Silver Zulu

 Family vacation 1998


Family vacation 1998
Last year, the family trip ended up as the highlight of my fly fishing season, and I was determined to follow up on it this year. Practical problems springing off spending too much time too close together (such as getting on eachother's nerves etc.) become totally insignificant as prospects of big fish and wonderful memories lure in the future. Not returning to the secret place of the wonderful memories 1997, would be ludicrous. It would be wrong. It would make no sense. It would disturb my cosmos.
But the first destination, the foreplay, would be Lierne, a place with a reputation of holding big trout.

My fly fishing internet friend Marius Hildebrandt visited Sørli (part of Lierne) last year, and reading his online report (Norwegian only) combined with an extensive mail (thanx!), I was pretty excited about going there. But since this really wasn't a fly fishing trip, but rather a family vacation with possibilities of fly fishing, stupid and insignificant stuff like accommodation and availability suddenly becomes major factors. :-) As an inevitable result, I was left with only one day to cover all of the Sørli-area.

Finally, the time had come for my hot date with the Sørli county, and I got going before noon. My first target was the Inderdalselva, a river holding big trout, according to several people I talked to. But as with most waters, you must pay your dues before you collect your reward, an aspect of fly fishing I actually like. You need countless hours, weeks, even years to understand, read and learn a river. I had half a day.
I didn't see any rises the first place I stopped, there weren't any insects to rise for, so I mostly fished nymphs. And I had my fair share of takes, but I was unable to set the hook and landed none. I walk downstream, expecting to find a beautiful stretch of rising trout just around that bend, or the next one, but after an hour of walking, I had yet to find somewhere to even get the line out.
I get back to the car, and explore the river upstream, determined to get a raw overview of it, analyze my observations, and focus on the presumably best spot(s). A plan which works wonderfully, until a rising fish is spotted, at which point all planning, strategy and shreds of rationality go out the window. And a rising fish I found, but frankly, the conditions simply exceeded my skills. No room for backcasts and wind. I spooked it, and it didn't return the 30 minutes I waited.
Whoever designed this river, didn't have fly fishers in mind, that's for sure. You need to get pretty close to the fish, as there is no room for backcasts, and it's also hard to wade. Anyway, I did see some spots with potential, and determined to try those before the day ended, I left the river for now.

There's about 4-5 must-try places in Sørli, and I was determined to at least try 2-3. I soon realized, time was running out, I would only have time for one more in addition to another go at Inderdalselva. I had an early dinner at the local cafeteria, and headed for the easiest accessible place, Julestrømmen. I found a nice stretch, sheltered from the wind, and offering rising fish. I got takes, but I was unable to set the hook. In retrospect, I suspect the fish to be pretty small, they continued rising only a few minutes after I lined them - and with the sudden luxury of backcasting, I must admit, I started casting, rather than fishing. But all of a sudden a backcast leaves me standing with only the butt section of the rod. I need to wax the ferrules, I thought, until I realized, the damn rod is broken.. I consider transforming the 4-^H^H now 5-piece rod, into say.. a 12 piece.. Instead, I end up simply deciding this was the last St.Croix rod I bought for the next hundred years.
My only other rod, my beloved, trusty Hardy #6/7, is at the cabin, so the day is ruined, in terms of fishing.. No, let me rephrase that: The day is ruined. Period.


Julestrømmen i Lierne
Lierne: Julestrømmen in Lierne.


Lierne: Say it isn't so!!
I present for you: one pissed off fisherman with his broken St.Croix rod.

Down to business
Sad, but true, those were the highlights of the trout fishing on this trip, but it doesn't really matter, as the real purpose of the trip was the sea-trout fishing in Nordland.
I guess the exact location of the spot won't be of much interest to those of you reading the English version of this story, and that's just as well, because I'm not gonna tell.. :-)
It's a place with modest fishing pressure and lots of fish, an endangered specie in our days, even in, or perhaps, especially in Norway.

