In the distance, deep in the forest covering the hills, I hear the whistle of a moth, louder than the sound of running water, disturbed only by the whistling of my rod in the darkness. I swung my flies in this wonderful pool in the dark of a Norwegian night in July. With each movement, I play with the line between the fingers of my left hand, searching for the sensation my eyes lack in this darkness.
I repeat this over and over in my head, trying to connect with nature, keeping it away from all the questions every salmon fisherman has when the fish aren’t active.
I have to admit that sometimes it is not easy. However, at dawn, our brains seem to be less rational and perceive things around us in a different way. This is why I love night fishing; the sounds, the temperature, the water, the light, and my rod becomes a mantra that keeps me awake and focused on my goal. Step by step, cast after cast, waiting with faith.
As if I were hypnotized and everything unfolded to the rhythm of a symphony in which the attraction would be the dissonant note. Louder, louder and deeper, it goes through all the neurons of your nervous system.
After that, everything returns to the dark chaos of war. Sometimes, Gaula lets you touch the sky with your fingertips.
Every salmon fisherman in the world has read about it. It has its own legend. Its name is synonymous with majesty, wild, unbreakable… one of the only rivers still undefended, with its pure golden waters flowing freely. And, of course, Gaula means giant salmon. Thousands of stories have been told about the great Atlantic salmon on the banks of this river.
Not for nothing, the number of 20 pounders caught here every year is incredible, but 30 or even 40 pounders shows that we are in one of the best rivers in the world when it comes to landing the fish of a lifetime.
Perhaps, this is what the British bourgeoisie were looking for when they came here in the summer of the 19th century, more than 150 years ago. This was the beginning of the fishing tourism industry we find today along the Gaula coast, with world class waters like the Norwegian Flyfishers Club where I am fishing tonight. Fishing tourism has evolved over the past two centuries; lodges like this support a sustainable catch and release business.
As I said, the Gaula River is completely wild, without dams or hydroelectric stations, one of the few remaining large ones in Norway and Europe. With more than 150 km, its golden waters flow through deep valleys covered by lush coniferous forests on its high borders. The forest turns to meadows and traditional Norwegian farmland in its middle and lower reaches until the Gaula reaches the Trondheim fjord.
Gaula is a river with a strong personality. Its pools are deep and stable, with the bottom covered by small-medium stones, providing the perfect scenario for the fly fisherman who likes long casts and good tension on the move.
As the natural river that it is, the Gaula tends to suffer from marked flow changes caused by the unpredictable Norwegian summer weather. In the middle of Norway, close to the arctic circle, summer is short but brilliant. It is as if spring and summer were mixed and concentrated into three months, taking the best of each. Although sometimes you have to be ready for the unexpected.
A river to graduate
Peak time in Gaula runs from early June to mid-July, depending on conditions. This is the time when you find the big fish and an endless number of them. And, of course, the unpredictable but fantastic end of August, when the amount of fish in the river reaches its peak and the salmon begin to feel the eggs, becoming more aggressive and more inclined to take our flies.
During those first few weeks of the season, we fish long rods in the 14-15 foot range with heavy sinking lines and large flies. It is a challenging but rewarding job.
Later in July and August, we change to something lighter and shorter. Sinking tip floating lines and smaller flies are the setup of choice. In these low water conditions, anglers who enjoy tactical fishing, precision swings and smaller flies will have their perfect playground.
Despite the healthy population of salmon going to Gaula, we have to manage our expectations. The Gaula is a challenging river; it is capricious and requires excellent technique, tactical knowledge and good physical and mental fitness. We cannot forget that we are in Norway, the land of the midnight sun. When fishing Gaula, you will be fishing long if you want to catch your dream fish. You can be rewarded if you put in the hours, fish hard and try your best.
There are few things more frustrating than repeatedly jumping into a pool full of fish, turning every minute as your brain tries to come up with the right answer. These extraordinary fish will always have the last word.
We’re not in Iceland and you can’t catch ten fish a day here. We are in Gaula; you have to visualize the fish, see your fish and go for it on every cast. Believe me. Nothing can beat that feeling of connection.
The challenge is there. Gaula is a river where you can touch the sky. The best canvas to paint your dreams. The river where many anglers could fight the fish of their lives, some won, others not. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking. As it arrives, we share experiences, laugh and share unique moments with our fishing buddies because, in general, salmon fishing is what you experience between each fish you land.
Article by Focus on the Fly Media, Alvaro Santillán. Find him on Instagram at @focusontheflymedia. Special mentions to @brodie_jordan, @bergues.fabrice, @the_purest_mischief and @roar113.
Check out the articles below:
A dream called New Zealand
Why you should fly fish in Norway