Do you dream about fishing in some of the world's best and most iconic salmon rivers? Look to Norway – the kingdom of wild salmon – where angling in the wilderness is still as fun as when the Brits discovered the joys in the 1820s.
The wild salmon in numbers
Every summer, there are about 100,000 anglers in about 450 Norwegian rivers.
1100 kilometres is the longest watercourse that holds Atlantic salmon and is found in the Tana river and its numerous tributaries in Finnmark. At the other end of the scale you find the Akerselva river in Oslo, with 2.3 kilometres salmon-carrying watercourse.
The salmon saga
After the last ice age, the salmon was one of many species that influenced settlements, which were often placed in the estuary of salmon rivers. Rock carvings and old Norse and Sami mythology have tales about the salmon.
The lawbook of King Magnus Lagabøte (1263–1280) stated that “the salmon shall travel unhindered upstream through the deepest part of the river”. Salmon fishing remained a part of people’s natural housekeeping until the mid-1800s.
“No salmon on Sundays” was a clause included in labour contracts for smallholders in Lærdal in Fjord Norway, because of the abundance of salmon in the rivers.
Upper-class Englishmen introduced angling in Norwegian rivers around the 1820s, and many of the stately wooden hotels in Fjord Norway and elsewhere were built thanks to this angling culture.
Suddenly it takes the bait.
"You are online, taking the pulse of nature, and it is now or never", says Torfinn Evensen, head of Norske lakseelver, a national organisation that represents holders of fishing rights and owners of more than 100 salmon-carrying watercourses.
You may have seen a salmon leap nearby and must keep the faith until you get control and can haul the fish ashore. But you never know for sure. The fish can move down the river at turbo speed. You have to stay calm and not force it, or it may drop the bait. The salmon is the boss. "When the job is done, you will most likely have set a personal heartbeat record", Torfinn says.
No GPS system trumps the salmon's built-in ability to return to the river it was born in. After one to three years in the sea, it returns to the specific pond of its infancy. "It is just magic", he says.
However, only a small number of the salmon that swim in the sea return to their rivers. "Those who come back have eaten fish and squid over vast ocean areas and have, against all odds, survived sharks, whales, tuna and swordfish. It is hard not to be a little impressed when you hold a wild salmon in your hands. It is an odyssey", says Jostein Henriksen from the online fishing magazine Opstrms (a Norwegian abbreviation for "upstream").
Salmon fishing Norwegian style
Jostein emphasises that Norway has been world-class for salmon anglers since English anglers started to come here around 200 years ago. "You'll find several of the world's best and most iconic salmon rivers, and you still have the opportunity to go salmon fishing in the wilderness."
Torfinn believes that Norway differs from other salmon nations due to the fact that it is a safe country with easy access to the most famous rivers by bus or train. “Many also actually have an airport at the estuary, because the landscape there is usually flat,” he says.
“If you rent an electric car, you can experience several salmon rivers within a short time”, Torfinn recommends. The rivers run so close together that the range of the electric vehicle in most cases is sufficient. If you come to Sola airport in Stavanger, you will find plenty of salmon rivers, and the same goes for Værnes airport in Trøndelag.
Anglers must always read local regulations that might vary a lot. Please also note strict regulations regarding disinfection of all angling equipment (rods, waders, tools, hook, and other equipment) prior to fishing when coming from abroad or moving between rivers. Written disinfection guidance is given at specially built station by the rivers. All regulations are regularly controlled on site. Please read more on The Norwegian Food Safety Authority's official website.
Wildlife on the hook
Long, bright summer nights make it possible to go fishing late at night or early in the morning as you want. You will experience completely different wildlife than during the day. "All kinds of animals can come peacefully down to the river to drink while we sit motionlessly and watch", Torfinn says.
"In Norway, you will also find the river where the salmon climbs highest above the sea", tells Jostein from Opstrms, who is about to write a book about wild salmon. "In the Driva river, it migrates over 600 metres of altitude, up through crazy rapids and narrow gorges, almost all the way up to Dovrefjell. The idea of fish climbing mountains is fascinating."
Before you set foot by the river, you must make sure to pay both the fishing license and the fishing fee. The cost is compulsory if you are 18 years old or older and plan to fish for salmon, sea trout, or Arctic char. Read more at Norske lakseelver (in Norwegian only). You are also welcome to buy a local fishing license with the help of your smartphone and the two mentioned websites. Expenses vary, but while some of the most famous angling spots can be costly due to their popularity, you can save a lot of money by choosing one of the many lesser-known alternative rivers that are as rewarding.
