Paul is 85. He and his wife have been wonderful clients of Frontiers for over twenty years. They have become great friends as we have plotted and planned various expeditions over the years. Last year Paul joined my private party on Sela but his hip gave him some serious trouble towards the end of the trip. Paul understandably questioned his future fishing plans and for much of the winter it was out of the question. But you cannot keep a good man down and in the warmer weather of spring Paul contacted me and we hatched a less physically demanding plan for Iceland. At our final planning lunch I was flattered that Paul asked me to come with him on part of what might be his last salmon fishing trip. There is no person more fun to be on a river with, how could I not accept? I agreed to guide him and perhaps do a little fishing.
Thvera, the lower section of the Thvera/Kjarra was the obvious destination for Paul because, though very beautiful, it is far less physically demanding than the Kjarra yet still presents interesting water to fish and of course, plenty of fish. For most beats it is possible to simply drive to the pools and get out and fish rather than clamber down a canyon or, even worse, back up.
I recommend that everyone depart the UK the day before fishing to avoid any dramas of delayed aircraft or lost baggage. Icelandair are pretty reliable in both these departments but for the sake of a €200 hotel night and a fun dinner in anticipation of the following day, why risk losing your precious fishing? Paul and I had dinner with some other fishing friends at Sushi Samba which I highly recommend! It is walking distance from the downtown hotels in Þingholtsstræti Street which is opposite 66 North in Bankastraete, the famous Icelandic clothing shop.
That afternoon we had done the obligatory tackle shop visit and were now fully armed with our hitch tubes and collies as well as the more traditional Red Francis, Madeleines and Arndilly Fancies. At midday we were picked up from our hotel along with other guests for the next three days and headed out of Reykjavik for the hour and half drive to Thvera.
The lodge has stunning views out over the valley with white-capped mountains in the distance. Some of the bushes need a trim over the winter to maximize the view but it is a magical outlook. The lodge is a traditional Icelandic lodge with eight ensuite bedrooms for the seven rods that fish Thvera. I was lucky to get the eighth room thus avoiding Paul having to share. We had a couple in the party with a rod each and they used one room for their gear and the other as sleeping quarters which worked very well for them. A seven-rod lodge is a real pleasure. It makes for an uncluttered lodge and a very relaxed party. The sitting and dining areas of the lodge are spacious for that number but there are plans to increase the size (not the rod numbers), improve the views and to make some of the bedrooms significantly bigger to give couples more spacious rooms, and perhaps even rod-sharers a room each thus avoiding the usual Icelandic set up of take a rod, get your own room or share a rod, share a room.
Soon guides were introduced and after a snack we all headed to the river to fish until 10pm. Paul and I drew Beat 3, which begins where the Little Thvera enters the river. It splits and comes into the main Thvera in two places, one at the bottom of Beat 4 and the other at the top of Beat 3 round an island. Behind the island is the English House, which was the first fishing lodge on the river where Brits first stayed a hundred or so years back. Thvera/Kjarra has been a very popular choice with the Brits ever since with the likes of Lord King and Prince Charles only enhancing its reputation among the British.
We started where my friend and the river’s new and current proprietor Ingo Asgeirsson had suggested. We saw quite a few fish and had a take or two but nothing landed. We decided to go up to the top of the beat where the Little Kjarra comes in and that is where both Paul and I caught our first Thvera fish. There were tons of fish there and we noticed a little gut or trough (which manifested itself with darker green water) above the main pool. It looked perfect for a skated collie for a resting, running fish but one had to cast across the river and hold the rod high to avoid the collie zooming over what we perceived to be the lie too fast. There were certainly fish there as we lost something crazy like six or even eight fish in a row. They would come busting out of the fast water, grab the collie and return to their lie but each came off after about a minute. It was very frustrating. We returned to our first pool and caught a couple of fish there and soon found we had run out of time.
