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

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