Would Greenland be an excuse to go fishing or would fishing for arctic char be an excuse to go to Greenland? Either is possible and both are excellent excuses.
I went to Greenland this summer because I am asked regularly ‘what about Greenland?’ So I thought it best to go and see for myself. I examined quite a few operations over the winter. There are some really wonderful, non-fishing outfits that Frontiers non-sporting or Bespoke/Elegant Journeys department work with and there are a few fishing operators who have built camps on specific rivers. What appealed to me about Halldor’s, or Dori’s (as he likes to be called) operation is that you can do both – be a tourist and fish – and you certainly do not fish the same valley, or watershed, unless you want to. This jives with my comments above about what your reasons might be for going to Greenland. When I heard that Dori was an active member of Iceland’s highly respected volunteer rescue service ICE-SAR (Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue) that got my attention because I knew he would understand the dangers of the Greenland wilderness.
Dori prices to include the Air Iceland (not Icelandair) flights from Iceland’s international airport, Keflavik, but he is now going to price with and without because together we learned that it is cheaper to buy tickets to Iceland and Greenland together, and you can check your bags through assuming the Icelandair (who look after Air Iceland flights) computers are working. The flight to Narsarsuaq (South Greenland) is about two hours on a Dash-8. They are quite strict about bag weight at 20 kg. If you have clear weather the flight over Greenland can be truly magnificent and we were lucky with incredible views over the glaciers. Please do look at a map, you will see that South Greenland is a seemingly endless network of very deep (600 metres or more) fjords with rocky waterways between them. Once you have been and can see where you visited, you can see how much more there is! It is pretty amazing. The landscape is treeless, very rocky but with multiple hues of green on the mountains which stand out making the landscape very attractive. The fjords are adorned with icebergs of all shapes and sizes that have mostly calved from three main sources, two forks of the Eqalorustsit Kangilliit and the Qooqqup glaciers. In the south-east of this region more get blown in from the east coast.
Accommodation is currently a choice of two options. A perfectly acceptable hotel at Narsaq or a guest house that sleeps four on a farm about 30-minutes from Narsaq. I am torn. The Narsaq option has mediocre food but you are in an Inuit town which I really enjoyed and found interesting. The guest house enjoys excellent cooking by the French landlady and it is nicer but other than the culture of her and her husband’s life on the farm (certainly interesting) there is less local culture. Either way, though nothing grand, the accommodation is perfectly acceptable.
Make no mistake, this is a remote area, yes, there is very slow Wi-Fi in the hotel but you are out there and this is authentic Greenland. If the right species of whale appears and the quota has not been used, they will be after it. Three polar bears were rumoured to have arrived on icebergs from the north while we were there and the community goes out to find them and shoot them to protect people and livestock. On arrival in Narsarsuaq we met our Inuit Captain Asmus (you would not want anyone else driving your boat other than an Inuit local) and commenced the one-hour boat ride to the Narsaq and the hotel of the same name. Muskox was on the menu for dinner. Overdone for some of us, excellent for others. Time for bed.
The whole rationale behind Dori’s operation is choice. Choice of where you fish, choice of if you fish or what else you might want to see. At no more than four anglers and two guides to a boat your little team can decide where you go or what you are interested in. Journeys to rivers and lakes can vary from half an hour to close to four hours and you can camp out a night too. From what I experienced, all of them are worthwhile and of course there is also the journey. While it was tempted to sleep, the desire to stay awake and enjoy the scenery, look for whales and marvel at the magnificence of the icebergs usually won the day. There are tons of icebergs of all shapes and sizes and you need the experience of an Inuit Captain to navigate and read them as well as know his way around. With Dori and Asmus we felt 100% safe, both were true professionals.
It was rainy on our first day but the sea remained calm and I learned from Dori that, unlike Iceland, this is typical of Greenland at this time of year. He was right, from our experience, for all our days the sea only ever got to a mild chop. The rest of the days we also enjoyed blue skies and apparently that is pretty typical too. I cannot name the valleys we went to but we headed north on our first day to a short river system. As we arrived we saw char in the bay but we walked up the river to the lake (sometimes you fish the river) and four of us enjoyed catching any amount of char (I would imagine about 80+) from about 1lb to over 3lbs. We used a floating line and 5 weight trout rods with either nymph, dry fly or streamers and had really great sport all day. Some fish were mint-bright straight from the sea, others were becoming orange which is their spawning colour. We took a couple for sashimi on the shore of the lake and a couple more for the chef to cook the next evening. We fished blind and sighted on the lighter bottom areas of the lake. On the 30-minute walk back to the boat I walked to the actual estuary and there were lots of char flirting with running the river and I caught a few before being beckoned to head home. My friend Dominic’s boys aged 23 and 17 had a great day catching char adding to their fishing experience in every regard. We were home in time for dinner at eight and then bed was tempting due to the two-hour time difference with the UK (one hour with Iceland).
What about bugs I hear you cry – Greenland is famous for them. I can only tell you my experience in the areas I was. We brought spray, headnets etc ready for the worst. We were there 25th to 29th July for the record. They were not bad in general – I never wore a headnet – I did spray each day and black flies and mosquitoes were about and buzzed around my head if there was NO wind but the moment there was any kind of breeze, I need not have sprayed. Before the chill of the evening or as things warmed up in the morning, there were a few about town. In short, they were minimum hassle for us.