On Thvera and Kjarra, one moves beat every three hours so there is no getting bored or stuck on a less good beat. This also means that with the exception of two beats, in three days fishing or 6 fishing sessions, one fishes all the beats twice which is nice. It gives one an opportunity to try places you enjoyed again or do better next time, catch a fish where one lost one the time before etc. One would think one arrives at pools that have been fished hard but in prime time the fish are moving so much, the prospects for each pool are changing almost by the minute. We had not even fished all our water on Beat 3 properly before we were headed to Beat 2. Ingo again made recommendations and again we did well but with some more losses. Our evening ended with six fish and many more lost. I think it could have been a 15 fish afternoon.
Dinner was late that evening because we fished until 10 instead of 9.30 but I have to put a word in for the chef, Siggi and the girls in the lodge, Thelma and Gudfinna or ‘Gufur’ as she encouraged us to call her. All were excellent, nothing was ever too much trouble and the food was superb. With so few people and the staff so at ease and welcoming it is very easy for guests to just wander into the kitchen and chat with the staff and ask them for whatever they need. We were very much a happy family and so well looked after.
I will not bore you with every detail of each and every fishing session but perhaps give you a brief description of the characteristics of each beat and how we got on. Beat 3 is one of the prettiest in my opinion, I like the trees, the island, the English House and the pools have a lot of big rocks and structure which make the beats scenic as well as interesting. We caught a lot of fish there both times we fished the beat so that likely helped too. I liked Beat 2 too even though the pools have less rocky structure, they have enough and are interesting to fish and exciting. One minute the pools are quiet and the next there are fish jumping all over as a run passes through. Many of the pools have moving fish taking places and then holding places as well lower down the pool, which of course can be full of running fish as well as older fish. It is amazing how fishing a pool with a hitch can be such a different experience with fish at different stages of their journey reacting in different ways. We really enjoyed Kettarkvorn which had a long deepish run for moving fish which even held on the lip above we discovered and then it dropped into a deeper pool as the river hit a rocky cliff and turned. Of course, we did well there!
Beat 1, I have to admit is a strange one. There seems to be just two places in the whole long beat that really stop the fish and they are not big places. That is the downside. The upside is that these pools are often full of fresh fish and if one is careful and starts small and perhaps skated and changes from there, one can while away three hours very easily and catch a number of mint-bright fish. We did well at the higher of two, Bas, with a few fish landed and others lost.
Sometimes one fishes Beats 2 and then 1 but other times it is Beats 1 and then 7 which means a bit of a drive back up to the top of the Thvera but few mind this because three hours can be a long time on Beat 1 (as it was for us on our second visit) and therefore they use some of that time to get back up and also Beat 7 is often viewed as the prettiest beat. There is a mini canyon, so a little clambering is required but not too strenuous or demanding. On our first visit we went to Skiptaflot Pool and first cast, with about two foot of line, up came a fish and took the hitch right in front of us. Needless to say it came off but we caught two more and lost another and had other rises. Beat 7 gives a very mild taste of the Kjarra above.
Its sister beat, Beat 6 is also in the canyon but again, very mildly so comparatively speaking compared to other rivers in Iceland. It finishes just below the lodge. It has some wonderful intimate pools where you can almost see the fish you are casting too but below them is some fast water and rapids, which can often be the last place you will see your fish!
The upper section of Beat 5 is one of those ever-changing beats where the winter floods change some pools, fill in some and creates others. We had a wonderful evening on Beat 5 with stunning evening light, catching fish after fish on small hitch tubes. The Moldbakki Pool had been fairly unproductive for some years but this year it was full of fish and on fire. The backdrop is the mighty cliffs of the rift valley behind you which the lodge looks out to as well.
It also has what is often considered to be the best pool on the river, the Church Pool, but the lower section also has other nice pools as well with some gravel or freestone pools which are fun to fish for running fish which often change from year to year. At the bridge we stood and watched a run of fish travel up the pool, under the bridge and on through the neck and away. There were other fish we could see that continued to hold in their lies. It is worth going into the church. All Icelandic churches are very pretty inside. When we fished the Church Pool it was in a mood and we could not get any fish to take until we tried a skated collie fished very fast, then we got some wonderful aggressive takes.
