Into the wild. I read the book when I was young, and later on I also saw the film. We all did, and living our own mini “Into the wild” adventure was what we came for, Porsanger Kommune the place to do it.
Yet we chose to swap the shotguns for rods n reels, and a big box filled with flies.
But first things first: after one week without a shower and a diet based on fish, cereal bars and berries, we would get ourselfs a treat at the nearest town: Alta.
(click on CC to activate the english subtitles)
After a four hour drive along a small canyon filled with beautifull pine trees and a magnificent river (they are everywhere!), we reached ‘one of the biggest cities in Lapland’, we read on some local tourist information board.
To us it was more of a huge campsite with a shoppingmall in the middle and some overexpensive gass stations, but city? Nah. Mind you, Alta does have an airport. But my guess is that they built it to evacuate locals with no interest in fishing, and replace them by salmon and seatrout anglers from all over the world.
Yes. Salmon and seatrout. Early august Alta river is well known for a good stock of migrating salmon and the fjord gives you a fair chance to catch seatrout. And even better for us budgetteers: fishing the fjord is totally for free!
So after we ate the most expensive hamburger ever, took a shower and a very welcome mosquito-proof poo on a real toilet, we decided to try our luck for seatrout. Because a day without flyfishing is like a day without flyfishing (for the non-flyfishermen who are reading this: we mean a very, very bad day).
We had a hint of a place where the deeper fjord turns into shallow water at casting range, I borrowed a box of seatrout flies from a friend, but further than that we had no clue what to do. Three 100% seatrout virgins.
We all heard the stories about seatrout being ‘the fish of a thousand casts’, so when a local fisherman told us fish wasn’t active at all, we weren’t very confident.
Splash! A first seatrout jumps about 30m from where I’m standing. Wow! They are here! Adrenaline rises, heartbeat goes up, and cast after cast, both go down again. Seatrout 1 – Jeff 0 – Mathias 0 – Jeremy 0.
Despite different patterns, stripping techniques and depths, and even two or three more jumpers, we decided to call it a day. Already midnight, and the cold was starting to take over. On our way back we all talked about these jumpers and what they were chasing.
A slight wave of disappointment is noticeable, but the fantastic scenery and the everlasting sunset makes it vanish in no time. Along the road some Norwegian guy is mowing his lawn. At midnight. Crazy people.
BERRY WHITE RIVER
The next morning we fill the few space that is left in the car with a new stock of canned food, cereal bars and some fresh stuff for a picnic, and off we go. We pass a new vidda, dominated by lakes, rivers (everywheeeerrrrrreeeee!) and reindeers.
Next stop: a four day hike along Berry White River, a namegame to honour the guy who gave us this hint (without mocking with his haircolour) in combination with what we mainly ate.
This river is one of the lesser known salmon rivers up north, but we didn’t come here for that. According to our friend Barry it holds a great stock of trout ‘if you like the walk, that is’. After 25km salmon won’t mount the river anymore, and brownies take over.
Since we are in a new Kommune and fish in salmon water, our material has to be desinfected all over again. On top of that we need to buy the state license for salmon fishing.
When we try to tell the lady from the fishing center that we only aim for trout and want to walk the 25km of salmon zone without fishing them, she doesn’t seem to understand what we are talking about.
‘Trout?’ It almost sounds as a dirty word when she pronounces it, though it could be my memory got affected by her bad breath. ‘I don’t know if there is trout on this river’, she continues. ‘But everybody is catching salmon, and even seatrout and searun artic char are migrating now.’
15 minutes later we leave the fishing center with about 100 euro spent on salmon fishing licenses, still asking ourselfs wether it was the ‘searun artic char’ that did it or not. Fact is none of us ever tried salmon fishing before, so again we start to worry we will be loosing time and money.
Our first big hike. We find ourselfs packing our bags at the end of the road. It’s already 4 pm and at 6pm we can officially start fishing. But since we bought licenses for the very last part of the river (the cheapest ones), we would still have to do a first 10km hike.
This place is… different from what we’ve encountered before. There are people here, mainly older blokes with private guides, prepping expensive rods in the back of expensive 4WDrives.
We all get the idea that a salmon river is like the golf course of fly fishing, a rich mans affair. As we mount our heavy backpacks, two Norwegian fishermen return from a day out in the river. ‘Did you catch any fish?’ I ask, ‘Do you see any fish on me?’ I get as an answer.
We love and respect fish so dearly that we sometimes forget that most fishermen don’t do catch & release. After a quick look at our material, they ask us where we are going.
We explain someone told us this river should be filled with trout and we might as well try to catch our very first salmon ever. ‘Well, I never heard there is trout in here, but big salmon on that kind of rod… good luck.’
The first 6km of the walk is well indicated and though it’s a steep start, again the scenery pays it all off. After about 10km we find a green bank along the river, perfect to pitch our tents for the night.
Rain is pooring down now, wind is picking up, but we spot a first rising/jumping fish nearby. Not sure wether it’s a salmon or trout, we play a paper-stone-scissor game, pointing Jerem as the one to try his luck.
The fish stands in the middle of a huge stretch of slow walking water, in between two big boulder nearly touching the surface. At his first cast with a big stimulator pattern, the fish reacts, leaves his safe spot and follows the dry. But it drags and the fish turns away. Changing to a light streamer pattern leads to a second chase, but again, no take. We give up and decide to try again later on.
About 100m upstream of our camp a small gorge formed by a bunch of small waterfalls and rapids creates two deep pools. The perfect waiting room for migrating fish. We all pick a spot and take our weight 7-8 rods. Tippet?
The strongest we have in stock, 25/100. I’m nearly in position to do a first series of downstream casts, trying out some salmon flies we quickly bought at the fishing center, when a large silvery salmon jumps out of the water only 10m in front of me.