[...]So, my fellow fly fishers, the time has come to bring secrecy back into our gentle pastime -- the tight lips, the polite shrug, the knowing wink. [...]when it comes to your favorite spots, cherish them in secret, keep your mouth shut -- and leave the godamn electronics at home.
      - W.D. Wetherell in One River More (1998)

We arrived on Saturday the 15th. of August, and the season had been brilliant so far, especially in terms of salmon fishing. However, the latest entry in the cabin guestbook, put our optimism in perspective with the message "5 men + 5 days = 5 fish".
Even though the water level was pretty low, fish were steadily rising on the bend right outside the cabin. However, using the term rise of this phenomena would be nothing short of insulting, as the sea-trout and salmon don't rise up here, they SPLASH! Big-time! Luckily, the wind was relieved by rain by night, but dad maintained firm control of his enthusiasm.
"We're here for the whole week, why rush it?", he offered.
What planet is he really from, I wondered, as I abandoned the warm, cozy cabin for a cold, rainy night on the river. I didn't hook or catch anything, and I suppose someone might see the irony in that.
(I can think of one that did.. And, of course, another one that didn't.)

The rain had only limited impact on the water level, lifting the river only an inch or two. Sufficient for boosting a new run of salmon and sea-trout, we hoped. We mainly fished the stretch outside the cabin, a wonderful stretch, which seem to lure even the shyest of fish into showing their grace and powerfullness by splashing the water, in celebrating the successful completion of the waterfall a few hundred yards downstream.
As the sun settled, I had yet to hook a fish. In contrast, my dad had caught two nice fish, a 2 pound salmon and a 3 pound sea-trout, the latter actually caught in the afternoon in bright daylight, a rare occurrence with Norwegian sea-trout. He got them both on worms, and I do my best to explain that fly fishing is the only acceptable way, in terms of estetics and honor, whereas bait fishing is a simply evil and dirty way of dishonoring the fish, the river and for that matter, our entire galaxy..
Not surprisingly, this bullshit had no effect on him, and he took great pleasure in repeatedly pointing out just how many fish I had caught so far, a whooping zero. As long as the conditions favor bait fishing, that's what he'll use, when they favor fly fishing, then, and only then, would he use his flyrod..

Of other events worth mentioning this Sunday, I accidentally discovered a hole in river bottom, fell forward and had no choice but to go for a little swim in my waders. In addition to picking up a thing or two on wader-technique and patience, I learned that my thermometer could be trusted: the water was indeed pretty cold.
Well, once again I headed out for night fishing alone, and finally, I break out of my slump. In a couple of hours, I catch two fish; a salmon and a sea-trout, both at around 1 pound of size. Ok, hardly anything worth documenting and submitting to Guinness Book of Records, but it did definitely improve morale and confidence. The sea-trout was released, but the salmon was saved for breakfast the next day. Without wasting time on insignificant factors such as weight and size, I happily chalked up 2-2 on our imaginary family scorecard.. All in all, our trip had gotten off to a great start! (Lierne does not count!!)

Steady dashes of rain throughout the night raised the water-level another inch. I went upstream hoping to explore new areas and covering more water, while my old man focuses on the stretch outside the cabin, where we both caught our fish yesterday. But today, the fish seem to reject everything, even his bait.
I actually hook a fish by the big rock, on the same stretch, but it let go after about 3 seconds.. Well, there's always night fishing, the best bet for sea-trout fishing. But not when the wind go wild. A hard wind, coming in bursts, unpredictable both on timing and direction, made fishing very hard. As the wind constantly turned, countless casts were aborted, and it was rather unpleasant out there. All of a sudden, dad's suggestion of patience and the reminder that we're here for a whole week, didn't appear so farfetched after all.. Despite the 11 hour drive to get here, despite my unconditional love for this river, despite my youth and energy, this was a night that had "a good book and a cold bear" written all over it..

