It seems longer but it was only a year ago to the day that I first visited Thvera/Kjarra with my friend Ingo Asgeirsson, the new leaseholder after 32 years, along with his partners David Masson and Halldor Hafsteinsson. We did not fish on that occasion because Ingo was not yet in charge, therefore we were just having a look around the lodges to see what needed doing and getting a feel for the river.
To understand Thvera/Kjarra please have a look at my piece from that visit here but just as a reminder, Thvera/Kjarra is one river. Thvera is the lower section with its own seven-man lodge most suited to the less inclined to yomp up some serious hills and Kjarra is the upper part of the river stretching into the hinterland also served by a seven-man lodge. Kjarra is for those that like wilderness, no mobile phone reception and are not afraid of some serious exercise.
Thvera/Kjarra, or running his own river, has been a dream for Ingo ever since I met him back in 1990. Then, he was an ultra-enthusiastic and talented guide/fisherman with a wonderful manner; now all that enthusiasm, charm and energy is going into making his dream a reality. Some of the reality is a bit of a shock to him when it comes to clients details, dietary needs etc but Ingo is rising to the occasion and most importantly ‘gets it’. He kindly invited me to the opening of the Kjarra on 15th June to see the river and actually fish it as well as enjoy the big occasion. Accompanying me was Dominic, who was due to be with my group to Argentina but could not come for family reasons. When I realised it would be useful to have a model to share my rod and fishing for photographs, it seemed a nice thing to do for Dom to make up for his loss. I am not sure how much he needed to go fishing having caught 307 fish on the Ponoi the two weeks prior! Also joining us was Fliss Hewetson-Brown from my office for a day to see Thvera and Kjarra and other parts of Iceland.
Ingo picked us up and after a quick visit to my friends Hilli and Oddny Hansson at their tackle shop Veidiflugur we headed to the Thvera Lodge to see all the work that Ingo and the team had done and take some photographs. Thvera had started well three days before so Ingo was delighted and there was a good amount of water in the river. Ingo also explained the great plans for improvements to the Thvera Lodge for 2014. They will be superb.
The drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik is about 40 minutes, from there another hour and half to Thvera Lodge and then about 45 minutes up the rocky dirt track to Kjarra Lodge. Again, Ingo and his wife Disa, and David’s wife Lilja, had done a lot of work to breathe fresh life into the lodge at Kjarra and have done a wonderful job. Neither lodge is the most modern of buildings but they have character and tradition on their side and with the TLC from Ingo and the team, they will be very nice. I keep forgetting that they are only seven-rod lodges and will be superb with just that number.
Other guests arrived for the big dinner. I have always enjoyed the excitement and anticipation of the dinners the night of 31st May in Norway before everyone goes out fishing at midnight in the hope of hooking the monster of their lives. I had never experienced ‘the Opening’ in Iceland before. A big event, great excitement and it became clear to Dom and I that we were expected to be standing on the river bank with a fly in the air at 6.59:59 for it to hit the water on the strike of 7am! It was fitting that the legendary Toti Thoraninn, or ‘the Dentist’ as he is known in Iceland in a rather Bond-like way, was the first to catch a fish at about 7.05. Toti is now 75 and runs around the hills and canyons of Kjarra like a spring chicken. He is a legend because he is now within a whisker of catching his 20,000th salmon…yes that is 20,000. His reputation has been a little chequered in the past because he once caught and killed 88 salmon in a day on worm. But then you talk to Toti and hear how in the old days he earned more money from catching salmon in the three summer salmon fishing months than he did the rest of the year from his dentistry and you understand how things were then. Yes, he is also a well-respected dentist in Reykjavik, considered one of two of the best in Reykjavik. As fishing is almost a religion in Iceland I wonder if his dentistry skill is the reason for his popularity! Toti was a charming man who ‘converted’ to fly fishing in the 1990s, which did not seem to dampen his effectiveness. He is a dear friend to Ingo and was a fountain of knowledge for us coming to the river for the first time. He has fished Thvera/Kjarra all his life by hook or by crook and considers it the Holy Grail in Iceland. All the other guests were Icelandic and all charming and from different walks of life. I was very happy to be in good company with two professional photographers Einar Ingolfsson and Sigurjon Ragnar.
