I like to think of myself as being adventurous. This doesn't come without obligations, of course. One such obligation is when one of your co-adventurers challenges you with a new adventure. More often than not this leads to wet socks, getting lost in interesting places, living on un-nameable substances, bruises and usually no fish, even when they were part of the *plan*.
Anyway, when one of my fishing mates called me late at night and said that we were going to Norway to catch huge coalfish on the fly, from a small dinghy, approximately 100 kms off the main coast, how could I reject? Two more mates were talked into coming along and research started.
The fish finder had just shown a few larger individual spots mid water as opposed to the clumps of spots near the bottom (cod) and the massive layer near the surface indicating large schools of small coalfish. The fly abruptly stopped during the retrieve and as the flyrod bent down and touched the gunwale, many meters of shooting line quickly found its way out through the guides.
Röst is a fairly small island situated a 3½ hour ferry ride off the main coast of Norway, just north of the Polar Circle. Within the last few years the place has become popular with Scandinavian fishermen due to the massive catches of especially large coalfish (closely related to Pollack) and cod. (A few guys had caught coalies on the fly up three before so, alright, it has been done before but it's hard to be pioneers as well as adventurers these days and so we took the challenge upon us anyway).
It is the Gulf Stream swinging by this area that creates the favourable environment for marine life. Despite its northern latitude, snow is hardly ever seen during the winter because of the water's warming effect. I'm not planning to go up and check, however – it's pitch black during winter. Röst and its surrounding uninhabited islands are also known for the large colonies of sea birds and the regular visits of whales, among these killer whales.
Röst has become popular with Scandinavian fishermen during the last few years, renowned for it large cod and especially its coalfish. It was the story of a guy who had brought his flyrod along and managed to hook a few of these monsters that sparked our interest. Apparently the fish came relatively close to the surface when feeding, so repeating the success shouldn't be too hard or what?
As we went along the challenges seemed to grow. In the excitement we had forgotten that going offshore in the North Sea in a 19-foot open boat in most instances would require some sort of experience. Fortunately, real adventurers are fast learners. The guy from whom we were renting the boat from must have sensed something, because at one stage he wanted to make sure that we had actually sailed a boat before. Oh, yes – we had (a 13 footer dinghy in a sheltered Danish fiord, how big could the difference be?). I must stress that you shouldn't take the sea lightly. We wore floatation suits, brought GPS, plenty of water and were at all times able to reach the local rescue corps by mobile phone. Furthermore, there were other boats around and we only sailed in calm weather.
Flies were tied. Big flies. Also we tried to gain knowledge of how to target fish in deep waters with flies. Members of the famed Board delivered good advice. Heavy shooting heads were bought and tried out. Casting a 600 grain 30 foot Tungsten shooting head with mono shooting line on a 10 weight is quite an experience I should add.
Finally, we were on the plane and Gardamoen, the airport of Oslo, appeared on the in-flight screen. Morten, who had come up with the idea of the coalfish adventure in the first place, didn't know the name of Oslo's airport and so got quite confused. Being the great friends that we are, we all proclaimed that we didn't know what was going on. Panic came across Morten's face as he envisioned us ending up in the wrong place and missing the ferry to Röst. He decided to run up the aisle, loudly asking if this was the plane to Oslo. No need to tell we were quite amused, to say the least, as the air hostess escorted a slightly blushed Morten back to his seat, telling us to be nice to our friend…
After a very rocking ferry ride we were finally there. We were all concerned about the wind since it could prevent us from going out in the boat at all. It turned out not to be the only problem, however; the GPS in the boat didn't work which makes it very hard to find the peaks where we had been told to fish. These peaks rise from the surrounding depths of 60-100 meters up to as shallow as 14 meters with a top covering several hundred square meters.
We decided to give it a go without the GPS and after sailing to the approximate location we lowered the lures. They didn't even hit the bottom before being taken by cod. This was the start of a mind-blowing week. I lost track of how many times I improved my personal cod record during the next couple of hours. I do remember that the biggest one was 16 kilos.
Next day the GPS was working and we were ready for the coalfish that we had only caught in miniature sizes. The current was fast and it only took a few minutes to drift over the peak of “Spjutskallen” where the water was forced up from app. 80 meters to about 20 meters. The abundance of fish was hard to grasp. The fish finder showed a thick layer close to the surface, which turned out to be smaller coalfish. The groups of spots along the bottom were cod and the spots midwater were the most interesting ones: bigger coalfish.
After the rush of catching a few big ones on conventional gear it was time for getting the flygear out. Initially we only caught the one-kilo fish near the surface but as we started experimenting with heavier flies and longer sink times suddenly it was there! The fish that suddenly took you into the backing. One very good run to the bottom and after pumping it up in great big circles another one when it saw the boat (or was it us?). Five minutes later a great big, steel grey torpedo-shaped monster appeared in the surface with the big white fly in its mouth. Our first coalfish over 10 kilos was a reality.
Deep-sea flyfishing involves dangers for adventurers that none of us had imagined. 40 meters of 50-pound mono shooting line is surprisingly elastic when you have a big fish attached to the other end. One of the consequences of this is that when you release the line with your fingers, during the initial run, coils of line actually jump from the bottom of the boat. Having these coils form knots or wind around your boots is exciting (and makes for some interesting fish fighting techniques; e.g. lying in the bottom of the boat with your foot over the gunwale trying to release the line from your boot…). Getting the coils around your neck is very exciting too…
The rest of the trip is pretty much a blur. Not due to whiskey – as you might think – but rather, due a combination of unbelievably many fish and a lack of sleep. Having 24 hour daylight and exceptional fishing, you very quickly lose a proper day rhythm. The main reason for interrupting the fishing was when you got too hungry. Of course you could just bring a stove into the boat as some Swedes fishing did but that's…
The technique for getting the big buggers to take the fly was quite functional. The longer “bottom time” of the fly and the bigger its white hackles, the more hits you had. This resulted in a white “fly” with a big lead head, appropriately named The Jigging Chook. Consequently, slinging the “fly” and the head up current didn't have much to do with proper flycasting. Many people would argue that this wasn't flyfishing at all, but that wasn't the issue. The issue was being adventurers and fighting big fish on flygear. Fish that would charge the fly as you were stripping it in as fast as you could. Maybe far from dryfly fishing or stalking but loads of fun. Personally, I don't believe flyfishing should be about kilos, pounds or inches. But the again, I didn't think I'd ever go on a fishing trip where the total catch would be measured in tonnes…
Most fish were released. With a strong leader, a 10-weight rod is surprisingly good at fighting big fish. The coalfish handled the pressure difference quite well whereas cod were hard to release. Fortunately, freshly caught cod fried with lemon pepper makes an excellent breakfast.
For anyone wanting to try deepwater flyfishing Scandinavian-style (or just wants to give the wife, father-in-law, son or whoever a chance at catching many and big fish) Röst is to be highly recommended. We flew to Bodö, caught the cheap ferry (app. 4 hours) out to the island where we stayed at Röst Havfiske Camping (hostel-like, see here) where we also rented the 19 foot boat. Being four guys and paying app. 90 pounds a day for the boat (plus petrol) and app. 60 pounds a day for a 4-man room with access to kitchen, the trip wasn't expensive.
Jan is another completely mad Danish flyfisherman. Jan and I met in New Zealand a couple of years ago where we re-enacted WC Stewart inventing upstream wetfly, caught a few fish and discussed the world. Jan has a vivid imagination - Paul
Related reading: Steve Parton's Northampton Style