Saturday, July 25, 2009

For The Love Of Iceland

I remember the first email I ever exchanged with Icelander, Rafn Valur Alfreðsson.
I couldn’t pronounce his name, and I certainly couldn’t pronounce his river, but the rest of the text was clear.
April, my name is Rafn Alfreðsson and I run a lodge on the river Midfjardará.  We would like you to come to Iceland to put on a women’s school in June next year, are you interested?
Iceland is famous for it's incredible scenery and world renowned Atlantic salmon fishing…..Of course I was interested.
The lower and flatter half of the "Midi".
The deal was simple......  Eight days, four of which were my own personal fishing days and four of which were to be spent instructing, guiding and laughing with twenty-four lady anglers from around the country.
The school was to take place on the third week of June, making fishing tricky, as June 19th had been opening day and the fish were scarce.
The commute from Oklahoma to Iceland was an interesting one to say the least.  I was traveling alone, at times feeling like a contestant from the Amazing Race. Connections, insanely lengthy layovers, and underground trains to off-map terminals kept my tired eyes alert, testing my navigational skills.
Finally, I settled into the cozy seats of Iceland Air.
Nearly 24 hours later, the breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean kissing Iceland’s green fields filled my window and our plane descended.
It was obvious I was in a foreign country.  The toilets flushed differently, the electrical sockets were funny looking, and the language surrounding me was one of a kind; quite literally.  (Icelander’s have their own language and even their own letters.) Try pronouncing one of their words one day….make sure there’s no one in front of you, ‘cuz they’re bound to get wet.
My guides name was Jonni (pronounced Yonni). A quiet, reserved, handsome, early forties, local, Jonni had woken up early to be at the airport for 6am. (Side note:  During these months, Iceland doesn’t get the slightest bit of dark even once throughout the evening!  There’s something strange about being able to get a sun tan at 3 o’clock in the morning….This said, they have set fishing rules, and it is illegal to fish past a certain hour at night).
Jonni’s face said it all; 'it’s opening day on the Midfjardará and I’m stuck here picking up some high maintenance, over hyped blonde chick….'
Yup.....this one.  (Photo by Larus Halldorsson.)
Jonni didn’t know it yet, but we were about to become extremely dear friends.
Jonni you're a babe!!  I miss you buddy...... (Vokey photo.)
The truck ride to the river was two hours long and I hit Jonni with 1001 questions.  This was the most beautiful country I had ever seen!
Ocean view, volcanoes, rolling hills, gin clear water and picture perfect waterfalls told me that if the fish were as beautiful as their surroundings, that I had found heaven.
Cliff top view of the "Midi".  (April Vokey photo.)
We headed straight for the river in true Vokey all-nighter fashion.  Man, I’m starting to get too old for this whole live without sleep thing…..
The first run we hit up was a flat, steady flowing piece of water that required no more than a short roll cast.  Our flies were small and everything that I had imagined fishing for Atlantics would be.
'Oooooh so romantic!'  I squealed to myself.
The "blue box"...
Arriving at the run.  (Vokey photo.)
Cast, strip, cast, strip, I worked the run and moved step by step through the pool.
The run widened and my casts lengthened. I cast, adjusted my footing, and then looked back at Jonni to ask him question #1002. His eyes almost popped out of his head; he was looking straight past me. Idiot girl had missed a nice sized salmon splashing at her fly.
“Damn!!!”  (The censored version).  There was no need to be disgusted though, for Jonni was disgusted enough for the both of us. He shook his head and looked down.
Great start.
I tried at that fish for another ten minutes before Jonni took the rod from my hands.
Three casts and his rod was doubled over with the perfect specimen of a fish jumping on the other end.
My, uh I mean, Jonni's first salmon of the season.  (April Vokey photo.)
The day went on and we hit countless other pools.  Every so often I’d close my eyes to take it all in….I was in Iceland! For me, this was a dream come true.
Our rig.  (Vokey photo.)
Near the end of the day we hit a long run, and I cast into the head of the pool. I recognized pools like this one from the steelhead rivers in BC.
I cast.  Only this time instead of stripping, I let my steelhead instincts set in and prepared to let my fly swing through.
“Oh my God, this run is money”, I said to Jonni, anticipating a tug.
Sure enough, a large mouth broke the surface and my small black fly was engulfed by a magnificent fish! I raised the rod tip and prepared to battle. It jumped, ran, splashed and turned for close to twenty minutes. I was getting my ass kicked!!!
Eventually I landed my first Atlantic Salmon.  My God, it was beautiful!  Chrome and spotted with sea lice, it was one of the most magnificent fish I had ever seen.
Yay!  First Atlantic ever!  (Jonni Birgisson photo.)
It was well worth waiting for.
When I first started fly-fishing, there was a perception that I held in my head.  When I would close my eyes and envision the epitome of why I was so drawn to the sport, I would imagine a romantic stream, with cascading waterfalls, classic flies, floating lines, tight loops, and flawless silver fish.
Flawless.... (photo by Helgi Gudbrandsson)
Casting at holding fish beneath the falls.  Can you believe we actually caught fish in here!?
Iceland was everything I dreamt fly-fishing would be.
Oh so cute (Jonni Birgisson photo.)
Soon, the ladies arrived from various towns around Iceland; every one of them excited to learn and have a shot at a fly-caught Atlantic salmon.
I’ll let several pictures speak for themselves……
Ape with a glowing angler (photo by Helgi Gudbrandsson.)
Ready for release (photo by Helgi Gudbrandsson).
This fish made this lady work for it! (Photo by Helgi Gudbrandsson)
Fishing with style (photo by Helgi Gudbrandsson.)
Iceland was one of the most mind blowing trips that I have ever taken and if I could preach to somebody loud enough that this is a MUST TAKE trip, I would shout it as obnoxiously as an old-school click pawl reel.
The guides (when they weren't beating on me in a brotherly sort of way), the food, the lodging, the scenery, and the fishing (during the months of July and August, it isn’t irregular to have 50+ fish days) far exceeded any of my expectations.
The trip's not cheap, but if you sub your next two trips with this one, I can promise you that it will be more than worth it.
For more info on booking a trip visit
For so many fresh water anglers, this is the reason we started fly-fishing in the first place, so why on Earth wouldn't you try to revitalize that passion....
Think about it,