Land of Ice and Fire – and stunning Arctic Char


Three nights in Iceland on the way back from our summer holiday seemed a great plan, and so it turned out to be. I had been to Iceland on several occasions for business and salmon fishing (actually it was where I caught my first salmon on the fly). I had a very good friend (Hermann) in Iceland whom I had not seen for years. In fact, it was Hermann who had invited me for salmon fishing many years ago.

So, what to do for 3 nights and days. In our holiday planning my wife and I discussed the various options given we had an overnight flight from Nova Scotia, unexpectedly via Toronto (impact of the 737 Max restrictions), arriving into Reykjavik at 0930h in the morning. So an easy afternoon walking tour of Reykjavik on day 1 would suffice (it was great), a drive in our hire car around the Golden Circle and the obligatory visit to a thermal pool (not the Blue Lagoon but a more ‘rustic’ and less touristy version) on day 2 (fantastic), and I’m delighted to say a day’s fishing on day 3.  We planned to fish for trout and to share my little Hardy Smuggler. It would give us a better sense of the geography and exposure to local activities and people more than a tour of this and that – at least these were some of my key points in the planning discussion. All I can say is if you’ve never been to Iceland, regardless of whether you fish or not – GO.

char2I contacted Hermann to see if he could help with a contact for fishing and he put me in touch with GOFISHING Iceland run by Heimir Bjarnason (who turned out as our guide on the day). I don’t mind admitting that by using a guide it was the most expensive days fishing that I had ever paid for – and worth every krona. I also don’t mind saying if you’re thinking of going drop Heimir a mail at, he knows where to go, what to use, how to fish and a very pleasant host. Well worth the cost.

Heimir advised us that it was not the best time for brown trout and that he would focus on arctic char on one of the glacier fed rivers – the River Holaa which meets and immediately exits Lake Apavatn, a lake that becomes too warm for the char during the summer, so they sit in the cooler river water. To be honest I was very intrigued as I had never fished for char.

Heimir, complete with waders for us, picked us up at our hotel in Reykjavik and we headed off to a bakery to select our sandwiches for the trip (I loved that bit of quirkiness) before retracing some of the steps we had taken the day before on our Golden Circle drive. We arrived at the fishing location and two other husband and wife couples were there with their respective guides.

We could see fish moving up and down the river and tackling up Heimir put on a single size 18 gold headed nymph and added a little yellow polystyrene indicator about 3 ft up the cast – never tried that before. Heimir said you just can’t feel the take and they will spit it out before you react so strike as soon as you see the indicator move. When you do, strike firmly  but not too hard given the small hook and light fluorocarbon leader. Yes, it took a bit of time to get into the swing of it. And yes, I lost a very good fish to a leader broken at the strike.

cahr3  char4

Next lesson was the technique. Now I can cast a fair line a good distance and had we not had an experienced guide to tell us otherwise that’s what I would have done, and that would have been wrong. We used what Heimir called a high-stick method with a short cast. 

This entails flicking the line upstream and out no more than 10-15m and lifting the rod tip high into the air allowing the nymph to drop through the water in an enticing way – and it certainly worked well for my wife and me. We fished for about 5 hours and we loved every minute of it from the first char we caught to the last one.

In all we would have landed about 20 fish and missed/lost many more.

We started off wearing midge hoods but while there were lots of insects about they were more irritating than biting, so I removed mine and put up with their incessant presence.

In the meantime it was interesting just to wade into the river and see the char lining up behind your legs as they would any obstruction in the river and watch the whites of their mouths and fins working hard as they devoured nymph after nymph in what would be a fairly short season of plenty.

As for the fish – they were absolutely stunning as I’m sure you’ll agree.

One word of caution – Iceland has a very strict policy on disinfecting fishing tackle brought into the country to avoid bringing in fish diseases, primarily the Gyrodactylus salaris parasite which has decimated some wild salmon rivers in Norway, so be prepared either to have your rod and lines disinfected and certified by a vet in your home country or have it done on arrival at the airport. I chose the latter as I had carried my Hardy Smuggler and line through the USA and Canada (and used it to catch brook trout in Nova Scotia). It was no big deal really – very efficient and a reasonable cost.

The best fish of the day was 3.5-4lbs – what a beautiful specimen.

But I couldn’t leave without showing you one photo I took of the Geysir in action – there is much to see and do in Iceland.

Meager Read

Land of Ice and Fire – and stunning Arctic Char