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Ronan's report

Sunday December 14th, 2008

I don't know about you, but it's not every morning that I find Oliver Edwards naked outside my bedroom. When it does happen, as it did this summer in Iceland, it's usually an indication that something pretty unusual is going on.

We were on the Mystery River K, truly one of the most remarkable fisheries on the planet. It arises from a warm, shallow lake system and runs along a bed of the purest black volcanic sand; and it is mind-bogglingly bountiful by any standards. Consider: for year after year, more than 6,000 fish have been taken from this river, yet they are still present in astounding numbers at an average size of nearly four pounds, with lots of fives and sixes and some much bigger fish too. And they are by far the fittest, strongest trout I have ever encountered – smash-taking, flat-rodding fish that gave me a good view of my backing even in their smaller sizes.

This really was a remarkable week. Iceland's landscape is poetically beautiful in its sparseness, punctuated by the occasional sheep but almost no trees of any kind. The birdlife is spectacular, both in form and name – whimbrel, phalarope, godwit. Amongst all this, I got a masterclass in wet fly fishing from Oliver, one of the most enlightening episodes of my fishing career. The so-called escalator, in particular, turned out to be a magical way of catching fish that are normally subjected to a barrage of lures fished down and across. I doubt that they were any more pleased to find themselves attached to a Bibio or a waterhen bloa than a Black Ghost, but I like to think that they at least admired the inherent purity of the technique.

What else? We caught our own bodyweights in arctic char, stunningly beautiful, powerful (and, frankly, delicious) fish with what must be the tiniest of all salmonid brains – muppets, as the estimable Basil Shields refers to them. I'm pretty sure you could catch them on bare hooks – we didn't test this, but we did turn to tiny dry flies and Czech nymphing to make the challenge slightly more interesting. Oh, and there were salmon too, of which more later.

I also discovered the Krokurinn, one of the most devastating fly patterns I've ever used. It's really just a black buzzer tied with black vinyl rib for the body and a red ice yarn tail, but it's a buzzer with an almost supernatural ability to attract big trout in Icelandic rivers. It outfished every other pattern in my box by three fish to one – even other black buzzer patterns of exactly the same size. I've no idea if it's the rather wonderfully segmented appearance the viny rib gives it or the red tail (or maybe both); all I know is that I'll be giving this remarkable fly a good workout on the English reservoirs in the spring, just in case it has the same effect here.

This is a special place for very many reasons, but it's not a place for the faint of heart or wallet. It's also a place where whale meat is on nearly every menu, for example, very often in raw sashimi form. I'm nobody's idea of a vegetarian, but I found it very hard to watch people eating raw whale meat for reasons that probably don't need much articulating. And if you've ever wondered whether or not Iceland is as expensive as everyone's always told you, the answer is an unequivocal yes, on almost every front.

But don't let that stop you. You can always eat somewhere else, and there's lots of good, cheap trout fishing for those prepared to do the research. Iceland was for me the highlight of a year that also included both New Zealand and Florida – it's really that good (if you don't believe me, ask Stjáni) and I'll be going back in 2009.

Next week: Salmon. And Lamson. Anagram me, baby!


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