Our destination the next day was cancelled due to too much ice coming down from the east coast and blocking our way to the valley, this proved to be the case for our entire stay so we never made it to that valley. Icebergs require a lot of common sense but the respect with which Asmus treated them really got my attention. I wanted to photograph him with one in the background but he would not go nearly as close as I had hoped for fear it could break at any time. He also seemed to fear the wave such a break would create and he explained to us that if such an event took place in shallow water (deeper water dampens the effect) the wave could swamp the boat.
We therefore headed further north, this time to a milky river that required sink-tips. The river and its valley were bigger and breath-taking and we were greeted by two golden eagles. Each of these valleys has a farmer carving a living out of the landscape with livestock and a hay field here and there wherever it is possible. There are very short tracks around the farm (which we were able to take advantage of) but in terms of reaching the outside world, the main mode of transport is by boat. The remoteness of these farms and indeed some of the towns (try Alluitsup Paa as an example) is amazing and this is very much part of the experience of Greenland. The maps also have Viking ruins marked on them and most valleys have some Viking history and settlements.
We walked up the valley, over a farm bridge and back down another branch of the river to a large pool which was to be headquarters but it was also fish city and we caught some wonderful strong, fat char over 60 cm. What was most interesting about them was their milky hue in keeping with their environment. After our lunch (sandwiches, drinks and biscuits supplied by the hotel and Dori – don’t expect too much fruit and veg!) we walked up river and chose various pools to fish most of which had good numbers of char. It was a totally different experience in every regard, the scenery, the fishing techniques, fishing a river opposed to a lake, and of course the fish themselves. We navigated our way home through the icebergs in time for supper at 8pm and then we headed to the local bar which was also owned by the hotel. It was an old storage facility down by the water and had real character to the building as well as its occupants!
That morning, while waiting for the boat and watching all the activity of tourists coming and going from a cruise ship visiting for the morning, I chatted to an Inuit woman about what she had in her bucket under some seaweed. She showed me some magnificent char. As long as the biggest ones we had caught or longer but not fat and of clear water hue not milky. Asmus saw me and came over to chat too. He asked her where she caught them and she explained. Dori had never been there but Asmus encouraged him to give it a try as did we so on day three of our adventure we headed off to a likely never-before-fly-fished destination about three hours by boat from Narsaq through multiple channels and rocky canyons between islands. It was a long journey but every minute was enjoyable.
We could see from the map that the fjord containing our river had some serious mountains either side but nothing prepared us for the beauty of the place and the old glacier still hanging high up on one side. We tried for a cod before approaching the river and as we approached we realised that the river entered the fjord by way of a waterfall. We saw a char role and cast to it and caught it which we thought was very cool until we realised there were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of fish waiting to ascend the waterfall. This was a a char-quarium! It was a site to behold and there were some good 5lbs fish to be had too. As we fished, there was a constant flow of char trying to jump the falls and as the tide dropped so the power of the river grew and the obstacle became ever greater but that did not deter the char. After lunch we headed up river to the stunning lake and continued to catch more char of varying sizes. The bigger ones fought hard, well into the backing. It really was a wonderful day. We stopped for dinner at Qaqortoq as we were too late for the hotel. It was burgers and steak all round and not bad for the middle of nowhere!
Our last day could not have been more of a contrast: it was the shortest boat ride at just 30-minutes including spotting a whale; our walk was the longest and steepest yet at about an hour over a hill along a track; (one does need a basic level of fitness to get the best out of this trip) and the river was the smallest and clearest we had seen, that is saying something because all the clear water was the clearest I have ever seen! The tiny pools were loaded with char (this is where the Instagram video was made) and we caught them using a 3 weight rod on nymph and dry flies mostly. Some were very strong, into the backing strong, and ran upstream out of the pools which was a new experience! It might have been our best day yet but every day seemed like our best day.
We packed up fishing about 3pm to head down to the boat, stopping on the way to pay our respects to a crashed WWII US plane that had stopped at Narsarsuaq to refuel on its way home after the war. It suffered tragic mechanical failure after take-off and crashed in this beautiful valley killing all three pilots. From where we met our boat it was 30-minutes to the airport, check-in (get there early they close check-in very early!) and head back to Iceland. If headed to the UK, an overnight is required at an airport hotel nearby. I was back to work hosting Frontiers guests salmon fishing.
Back to what I said at the start, an excuse to go to Greenland or Greenland an excuse to go fishing? Whichever way you see it, this was a really enjoyable and educational trip with lots of fish caught in interesting ways. No, we did not catch the biggest char out there but as an experience, when a 17 and 23-year old rate it highly along with their Dad, that is a real success in my book. There is no doubt in my mind that Dori’s concept is the perfect approach for those that like to see a bit while fishing or fish a bit while seeing!
Tackle to take:
7 weight with floating and sink-tip lines – a Teeny 250 is about the right sink-rate
5 weight with floating and sink-tip (standard)
3 weight with floating line
Reels you enjoy using with some backing
4, 6 and 10lbs leaders
A selection of weighed nymphs, largish dries (attractors) and lots of pink streamers
Waders, wading jacket, layers
Sun cream 30 or 50+
Day time snacks