Unknown to us, our first morning was on what turned out to be the best beat. Beat No 1. The way they do the rotation is you fish three hours on one beat and then move one beat down to use up the full six hours in the fishing session. There are a couple of exceptions to this. Beat 1 being the lowest beat means you have to flip up to Beat 5 afterwards which is about a thirty minute drive. Beats 6 and 7 are almost a pair because they are the most remote and the drive from Beat 1 is too long. Beat 7 requires two hours or more of walking to get to some pools but they are very productive. The salmon go way further (Thvera/Kjarra has no natural barrier to the salmon at all) so you could walk four hours and still find salmon. In the old days fishers would ride ponies upriver to fish and they would only stop when no more salmon could be loaded on the ponies to come down again. Ingo hopes to start this tradition again, the ponies, not the killing of the salmon, catch and release is preferred. The rotation works well and will be even better as more fresh fish move into the river and the pools change more often. There does have to be some respect in terms of trusting fellow guests not to ‘bomb’ the pools with huge flies before they leave them for you.
We started at the best pool ‘Runki’ which is an attractive pool but does not look anything special. We either rose one fish multiple times with it taking twice or we rose two fish a few times before pricking them both. Following our second visit to Runki I suspect that the former was the case. On down to the ‘Five Steps’ called Selstrenger which is a series of five mini falls pools each capable of producing fish. Toti had recommended 4 and 2, Dom did 4 and I did 2. I fished a skated collie in the fast water and got a huge aggressive take that did not hook up either. I kept trying in vain hope and rose what looked like a smaller fish but it did not come back. Dom went on to do 1 and just before leaving I thought I would give my fish one more go. Two metres above where the previous action had been I got another wonderful aggressive take and my first Kjarra fish of about 12lbs, stunningly fresh and strong. I have the take on film so you will be able to see it as soon as I get my video edited.
We headed up to Beat 5 where we had been recommended the Colonel Pool. It was a juicy looking cut bank pool with a deep hole lower down in the pool. Dom hitched it with no luck. I decided to try my hitched pink collie and whizzed it across the deep section and was rewarded with another great take and a nice 10lbs fish. There was very a tempting run just below the main pool so we decided to skate the pink collie in the run and Dom had a fish rise three times taking the fly on the third occasion but not hooked properly, our second or third or more failure to hook fish. We decided to try a pink collie over the deep water in the pool again and were encouraged to see another fish as we began. Further down Dom had a really stunning take and this time there was no hooking failure and he landed another stunning 10lbs fish. It was a great first morning.
Back at the lodge at lunch the total for the morning was 10 fish. There had been mixed fortunes. As we learned as we fished other beats, some were fishing better than others with fish less inclined to stop in the middle beats. We were due to fish Beats 6 and 7 in the afternoon. Beat 6 is one of those ever changing beats following each winter with lots of runs and pots etc, more a grilse and summer salmon beat than a bigger, early fish beat. As we moved about the beat it became clear that our car was over-heating so we decided to skip the walk up to Beat 7 and make for the lodge. We wanted to avoid being at the top of the river and breaking down. That was our adventure for the first day. Beats 5, 6 and 7 are flatter beats with little to no canyons. It is at Beat 4 where the canyons and the clambering up and down begins. Pools such as Upper and Lower Johnson and Retterhylur were the favoured pools on Beat 4. At 10am on the second day we moved down to Beat 3 and the canyon grew ever deeper. Dom and I were unguided and struggled to find the correct routes down to some of the pools. We were leap-frogging our way down the river and I embarked on getting down to the next pool to suddenly find myself in a very precarious place. I decided to wait for Dom to arrive. I could have used the rock outcrop beside me to haul myself from trouble but I checked it and it moved which made the situation much more serious. In the end all ended well but it required Dom to nip back to the lodge for a rope to help me be sure of hauling myself out of trouble. The only ‘rope’ they could find was the hose! It did the job. The 15kg backpack with cameras made the whole situation worse because it makes one less agile and more unbalanced. Beat 3 is a stunning beat but I have to say that we struggled to get around and make the best of it because we had no idea where we were going. We did much better the second time around.
