As 2021 ends I can only look on this year as a positive one, a year where we all got fishing again, and OK, this was fraught with hassles around travel restrictions and regulations, however, we all got on the water and had some memorable days.
This is a time of year where we all tend to look back, reflecting on the year the old year before welcoming in the New. Absent friends are something which unfortunately we all have, and at this time of the year, are also on our minds. One of the surest things in this lovely life is that of change, that inevitable piece of baggage that is carried around with every passing year..
Nowhere more did I notice this during 2021 than when hosting our group on the Blanda River in Iceland this summer. Although 2021 was not a great season for salmon anywhere, this trip reminded of just what makes Salmon Fishing so special. It's special in so many ways but none more so than those people involved. Although the regulations made things a little more challenging, to finally get fishing abroad with clients again was, well, special to say the least. The lodge and its staff were simply fantastic, the atmosphere created second to none.
From a fishing perspective, to have such a long stretch of river to so few rods were, well, luxury! Like turning the clock back 40 years. It reminded me of the early days fishing the Deveron at Forglen with my father. Although poles apart in character, the number of rods fishing and pressure on the Blanda reminded me totally on the 1970s Deveron, and in all probability, most other Scottish rivers. As a boy I had the luxury to move around the beat until I found the new, free taking salmon, knowing full well no one else had fishing for them. Most people with memories of this time will understand its value in salmon fishing, whilst those who don't remember, find it difficult to comprehend.
What really struck me about Iceland was how much they understood and valued the resource. All decisions are made by people with an economic interest in salmon fishing! A little like Scotland in the past too. The stock is monitored and if necessary, tough decisions are made to protect them. Rivers are small and stock fragile. However, from an angling perspective, even on a poor year, there are always enough for the visiting angler, with the limiting factors being the same as home, poor conditions!
My memories of catching 3, 4 and 5 salmon each time I went out, in all probability were a young lad looking through rose tinted specks, but nevertheless, I recall few days with nothing and only when conditions were extremely poor [Normally no water]. In all probability, the average in those days was more like 1-2 fish per rod day, remarkably like what is now caught during a decent fishing year in Iceland. Unfortunately, the decline has meant the catch per rod in Scotland has now dropped to 0.30 fish per day or 2 fish per rod week on a private beat. On the face of it, if comparing to Scotland, it would seem there are many more fish in Icelandic rivers!? However, this is not the case at all, in fact I would go as far as say they have less, however, as mentioned above, they understand, value, and manage what they have much better than we do.
The business model for salmon fishing in most of Iceland is such that the resource can stand the number of rods and hours spent fishing. Each rod cannot spend more than 12 hours fishing. Salmon fishing runs for 90 days on any river. Like in Norway, most rivers start fishing in mid-June. However, exactly the opposite of what happens in Norway, in Iceland, rods have an average of 2 miles of double bank fishing to themselves, the same as was enjoyed by those fishing the Dee and Spey in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This is the only model that can satisfy "inflated" expectations in the 21st Century. However, the Norwegian model is also interesting and one which I'll write about later.
If the goal in 2022 is trying to find good salmon fishing, one of the first things I would look for is –
Number of rods per mile. Expectations will seldom be met if beat is fished with too many rods. Whilst the opposite will match and satisfy expectations.
Beats with good Ghillies or Guides
Fishing at the right time of the year. The season for fresh fish is short everywhere now.
Be in the fortunate position of picking your moment to fish.
So much water has flown under the bridges on all Salmon rivers since the 1970s. For many those changes are difficult to comprehend or even begin to understand. I have heard it said many times that Angling did nothing to the demise of the overall stock. However, having been lucky enough to see what I have seen in different countries, I can say with a certain amount of certainty that this is not in fact true. I certainly didn't cause the demise, but a lack of understanding, poor management and decision making didn't help.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s many Ghillies, myself included, began seeing first-hand the decline in overall numbers of salmon in our rivers. This was a time when rods were actually spending more, not less time on the river. A time where advances in tackle gave the fly-fisherman an edge never seen before. In their blissful ignorance, estate factors, most of whom had no idea about stock levels and certainly wouldn’t think of asking those who did, took their guidance from scientists; who in real terms spent no time on the river. Greed and ignorance led to over rodding during a time of obvious decline, squeezing as much from the resource as possible, is all part of the story of the salmon.
When I reflect, I ask myself, could I have done more to help? Yes, is the answer. I should have been more forceful. I should not have accepted the then chair of the fishery board pawn me off with, comments like, stop scaremongering, the statistics tell us we are still catching 10,000 salmon per year and the Scientists know best!
I now find myself at the beginning of a new year, I’ve finally came to a realisation that, we have what we have. No one is going to help salmon return to a level where we can fish with 6 rods per mile, and all catch fish. Everyone with half a brain already knows the real problems associated with their decline but are powerless to do anything, whilst others keep chasing Red Herrings.
I have finally accepted that this is how it will be and that there is, in fact, great fishing to be had if you follow the advice above, do not have over elevated expectations based on that of the past. For me, my salmon fishing will now be about following the advice above and enjoying every minute with great people. Heres to 2022 and all the magic it brings Tight Lines...