In the morning, the water-level has gone down again, but the rain started at about 8 am, and it would continue throughout the day. At around noon, I take the car and head for a stretch a few miles downstream, a pool called Melhølen, which apparently is the favorite spot among the other fly fishers.
And I quickly figure out why! After half an hour of fishing, I'm blessed with the wonderful experience of seeing and feeling the rodtip bend down in response to a take.. Fish on! The take isn't followed by an explosive run or jump, but rather determined and probing pressure.. Salmon style. I seem to be in control of the fight, steadily gaining inch by inch, without much problems. But actually, the salmon is really calling the shots. As soon as the water gets too shallow, the prospects of being dragged onto shore a little too realistic, it explodes into a fury of wiggling, splashing and turning, and heads for deeper water. It's a pretty nice fish, about 4 pounds, just enough to put the backbone of the 6/7 weight to work.
I make another attempt at landing the fish, this time I'm the determined one, unwilling to compromise any more. But as the salmon is forced onto shallow water, it once again starts splashing, and all of a sudden, the fly comes flying toward me. Without the fish. Damn!
But the fish remains in the shallow water, regaining its strength. Perhaps it's so exhausted that I can sneak up on it and grab it with my bare hands? I wade carefully toward it, but less then a yard away, the salmon starts swimming teasingly slowly for deeper water, leaving behind a pretty pissed off fisherman, who's already planning to equip all flies with treble hooks and worse..
I sometimes wonder if it had it all planned, perhaps as a much needed reminder of the strong instincts of survival, tactics and shear willpower making the atlantic salmon such a great fish..

Back at the cabin, enjoying a cold beer as the old man arrives from the waterfall downstream, carrying a beautiful 5 pound salmon in his net.. Instead of listening breathtakingly to the story of my almost landed fish, his two only concerns are: 1) a cold beer, and 2) getting a bigger net. :-)
Throughout the day, the river is rising, and by 8 pm, it's up about a foot since our arrival. It's a also a degree or two colder, and several powerful splashes reveals to us that new salmon are on their way upstream..
As usual I head out for the river as the sun settles, but despite several hours of hard work, including serving the full reportaire of my flybox, I fail to hook a single fish. There's plenty of fish in the river, and they all splash like I've never before. Some of them so close, I could have knocked them on the head with my rod. I find it extremely frustrating, but I talk myself into thinking it's actually a lot of fun experiencing this.. HA HA HA!! (<- fake, platonic laughter :-)

The water-level is even higher now, and it's still raining - not hard, but persistently. Not too much fish splashing the stretch by the cabin, but I still out there, refusing to give up. The old man had to leave with the car, so I'm limited to this stretch, unless of course, I feel like walking a few miles in the neoprenes, which, of course, I didn't.
Once again I'm there for some night fishing, but in contrast to yesterday, the river seems pretty dead now. The water-level stops rising at about 8 pm, and just as if someone turned a switch, all activity promptly cease.

The river is on its way down now, and it eventually stabilizes at pretty low level. The old man had to leave for Oslo for the day, so I'm once again without car. Still, it's hard to pity myself, considering that dad barely had the chance to fish the two last days. And with the river rising, boosting new salmon into their spawning run, the conditions were excellent for bait fishermen..
A couple of Swedes comes up to the cabin to check out the conditions up here, and we chat some. It seems, as the water-level was on its highest, the fish hesitated to struggle up the waterfalls. Which means fishing generally gets better downstream, where the fish are waiting and growing aggressive as new fish arrives. The Swedes had been fishing downstream yesterday, and they had done well, with two 3 pounders and one 9 pounder. That's one helluva sea-trout!!

At around 5 pm, someone must have turned that switch back on, because suddenly, fish are splashing by the cabin. They've started to go up the waterfalls again, it seems. The conditions should be pretty close to perfect tonight!
I fish the stretch patiently and persistently, but I still can't get a take. A 6,5 pounder even splashes within 3 feet of me.. My presence doesn't seem to bother them much, as they consistently ignore both me and my flies. Same story for night fishing.. What am I doing wrong? Surely, this can't be all coincidental?
Sitting at the porch, I reflect over my failures and my sore back. I estimate a casting frequency of about one cast a minute (Ok, so I'm not exactly the definition of patience). Unless I "cheat" and rollcast to get the right angle, I guess I need three casts to get my line out. That's six back- and forecasts. If I'm fishing 8 hours a day, that's almost 1500 casting movements every day. Eat your heart out, Sherlock Holmes, I just solved the mystery of back pain!