Adrenaline, rising heartbeat, and shaking hands… you know what I’m talking about. I start casting and mending, allowing the fly to swing out in the vein where I believe salmons are standing. I often change the fly and put on a polyleader to allow them to go deeper.
Suddenly a huge salmon, maybe 15kg, jumps out of the water, two, three times in a row. This is no good. A fish like that on, and I will not stand a chance. With very few to no faith left, I decide to go upstream where Math and Jeremy are fishing the first shallow pool. This will be an early night.
Math and Jeremy are standing on a boulder sticking out of the pool. They make short casts and change of fly every minute. ‘Sight nymphing for salmon! Join us!’. I spot 3 salmons in the pool they are fishing, up to 4 kg, all at casting range.
Both Math and Jeremy had a couple of fish opening their jaws but they didn’t succeed hooking one. Salmon has a narrow and hard beak, so it’s not the easiest fish to hook, especially not with hooksize 14. The salmons slowly start going upstream again, and we decide to call it a day.
After a long break-feast we decide to go upstream and leave all our camping gear behind. There should be trout between the salmon, never fished for since nobody is interested in catching them. Finding good spots however seems difficult.
The river is wide, with deep pools, long flats and strong rapids. Jemery and Math decide to concentrate on the pocket water, while I go upstream looking for rising fish at the end of big flats. The sun is out so there should be some activity.
In front of a bolder, out of the blue, I spot a rise. I think it is a good sized trout though it could also be a young salmon aswell. A first cast with a dead drift presentation of a big dry doesn’t give any reaction.
At the second cast, I slightly animate the fly and… bang! The fish starts rolling, it’s about 45-50cm, but less powerfull than I’d expected. I am still fishing my 8wt rod and… all tension gone, I lost it.
Math and Jeremy join me, they had no luck so far. Still telling them about the fish I just lost, eagle eye Jeremy spots a good sized fish way at the back of the pools end.
Time for some sight fishing! He puts a nymph on the tip of his WT4 and a few casts later we can see the jaws of the fish move.
Strike! The fish immediately reacts with a couple of serious jumps and a short but powerfull run.
The 16/100 tippet barely holds it, but five minutes later a male salmon in spawning colors is netted.
Three happy salmon friends! With 51 cm it’s probably his first run for spawning grounds ever, and actually makes a perfect foodfish for the three of us. But we can’t…
To kill such a beautifull wonder of nature, after such a long journee in oceans and seas, that’s just not us. Guess tonight we will stick to our berry diet.
Clouds take over from the sun again and we don’t spot any other fish. Time to move. Fishing several stretches only results in a loss of a big fish on a streamer for Mathias and a good sized trout on sight for Jerem, nothing more, nothing less.
Though we still have a license untill 6pm the next day, we decide to head back to our camp, pack our bags, and walk the next 15km until we reach the falls.
That’s where salmon can’t go, and trout should be abundand. A long and harsh walk, often resulting in walkingpaths that turn out to be created by animals and don’t go nowhere. We cross hills, swamps, do some basic climbing not to lose more time, darkness is coming soon.
We’re all nakked from the journey and decide to make camp at the confluence of three rivers, a gigantic pool filled with deep, black coloured water. We can hear the waterfalls, we should be close.
We are almost up the vidda now, the air is much cooler than down in the valley. We leave our tents and take everything we need for the day. We still have to make it passed the falls before our so called Eldorado should be waiting for us, and we find it hard to find the right way.
There’s not much people who come here, that’s for sure.
Old gorges stick out and our GPS doesn’t make it clear wether to go auround or climb them. After an hour and a half we find our way and there we are. Berry White River is completely different up here, and so is the landscape.
It is a vidda, but quiet different than what we saw around Kautokeino. And so is the river. Much more stretches of good current, beautifull slow walking water and barely any dead water pools.
The gravel bedding makes the river easy to wade, christal clear, and leaves us some possibilities to cross. Again we have to search for the best method, and after a while we all find our way. Trout after trout after trout is landed. Nymphing, dry flies and streamers, it all works.
It really doesn’t matter which fly, as long as it makes a good lunch. We all catch a lot, in total maybe over 200 trout find their way in our nets. +1kg fish for all of us, but unfortunately we all lose those few bigger ones.
It’s quiet clear that -during the day- they will almost only be tempted to take a streamer. And they will only attack it once.
In the evening we finally have surface activity and we all have the time of our lives. It’s clear: the further we go upstream, the bigger the fish we catch. It’s way passed 10pm when we head back to our camp, dusk is getting darker every day and we didn’t bring our headlights.
Still more than 5km back to our tents and I’m not 100% at ease. If you make a fall between these rocks and slopes, you’ll definitely break at least one bone. With no network for miles around, it means help is more than a day away.
Back at our tents we discuss what to do. We all want to stay and go further up stream, knowing it’s just a matter of time before we get that fish of a lifetime, because this is definitely the place. But time is not by our side, and we still have to walk back the whole lot to our car aswell.
Fishing the same stretch tomorrow as today is silly, so with pain in our hearts we decide to head back the next day. We are more than 25kms away from the nearest road, and because we suck in killing fish for food (I know, we truly are a bunch of eco friendly arses), we are almost out of supplies.
The good thing is that you can say the same thing about berries as about lakes and rivers in this country (EVERYWHERE!). Apart from the sugar they contain, they also help constipation, even if you’re not constipated at all.
The next day mr. Blue Sky welcomes us. Not a single cloud in sight, no wind, rather warm temperatures. A good day for walking, one could say. A perfect day for dry fly fishing, we all thought. Berries for breakfest, backpacks ‘n boots for the day. Shit.
To be continued.
Jeff, Jérémy & Mathias