to my flies in the week.  I'd hitched small tubes before in UK with intermittent success, but this was a big step up and in the half-light, an extremely exciting style of fishing.

Attached with a short length of Seaguar to a floating leader
Rapala knot secures a light but very strong Partridge Patriot single hook
The knot creates the separation from the back of the tube
Two half hitches round the body provide the offset
(with thanks to Sean Clark)


General

 Some observations:
  • All the Norwegians we met were kind, cheerful and very helpful.  Most people speak a fair amount of English, but being able to say please and thank you in their language is a matter of politeness.
  • There is a strong sense of community based on trust.  People have no fears and leave their houses and cars unlocked.
  • The staff at the Natursenter in Storen where you can buy your licence (I saw no advantage in buying on line as you drive right past the place) and get your gear disinfected were enthusiastically helpful.  Your reels and lines also have to be dunked.  As the liquid is rather sticky and full of the debris from wading boots, I strongly recommend rinsing them in clean water at the earliest oportunity (the river serves well). 
  • Fishing is a major activity in the Gaula valley: everywhere you see cars with rods mounted.  The comradeship and banter between the anglers of many nationalities adds to the fun (even if BREXIT gave them lots of opportunities for teasing).  You can  learn much from their different experiences and tactics.
  • At weekends all the locals go out to fish on their friends' land.  You will therefore often have people on the opposite bank spinning, worming, pirking and much else besides.  You just have to live with it.
  • Mobile phone coverage is comprehensive throughout the valley.
  • The Norwegian weather forecasting service is incredibly precise, updated hourly and mobile friendly.
  • There are no pubs or restaurants along the 60 miles of road up the Gaula valley between Storen and Alen, so don't plan on eating out.
  • If you need to top up your wine stock you have to go to the government operated Vimonopolet in Storen (it's in the same complex as the big Coop supermarket).  It has a good selection: the prices are 40% higher than UK but not crazy if you stick to Chile and Australia.
  • If you're fishing further up the river there is a small but quite well stocked Coop supermarket at Singsas, 20 miles from Storen.
  • When the water's low and the weather bright the best of the fishing is between 11pm and 5am.  You need to pace yourself to last the week, taking power naps whenever the opportunity or inclination arises.  The fanatics sleep beside the river.
  • Having one good solid meal each day helps to keep you going, but be in no doubt that you'll be tired by the end of the week.

 I'll be going back next year.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Just One Week on the Gaula - 16-23 July 2016

The tranquil beauty of the Gaula at 2am, prime fishing time

There's no point beating about the bush or hiding in a fog of elegant prose.  Nine months' planning, preparation and anticipation came to naught.  Despite fishing myself into exhaustion and trying every tactic and fly in my arsenal, I caught nothing, absolutely nothing.  Indeed, I didn't even get a single positive take.  Adjectives are inadequate to describe my disappointment.

Perhaps I should stop there and make this my shortest post ever.  You may, however, wish to gain some idea of how this misfortune occurred.  I have no wish to turn this article into a litany of excuses and whinging, so I shall keep the plea in mitigation as brief as possible.  My trauma of gloom isn't solitary: the other 17 multi-national anglers on the GFF water that week caught no more than a handful of fish between them, despite representing over 100 years' aggregate experience on its beats.  We were all equally bewildered and bereft, especially the angler who lost a 40 pounder early on the Saturday morning and touched nothing thereafter.

The problem was a lack of water, caused by a complete absence of rain in the catchment area for 6 weeks.  Once all the snow had melted, by early July there was nothing to follow and the water level went down with increasing rapidity.  It was very low when we arrived and then fell by a further 2' 6" / 75cm, as illustrated in the photos below.

Sunday - very low, 200 square metres of viable fish-holding water in a strip 4 metres wide against the far bank

Wednesday - less than 50 square metres metres of viable water towards the tail by the grey stone
Totally transparent and fishable only with surface flies


This 75% contraction in fishable area was replicated in the majority of pools as depth and flow declined.  Some fish continued to run - one passed my legs in 12" / 30 cm of water in broad daylight - while others hunkered down in the deep holes that afforded protection from the increasingly intense sunlight and soaring temperatures.  Over the week the daily mean air and water temperatures almost doubled, with peaks of 30C and 19.5C respectively.  In contrast, at 0400 on the Sunday morning the readings had been 6.5 and 10C.   In the face of these conditions the run of replacement cohorts of fish from the estuary appeared to stop, causing the number of fish in the holding pools to decline markedly.  This beautiful gem of a river was on its bones and its anglers on their knees.