We were advised that the Princess pools were the best bet on Beat 2 so we walked down to them past the falcon’s nest. The pools in this part of the canyon were truly stunning. We could see fish and we kept moving and rising them but we could not get them to take. Beats 3, 2 and top of Beat 1 are some serious canyon climbing and walking. Being guideless we were walking down and then clambering back up each time but with guides, things are different. Guests will walk down but then the guides are able to get the cars to points down river and guests can then fish their way down and avoid the climbing back up. I strongly recommend a stick to walk with. We did better returning to Runki, landing two fish and losing a third and Dom was lucky at No 2 of the steps this time. His fish took off and was soon yomping down the falls below to No 1 with Dom in hot pursuit. I have never seen him move so fast!
Our adventure on day three took place at Beat 5. We drove up, parked and fished the pool in a howling upstream wind, which rather spoiled the fishing. We walked back the short distance to the car to find one of the back tyres with a huge hole in it and flat. At first this did not seem to be a problem as we set about changing the wheel but we hit two problems. The wheel would not come off and the spare would not come off either! We had to resort to hitch-hiking in the wilderness that is Upper Kjarra, waiting for a car to come down from Beats 6 or 7. This took us out of action until 7pm that day.
That evening it was becoming clear that things were going well. The fish were building in numbers, which is often not the case after Opening. What can happen is the early fish there are caught on the first day and then the numbers go down for a few days until the run builds fully again. This happened in miniature with day two being the slowest for the team but by the end of day three it was clear that some grilse were coming as well and the more pools were producing fish. In Norway we worry when the grilse show up early because it can mean that is the end of the big fish. In Iceland, they like to see early grilse believing it is a sign of a strong run. We began our last morning with great optimism and this was soon rewarded when Dom caught a nice 9lbs fish with a tiny micro-cone-head on Beat 3. I was taking photos of the canyon using him as the loan fisherman model in the distance. I was lucky later in the morning. I rose a fish at Holan, the lowest pool on Beat 3. It came to the skated collie and missed swinging the fly from right to left as the fly swung left. As I stripped in to prepare another cast, it did an unusual thing and attacked from the other direction, left to right, and this time took the fly but did not hook up. Cursing missing a nice fish on the last morning, I decided to try the collie un-hitched in the vein hope (but I have seen it many times before) that it would re-entice the fish. To our surprise, up came the fish again and missed again but took on the second attempt. A fish each on our last morning…very satisfactory.
The three and a half days ended with 54 fish to the seven rods with Dom and I catching 8 fish. These numbers are only significant because it shows a really good start to the season. Often, the opening days produce 10 or 12 fish or are blighted by poor conditions but we had pretty good weather and great fishing given expectations. I am always a slow starter with any fishing, however well I know a river. I have to get zoned in and get the feel of what is going on, what mood the fish are in etc to be effective. We were fishing Kjarra unguided having never fished it before so it took a great deal more getting to know both from a fishing point of view but also finding one’s way around. It is hard to believe that in just another two weeks the river will be full of fish. I am told that Thvera/Kjarra holds the record for most fish caught on any Icelandic river, 4800 fish in 2005. I guess I was a little frustrated because there was so much stunning water and nooks and crannies and runs and holes that did not have fish because of the time of year so for me the fishing was not as interesting but this was simply the time of year, the very first days of the season. As I sat on a bluff over-looking the canyon on the last day, I felt my relationship with this river begin in earnest. It is simply stunning, true wilderness and a very special place. There is no question it is NOT for those without a decent level of fitness but it is worth getting fit for because time up at Kjarra is unique and I can only imagine how incredible it will be when the fish arrive in numbers as they surely will.
A special mention must go to Ingo and his team. The food was outstanding in every way. Not too much but beautifully prepared and elegantly presented by a charming chef, Thrainn who did not mind one wandering into the kitchen to take photos or simply watch him at work. The girls, Thorgerdur and Sandra, who look after the lodge, were outstanding as well, nothing was ever a problem. Finally to Ingo, it was a real pleasure to watch your enthusiasm and excitement for what you were doing. You have found what we all know to be a real gem in the Thvera/Kjarra and it is so good to see you appreciating that and working hard to make it the best it can be. I wish you every success this season.
I will be back fishing Thvera in July with a dear friend and client who has kindly invited me to share perhaps his last trip to Iceland which I am very much looking forward to.