Discovering a hidden gem on salmon run
Fishing for salmon is possible right across the country.
Fishing for salmon is possible right across the country and, indeed, there are many good rivers here with us in the Westcountry. But the salmon fishing in England is dwarfed by the further north rivers of Russia, Norway and Iceland.
When we think of big salmon, many salmon fisherman think of Norway and rivers such as the Orkla, Gaula, Alta. These rivers are to most fisherman distant dreams, shrouded in high prices, exclusivity and inaccessibility. Norway, however, has a Scandinavian cousin which boasts fantastic fishing, and everything is more affordable. Sharing a border stretching more than 1,000 miles, this cousin is Sweden.
Despite having some of the greatest grayling fishing in the world, Sweden has gone under the radar as a world fishing destination of choice among English anglers. It boasts incredible pike fishing and a sensational salmon and sea trout run. It is possible to catch large sea trout and salmon in the centre of Stockholm.
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When I first visited Sweden I walked across to the island on which the government sits in the centre of Stockholm. Here I noticed a fly fisherman, rod bent into a cracking 6lb sea trout standing no more than 10 yards from parliament. Not something someone who frequents London would expect. In fact, if I saw someone fishing off the steps at St Thomas', I would think them mad.
I visited Sweden in June for the salmon run. Although there are many rivers with impressive runs, I choose to fish the river Mörrum, which runs for 176km through wooded countryside in southern Sweden in the province of Blekinge. It passes no less than four large hydroelectric plants. Despite this, through careful management with the electricity company and numerous fish passes, the salmon can pass all but the highest of hydroelectric stations.
The Mörrum provides a good example of how a salmon river can survive alongside hydroelectric stations. This harmony is established by a series of measures and the hydroelectric station is shut down when the smoults and young trout are running to sea and the river flows through no active turbines.
It is renowned across Europe for its salmon and sea trout fishing with visitors from Germany, France, Denmark and Austria. The season consists of three main parts. In early season, from the middle of March, the fishing is for large sea trout as they return to the sea. All brown trout in the Mörrum go to sea and this is unlike many of the UK rivers where it is still a mystery why some do and some do not. These sea trout can be huge – anything up to 20lb is possible. Then, in the middle season, May and June, the big salmon run. In the late season come the sea trout as they return in vast numbers. More than 3,000 were caught last year. This is my personal favourite, fishing at night for huge sea trout. With an average size of 12lb, these fish are bigger than those found in Patagonia. The largest sea trout ever recorded was caught here weighing 18.9kg or about 40lb.
Having been a guide on the Grimersta and never having caught a salmon in double figures, I was here for the salmon. These salmon are enormous with the average weight of a May/June salmon around 20lb, with 40lb and 50lb fish not a rare occurrence. Even more exciting is that, on average, they catch more than 300 of these monsters a year. As I was fishing pool 17, early in the morning, I heard a shout and the distant distinctive scream of a reel from the bottom of the pool followed by an almighty splash as a huge fish broke the surface. As I swiftly reeled in to go and help land this monster, the fish made a last-ditch run and came off. The fish, although never landed, was estimated by the Mörrum regular who had the previous day landed a 36lb fish, to be above 45lb.
The salmon, although being the same family and species as the Atlantic salmon, spend their whole adult life in the Baltic. Due to this they differ slightly in their appearance in the shoulder. This is due to the fact that they do not swim so far out as their cousins too find their food. The lack of crustaceans found in the brackish water and lack of shrimps and prawns means that their flesh is paler than that of their Atlantic cousins.
They feed primarily on the herring which are plentiful in the shallow fertile Baltic waters and as a result they grow considerably faster and larger. The salmon return like Atlantic salmon three to four years and in this time they grow exceptionally large. It was the promise of a fish of lifetime that led me last June to the Mighty Mörrum.
I was invited to fish by fiskebloggen who offer private beats and lodges on the Mörrum and my guide was to be Jonke Höglund. Jonke came to the Mörrum after falling in love with the fishing, and meeting his wife, moved here 10 years ago. He is both a guide and a photographer. He provides guests with his exceptional knowledge of the water and takes some really good pictures (Jonke even made my casting look good in the photos). I was particularly excited as Jonke had caught a 22lb fish just two days before on the same beat. I was in the right spot.
We fished on a private beat just above the town of Svängsta. The beat sits directly below the first hydroelectric station at Asnen. The hydroelectric station, although complete with large salmon ladder, provides an opportunity where the salmon lie before running through the station. The pool was wide, deep and fast. With the water risen from a weekend of rain we were confident that there were fish moving through. As we arrived at the top of the beat we were greeted as if we were expected, a head and tail moving up the pool. It seemed as if the fish were teasing us.
On the river it is advised to fish 14ft double-handed rods. I was fishing my Orvis Helos Switch and although it was possible to cover the water I would suggest that a 14ft or even a 15ft rod is better placed both to cast and to play these gargantuan salmon. As we fished down the pool, the fish we had seen moving earlier was obviously not interested. But then, Jonke's line tightened and for a split second we both got extremely excited – this was quickly dispelled as the tug turned to nothing and a small perch was found to be the culprit. I suffered the same shudder down my spine, upon hooking a particularly large log. It was not to be our night and as the sun set in the sky it was time to retire.
On my last day I was met by Ulf Sill, a manager at Mörrums Kronolaxfiske which has more than 15km of fishing on the river split into 32 named pools on the lower stretch and three pristine beats on the upper waters. It provides affordable fishing while also limiting the number of fisherman on the river at any one time. A day ticket here will set you back at most £60 and you are unlikely to see another fisherman. The 15km is divided into both spin and fly fishing with much of the water being shared by the two.
We started in pool 32, which is wide and fast with a number of good lies all along the pool. The river demands a good roll cast with its steep sided wooded banks. Today I was using a fly designed by Ulf, now famous among Swedish rivers: the beije fly. Despite the fly and the fantastic conditions, it was not to be our day. This was not for the lack of seeing a fish as in pool 17 we could only watch as a pod of six salmon streamed in. Interestingly, according to Ulf, the Baltic salmon are less aggressive than their Atlantic cousins due to the smaller change in salinity from the Baltic to the river, thus making them all the more harder to catch.
As I took my rod down after what can only be described as a fantastic few days fishing, I felt I had discovered a hidden gem. The river is easy to get to being only one and a half hours from Copenhagen airport. It is affordable with a day with Fiskebloggen including accommodation from about £140. Why then is it rare to hear of British fisherman going to Sweden? In his book, Fishing in Utopia, Andrew Brown describes Sweden as a place "from which tourists left, rather than a destination". Maybe this is why it has gone under the radar for so long. Another, arguably, is the price of beer. Do not expect to pay any less than around £8 for a pint. But, with good fishing and good company, £8 is a small price to pay.
Accommodation, fishing and guiding available at fiskebloggen.no and morrum.com.
To find out about William’s further fishing adventures go to http://wildfishingblog.word