The first time I picked up a fishing rod was when I was 5 years old – my father took me to a local park lake where I began my fascination and my interest in nature, fish and fishing. Since that day I have been fortunate to fish for many species, however only the salmon has stolen my heart.
I began fly fishing for salmon in 1982 at the age of 17 in the Western Isles of Scotland on the Grimersta Fishery. Primarily a grilse fishery, Grimersta is comprised of a series of short rivers which drain a series of lakes or ‘lochs’ into the sea-loch of Little Loch Roag on the Isle of Lewis. I spent nine happy seasons at Grimersta learning how to locate and catch salmon both on the loch and in the rivers under all conditions of weather and water temperature. During my time at Grimersta I was also very fortunate to meet an extremely dedicated group of fishermen who not only had a lifetimes experience of fishing for many species all over the world, but who had the patience and generosity to extend the benefit of that experience to my insatiable thirst for knowledge through discussion and demonstration. Through my interaction with the Grimersta fishermen, one country was always discussed in especially revered tones – Norway. Tales of raging foam-filled torrents and hour-long battles with giant salmon on incredibly heavy gear (at that time even a 15 foot two-handed rod seemed outlandish) which often ended in defeat and despair on the part of the fisherman.
These accounts prompted me to go to Norway in 1992, to see these giant fish for myself. The River Stjordal and River Gaula in the Trondlag region of Norway lived up to all my expectations. This was another world from Scotland; this was a country where 20lb salmon were commonplace, where 30lb salmon were not extraordinary, where 40lb salmon were expected and where 50lb salmon were caught. The skills I had learned in Grimersta helped me tremendously in Norway; however the equipment was very different. Heavy two handed rods thin running line and shooting heads – often very fast sinking were necessary to cast the very long distances needed to cover the pools. Huge tube flies tied with dog hair, 0.50 leaders and big, strong treble hooks are the stock-in-trade of Norwegian salmon fishing; in Norway I had to go back to school as regards equipment and technique. As at Grimersta, I was lucky to meet good people in Norway – people who knew how to catch huge salmon in their rivers, people who created innovative fly patterns (The Temple Dog), and people who could wade and cast 50 yards in torrents unimaginable in Scotland. Since that greenhorn season in Norway, I have returned every summer except one; watching, listening, learning, catching fish, refining and experimenting – there is always something to learn and someone who knows more than you.
In 1994 I had a season’s sabbatical from Norway. An American fisherman I met in Norway suggested I should go to the Kola Peninsula, should go to the Ponoi River, I would enjoy it and he would arrange it for me. Kola was another revelation; so many salmon, so many insects, and the chance to learn something new – salmon on the dry fly. Once again fate was kind to me – I was fishing with some of the best dry fly fishermen in America and Canada; and they were kind and I watched, listened and learnt. We caught and released almost 7000 salmon that season – the incredible Ponoi! The fall run on that river is one of the best – 12 to 20 pound fish that love dry flies and fight almost as hard as their Norwegian cousins, but on dry fly! I loved Russia, but my heart belonged to Norway and I have spent every summer fishing for the Norwegian giant salmon ever since. I have had occasional excursions to Sweden in the spring for the Baltic salmon and in the autumn for the giant seatrout, however it is Norway and its salmon and seatrout rivers is where I feel at home now.