Long-time trout-obsessed fly fisherman Rasmus Ovesen, had an experience on the Norwegian salmon river, Gaula, that bears evidence to the fact that it is entirely possible to convert even the most stubborn unbeliever.

In July of 2020, during summer and a fishing season rather untypical due to the onslaught of the corona pandemic, I was presented with a unique opportunity to try and break a lifelong curse: to catch a Norwegian salmon on a fly rod. 

With international airline traffic in a state of paralysis and travel restrictions in place, I’d reluctantly had to cancel several highly anticipated trips abroad. With trout in mind, and instead had decided, in a rather defeatist mood, to turn my attention towards the fishing possibilities in my new home country, Norway. However, if the reverse of the dubious corona medal was that foreign fisheries were suddenly off-limits for my wanderlust soul, the obverse side was that Norway, correspondingly, was now off-limits for foreign salmon fishermen. 

Now that upper-class fly fishermen no longer hoarded an all-manner of overly hyped salmon rivers with superior purchasing power, exciting new possibilities were up for grabs across Norway.

Salmon have always seemed to me a bit of a phantom fish. A non-existing fish species invented and marketed by unscrupulous Norwegian profiteers who have long since been in the business of emptying the pockets of visiting Danish fishermen with sausage fingers and blank, naive eyes under gaudy beer hats. 

I know because I once was one of them. Stupid as I was, it took me at least nine Norwegian salmon trips with the local fishing club before it finally dawned on me that Norwegian salmon don’t exist. By then, the body of hardcore empirical data was too overwhelming and significant to be ignored. 

Salmon Fishing Trauma

The salmon fishing traumas of my childhood and upbringing, and the sense of shameful naivety, have remained with me ever since. Even though, as an adult, I’ve (somewhat shell-chocked by puzzlement) happened to debunk my myths about the fabricated existence of salmon by landing solid amounts of shiny bright specimens in Iceland. However, doing so hasn’t changed my abject perspective on Norway, and it certainly hasn’t altered the fact that I’m a complete novice in fly fishing for salmon.

I’ve always felt incredibly inferior and small around Norwegian salmon fishermen, like a nervous and paranoid outsider who can’t seem to understand an internal joke. Constantly on guard, suspicious, and attentive to laughter behind my back. Nevertheless, in a moment of dazed apathy, I was persuaded to spend three days on the River Gaula’s NFC-beats at the beginning of July along with my colleague Tom Roger Bekkeli, who belongs to the Norwegian band of self-proclaimed “salmon” fishermen. 

Funny enough, once I decided to pull the trigger and make this happen, my excitement grew every day before we departed. I welcome the gonzo-journalistic opportunity to probe and investigate. I envisioned two potential scenarios, of which the latter invariably strikes me as the most favorable and, not least, probable. Either we will catch fish, which, despite the involved undermining of my life-long conspiracy theories – I’m embarrassed to admit, kind of appeals to the scorned and under-stimulated salmon fisherman inside me. Or we will catch absolutely nothing, which will put me in a unique position to reveal the delusions of one of my fellow friends and blatantly expose the treacherous and dirty business of the Norwegian salmon industry through him.

The Gaula

The River Gaula meanders majestically downstream. Spellbound by its rocky course at the bottom of the lush green Gauldal Valley, just southeast of Trondheim in the County of Trøndelag. Its transient and iridescent water masses sparkle underneath the sun and sporadically flood through a torn, lead-grey cloud cover. Lightly strained from trying to cut through the gushing drone of the river, the birds chirped in the crowns of the trees. The smell of fresh, rain-laden sediments under well-worn wading boots clinged in the air.

We’ve followed a densely vegetated path and are now situated on the banks of the Gaula River upstream from Støren in a spot. The fierce spring flooding in May has tapered off, exposing an extensive plateau of fist-sized abraded granite rocks. A long run with deep water and steady current stretches to a big bend further downstream, where a shallow neck accelerates the water. Not even the most myopic disbeliever would find it challenging to figure out where all the phantom fish will likely be lined up. 

