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Spring reflections

Malcolm Greenhalgh looks forward to a new season, and backwards at some very special fishing memories


"Up would come the char."

Last month’s memories of wonderful trips to Slovenia made me realise that I am ageing! Here in the UK, when one turns seventy the driving licence must be reapplied for every three years and this week I received a second renewal that will expire in 2022, when I reach 76. And memories, aided by my diaries, have been flooding back.

It is 28 years since Geoff, with whom I have been fly-fishing for four decades, and I made a first trip to Finnmark, staying at the Lappish settlement of Mollesjohka in the midst of a complex of lakes and streams draining from the mighty lake Iesjavre that eventually enter the Tana river. The journey was a long one in time, for we had three planes and an overnight stop at the then Oslo’s major airport of Fornabu. Our journey ended with a drive in an ancient four-wheel drive across a vast area of open moorland, where golden plover, dunlin, ptarmigan and the occasional blue hare provided entertainment.

I will always remember that first evening. After a great dinner of reindeer stew Geoff and I retired in the midnight sun to the guest cabin and opened one of the two, litre bottles of Famous Grouse that we had bought in Manchester airport’s Duty Free. Our glasses poured and we heard a tapping at the cabin door. It was our hosts wishing us a good night.
“Would you like a drink?”

Of course they would. And when they left a quarter of the whisky that was meant to last three weeks was gone!

The fishing was wonderful. The first day, Geoff’s pal Thorbjorn, who had organised our three week trip, had not arrived, so we were given a map that showed us to be in the midst of a wilderness and headed off with our compass and fly rods. Hours later we returned, having covered some miles and sampled some lovely small streams and tiny lakes and caught some nice brown trout and grayling.

Day Two and we headed, with a guide and Thorbjorn, to some larger lakes to which our guide had managed to transport rowing boats. There we fished ‘loch-style’ as we had done so often on Irish loughs and Scottish lochs, with three fly casts and including a bushy bob-fly (Claret Bumble was most successful). Here the highlight was the arctic char, many of which were much larger than the ones I had caught back home on Windermere and Coniston. It was then that we learned a lesson: in the arctic go to bed fairly early, at the right time using the watch, for that ‘night’ we fished beyond midnight in bright sunshine and were knackered the next morning!

Day Three involved a meander up a long stream that was stuffed with grayling. There I fished a size 14 Brown Caddis and we found that different stretches of the stream had different sizes of fish. So if we caught a couple of 8” fish in one riffle or pool we knew to move on to the next one where we might catch some 12” fish.

That trip resulted in me making the arctic char at least the equal of the wild brown trout and grayling as a fly-fisher’s fish, so when I started to make visits to northern Sweden I looked out especially for char. There my favourite lake-cum-stream system, about 20 miles north of the village of Saxnas, had lots of both trout and char and great hatches of fly, the summer mayfly being most numerous. The upper lake was relatively narrow, with the flow of the inflowing stream continuing through, so it was like fishing a huge, slow-flowing river pool. A summer mayfly would appear on the surface and disappear in a swirl. A size 12 dry March Brown or Brown CDC matched the hatch, and provided the fly floated without drag, up would come the char or, sometimes a nice big brownie. We kept a few char and the hotel at Saxnas smoked them for us: delicious!

And then I visited Iceland. Fly-fishers often go on and on about Iceland and salmon fishing. Forget it! The char and brown trout are far superior! The rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean have sea-going arctic char and in the lower pools they take a wet fly and go like the clappers! In contrast, the fabulous lakes that Skuli Kristinsson (you met him at British Fly Fair?) took me to fish in southeast Iceland were full of big char and even bigger brown trout. There the ‘in’ fly was Skuli’s version of the Stick Fly: a longshank size 12 or 14, with a peacock herl body and a couple of turns of fluorescent orange floss behind the black thread head. Dead easy to tie, and deadly to fish. On one lake, however, our visit coincided with a hatch of black buzzers and fish rising. I fished a ‘washing line’ team of three with a dry Black Gnat on the point, a wet Black Magic on dropper and a black Suspender on the top dropper and caught some great brown trout, one of which Yvonne and I had for dinner that night.

Memories!

Spring is in the air, olives are hatching and soon we can catch the wild trout rising. Hurrah!

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