The season-opening in June is packed with anglers with high expectations after a long winter of waiting, especially in the Trøndelag area in the middle of Norway and southwards. "In Northern Norway, the fishing season starts a few weeks later", Torfinn says. In July and August most of the salmon have come upstream and have spread out in most of the river, but salmon that have been resting in the river for a long time might hesitate to bite.
The secret spots
"The trick is to try to think like a salmon," says Torfinn from Norske lakseelver: "Where in the river would you stand if you were a salmon?" A basin under a small waterfall or larger stones is often considered the best place for salmon to rest and seek shelter. A local angler will be able to tell you more about where the salmon is standing and where you should try your luck.
"Norwegian salmon anglers are pleased to get visitors and are proud that foreign angling enthusiasts choose to spend their holidays here", Torfinn says. It is easy to get in touch with locals for advice and tips. "Here in Norway, we are keen to include more people in these pleasures, and we have enough space for everyone", he promises.
Another advantage of salmon fishing in Norway is that you meet like-minded people. "In other countries, you may be alone with the interest, and few understand you, while here in Norway people understand that salmon fishing is the meaning of life", he adds.
There is also a refreshed consciousness around the crucial eco-system of the salmon, helped by The Year of the Salmon 2019, an organisation working with the preservation of salmon rivers across North-Atlantic countries.
We always recommend that you pack your own gear that you are familiar with, but surprisingly many destinations offer specialist shops. "You do not necessarily need full wading equipment. The truth is, you should avoid wading if you can, to not disturb the fish", says Jostein from Opstrms. For your own safety reasons, you should also show caution in any river.
"As anglers, you are the guardians and protectors of the wild salmon. But salmon fishing is also carefully regulated through law and monitored by the authorities. Salmon angling is sustainable, so it is not river fishing that threatens the wild salmon, "Torfinn says, and adds: "Salmon lice and escaped farmed salmon and unnatural water flow from waterway regulation lead to fewer salmon in Norwegian rivers than there used to be in the good old days."
"When you talk about salmon in Norway, you often think of the iconic salmon rivers", Jostein adds. "But salmon also swim up many small rivers, even in the most urban areas. It is a kind of testament to how hardy the salmon is and an echo of all that was when the wild salmon probably were far more numerous."
The salmon train in Namdalen
Welcome to the Namsen Salmon and Train Experience! A hotel that consists of four train carriages on a 180-metre long bridge above Namsen – one of Norway’s best salmon rivers.
How to act safe while salmon fishing by the river
Since salmon fishing takes place by or in moving water, it is crucial to follow safety guidelines:
Avoid wading across the river unless you have to.
Assess the depth of water and make sure you know how to get back out of the river before wading.
Don’t wade in places where you are not in control, for instance, where the river is too deep.
Use a wading stick for support in strong currents. It is essential safety equipment for anglers.
Find information about dangerous parts of the river before you go fishing.
Always use a lifejacket when fishing from a boat and when wading.
Check how many people are allowed in your boat and make sure your group is within limits.
Show extra caution near waterfalls and strong currents.
How to act eco-friendly while fishing
Help preserve the salmon river and the surrounding nature.
Follow the regulations set by the authorities. They are there to help preserve the wild salmon.
Don’t spread the Gyro-parasite or other fish diseases. Clean your equipment when you move from one river to another.
Follow the “unwritten rules of the river”. Speak to locals and learn the dos and don’ts.
Be considerate towards other anglers and people who enjoy the outdoors.
Don’t leave any rubbish behind.
Don’t throw used fishing lines in nature or into a campfire.
Only use approved campfire spots.
Leave the fishing spot in the way you would have liked to find it.
Follow the camping guidelines for the area you are visiting.
There are 44 species of freshwater fish in Norway, and trout, perch, and pike are among the most popular.
Remember to buy a fishing license or obtain a fishing permit. With the exception of fishing for salmon and sea trout, everyone under the age of 16 can fish free of charge in freshwater. Fishing licenses can be found on inatur.no.
To succeed, you must be in the right place at the right time and have the proper bait. But if you’re fishing for trout, it will bite at almost anything.
The most common bait in Norway is earthworms. You can buy them in sports shops or you can dig them out yourself. Don’t go for the largest worms. It is often better to bait two smaller ones than one large.
Keep in mind that it is forbidden to use live fish as bait in Norway, and that you must not spread fish and fish diseases to other waterways. Clean all your equipment before you move on to different waters.
Sources: Norwegian Association of Hunters and Anglers, the Norwegian Environment Agency and the Great Norwegian Encyclopedia.
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