The added quality of catch and release in Iceland
A ten pounder is put back. Photo by Heimir Óskarsson.
When coming to fly fish for salmon in Iceland you’;ll soon find out that rules on catch and release vary from one river to another. In some rivers there is no need while in others it obviously accounts for higher quality fly fishing. We’;ll look at examples.
Strict catch and release rules apply to a few Icelandic rivers. Several more have a strict quota on grilse while all mws’;s are to be put back. Still others are typically so full of grilse that there are no restrictions on killing. However voluntary catch and release accounts for high release rates in many of these rivers anyway and most of them have a strict release rule for mws salmon. So, accordingly release statistics have been on the up in Iceland over the last years.
Many of the rivers are brimming with grilse. Photo by Heimir Óskarsson.
As stated, very many Icelandic rivers do not need to be regulated by c&r as they are mainly run by grilse in vast numbers. Other rivers have different characteristics. The rivers of the Northeast for example have moderate runs, a blend of grilse and mws and killing all fish from them would severely ravage the runs although they would perhaps still be enough salmon at the seasons end to sustain the runs of coming years. So supplementing c&r on those rivers is actually all about the quality of the angling.
The northeast river Svalbardsa. Photo by Jon Thor Juliusson.
One such river is the Svalbardsa in Thistilfjordur in the northeast. The rivers of Thistilfjordur are borderline natural salmon sustaining rivers. Fished with 2 to 3 rods over a 70 to 90 day season, a good season will see a catch statistic of 250 to 300 salmon. In a good year, all might be killed and there would still be enough salmon to sustain the river. In a lesser year, releasing the fish could make all the difference for the quality of the fly fishing. Last season the lease holders of Svalbardsa felt that despite the record season in Iceland, the runs for Svalbardsa were no more than moderate at best. Perhaps even numerically smaller than in 2007. Last year they started tagging released fish. They wanted to find out the scale of repeat takers as well as putting to bed the theory that released salmon did not survive the battering ordeal of being caught, manhandled and relseased.
Having tagged quite a lot of salmon this season, the lease holders were themselves fishing the river at the end of August. Fishing with only two rods they hooked, landed and released ten salmon. One of them a 104 cm monster. What lifted their eyebrows more though than the huge salmon was the fact that five out of ten salmon had been caught and tagged earlier in the season. So accordingly, if all salmon were killed in the river the pair of them would have caught only five salmon, perhaps even fewer, and seen far fewer fish in the river during their two days fishing. Here we have a cast iron case for the added quality to fishing alongside catch and release regulations.