What has happened to Norway's summer run?
As July merges into August, high summer into late-summer, a pattern has become established on Norway's sportfishing rivers. When a 2012 salmon is hooked it tends to be an older, bigger, river fish. Now, with the season ending two weeks tomorrow, from the Lakselva to the Orkla, the question is repeated: what has happened to Norway's summer run of medium sized salmon and grilse? And the newer, big fish, for that matter?
IT IS THE reason Norway, and Norwegian salmon-fishing, drew the 'English Lords' to fish its mighty rivers from the Nineteenth century onwards. Big, fast-flowing salmon rivers with big, strong salmon that will test fly-fisher and his tackle to the limits and provide the ultimate international fly-fishing adventure.
Those fish are still about, make no mistake, a stunning giant salmon of 46.5 pounds was caught on the Norwegian Flyfishers Club (NFC) beats of the Gaula only last season - a fresh fish, on fly, the biggest from that river for 2011 - and huge fish in the forties and fifties of pounds turn up into double figures - per river - on such famous names as Namsen, Orkla and of course the northern rivers of the stamp of Alta and Lakselva.
But there is a new concern this season. Okay perhaps its been in evidence in the past but now it is compelling and it's this: a faltering in the later runs of summer fish.
For example one angler, just returned from one of the legendary rivers mentioned above, the Lakselva, described his experience of an August 2012 week: 'Huge fish if you were lucky enough to encounter one, but not much of a run of grilse etc.'
A party of fly-fishing friends on the Orkla last month described the morale-sapping exercise of fishing pools where one knew there were very few fish. Yes the party caught one or two in their week - but that was it.
And Enrico Cristiani, new General Manager of the NFC, told me just this week that the fishing remains slow on his river. Action? He had lost a big fish in the Club's Langoy pool. But it was fits and starts.
One could go on.
No one, it seems these days, is better known to UK fly-fishers on the subject of Norway than television presenter and angling celebrity Matt Hayes. Matt now runs, with his wife and her family the Winsnes fishery on the Gaula (just 3 or 4 miles upstream of the NFC's uppermost salmon beat, Bogen Søndre).
Matt posted on his website yesterday: 'Catches generally have plummeted as the normal summer run of fish has simply not arrived. But Week 31 [July 29th-August 5th] was very interesting. While the river remained unstable with frequent rainstorms, the fish were on the move. At Winses, we were visited by Gary Scott from Glasgow, John Olav Oldren and Thomas from Verda, Ian Gordon (Scotland) for three days, Lawrie Hickman from England and Stein Thorvadsen, MD of Guideline for two days.
'The week went quite well for big fish. The smallest fish of the week was 7.5 kilos, caught by Lawrie. I added fish of 8.5, 8 and 13 kilos while John Olav took a 14 kilo hen fish from beat two on Flaskhølen. The best fish of the week was caught and released by Stein Thorvaldsen from Guideline with a fish of fifteen kilos. The following morning, with the river quite high but stable, Stein hooked another huge fish, only to lose it when the hooks gave out.
'The number of big fish we have caught this season has been nothing short of amazing but the lack of small to medium sized salmon is rhater worrying.
'Bringing matters up to date, the past few days have been truly dire. The river is now at its lowest summer rate and the lack of fresh fish has taken its toll. It is now illegal to keep female salmon and yet I note from the records kept at the Gaula Natursenter that the release rate is still below 50%!
'The conditions this year have been truly freakish and the lack of a summer run is very worrying. The catch and kill policy that is still the norm on the river has now decimated our stocks and with the release rate for the whole river at less than thirty percent, drastic action is now called for.
'I am not aware of any catches in the recent days. Flaskhølen has been very quiet. I think that there were four salmon caught yesterday on the whole river!'
So there it is. Apart from Matt's worries (and he is not alone among beat owners) about the 'catch and kill' policy on the river, which this season has centred about the earlier part of the season when salmon were holed up below the Gaulfossen and could be hammered by rods, his main points stand repeating: 'The number of big fish we have caught this season has been nothing short of amazing but the lack of small to medium sixe salmon is rather worrying.' 'Freakish conditions'. And 'truly dire'.
We hope for a late show on Norway's rivers but zooming out there is a good chance this is just a ten-year blip and normal service will resume shortly. But we can't be complacent and more stringent conservation measures over and above the return of all female salmon after August 1st, introduced this year, may yet be called for.
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