Tom, naturally, insists that I do the initial sweep of the beat. And even though, deep within, I know that he is busy and entirely focused on setting up just the right equipment for this particular beat, with the right line, a carefully adapted tapered leader, and a weight-balanced fly in just the right color nuance to make it pop discretely in the water. I can’t help but feel like his eyes are firmly fixated on me, patiently waiting for me to hook myself in the neck while casting, trip, and fall on snot-slick rocks. Or in some other way, show my true colors as the insecure and fraudulent amateur I am. But I have no intentions of granting him that pleasure…

I plan to fish the whole run with my light single-handed fly rod to send a series of impressively long casts towards the opposite bank and stretch my leader delicately across the water while resolutely wading downstream one careful step at a time. Conscious about not disturbing the water with a disproportionate amount of casts, thereby providing Tom with a legitimate excuse when his turn is finally up, he fishes the whole run without inducing any strikes. No one will blame me for having spooked any phantom fish today!

Taking A Breather

I take a deep and reverent breath, a bit like you do when turning the first page of a brick-like novel, and psychologically mobilize for the mechanical work task ahead of me. I’ve done this on numerous occasions throughout the years on more or less obscure and unknown salmon rivers in southern Norway. I anticipated the workload with the same lukewarm and measured enthusiasm as an athlete attending a training camp.

The first cast lands at the top of the run, below a steep, tree-clad bank, and the steady current quickly forms a big bend in the line that propels and accelerates the fly cross-current until it eventually reaches the slack water immediately downstream. This is textbook salmon fishing, I think to myself, but then suddenly self-aware and conscious of my thoughtlessness – quickly rid myself of the sentiment. Suppose salmon fishermen have some sacred scripture or holy book. In that case, I suspect that it was written by some self-absolving L. Ron Hubbard-like person more preoccupied with dividend and commercial mysticism than immersion and altruism, someone more into fiction than facts.

I move further downstream, recast the line at an angle, swing the fly across the fleeting water masses, and forcefully repeat. Soon I find myself in a familiar trance-like state in which my perception of time and consciousness of self gradually evaporates. I succumb to the subtle tactless pulse of the river. Everything flows, and I give in to whatever moves me. 

The Tug

Then suddenly, the impossible happens. Amidst my apathetic reveries, like lightning from clear skies, a violent pull transmits through the line, and something big and silvery thrashes around on the surface. It feels like an electrical shock, like a highly tangible – almost paralyzingly physical sign from a higher power. It branches through every neuro-fiber in my body so abruptly that I completely melt down. My reaction, predictably enough, is to lift the rod like an overly excited trout fisherman, a victim of the unconscious memory of his muscles. The result is just as predictable, I effectively yank the fly out of the fable fish’s jaws and am left stunned and disillusioned, like a child that has just burnt his hand on a candle.

I do what most other fly fishermen would have done if they’d just made a fool of themselves; I turn around to see if anyone has been watching. Unfortunately, “someone” has. Tom, ostensibly, has been keeping a keen eye on me. He sits on the bank with his arms spread wide to each side, a face full of surprise and a yawningly open mouth, which – at closer inspection – looks as if it’s protruding into his cheeks, forming a poorly suppressed smirk.

I’m burning up with intense shame. I’ve done exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do: I’ve made a complete and utter fool out of myself. Furthermore, I’ve just discredited my thesis – involuntarily and unsuspecting. The choking episode is the realization of a monumental humiliation, which amply underlines my stubborn misconceptions and then, by now, painfully obvious shortcomings of my talents as a salmon fisherman. Worst of all, I have just wasted a golden chance to catch my first-ever Norwegian salmon!

The Moment of Truth

I continue fishing with trembling nerves and a dawning determination. A few casts later, the unthinkable repeats itself. The line comes tight. I let the fish turn with the fly in its jaws and wait until I feel the total weight of the fish before I slowly lift the fly rod. Contact is established, and Tom comes rushing with the landing net while I use my fly rod to apply maximum side pressure on the fish. From here on, it’s all routine work!

Endless minutes pass, and I’ve now battled the fish close to shore, where Tom awaits with the net. The miracle is within reach, and I’m about to burst at the seams with excitement. But then, without further notice, the fish mobilizes all of its remaining power reserves in one last run, writhing its 10 – 11 chrome kilos off the hook and leaving me shattered on the bank of the river, like some poor sod at the gates of heaven, barred from entering.

