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.

15 comments:

  1. Excellent and very informative advice. Thank you. Reiver Flash.

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  2. I love this. Can tell you're a seasoned traveller. You even thought of mobile coverage! Really useful guide.

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  3. I'd absolutely love to do what you did...but it all seems so complicated. ...great read and advice.

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    1. Colin, don't be afraid. If you are methodical and start early it is quite straightforward. First get local advice via SFF; then make contact with an operator and secure a slot; book your flights, car and accommodation; and go! Weeks in August are cheaper and available: this week should be good this year now that it's raining.

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  4. Thank You for writing this, Very informative and sound advise, those boulders are BIG, will get there hopefully next year.

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    1. Clive, thank you for your kind words. Do give Norway a try.

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  5. Hi must say great post you covered everything there could you tell me where you stayed going next year thanks mark?

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  6. We rented a self contained apartment at the top of a house close to the river, which we obtained through the chap organising the fishing. It cost us about £70 per night for 2 bedrooms, fully equipped kitchen, shower room and laundry.

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  7. Ok thanks one more thing what is the name of the village you stayed in many thanks mark

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  8. It's a hamlet of 6-8 scattered houses called Bjorgen if I recall the spelling correctly, just across the river from Singsas Skole and the bigger Coop store (not the main part of Singsas village, but 3-4 miles downstream).

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  9. Ok thanks very much that's great really appreciate it cheers

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  10. Hi I don't want to be a pain but never been before and want to make the best trip I can for a good cost . You wouldn't have the details of the guy who organized the fishing for you and how much did it cost thanks mark :)

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  11. Mark,
    I put the whole thing together for a team of 3 in 2016 and 2 this year at approximately £1750 per head (fishing, accommodation, food, licences, car hire, flights, parking, the lot). There may be a vacancy on this water for a 2 rod team next year. If you wish to know more please contact me at mcxfisher@gmail.com

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