I talk to the Swedes again, and the 9 pounder from Wednesday obviously wasn't enough. Last night, they caught an 11 pounder! Coincidence? Hardly, there's gotta be something more to it..
-- Or maybe not, because it's only one of them catching all the fish. Even if they're fishing the same stretch, at the same time, with the same technique and with the same fly.. hmm...
The water-level is back to the level when we arrived. The day fishing goes by as usual, ie. not interrupted by bitewilling fish. At night, I head for Melhølen, convinced that fishing is better there. I meet a couple of other fly fishers, and we have a friendly chat. Perhaps it's due to the exceptionally good ratio of fish vs. fishermen, but just about every fisherman I've ever met up here, is both friendly and willing to share.

The evening starts off in its oh-so familiar pattern, others catch fish, whereas I catch nothing. I vaguely see the splashing just by one of the fishermen, about a 100 yards downstream. That's a nice fish. But the fish breaks off, which later was explained by the fish being "bloody crazy". :-)
The Swede harvesting aggressively of the big sea-trout, told me he prefers pretty big flies. You want big? You got it! I'm trying hard to cast a gigantic zonker as another fisherman arrives, which I would later know as Morten Horn. A pretty local regular, knowing the tricks of the river. We chat some, and I warn him of getting too close.. After all, I'm cursed by the fishing gods, and it might be contagious!
Morten laughs at my voodoo-theory and boosts my confidence several (badly needed) notches by saying he's got a good feeling for me tonight. I shamelessly pump him for fly information, and it turns out, he prefer small flies. I happily exchange the uncastable zonker for the good 'ol Silver Zulu, size 8.


Endelig framme!
Nordland: At last, our arrival at our favorite place.. Watch out, sea trout!


flaks at det var en elv her
Nordland: The location of the cabin is well suited for lazy photographers..
The river at medium water-level.


Da var fattern i gang!
Nordland: The old man nets a 3 pound sea-trout. The fish was caught in bright daylight, a rare occurrence with sea-trout..


Høy vannstand
Nordland: A few rainy days got the current going by the cabin.


Nordland: The Teinfossen waterfall upstream from the cabin.


Nordland: Melhølen - a stretch downstream.. One of the favorite pools of most fly fishermen. Soon, I too would be one of them..


Nordland: The old man arrogantly, but proudly, displays his 5 pound salmon..


Nordland: Once again, the stretch just outside the cabin.


Nordland: The sunsets were beautiful, as the the skies adapted the red glow of the sun.


Teinfossen - igjen
Nordland: Teinfossen, the waterfall, again.


- The take! -
The clock has just turned 11 pm, as something lugs at my fly. It isn't an explosive take, but more of a long, powerful and determined take. I set the hook, and immediately feel that this is a big fish. It instantly runs 20-25 yards. I should be enjoying every second of this, it's this moment I've been waiting for so long. But perhaps I've waited too long, perhaps this fish is simply too important, because I'm so focused and tense it almost hurts. It's like it isn't really me there with the screaming reel - I feel like I'm watching someone else, over his shoulder.. But it is really me!!
"There you go! I told you I had a good feeling!", Morten shouts from upstream, in response of my screaming reel.
"Yeah, yeah.. What the hell am I supposed to do now?!?!?", I scream back at him hysterically - one classy fellow here - as the fish goes for another run, easily eating the few yards I had gained and then some. Still no sight of the flyline, all backing over here..

