Why go to Norway, Iceland or Russia to catch salmon?
Because we have salmon in so many rivers here in Scotland, why on earth would we contemplate going to Norway to try and catch them?
Well, having spent so much time fishing for salmon and sea trout here in Scotland and having a real passion for our country and in my opinion, its perfect "culture" of salmon fishing, I have to say, for a good number of years, there was no need for "me" to contemplate this going to Norway or anywhere else. As a boy my expectations from a days salmon fishing in my native country was, personally catching 2,3, 4 or more each time I went to the river. Of course, I know this wouldn't have been the case all the time, but looking back through the eyes of a 12 to 15 years old, it certainly happened enough times to keep me extremely interested. However, as is always the case with fishing for, and with the overall stocks of Atlantic Salmon, things are constantly changing.
If I could turn back the clock by 25 - 40 years, we had great fishing throughout our nice long season here in Scotland. In fact, on the big four rivers, we were spoiled at this time, with decent numbers of Summer Salmon, Grilse and Autumn fish; and yes, a few spring fish too. Turn the clock forward to now and we find a very different story. Not many Grilse or Autumn Salmon and, compared to numbers present in the 1950s - 70s, a mere scattering of Spring and early Summer fish. Basically, due to the lack of those summer and autumn fish, our long season has become shortened and is now March to July. Of course there are fish in summer too, but fresh, quality fish are in short supply on most rivers here at the moment, with catches being made up of mainly coloured fish that have been in the pools for some months.
Commonplace back in the not so distant past, pictures such as this are frowned upon today. But lets get it into perspective, This was Autumn fishing in Scotland the mid 1990s when people expectations were much higher than today.
Fishing in Norway, Iceland and Russia is very different. Where our season has shortened, theirs has stayed the same, in fact, in some cases, due to commercial pressure, its got slightly longer. However, the clue here is "commercial pressure"! In the late 1970s certain beats here in Scotland, particularly those in the middle and upper part of our big rivers with no fresh fish in them began to exploit spring and summer MSW salmon by fishing for them at a time they should have been left alone. The by-product of this was, the season, which had stopped on August 12th, suddenly was open until the end of September. Worse still, a great many of those fish were killed, filling freezers with nothing more than kelts with the eggs still in them. This doesn't and cannot happen in Norway as the fishing, quite rightly in this northern clim stops at the end of August.
So, looking at the title - Why go to Norway, Iceland or Russia? Well, in a nutshell, at this moment in time, their high season is our low one. So if I wanted to catch a really nice spring salmon in Norway, depending on the river [its a long country, rivers in the north have a later season], you'd look to visit from the beginning of June till around the middle of July. 6 weeks of decent fishing with a good chance of catching the above. This would be the same as visiting the Tay and Spey in May until the middle of June. The main difference is, due to weather conditions and regulations, quite rightly, salmon fishing in Norway does not begin until 1st June. This may change as the result of global warming and commercial pressure.
In parts of Russia if you wanted to catch what we regard as "Spring Salmon", they call them Osenka [Ice fish] then on the great Ponoi river you would visit in August and September. Those fish come in during those months but wont spawn until the following year. Those are the best conditioned salmon I've ever seen, so fat and powerful. Mind you, if staying in the river for 15 months without food, they have to be! The melting of the snow and ice , along with an influx of new smaller fish trigger those fish to move again and a great many can be caught again in the months of June and July.
Other Russian rivers such as Varzuga have a different run of Springers, similar to ours. Running into the river as fresh fish, albeit mainly Grilse, in the months of May and June. If fishing for fresh grilse is your thing then this is paradise.
I've been asked many times why "Spring Salmon" enter the river so early, only to go into a comatose state, fasting for months? Well, as with everything salmon, the answer is probably simple!
Imagine you're a salmon in the sea, you've grown and are now in prime condition, then, as each day goes by, you become less hungry, but the urge to reproduce is growing. Feeling the way you do, it makes much more sense to get out of the ocean where 100's of predators lurk at every turn, into the relative safety of fresh water, where as an adult salmon the only predator is man. So your journey home begins. As a prime multi sea winter fish[MSW] "How long that journey takes is dependant on how far you have strayed from home in the first place". By the time you arrive back, apart for an instinctive snap, the feeding instinct is all but gone, safe from predators, you find a deep slow pool and switch onto energy saving mode.
Those fish are undoubtedly the ultimate prize when salmon fishing. However, if fished for with the correct tackle, the smaller, 1 sea winter fish [Grilse] can be equally as good fun. Whilst back in the 1980s and 90s during the months of June, July and August those were abundant in Scotland, now the table has turned and the run has become seriously depleted. Not the case in Iceland though, where runs of those small fresh salmon, during the same months remain strong. Just as they once were in Scotland, In Iceland, those are the key salmon cohort and can be caught in good numbers during those months mentioned above. Interestingly, when fishing the Gaula river in Norway during the first week in July last year, I saw and our guests caught many more Grilse than normal [change is never far away in the world of the Atlantic Salmon].
So to answer the question, basically, I now take my clients where I'm fairly sure we will still find some of our target fish, be it, MSW Spring Salmon, MSW Summer Salmon or Grilse. One thing for sure is, no matter where we go, including all those places above, salmon are not present in the same numbers as before, however, if you travel with realistic expectation, be it to Scotland, Iceland, Norway or Russia, your almost certainly going to enjoy you're time on the best Atlantic Salmon Rivers in the world.