Beat 4 is a combination of the moving shingle pools of the mid-section of the river with some really fun little hot spots and then some rocky pools similar to Beat 3 where the upper stream of the Little Thvera comes in. I had a one fish that screamed off down the river to be landed some 300 yards down river. There is some very delicate fishing here too requiring small flies to be fished very slowly and gently but with excellent results. Towards the end of our morning we waded all the way across Armotakvorn to where the Little Thvera comes in forming a deeper channel. We fished a very short line, basically a rod’s length away from us. We got a wonderful take right in front of us. About as classic an Iceland experience as it is possible to have.
The rod that Paul ended up being most comfortable with was my 12ft 8 wt Thomas and Thomas. It is a nice even action rod with a Windcutter line which presented the fly gently but coped with any wind we had. Paul was using a switch rod of 11ft but it was very soft, made more difficult to control by his tackle shop putting a rather clumsy shooting head on it. Not ideal for gentle presentation or control. A switch rod would be a nice option but if balanced right with the line, yet still delicate in its presentation. If I was fishing alone I would have used my 9 1/2ft 7 wt rod, again with an nice even action so it will Spey cast and snake roll etc if such casts were useful. We started with 10lbs Maxima but went up to 12lbs or even 14lbs because there are some bigger fish and there was plenty of water in the river for them to run. More water also makes the fish unlikely to be leader shy.
The most common flies were small hitch tubes of about 1 ½ cm, Madeleines, which are silver hooks with a few black hairs in size 10 to 14 depending on the pool and amount of water. We used a hitched or unhitched collie quite a bit in the faster water with great success, this is a plastic tube of about ¾ of an inch with a black wing of about 1 ½ to 2 inches. We also used my pink version which is a small pink tube with shorter hair, a lethal weapon! We used the occasional Red Francis, an Arndilly Fancy from time to time and some micro cone-heads in Blue Charm and Stoats tail patterns. These are about ½ cm long with a size 14 hook in gold or silver. They were highly effective at times. We basically fished the slower water slowly and the faster water fast but with variations on the theme when, for example, we were fishing very small flies in fast water we would slow it down and bigger flies in slower water we would speed it up. Fly speed was adjusted either through angle of presentation or use of hands, sometimes one, other times both to really create fly speed. The fishing is fascinating all the time because the water is so clear, the fish can be so close and they so often react but do not take, often leading to a game to try and induce the take which of course is so satisfying if it comes!
Paul is an example to us all in so many ways. First, he is the most charming of gentlemen with exquisite manners at all times. I remind you, he is 85 and yet his enthusiasm to learn and experiment and improve knows no boundaries. Throughout our four days together (three days fishing in Iceland is actually afternoon of day one, two full days and a morning on the fourth day) he was constantly asking me to show him this cast or that and asking me to repeat how I did things. But with that hunger there is no greed at all. He is completely relaxed enjoying his time on the water, catching some fish, learning and experimenting. He has a wonderful childish sense of humour with constant jokes and stories, so much so that his concentration is dreadful because he is always saying something, trying something, re-casting, changing flies etc. It was a constant battle to get him to fish and there were many times when I would be holding the rod with him to make sure it stayed put allowing the fish to take because Paul had something else come into his mind to try. We laughed solidly for our entire time on the river and amongst all that laughter we caught 32 fish between us in the three days. He was a true pleasure to be with. It was a fishing trip I will not forget.
There was one more bonus to our few days together. Einar Fallur Ingolfson, one of Iceland’s top photographers joined us and kindly drove us around the river for two of our three days. Einar is equally charming and was a wealth of knowledge about Iceland and photography and he very much enhanced our few days on the river. Many of these images are Einar’s, you can probably tell the good ones! My sincere thanks to Einar for his wonderful photos and great company. I hope we can do it again.
So now I have fished both Thvera and Kjarra, which makes me a valid target for the ultimate question so often asked. Which do I prefer? Thvera or Kjarra? For me there is little in it. Kjarra is an incredible wilderness experience with no civilization around but the Thvera valley is very pretty and the water no less interesting. I have to say that so far I could not pick so I guess I might have to go back and give them both another try! Certainly, I think that Thvera’s easy access might allow Paul’s salmon fishing career to continue for another year or more. I know if he possibly can, he will.
If you feel our tails have inspired you to visit Iceland please do get in touch via our Frontiers Iceland website.