- The landing -
I wade upstream and toward the bank, looking for a place suited for dragging the fish on shore in the darkness.
"YES!!!" I hear myself yelling in reply, a nanosecond after Morten asks if I could use a helping hand. Morten reels in his line, and just as he starts moving toward me, a major splash breaks the silence of the water just below his spot.
"There goes my fish... ", he grins, as I stutter apologizes without quite grasping the irony of his voice.. Eventually, I get calmer, and suddenly, I'm realize I'm enjoying myself. My life doesn't depend on the successful landing of this fish anymore, and I realize, it doesn't really matter if I lose it now. From this point on, everything is a bonus. That's a pretty good feeling..
After a few rounds back and forth, I finally manage to pull the fish partly onto the bank, and Morten sneaks up on it from behind, and pushes it toward safety. Well, my definition of safety, that is.. --I somehow doubt the fish would agree on that one... Ok, it isn't in 100% perfect condition, it's actually rather thin, but still, a beautiful fish. As the weight shows 6,5 pounds, I feel like I'm floating across the bank, no longer affected and limited by everyday hazzles like gravity and physics.
Morten, being the perfect fellow fisherman, offers me some cognac, which calming effect and symbolic relief I needed badly.
Morten heads for the river again, while I remain sitting by my fish, as if guarding the national treasure. Just enjoying the moment, appreciating every little detail of the night.. A night to remember, that's for sure.. When writing this, six months later, I just need to close my eyes for a second, and my mind takes me right back there..

I turn my attention to sandwiches and coffee, and the two other fisherman joins me for a break. One of them decides to fish the top stretch, just where we're sitting, and it doesn't take long until the scream of his reel breaks the silence of the night. Live entertainment for the coffee. A few minutes later he easily lands a 7 pounder. Definitely not his first fish, judging from the elegant landing technique, in notable contrast to mine..

"I'm not fishing any more tonight", I offer..
"Oh.. You feel done?", I'm asked..
"Done doesn't quite cover it, I feel more like a junkie who just got his fix ", I answer truthfully..
And head back for the cabin..

The weather is nice, and the water-level drops another notch. We could use some rain now, but there is none. The river seems pretty slow, but after last night's catch, all back pains are forgotten, and I happily fish several hours daytime. To no avail.
I run across the Swedes again, and they caught a 9.5 pound salmon last night. I wonder if they keep a net hidden in the back of their Volvo.. :-)

Not surprisingly, I'm ready to rock in Melhølen at dusk. I fish together with the two guys I met yesterday, and just as I arrive, one of them catches a 3 pounder. The only indication of fish we would see that night. Morten and the Swedes are fishing a the next pool downstream, but they got skunked as well.


Silver Zulu - godflua!
Nordland: Once again, the Silver Zulu manifested its position as my favorite fly..


Sjøørret av typen stor
Nordland: Friday's catch: a 6.5 pound sea-trout. Oh yes!


Lang jævel!
Nordland: The sea-trout in it's full length.


The water-level is still low, and the river is quiet. Neither of us catch anything during the day, but still, I'm ready for night fishing in Melhølen, where I meet Morten Horn again.
We fish through the pool a few times, but it's as fruitless as ever. The water-level is still sinking, and the wind is picking up, making the casting somewhat hazardous. At 01.00 the night comes to a natural end as my fly plunges the depths of my waders, an inevitable result of hard wind and an uninspired mechanical fisherman. Morten keeps fishing, as he's only here for the weekend, with this being his final night.
The Swedes didn't even bother fishing this night, as the conditions really weren't favorable.

The last day. Now or never. There's rain in the air, and a few hard bursts of rain would come throughout the day. Still, not quite enough to get the river blooming with life, but it is rising, even if only half an inch an hour or so.. I talk to the Swedes again, but they're not sure whether to fish tonight or not. Still waiting for a sign of life from the water, I guess.
We talk some tech, and they suggest my leader is too short. At that time, it was only about 2.5 yards, a good match for the windy conditions I thought. At least go 3.5 yards, the Swedes maintained.
We go for a quick round at Melhølen before dinner, but the river looks pretty lazy. It's still rising, but ever so slow..

