Iceland, Day One: Volcanic Char

My first big arctic char ever fell for a Pheasant Tail Nymph under a small Stimulator.
Photo by Eiður Kristjánsson

This week, I am lucky enough to serve as host for Orvis Week in Iceland with Fish Partner, and our first day was spent casting for arctic char and brown trout on some of the glorious  river of the Central Highlands: the Tungnaá, the Kaldakvísl, and the Fossá. The day brought about seventeen different kinds of weather, and good fishing for most anglers.

The Kaldakvísl, or Cold Fork, features waterfalls, cliffs, and some really big char.
Photo by Phil Monahan

The Central Highlands is a place of stark beauty, with snow-lined volcanoes in the distance, ground that varies from mossy to surface-of-the-moon rocky, and plenty of cold, clean water for trout and char to thrive in. As the guests went out with their guides, I got a tour of the waters near the lodge from Fish Partner’s head guide and co-owner Sindri Hlíðar Jónsson and his right-hand man, Eiður Kristjánsson.

These coldwater char are surprisingly tenacious fighters.
Photo by Sindri Hlíðar Jónsson

Our first stop was a spot where three channels of the Tungnaá came together to form a delicious riffle and run. Sindri suggested a Beadhead Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph, and since there were a couple rises just as we drove up, we decided to drop the nymph off a size 12 Stimulator. About five casts in, the dry fly disappeared, and I was tight to my first Icelandic arctic char. I had caught very small char in Alaska many years ago, but this was a different beast altogether. I was surprised by the fish’s strength and unwillingness to give an inch during the fight. Sindri got his net under the fish, and I had achieved another bucket list goal. I caught one more five minutes later before we decided to move on and look at different waters.

We went looking for big browns in this deep run through the volcanic rock, but came up empty.
Photo by Phil Monahan

Over the next few hours, I saw some of the more amazing stretches of river I’ve ever seen in such close proximity. From plunge pools below waterfalls, to deep runs carved through the volcanic rock, to pocket water very much like what I’m used to in Vermont. There were wide, rocky runs, shallow flats, and river-mouth drop-offs. We stood on cliffs and spotting fish for anglers below, cheering each good drift.

This colorful beauty hit the nymph like a freight train and headed for the opposite shore.
Photo by Sindri Hlíðar Jónsson

I’m really excited to see what the next to days in the Highlands bring. Now that I’ve caught I nice char, I really want to find some browns and see if we can get them to each a dry fly or a streamer. I do know that three days will not be enough to explore everything this area has to offer.

Stay tuned to for daily updates on our trip. After two more days in the highlands, we’ll head to Lake Þingvallavatn (Thingvallavatn) in southwestern Iceland, home to some truly giant brown trout.

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