The Bend Pool on Tuesday
by Friday its width had halved
The fish rose in the small inlet in the centre directly below the right hand end of the railings

This picture shows the location of the only salmon I moved, late on Friday with a hitched Sunray.  Needless to say, it was a complete duffer and missed the fly altogether.  A little later one of our Finnish colleagues caught a fish of the same size on a Sunray in the next pool.  Perhaps it was a coincidence, but it was the only salmon taken that night.

Amidst the sadness and disappointment there were many positives.  The Gaula and its valley are stunningly beautiful.  The locals are charming, kind and incredibly friendly, forming a community of trust in  which you lock neither house nor car.  Norwegian salmon anglers and enthusiasts will go far beyond the extra mile to help, advise and encourage.  My special thanks are due to SFF member Gauldalen who gave unstintingly of his vast knowledge, experience and local contacts over many months in helping me put this trip together.  Our fellow anglers - from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Holland - were great company and generous with their experience amidst the banter (BREXIT gave them ample scope for teasing).

I will write another post describing some of the useful things that joined my knowledge bank.  For now I leave you with some photos of this magical place, some taken during the small hours.


Early morning mist rising below Bridge
 


Mid morning on Stadion
 

Night view from Bend upstream to Main

The tail of Saeteroy


Eafossen 20 miles upstream where we watched a succession of 15 pounders ascending


The Eggfossen 4 miles further on which are impassable to salmon



Copper, the mining of which destroyed the Gaula fishery.  The last mine closed in 1986 and recovery followed



Clouds, mist and half darkness in which you share your pool with your imagination......and the trolls


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Just One Week in Norway - The Preparations

Just One Week has been an orphan of the storm since we gave up the fishing on the Findhorn at Tomatin in 2013.  We tried the Dee - two blank spring weeks in 2014 & 15 - and the Deveron in September 2015, but we failed to find a new home that recaptured the magic.  Then last autumn my wife suggested that I should treat myself and go to Norway, and a plan started to take shape.  My regular partners, John and Patrick, were enthusiastic recruits.  By Christmas I had booked fishing, accommodation, flights and hire car, and the clock was ticking towards a new adventure.

Even after 60 seasons' fishing my capacity for anticipation and excitement remains undimmed.  The tank aerial rod, wooden reel, cotton line, aertex shirt, twill shorts and rubber sandals are long gone, but the little boy's character is unchanged and comes to the fore whenever fishing is in prospect.  I think this anticipation is all part of the pleasure: it's how I make the joy of a day's fishing last a week and a week's fishing fill a whole year.



Gaulfossen rapids in moderate flow
(Photo - Jan Erik Granbo)

The Gaula with its crystal water and reputation for big fish is enough to get anyone's anticipation levels up a notch or three.  Our destination is the Gaula Fly Fishing Friends water above Storen and the Gaulfossen cascade, which looks absolutely stunning.  Instead of scanning the Vanishing Rain of Inverness I am currently fixated on the aviation weather forecasts for mid-Norway and the water flow through the Gaulfossen, towards our arrival on 15th July.






Part of the fun has been the research - eliciting advice on SFF, email exchanges with locals, searching the web and watching the Jan Erik Granbo DVD (old boys' film night with pizza and Chilean red).  Everyone has been extraordinarily helpful and enthusiastic.  Much of the advice has been invaluable in highlighting the differences between UK and Norwegian conditions and practices.  A critical part of the preparation has been selecting and ordering the flies.  After studying Granbo's recommended patterns on his website and a lengthy conversation with Peter Nightingale of classic flies.biz I arrived at a shortlist, which you see in immaculately tied finished form below.  If you go into the fly catalogues there are dozens of 'Norway' patterns, which could tempt you to spend a lot of money covering all the possibilities whilst creating ample scope for confusion and indecision.  I've always fished with a narrow range of patterns and have long since given up worrying about precise selection - a pointless activity in my view - which is how I arrived at this generic selection.




Green, Black and Gold, which is a bolder tying than the conventional Green Highlander.  This is a #6, which the locals consider an average summer low water fly size.  Bearing in mind the clarity of the water the recommended fly sizes, up to 2 steps bigger than my normal, came as a surprise.  Clearly the MCX Fisher Walking to the Water calculator needs re-calibration for Scandinavia.








Green and Grey, which has less contrast in the water than its Black cousin above.















Yellow and Grey
















Black, which contains some red sparkly bits.  I'm not sure what they do for the fish, but they amuse the tyer and angler alike.














The faithful MCX Dark (this example interpreted and tied by Martyn Roberts) is coming on the adventure.  I wouldn't leave home without it and will be interested to see whether it maintains its impressive catch rate.












MCX Light (by Peter Nightingale) has to come along too.  Peter's interpretation has slightly more yellow than the original, and as it's reasonably close to a couple of Norwegian patterns it seemed sensible to include this successful fly.











Classic Cascade, because I'd feel insecure without some examples of what was for a decade my 'go to' fly before the creation of the MCX.













