The last time I had dealings with the Norwegian Flyfisher’s Club (NFC) was way back in 1990 or so. It was at a time when it was just getting going and things were a little disorganised for my taste! But, hat’s off to Manfred Raguse who kept it going and here we are today celebrating 25 years and a new owner. Manfred remains in a well-deserved honorary role.
The concept is a good one, the issues have been reliability of organisation and feeling like someone is there keeping an eye on things. It is no criticism of Manfred, it is simply not his forte and never has been. He has always been far more focused on good water for guests and looking after the salmon on his beloved river.
When Per Arneberg, who has been a client over the years with his father, contacted me and was finally able to tell me what he had purchased, I was intrigued. He seemed to ‘get it’ throughout our dialogue so I headed to Norway with high hopes. My first observation was how easy it is to get to. For me a 2 hr flight to Oslo, change planes, and 45 mins later I was at Trondheim airport and picking up my car. It reminded me of the good old days, before Russia existed, of taking clients to Norway on 31st May for the season opening. We used to have a late but very excited dinner and then head out. Everyone knew that someone was going to be lucky with a big one. Maybe I will do that again for 2013. Anyone interested?
On arrival I met Per and his business partner Enrico Cristiani (with a background in high end hotels) and immediately there was a sense that these guys understood what they had taken on. They had identified Manfred’s achievements and had the utmost respect for them and fully intend to continue the work, yet they also saw where NFC needed some serious focus and work. We really never stopped talking ideas over from the moment we met until our morning departure.
Let’s back up a bit and look at the NFC concept and its strengths. The concept is to own or lease some of the best pools and water on the Gaula. Crucially, they identify the importance of providing guests with plenty of water both above and below the famous Gaulfoss pool. The Gaulfoss is a major salmon barrier through which the fish will not pass until the water is warm enough and slow enough in terms of volume. Personally, I would be reluctant to go to the Gaula to fish in June unless the organisation could offer me substantial opportunities to fish below Gaulfoss. The risk of wasting one’s time is simply too great if the fish have been unable to pass. NFC has this right and plans to build on its lower water as well.
There is no doubt that NFC’s strength of water still lies above the Gaulfoss with many wonderful pools but this will balance out over time. WATCH THIS SPACE on that! Then there is the rotation concept itself. Some are critical of it, stating that it is too punishing but the concept is sound and it is based on keeping guests moving and interested. The idea is a six hour rotation, so four lots of six hours in 24 hours. This means that guests should not be stuck on water not at a prime height too long, at any given time. Critics say that this means that they have to be up fishing at crazy hours if their rotation falls in the early hours of the morning. I understand this but to be honest, fishing in Norway is about fishing crazy hours and the midnight sun etc. Being up in the middle of the night during those magical silent hours and then tucked up in your farmhouse in the busy day is very much part of the Norwegian experience.
There is then the concern that beats get hammered and that when you arrive on your beat, someone who has hammered it is just leaving. Point taken. But in the spring, when fish are running, whatever is or is not in the pool at changeover is unlikely to be there 30 minutes later especially on beats where the tide has an influence. In the summer fishing, when the water has settled back and one is fishing holding pools, that might be a more valid concern but then, maybe one does not need to turn up at the exact turnover time? I think there is a case for July and August fishing to be 8-hour sessions to allow guests plenty of fishing on a pool but to be able to rest it too. The other solution is to take the rods in front of you too and then you really are in control of your water. More expensive I hear you cry and it would be but a very much better quality experience.
Another angle we discussed, particularly for the time of year when there are a few big fish, was a three day fishing option. I think we are all prepared to risk a blank for a big one for three days but maybe not seven! The new owners are looking at this idea carefully. Something similar to Iceland, especially with the travel so easy. What do you think?
Accommodations are in need to serious attention but unsurprisingly Per and Enrico are on it. They will be upgrading all their cottages for the 2013 season and are considering a new NFC headquarters with cabins and a fully catered dining facility. The farmhouse I stayed in was a classic Norwegian farmhouse, clean, comfortable with TV and wireless internet. I was able to watch England losing on penalties with ease! I think that anybody would be happy where I was either catering themselves or being catered for dinner. Breakfasts and lunches are very easy to do yourself with a good local supermarket nearby. There is also the Bogen Sondre Farmhouse and beats which can be taken privately.
Unless you want to be severely restricted, a hire car from the airport is crucial. It takes about an hour and a quarter to get to the main part of the Gaula from Trondheim and NFC are able to get good rates. DO NOT DRINK and DRIVE, simply not worth it.
The guides are high calibre, hard core Scandinavians. I got to know Daniel Persson who was excellent and I know Per Tronde from working with him on Ponoi. I know he gets it! It is worth taking a guide to start for sure. Maybe in subsequent years, one can go it alone.
So what of our fishing? Well, we did not do a huge amount because we spent a great deal of time looking around and brainstorming but we fished the E beats for an hour or two on the first evening with no result but as I suggested, the moment we left a 10kg (22lbs) was caught. We fished for a few hours the following morning and a fish was lost and then in the evening we were back on E beats and had a double hook up within 15 mins of starting. Not big fish at 12 or 14lbs but it was fun. I had another take which did not stay. The morning we left, Per and his friend had another 10kg fish and a smaller fish on our proposed beat.
It is not often one leaves a new project excited and with real belief that what is planned will happen. That someone really does care about the guests throughout their stay, whether on the water or in their home for the week. Time will tell if my confidence is justified but Frontiers will be helping and representing NFC (our prices will be as quoted by NFC) and feel privileged to be part of something new and exciting in Norway. I am very grateful to Per and Enrico for their time and hospitality.
My final reflection must be some perspective on fishing in Norway. It is not like other destinations and rightfully so. The locals themselves fish in a different way to us. It is a very relaxing and social past-time and that is reflected in how things are done in Norwegian fishing. It is not a case of going out at 9 and finishing at 6pm etc. The midnight sun allows for a magical experience of night fishing and to fish a while, relax by the fire and chat and then fish a bit more is how it is done and the way to do it. In my experience, success in Norway comes from a chilled and relaxed approach. The harder one tries, almost the less success one has. There is much more to fishing than catching fish and that is very much the case in Norway and yet perhaps the secret to actually catching fish!
Some of the photographs are not taken by me.