IT’S EASY TO CAST A FLY IN ICELAND. No trees get in the way. The country never had much timber to begin with, and what trees there were got cut down long ago because burning wood keeps you warmer than not burning wood. Only 20 percent of the Kentucky-sized country can support vegetation anyway, so if you get nothing else from your fishing trip to Iceland, you’ll at least get a clear backcast.
What the country lacks in trees it makes up for in rivers, and roughly 100 of them hold salmon. Most of these stretch along the west and north coasts, including a small river in the north called the Fljotaa, which is easier to fish than it is to spell. The Fljotaa is not an A-Lister. It is short, shallow, and known as much for its Arctic char as its salmon, producing just 100 to 200 Atlantics a year over its four beats. (Iceland’s Atlantic-salmon rivers, like nearly all famous Atlantic-salmon rivers, operate on a beat system, allowing only a few expensive rods a day.)
Yet the Fljotaa produces a relatively high number of what Icelanders call “two-sea-winter” salmon. These fish, like our “two-salt” steelhead, have spent two years in the ocean instead of one. According to the Atlantic Salmon Angling Club’s report on the Fljotaa, the number of two-year fish, averaging 10 to 12 pounds, and the number of one-year fish (called “grilse”), averaging five to six pounds, is usually split 50/50. In addition, the report adds, “there are always a few fish around the twenty-pound range to be caught.”
THE ICONIC WATERFALLS OF NORTHERN ICELAND’S BIG LAXA RIVER, NEAR ADALDAL.