So here we are, on the famous Kaldakvisl River in southern Iceland. A clear stream, sourced from numerous mountain springs rather than glaciers, this river is renowned for its char, with fish of 6lbs plus not uncommon. These fish are exceptionally large for the species, with the Icelandic norm usually in the 1lb 8ozs to 2lb range. Only the Kaldakvisl has fish this large.
The vast majority of the fish are concentrated into an area of around half a mile above the confluence with the river that runs from the largest hydroelectric power station in the region, bringing with it untold amounts of milky blue sediment.
Char are an essentially lazy fish and will not move far to take food. Given the amount of food in the river, it is easy to understand why they choose this sedentary lifestyle and their girth equals that of most inactive couch potatoes. Put quite simply these are fat fish, especially those over 4lbs.
Thick rafts of vacated midge, stonefly and caddis shucks line the shore for hundreds of yards on all the lakes and river banks in the area. Note the discarded nylon, a very common find in Iceland!
6lbs of fat and fit char taken at midnight in June. It wasn't dark - the flash was only used to bring out the colours.
Because char are so lazy, they are fished for using a method that is not in the least pretty, in fact it is almost "ugly " fishing but it does work very well. The method is to cast two gold head nymphs upstream, mend the line and then dead drift the flies at full depth into the fish’s mouth. Depth is vital and shortening or lengthening the leader should be a constant work in progress until takes are forthcoming.
The take is lightning fast, just as quick as any dry fly grayling and it takes a while to get accustomed to the speed of strike required. Once mastered, it is relatively simple and when you’ve understood how the nymphs are fishing, you can almost predict which drifts will produce a take thereby priming your trigger reflex.
The rig we used comprised 7 feet of 10lb fluorocarbon with a size 10 gold head nymph on the point and another 18 inches above it. Four, yes four, stick on strike indicators are attached to the fly line above the braided but. Four are needed firstly, to ensure visibility in the often strong winds and secondly, to keep the fly line floating when the nymphs touch bottom where these char live, mainly on the gravel between the rocky outcrops. Stones will drag the tip of the fly line down - attaching four strike indicators to the fly line slows the rig down and stops the tip being pulled under.
Once hooked, the fight is dogged rather than spectacular and repeated dives to the depths can be expected. A large proportion of fish hooked are lost, probably as the method leads to a lot of lightly hooked fish. Certainly those I landed had the hook in the scissors or very tip of the jaw and none were hooked deeply inside the mouth.
The fish are beautiful to look at with a golden orange hue to the belly, silver blue flanks and the palest pink spots. It is the fins which are really astonishing: outlined in white they often betray the fish’s presence while the rest of its colouration blends into the riverbed.
The "bulging eye" on the fish above is just a bubble.
Having said that prolific fly life makes for fat and fit fish, a side effect is that fishermen make for fat and fit flies. Warm blooded mammals are at a premium and these flies cannot resist a juicy angler. Although only the females bite and then only after laying their first batch of eggs, this still leaves plenty of flies to bite you. Just look at the following photos:
A head net is essential as is a preparation such as 100% DEET which works very well although it is unpleasant to use and eats fly lines. Avon "Skin So Soft" also works but is a bit less effective. And spare a thought for those with no nets:
That is not a camouflage or rain-spotted jacket, those are flies. On this occasion, the flies won and the angler and his companion beat a grateful and hasty retreat.