This is my complete Norway doubles box, which by the standards of most salmon fishermen is somewhere between austere and ascetic.  I think there's enough for a week.  Anyway, if all the green ones get munched or lost to large rocks, then I'll have to get in the car and drive down to Storen to get something similar.  Not shown, but inserted after the photo is a small collection of floating bombers: I still have an ambition to catch a salmon on a dry fly.














Pocket fly box
6x4


The tube fly box is compact, and to be frank, contains far more than I'll need.  My lack of experience led me to pack more types and thus take a step up from my normal 12 fly Snowbee micro-box (which is coming on the trip).  Baby tubes and small hitches are on the left; conventional tubes and cone heads fill the middle; and the right is occupied by Sunrays for stripping and hitching.  The strange grey things in the middle are experimental 'stealth' tube flies, deliberately designed for low observability (i.e. the exact opposite of most salmon flies). Along the way I received some great advice on setting up the Sunrays with the hook set 3-5cm further back from the end of the tube, which places it at the centre of the fly's visible mass in order to reduce the proportion of failed takes.




Another bit of vital advice concerned leader strength.  In UK I fish with 19lbs in the spring and 15 lbs in the summer and autumn.  The Norwegian norm is twice the strength, primarily to give redundancy to cope with the effects of abrasion by the rocks.  As one respondent helpfully pointed out, 0.1mm of abrasion reduces 15lbs fluorocarbon to 6lbs breaking strain, and like it or not, you can't avoid the rocks in Norway and they've got seriously rough surfaces.  This gives a leader structure with the top 2 feet of 40lbs to reduce the cutting of the nylon into the loop at the end of the head (after 40 minutes battle with the Beast of Wensleydale the loop was not a pretty sight); and then 10-12 feet of 30lbs Seaguar.  Apparently Norwegian fish are untroubled by this muscularity, but if I need to use small flies I shall either go down to 23lbs for the last 18 inches or change the terminal knot to increase the fly's freedom of movement.  For hitching and surface stripping I have some reinforced braided leaders, which will be finished with a short length of fluorocarbon.  Too much fluorocarbon will pull a small tube under, thereby destroying its capacity to create the essential V-wake on the surface.

Once I'd written down, sorted and digested all the advice, it was time to move on to the methodical preparation of reels and lines, and finally the full kit check.  The best way of ensuring that you don't leave anything behind is to lay it all out; check it against a list; stow it in a single box; and then don't touch it again until it's time to pack.  It's mental conditioning based on an earlier professional life in which survival depended on having the essentials: a place for everything, and everything in its place.  That's my excuse: in truth I followed the same practice in childhood, and I find the process rather satisfying (and suspect that many other anglers do too).





Three rods: 13' 8" Cult, 13' MAG and 10' Nite Catapult single hander.   Why have I chosen 100% Vision?  Just out of shot were 2 Hardys and a Chas Burns sobbing inconsolably in their tubes, whilst the incredulity of my father and grandfather weighed heavy upon me.  For them fishing and Hardy were synonymous.  My favour of Vision kit is not based on any financial or professional relationship, but having a friendly local dealer does help their sales.  For me it's all about feel: I've not met another brand whose rods commune with me in the same way whilst casting, and that feel engenders a confidence that transcends the limitations of my technique.  As I described in an earlier post, it took me 2 years to decide on the MAG, so I'm certainly open minded.  The 10' Nite replaced an elderly 9' 6" Hardy at a bargain price in a clearance sale last year: I'm hoping that it will take its first fish in Norway with a surface fly.  With clear water at lower levels floaters and hitches are essential options that I get all too little opportunity to practice in UK.

Four reels - three and a spare - comprise the Loop Evotec and Lamson Guru, the big Rulla, and the small Rulla, which replaced an antique BFR Modula that lacked the backing capacity to meet the demands of Norway.  The spare is the big Rulla, which works well on either the Cult or the MAG.

The rest is fairly self-explanatory: 4 pocket fly boxes (I'll only carry two, the red and grey); two Guideline sinking heads (F/I/S1 & S1/2/4); 3 spare floaters (Rio Scandi & AFS and a #8 Vision Ace); hooks (ultra-strong #6 doubles and lightweight strong Partridge singles for hitching); Seaguar in 4 breaking strains (40, 32, 23, 19); sink tips in the wallet; two pairs of RayBan Polaroids (green and orange); gloves (the night temperature can sink to 8 degrees); wader and line repair kit; joint tape; and the standard jacket inventory of camera, tape measure, thermometer, priest, floatant, mitten clamps, scissors, nippers and knot glue.  You will also spot the spare wading boot laces and stick ferrule.  Everything except the rods fits in a single transit box with the boots on top.  I'm ready and raring to go.