Iceland is a mecca for fly fishing with the downside that it has become a bit crowded in recent years. But there are still places off the beaten track.
Places that give you a sense of having discovered something special. Heidarvatn is one of them.
Iceland has been high up on my list of places I’d like to fish at least once in my life for a long time. Yet with so many offerings (many of them vastly expensive) I always found it hard to know where to start. It was a lucky coincidence that this dream materialized this summer.
Towards the end of last year I came across Magdalena Wallhoff Lamprecht, whose family owns and runs Heidarvatn, by chance when we struck up a conversation on instagram. It turned out we both enjoyed discovering particular places and shared a love for the Swiss region of Engadin, where Magdalena lives. As has happened to me many times now through my work in fly fishing, I felt that we shared a common view on fishing and life beyond the first time we met in November of last year.
Back then Magdalena told me about the plans she had for Heidarvatn, a vast valley on the Southern tip of Iceland (only three hours by car from Reykjavik) that her father had bought 20 years ago. The property that features a lodge for up to eight fishermen includes a lake and a river that flows towards the Atlantic only a few miles away. While the fishing pressure had been low for the past decades, Magdalena’s vision was to revive the place with a strong focus on conservation and preservation.
Inspired by her father’s rewilding of the valley, Magdalena’s vision has been to raise a greater focus on conservation and preservation among guests. “We have repeat visitors who begin to feel a certain ownership”, she says. “That is my wish. This is not combat fishing. This is about the quiet pursuit of the fish in a vibrant ecosystem.” New rules include fly fishing only, with single barbless hooks.
When she told me that she was looking for input on how to run such a place in a sustainable way, I offered to put together a group of fly fishermen that had seen many places and might be able to share ideas and thoughts. What was special about the group of people I had in mind was that I had met each one of them only recently through my magazine and they had all become good friends in the meantime.
None of them knew each other, yet when I proposed a trip to Iceland they all immediately committed to come along. I was pretty confident they would get along well, yet a risk remained considering the fact that you spend a lot of time together in a single house without a chance to “escape”.
Sitting down with everybody for dinner the first night, I could tell that my prediction of having put together a good group, had been right. Magdalena gave us a little introduction to Heidarvatn or “Heidi” as it’s called by people who’ve visited. She told us that the river held salmon, brown trout and sea trout and that the lake was populated by Arctic char as well. Since the salmon would only start running from mid July on, our focus would be on trout and char.
Before heading out to the water, Güli, the head guide at the lodge, took care of thoroughly disinfecting every little piece of gear that we had brought from overseas. I was happy to see that he took this task very seriously since any parasites introduced from outside could have disastrous effects on such an intact ecosystem.
What struck me most when we started fishing was the perfect equilibrium of the nature around Heidarvatn. You could hear plenty of birds and a couple of loons made sure we understood they kept an eye on the egg they had laid on the shore. Small tributaries fed into the lake every few hundred yards and Güli told me that even big sea trout go up these small tributaries to spawn.
The influence of mankind is rather limited on the property and becomes most visible to the fly fishermen by the sheep that graze all around. Since there are very few trees around, the eye can wander and soak in the views that often stretch for miles across rolling hills and glaciers in the distance.
Exploring the Lake
Since the lake is quite large and can basically be fish all around from the banks, Magdalena suggested that the majority of us fish the lake and only two or three fishermen should take on the river since it’s quite a small, intimate water that she didn’t want to be hammered constantly.
There was so much fish in the lake that all of us had caught a few by lunch. During the day wet flies and small streamers proved to be most successful whereas at night when the wind died down, the fish would start to rise and you could take them on dry flies as well. The only downside of little to no wind was the fact that the bugs came out – luckily though they were only annoying but didn’t bite.
It’s obviously always nice to hook a fish yourself but in a setting where you fish next to your friends in a stunning place it can be just as much fun to see them reel in a good specimen. At night it was sometimes hard to even focus on a certain fish rising since all of a sudden they seemed to be everywhere (but didn’t always take the pattern you had picked).
A River Runs through It
On the northern shore a small river flows out of the lake and unites with a bigger river a few miles down only to meet the Atlantic shortly after. After their migration to the salt, salmon and sea trout return to that small river and some make it up all the way to the lake. Since it was still rather early in the season, the river was not as packed as it is later in the season.
During the first few days of our stay fishing in the river also proved tricky since the sun was out shining brightly. These conditions made it tough to approach the river without being seen by the fish and even small tippets cast a shadow complicating tricking a wary trout.
The small river makes its way through a beautiful canyon and provides plenty of good holding places for trout and salmon.
Since Magdalena wanted to keep the fishing pressure low on the river, we made a habit out of it to accompany the “chosen one” from pool to pool and provided invaluable tips (that didn’t lead to more fish being caught).
The later the evening, the more fish we caught. Amongst them were mostly smaller sea trout and brown trout but also a couple of really nice fish although the biggest ones we saw (25+”) could not be convinced.
Soak it all in
I remember thinking to myself at the beginning of the week that there was so much time to be spent fishing the next days but at the same time I told myself to soak it all in and enjoy the week since these days go by fast as I know from experience. As they say: “time flies when you’re having fun”. Besides the wonderful fishing we all got to experience I cherished the moments you sit down with a fishing buddy to talk about fly fishing and life beyond our wonderful sport.
Around mid-week, Güli told us that we could add another style of fishing by taking out the boats that facilitated fishing certain parts of the lake. Their style reminded me of the boats they use in Scotland and Ireland for traditional loch fishing. It was easily big enough for three people and could either be rowed or run with an electric engine.
A Mystical Night
Iceland is not the country you go to for warm temperatures during the summer but we were lucky to have a few sunny days that made fishing very comfortable (although harder on the river). Yet, you always have to be prepared for the weather to change quickly. Although we didn’t get a single drop of rain (it had rained for almost 40 days straight before we arrived), one night a thick fog moved into the property and created a mystical atmosphere.
The fog was so thick that one couldn’t see the fisherman next to you but the sounds seemed to intensify and the call of the loons sounded even more intimidating.
As the sun hardly sets in Iceland in June, our fishing days were long and intense. Most nights at least some of us headed out again after dinner for a night session which is always special as the birds stop chirping and you can tell it’s night although it’s light.
Some of the chars we caught were smoked by a friend of Güli, others were prepared as Ceviche by my friend Kaspar who turned into the head chef of the group. The kitchen is fully equipped to prepare any kind of meal for up to 10 people and the adjacent dining room provides ample views across the river towards the lake. Two big double rooms with ensuite bathrooms are located next to the living room with a fireplace. Three more small bedrooms can sleep up to 6 people but are limited in space.
Who is Heidarvatn for?
It’s the right place if you’re looking for excellent fishing for salmon, sea trout, brown trout and char in one location. You’ll enjoy ultimate privacy and won’t see signs of human existence apart from the few houses on the property and the one road that leads there. Occasionally a few horse back riders will traverse the land but that’s about it. It’s an intimate place for people who value that kind of seclusion and want to enjoy exceptional days with close friends.