SCANDINAVIA: Salmon Dreams

Spring is hanging on here in Sweden…the rivers are running higher and colder than usual for this time of year, which is impacting the grayling fishing. It’s hard to find a good safe place to wade, and the bugs are not yet hatching so dry fly fishing is more of a challenge.

The upside, however, is that the salmon fishing is epic. In the first three weeks of the season, when catch-and-release rules prevail, over 900 salmon were pulled in which means about 5000 salmon had come upstream in that time. The normal season has only about 1200 caught all season, so the estimates are that over 30,000 fish will coming up the river this year…far, far more than normal.

That means that the thing to do is go salmon fishing!

So last night, Kevin and I went out with my Swedish friend Roger and his cousin Jan to try our hand at catching a salmon. Since it is 24 hour daylight, and the fish tend to move through the night, we planned on going out at 9pm and fishing until the early hours of the morning. Spey rods are the normal weapon, where you cast a very long (12-15 foot) two-handed fly rod incredible distances, but spey casting takes skill and training, which nether Kevin nor I have, so he and I resorted to a different local technique. A weighted, slow-sinking float called a ‘bombarda’ is connected to a spinning rod, with a 6-foot leader tied to the end and a normal salmon fly is tied on. The rod/bombarda rig means it is easy to get the line out to the middle of the river, and from there you fish and retrieve the same way as with a fly rod.

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Kevin and I split up, he went with Jan and I went with Roger, and we started working our way around some different known salmon pools. On my third cast, as I was experimenting with the bombarda to get the feel of how to control it, it got fatally snagged on the bottom of the river. While trying to retrieve it, the line broke and I lost the bombarda, the leader and the salmon fly. Bummer.

So I tied on a regular spoon lure and continued to fish. The salmon were rising a lot in the pool, and I was feeling hopeful about catching one. But then, after about 10 minutes, I was making a forward cast and heard a slight ‘tink’ sound, and the lure flew off of the line! I was using 30 pound test braided line, so my guess is that the sharp end of the hook must have grazed the line, but in any case…now the $15 lure was gone. This was getting expensive!

I hiked back to where Roger was spey casting, got yet another lure, tied it on and continued to cast at the rising salmon. About a half hour later, as I was casting far across the pool, two men came up….one was a famous outdoor movie maker, and the other was the local game warden who was showing him around. I have a fishing license (I am religious about having one), but the presence of the warden still made me a little nervous, so for some reason my next cast was just a bit too powerful and the lure flew across the stream and got caught up high in a tree on the opposite bank. While Roger chatted with the two men, I tried to quietly retrieve the lure, but unfortunately the line broke yet AGAIN and I lost another lure!

At that moment, the ranger looked up and said hello, and said “Since you are fishing, can I check your license?” I reeled in and held up the empty line and said “Oh, I’m not fishing! I’m just straightening out my line!”

After they left, Roger noticed that he had a missed call from Jan, so he called back and discovered that for the past 2 hours, Kevin had not been able to fish at all! First thing, a pike took off his salmon fly. Then, since he is a left-hander, he moved the retrieve handle on the reel he was using over to the right side, but for some strange (and probably completely unrelated) reason, the centerpin in the handle fell out and the handle fell off. So all this time, he was just watching Jan fish and not having any of the fun.

So Roger and I loaded up and drove the few miles to where Kevin and Jan were fishing. We made some hot sausages and coffee, then while Roger and Jan continued to spey cast, I moved upstream and continued to fish with the lure I had on. Kevin was content to just watch the proceedings, feeling that using a casting rod was sort of ‘cheating’ in this very fly-cast centric environment. I had no such qualms.

After about an hour of cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve…with no hits, I tired and came back to camp to watch the boys do their spey thing. I leaned the rod up against a tree, and after about 15 minutes Kevin sauntered over to it, positioned himself where he had a good cast, and threw the lure across the stream. He reeled it in, made a second cast, reeled it in, then made a third cast. Suddenly, he exclaimed “Yeah Baby!” and the rod tip bent. He had a salmon on after just three casts, using a right-handed rod from the ‘offside’ of the river for a left handed caster!

It put up a good fight, and after about 10 minutes he got it close enough to shore that Jan and Roger were able to tail it and land it. We decided to keep it for dinner the next day, so in a few minutes it was gutted, cleaned and hanging from a branch. A nice silvery salmon, fat and strong.

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Not to be outdone, I grabbed the rod and started casting across the stream. I cast over the best salmon run again and again, for about 2 hours, with no luck. This is the usual routine for salmon fishing…even Jan who is known locally as maybe the best salmon fisherman in the entire region has to cast for hours before he gets even a strike, if that. So Kevin’s early luck was a real surprise….and a great present to him, as it was his birthday.

After a couple of hours fishing, maybe around 2 am, I suddenly felt a tug on the line and yanked the rod back. The tip bent over steeply and I declared “THERE we go!” and I also had a salmon on! Mine was a strong fighter, running several times once it was close to shore, and it took maybe 20 minutes to get it landed. But once we got it to hand, had it gutted and cleaned and strung up, it proved to be almost an exact twin to Kevin’s fish. Both weighed in at about 10 pounds and both were within a quarter inch of each of each other, measuring 31 inches long.

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By then, it was about 3am and the white skies were starting to pink up and the sun was rising, so we came back home and called it a night. But the whole way back, Roger could not stop beaming about how rare it is to get two nice salmon like this in one night, and how cool it was that both of us got one. I have to admit, it was pretty cool, and a great highlight to our fishing excursion to Northern Sweden.

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3 responses to “SCANDINAVIA: Salmon Dreams

  1. Pingback: Coincidences… | The Wandering Sole·

  2. Pingback: Coincidences 4: The Photo | The Wandering Sole·

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