I finally get it
Suddenly, as we were discussing tactics at the cabin, I reviewed my failures and successes (the latter didn't take long, by the way), and it all became clear. I need a longer leader. When I caught my 6.5 pounder, I'd just tied on a new long tippet, and the Swedes support this. I also need to stay put while my fly is in the water, no moving until the cast is done, I'll just have to deal with my impatient rhythm. And finally, I need to let the fly hang a few seconds after the drift is done.
Stupid rookie mistakes, I know I've read about this a thousand times..

At night, I head for Melhølen again. I probably should be trying Grensehølen, the pool just downstream, having been rested the whole day, but I caught my fish in Melhølen, so I'm not about to abandon it. I spot the Swedes' Volvo by the Grensehølen, and I decide to try Melhølen for an hour or so, and then join them.
I'm all alone in Melhølen, so I start with a cup of coffee, and the preparation of a new long leader with a Silver Zulu size 10 at the end. I start fishing at the top of the pool, and I quietly and patiently work my way downstream.

The night is cloudy and very dark. Being all alone in a pool in utter darkness is fascinating. Everything changes. Every sound is mysterious and unknown, and without thinking about it, I act the same way, quietly fishing, moving slowly and with stealth, holding my breath as the fly drifts, listening to my own heartbeats. Just like a hunter, sneaking up his wary prey.. Or perhaps like a cautious prey, in an unfamiliar and insecure setting, hiding, instinctively trying not to disturb the powerful silence of the darkness and the threats it might hold. Hunter or hunted? Probably a little of both.

The night is not to be feared; it is to be felt, touched, sampled and explored. It is filled with exciting secrets forever hidden from the day. It is a frontier, to be tried and tested and won, and I commend it to all anglers.
      - Steve Raymond in The year of the angler (1973)

Then! A hard bite, as the fly had finished its drift, lazily awaiting the retrieve. The rod tip bends immediately, but only for a second, as the fish wasn't hooked. Still, this is looking good..

I continue downstream, even more stealthy and cautious, and it's getting even darker. I decide, five more casts, then a bigger fly. On the second cast, I hook it! It's not a giant, but I take my time in landing it. A 1.5 pounder, which I quickly kill.
It's now as dark as it gets, and I exchange the size 10 Zulu for a size 8. Six more cast, and then, coffee, I decide. On the fourth cast, another take! Not explosively, but long, powerful and determined - a big fish take! Again, it took after the drift was over.. Oh yeah!

It's a big one, I can tell instantly, as it heads downstream forcing my reel to break the silence of the night with a big scream. But I respond, confident in my 0.25mm tippet not having too many windknots on it.. I'm in control, but still, a fish this size is never easily dragged onto the bank. After about 10 minutes, I decide the time has come, and work my way back into the bushes as far as possible. The fish remains struggling only a few inches from the water.

I let go of the rod and leap forward with my best puma impression, luckily missing my rod tip on the landing. I drag the fish securely unto the bank. It's not as long as the 6.5 pounder, but in much better condition. The weight says 5 pounds, and I finally get around to that coffee and cigarillo I planned.
I'm thinking, this could be a great night. I've finally figured out the secrets; leader, fly and technique.. Or it simply a turn of luck?
I find great comfort and harmony in not knowing for sure.

I return to the river. It starts raining again, but I've only been here for about an hour. Then it strikes me, what the h... am I still doing here? The river has graciously blessed me with two fish, and who am I to ask for more? I don't even want more, not even a trophy fish of a lifetime which is undoubtably luring somewhere beneath the darkness of the water. Not tonight. It doesn't feel right. I'm happy. At peace with the river and the surrounding darkness. I head for the car..

On my way back, I notice the Swedes' car is still here. Wonder how they're doing tonight. They're probably playing a 20 pounder each right now.. But as I pass the car, I realize, I absolutely, totally, couldn't care less....


Når enden er god....
Nordland: The final night granted me both a 5 pound sea-trout and 1.5 pounder.


Add or view comments about this page (strongly encouraged).

Back to index

January, 30th., 1999. Christian Figenschou <>.