Thursday, August 31, 2017

Europe: Denmark and Sweden

I was off to mainland Europe after Iceland; this would offer a fresh opportunity to catch new species in new countries.

The first stop was Copenhagen, Denmark. While the city was beautiful, I had a tough time during our visit finding somewhere to fish—the canals, though plentiful, seemed mostly devoid of life. The river in front of the Royal Museum had some nice-sized carp, but the AK-47 carried on the guard shoulders radiated out an unmistakable "no fishing" sign.

The one place of note was the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, situated by the shore north of the city. After the museum visit, while the rest of my family grabbed dinner, I raced to the rocky bank to see if I couldn't catch a new species or two.

The shore was rocky and full of seaweed, but there was much life in the calm and clear water. I saw pipefish and assorted small reef fish that didn't care for my bait. Standing on rocks protruding over deeper water, however, I saw tiny gobies on the sandy parts of the bottom and they were more than happy to oblige. 

A quick look online revealed these to be sand gobies, species #111 and the fish that added Denmark to my list of countries I have caught a fish in. That species would conclude my short but sweet fishing in Denmark. It was off to Stockholm, Sweden, where I hoped I would have a more fruitful time chasing freshwater fishes.

The very first area we visited upon arrival in Stockholm was the Vasa Museum—a fascinating exhibit dedicated to a 17th-century warship salvaged after spending three centuries in the ocean. The boat was extremely well preserved. I managed to get some pretty cool close up shots of it.

Equally fascinating were the numerous, though small, European perch I observed swimming in the side basin next to the museum. Dropping a little feather jig was enticing enough, and species #112 was mine, Perca fluviatilis. With the yellow perch of the North America, P. flavenscens, I have caught 2/3 of the Perca genus; to complete it requires a trip to Kazakhstan.

After leaving the museum, I decided to fish around the little island a bit and caught some more European perch.

There were some cool boats around the dock; as interesting as they were, I was keen on finding fish in those waters.

The first day yielded just the perch, but there was plenty more to come.

I needed to find a spot I could walk to from where we were staying. With Google Maps, I found a set of fishy-looking docks next to some reeds by a canal a short 20 minute walk from the our place.

The second morning I woke up bright and early to get to the spot and get some fishing in before the events of the day. I was immediately excited when I spooked schools of fish hanging in the shallows. I found a good spot and waited for the fish to settle. It took a little convincing, but the first fish fell for a chunk of white bread freelined to the school.

The ide, species #113. A strong fighter and an aggressive fish, by European cyprinid standards, anyway.

The same tactic yielded a roach next, species #114, probably the most abundant fish in the canal.

There were the deeper-bodied common bream as well, the largest fish of the schools swimming by the dock, but for some reason I found them incredibly wary, contrary to what I had read online about their abundance to the point of pestilence.

With several ide and roach, I turned my attention to the smaller cyprinids hanging under the dock, which fell easily to a small piece of bread on a tiny hook. Most, it turned out, were juvenile roach, but between roach I pulled out a small, silvery bream. A lateral line scale count revealed it to be a white bream, the only white bream I would catch. Species #115.

Going to the same spot every morning, I was consistently greeted by more roach and ide.

On one of the mornings, however, I noticed schools of smaller, slender fish swimming near the surface towards the middle of the canal. They were too far to reach with my micro setup, although they seemed fairly aggressive, chasing but not committing to micro hooks placed nearer to the dock. Improvising, I tied a tanago hook to my regular rod and attached a small float above it so I could cast the setup out. For bait, I put a little piece of bacon fat on, leftovers from Iceland. Casting it out and reeling it back in so the bait moved just under the surface worked wonders, as the fish attacked the bait with vigor. It didn't take long for one to get pinned, and I had species #116, the bleak.

What remained were the common bream. I had a very close call with a very large bream, but missed the hookset, and for some reason the other bream weren't responding at all to my corn and anything else I threw at them. Perplexing indeed, but in attempting to catch bream I caught plenty more of the same species.

Every now and then, I would see perch swim  by the docks, and so I decided to pitch some larger lures under the docks to see if any willing predators were around. It payed off, and I was rewarded with plenty of more respectable perch.

Live bleak and juvenile roach proved to be tempting for the perch as well.

Eventually, it came to my last morning at the docks, and by this point I was getting quite frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the bream. I decided to put all my effort towards catching them, but was still greeted with indifference.

Resorting to whatever I had in my tackle bag, I tied on a small hook with a single kernel of corn and a hot pink Gulp! maggot, and almost had a heart attack when one of them nibbled. This got me thinking. I found a school situated under the dock, and tried my best not to spook them. Directly overhead of them, I dropped a single, freelined pink maggot down, and watched carefully as one of them came up to it before turned away, and then another came and sucked it in without hesitation.

