After breakfast on day four, we headed upstream from the lodge, to a beat known as Bogen Søndre 1. The beats are often named after the farms from which they are leased. I was so eager to get my fly in the water that I waded in at the top of the beat while Alessio and Sandy still geared up in a small hut on the shore. I stripped off some line, executed my first cast of the day (a passable double Spey), and guided the tube fly through the seam between the main current and softer water closer to me. About halfway through the swing, the fly simply stopped, so I did what Alessio had trained me to do: nothing. Then, as the belly of line bulged downstream, a big silver slab rolled on the surface, and I set the hook.
After thousands of casts over three days, I had finally hooked into an Atlantic salmon, and my brain was flooded by a rush of emotions—excitement, relief, and a fear that I would somehow screw it up. Alessio and Sandy heard my shout and jumped into action. The fish immediately peeled off all my line and about 100 feet of backing as it headed for the deep water on the other side of the main current. Lucky for me, the pool contained no major obstacles that the fish could wrap me around, and after a 15-minute fight, during which I almost brought the fish to Alessio three times, he finally made a dramatic scoop to net the fish.
Suddenly, all that casting and frustration of learning to handle the two-handed rod and heavy tips seemed but a trifle. The fish was gorgeous: deep bodied, chrome bright, and a bit over 20 pounds. Its profile was perfect, from the sloping head to the fat caudal peduncle, which I could just barely get my hand around. This was the fish I had come to Norway to catch, and I was buzzing with adrenaline. After a few photos, we released it to complete the journey upstream. As it swam away, my mix of emotions modulated to include elation and awe, and I was overcome by the desire to catch another.
Buying into the Culture
My first-cast salmon turned out to be just the opening act of a great day in which guests of NFC brought five salmon to hand. The atmosphere at the lodge that evening was festive, and even those anglers who hadn’t yet caught a fish shared in the excitement. Although I didn’t end up landing another salmon on the trip, the team scored another five salmon the next day— including a remarkable sequence in which my fellow Vermonter, John Bleh, caught two fish in an hour. By the end of the week, the tally was impressive: John was top rod with three salmon, three anglers landed two fish, three of us caught one, and three were shut out. Of course, there were also plenty of bumps, tugs, missed strikes, and lost fish in the mix.
As expected, the hand of fate had not necessarily touched those with the greatest angling skill. Canadian Paul Wiebe had never even held a two-hander, yet he brought two salmon to the net. In contrast, another angler who had guided fly fishers for steelhead in British Columbia scored just one brief hookup for the week. In our discussions about the role of luck, lodge owner Per Arneberg argued angling skill—better casting and presentation technique—helps to get the fly “fishing” quicker and produces a longer swing in the strike zone. This gives the angler more opportunity to be lucky, but it’s no guarantee of success.
In the end, I succeeded in my goal of landing a large salmon, but the joys of the trip went far beyond that single event. The Gaula itself is a beautiful river, as well as one of Norway’s most productive salmon fisheries, and the beats we fished offered many different kinds of water, making each session a new challenge. My affinity for and comfort with the Spey rod grew immensely over the week, and I will always prize a photo that Alessio took of me booming out a long cast on our last evening together. His expertise as an instructor, as well as his enthusiasm and storytelling ability, made him an excellent guide for my entry into Atlantic salmon– fishing culture. And it was that culture, with its sense of camaraderie and shared victories, that will stick with me the most.
Philip Monahan is the editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog, www.orvis.com/ news/fly-fishing. A former fly fishing guide in Alaska and Montana, he served as editor of American Angler from 1998 to 2008. He lives in southwestern Vermont.