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Arctic char fishing in Iceland

Posted in Fishing Articles.

Not long ago the fishing for sea run Arctic char in Iceland was booming. These beautiful silver fish used to run almost any trickle of water connected to the sea all over Iceland. Here we call them silfur nál, which can be translated to silver needle. Those creatures not only taste terrific they also contain some massive amounts of healthy fatty acids and so they are a very popular fish to eat by the locals. When I was young I used to visit a farm and stay there for the summer every year and on the farm we used to put a net or two on the beach at the farms land. We used to catch a lot of char and I remember it being a real treat to get boiled char with fresh potatoes for dinner.

fishing brunna 1My first guiding job was guiding a group of three Swiss anglers on a char river in the north-east of Iceland. These guys had strict orders from their better halves at home to bring back smoked char. At that time the catch rates for sea run char in Iceland were going down. Everyone had their own theory about why this was happening but one fisheries scientist I know told me that one of his theories was that it was due to the change in climate and the higher temperatures in the rivers.

So with the knowledge in the back of my head that the numbers were on a downward spiral I felt bad knocking each and every single char these guys caught on the head for their wives to get their smoked fillets upon their arrival back to Switzerland. Perhaps it was the cost Iceland as a destination needed to get these guys to come over. They‘d come and spend some money here and in return their wives got some smoked char fillets. At least that is what they told me; no char, no trip!

On this trip we hit the jackpot and well over 50 sea run char ranging up to 5 pounds in size were caught and each and every one of them killed under orders from the clients. This being my first ever guiding job I did not dare protest.

A few years later I was involved with the filming of The Source – Iceland. A fishing DVD that showed fishing in Iceland through the eyes of a visitor travelling in our country. One of the things he was most surprised about was the char fishing. He and his mates found that the fish was a very fun fish to catch with a fly rod and that it gave a great fight. Following the release of the film I started getting loads of requests about fishing for sea run char but as the numbers were decreasing so much and that the rivers we‘d been fishing were very inconsistent we could not service these requests properly. Until now!

The wonderful Brunna River

For a few years I‘ve heard about a small river in the north of Iceland called Brunna. I remember reading about it once as being the most beautiful river in Iceland. I also read that it was leased to a fishing club notorious for killing everything they caught so I was not very interested in sending my clients there. But September 2011 I got a text message from my uncle saying it was amazing and I had to start sending clients there. I called him up and he told me they fished it and fell in love. The char were hard to catch in September but his wife had landed an 8 pound brown trout. I was intrigued to say the least and I got in contact with the current lease holders. Turns out they‘d taken over the lease from the club and had implemented strict quota rules where only one fish could be killed each day but also commented that killing was frowned upon. Today over 90% of the fish caught there is returned safely.

fishing brunna 2I booked the opening of the river for April 1. 2012 even though I knew the fishing was going to be tough at that time but I also took a chance and booked all available dates on the river for 2012. For the three days we fished the opening days in April we landed over 40 fish including a 6 pound brown trout, some sea trout and a lot of char. My first sight of the river was with frozen ground and snow but I could see that it must be beautiful in the height of summer.

In June I returned with clients and the fishing was fantastic. Again we had over 40 fish in two days with two of the char we caught reaching 7 pounds. That is one hell of a fight on a 4wt rod. The water is crystal clear making sight fishing with nymphs the most fun method to use on the river, especially early season. When the summer progresses the char are willing to come up to the surface and take big bushy attractor dry flies.

The scenery is breathtaking and the location of the lodge is perfect, snuggled in between some birch. The river is fished with three rods at the same time and there is plenty of room for each angler. There is much diversity in the fishing conditions from top to bottom and each pool requires different approach. The prime time for the fishing on the Brunna River is from mid-July – mid August, although personally I was quite fond of those dates in late June as I found there were not as many fish in the river as later in the season but they were bigger. I came back in August with some clients and then the pools were literally black with char.

So now we‘ve done our trial year on the river and we‘ve secured some dates for the 2013 season as well. The river is only 20 minutes away from one of our best brown trout rivers, the Litla River and so it makes the perfect combination.

Numbers on the rise again

fishing brunna 4For the last two years we‘ve seen a positive development in the catch rates of sea run Arctic char in the rivers of Iceland. 2012 was one of the best seasons on the Brunna and the same applied to many of the char rivers in Iceland. My clients and I had some wonderful char fishing on both the Brunna and Litla Rivers with fish ranging up to about 9 pounds in size. The locals seem to be more and more conscious about the fact that we need to protect this fantastic fighter if we are to keep chasing it in Iceland for the coming years. More and more rivers now have a catch and release rule on the sea run Arctic char and that development is one to admire.

I hope someday to be able to take any of you to the Brunna and Litla Rivers chasing those silver sea runs with a fly rod in hand. We might even make a combination out of it and visit the Huseyjarkvisl River for some salmon and sea trout while we‘re at it. If you are interested in coming over to Iceland and fish please feel free to send me an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell me what you would like to do. For more information on the Brunna River including more pictures please visit:

Tight lines,

Stjani Ben

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