When Tom’s turn is finally up, he immediately hooks into an unblemished salmon in the vicinity of 12 kilos. I am sure: the Norwegian salmon gods are out to get me – maliciously vengeful and sadistic as they are. They’ve conspired and planned for this moment to emphatically punish this disbelieving screw-up of a salmon heathen. They mean to inflict as much pain and suffering on me, and they’re just waiting for me to collapse under the weight of my despair. They won’t be satisfied until I withdraw, disgraced and dishonored. 

I dutifully shoot pictures of Tom and his beautiful catch before the release. I feel like a photojournalist at the frontline, painstakingly occupied with documenting the fish. Even though it hurt a little bit, I’m mostly happy for Tom. Despite the brutal character of the humiliating lesson I’ve just been given, a dawning understanding and newfound confidence and belief has perspired. Norwegian salmon do exist. They can be lured into striking, and now that I’ve seen them, I’m finally ready to believe in them.

The Last Chance

I contritely sweep through the beat one last time. The fly stops in the middle of the river. I feed the loop between my hand and the reel out through the rod guides. All of the slack is eliminated, and a deep pull propagates through the fly line and into the fly rod, which I lift triumphantly. Oh, that pull! The slow-motion suddenness of it, the blunt brutality of the awakening, the immediate release of dopamine and adrenaline, the spiritual overtures.  

Rasmus with his first-ever Norwegian salmon on the Gaula.

I’m connected once again. This time, however, the connection is inseverable. The fish bursts free of the water, cartwheels manically downstream, and thrashes abruptly about – but to no avail. As if my fly rod were a magic wand, it exerts an invisible and unrelenting magnetism on the fish. Despite all the raw muscle power the fish has gained during a year of frenzied feeding out to sea, it slowly but surely succumbs to the overwhelming pull. Eventually, it surrenders and comes subserviently to the shore and the awaiting embrace of the landing net and its cobweb of knotless mesh. My year-long curse has been shattered!Kneeling devoutly in the shallows, I admire the heartbreakingly beautiful salmon I’ve just landed, the elusive and ethereal embodiment of a life-long dream. It’s a hen in the vicinity of 8 kilos, strikingly gorgeous and so laden with meaning and importance that I’m rendered speechless and on the verge of crying.

When I surrender the fish back into the river, I’m like a trembling newly converted in church – dizzy with religious euphoria. By exposing my deceit, I’ve reached true enlightenment and joined the ranks of all the fanatically religious salmon fishermen out there. Finally!

“Men who know are secure, and men who don’t know believe in luck.” – L Ron Hubbard

River Gaula History

Salmon fishing has long-standing traditions on the River Gaula. Historical documents are a testament to the fact that salmon were fished here as early as the 1400s. It wasn’t until 1825 when the British lords ascended on the river with greenheart fly rods, silk lines, and neatly tied traditional salmon flies that recreational fishing for salmon became a stable activity throughout the summer months here.

The River Gaula originates in the Kjølifjellet-area on the border between Tydal and Holtålen. After joining forces with the Rugla tributary, it flows to the northwest via Gauldalen in Trøndelag towards the Trondheim Fjord. The river is some 153 kilometers long, and salmon run the lower 120 kilometers in addition to many different tributaries. However, the area around Rognes and Støren and even further down towards Lundamo are considered, by many, to be prime fly fishing water.

The salmon runs start in mid to late May and intensify throughout June and July. The peak season is from the middle of June until the end of July, especially the last few weeks of July can provide hectic fishing for big chromers. 

Norwegian Fly Fisher’s Club (NFC) is the single biggest leaseholder on the River Gaula, and they administer rods on a series of productive beats exclusively available to fly fishermen. Furthermore, NFC offers full board lodging at Rogstadmoen Lodge. Additional information is available on NFC’s website, click HERE to visit the NFC website. 

Angler story from Rasmus Ovesen, follow Rasmus on Instagram @rasmus_ovesen. Be sure to check out the Norwegian Fly Fisher’s Club @norwegianflyfishersclub. 

Check out the articles below:

Fly Fishing The Gaula River in Norway

Why You Need to Fly Fish Norway


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