For all the trouble it gave me, it didn't really fight much and I grabbed it without difficulty. No matter, though, because I had finally caught a common bream, species #117. A success, and I could head back to the States with one less overseas grudge. A fine fishy ending to a fine summer.

All the fine natural baits I tried, and they opted to bite this pink smelly bit of rubber.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Iceland Part 2: Goose Chase

I have always been fascinated by char.

It seems as if they carry a certain savagery and ancientness that other salmonids simply do not possess—a relic of wilder times. 

For that reason catching the arctic char, the iconic circumpolar fish of the far north, was high on my list of goals for Iceland. 

The first stop when we left Reykjavik was Lake Thingvellir and the river Öxará, home to massive Icelandic brown trout and three species of arctic char, two of them endemic. 

Oxara was beautiful; full of scenic spots, pathways, and fish, from a ~20 lb trout swimming upstream near the mouth to tiny juvenile browns swimming around the shallows by the falls. Unfortunately, fishing isn't allowed in the river, so I turned my attention towards the lake.

Thingvellir is more like a small sea. Approaching it from shore is no easy task, and I cast a variety of presentations for several hours with nothing to show for it, which was unfortunate because I really hoped to encounter the two endemics, Salvelinus thingvallensis and S. murta, which are genetic splits from the arctic char adapted to fit different ecological niches in the lake.

The lack of success at Thingvellir was the start of a wild goose chase across Iceland.

Here I got skunked at some random waterfall we drove by. Sure was pretty though.

This spot was equally fruitless.

And here.

And here. If you look closely enough, you might be able to make out barbed wire. I may or may not have hopped it.

At this point, the arctic char, or lack thereof, was getting to me, if it wasn't already by the time I definitely didn't hop barbed wire. The next touristy destination was a tall waterfall. After a hike around it with my family, I became preoccupied with the tiny streams dotting the grass.

Alas, no char were spotted. 

I did see some brown trout, however, so I tied up a quick, pocketable rig and set to work.

A small nymph was all it took to convince the fish, which were very aggressive when not spooked. In order to do this, I had to lie on the grass out of sight, and was rewarded with several beautiful browns, my first from their native lands.

The glorified puddle below and on the right held a surprisingly large number of (small) brown trout.

If you look in the background of this photo, you can see some people walking up on the hill behind me. I decided to go up as well, but was greeted by a carpet of slippery mud on a steep hill. I tried my best to stay on my feet (I managed to make it down without falling), although several people around me had a tough time. Once down, I carried on my quest for the elusive char.

The brown trout were nice, but they weren't char. The chase continued.

I decided to put together a setup that I could fish tiny bodies of water with; to do this I tied a prince nymph to some mono and tied it to the top of my smallest telescopic cane pole so I could take it practically anywhere by sticking it in my pocket. This tactic offered several advantages: it would severely reduce setup time to fish a spot, I could take it anywhere without it being a burden, and most importantly, I could fish somewhat inconspicuously.

No arctic char among the icebergs either, but dang, Iceland had offered me some brilliant views. Jökulsárlón, the lagoon we visited, is the largest glacial lake in southeast Iceland. We arrived just in time to see the sunset after a long drive that was well worth it. We managed to spot some grey seals (halichoerus grypus) swimming, which was a pretty cool experience. It had to be cool --- here the temperature was near freezing in the mid of August. 

The trip was coming to its end, and we were heading back to Reykjavik to get to Europe's mainland.

At the last tourist destination before we left, we opted to take a short hike around a crater lake. Surely there couldn't be fish here, there wasn't any outlets or inlets; the lake was entirely groundwater. I knew better than to think such pessimistic thoughts, however, so I grabbed my little stick anyways.

All that view, and I was squinting at the water to see if I could spot any rings from rising fish. And spot some I did.

The big question was, trout or char? In the water, despite the clarity, I couldn't really tell, especially because I was looking off a cliff. Alas, I also couldn't tell when I got closer, because the fish were positively tiny and juvenile salmonids all look the same.

I tried to act natural, or as natural as anyone would be squatting next to the water extending what looked like a twig towards the edge. The fish were aggressive, and getting them to bite was a matter of putting it in their line of sight and making sure they bit the nymph and not the splitshot I used to weigh it down. I grabbed it as it came out of the water and looked at it.

Arctic char.

A tiny one, but it was a char nonetheless. For all the effort put into the chase, this was a really anticlimactic ending.

I put about five more minutes of effort into it, and was rewarded with a (slightly) larger specimen. I saw larger ones in the deeper water, but since my pole was 5 feet long and I was fairly sure that my activity was illegal (they didn't explicitly say I couldn't fish), I decided to book it after that one. I was ecstatic.

So the goose chase was over.

And with species #110 in the books, I bid Iceland farewell, although not before trying to catch some fish here.

Hello Mr. Krabs