Vatnsdalsá River is one of the most renowned salmon rivers in Iceland, famous for the size of its salmon. Anglers begun fly-fishing in Vatnsdalsá River in 1936, the first year people were able to practice ‘lease’ fishery in the river. Up until then people could only fish in the river using a net. The Fishing Association of Vatnsdalsá (Veiðifélag Vatnsdalsár) was established parallel to the new fishing privileges.
At one end of the Vatndalsá River, approximately 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) from the sea, you have the majestic waterfall of Dalsfoss. Along the river there are also two lakes, Húnavatn and Flódid, but neither of those lakes contain any salmon. The middle beat of the river, approximately 12km in length, is prime arctic-char water, but also includes brown trout, sea trout, and salmon.
The main characteristics of the Vatnsdalsá River is the river’s uniqueness in practicing fly-fishing; the size of the salmon in the river; and the magnificent natural beauty of the Vatnsdalur Valley with its numerous hills.
For a total of twelve years (starting in 1951 and until 1963), the river-lease agreements to anglers were controlled by Icelanders. During those years, many prominent anglers spent time fishing in the river, including former President of Iceland, Ásgeir Ásgeirsson. In 1964, John Ashley-Cooper, a famous English angler and angling author, signed a ten-year lease agreement with Vatnsdalsá River and gained control over leasing parts of the river to other anglers. Ashley-Cooper permitted fly-fishing in the river, but only at a time where he was present. When Ashley-Cooper signed the 10-year lease, the landowners decided to build a modern lodge. The lodge was named Flódvangur, and still stands today.
Ashley-Cooper first visited Vatnsdalur in 1962 and in his book, “A Salmon Fisher’s Odyssey”, he tells the story of his first weeks in Vatnsdalsá River. He fished for a fortnight, and one of his two fishing companions caught 17 salmon, in one day, before lunch. His other companion was a skillful trout angler. He accounted for 50 salmon during that two-week period. Between the three of them, they caught 256 fish. In his book, Ashley-Cooper says the fishing on the Vatnsdalsá River was magnificent. The salmon averaged 11lbs, and the biggest during his tenure was 26lbs. The grilse averaged 7lbs.
Another famous angler, and angling writer, Roderick Haig- Brown, fished in the Vatnsdalsá River and wrote about his experience in the “American Sportsman”. When he was asked about the fishing in Iceland, the only sensible answer he could give was the he wouldn’t want it to be any better than it was. He added that he saw the rise of every single fish he hooked and that alone, in his mind, was the ultimate quality in fishing. The river continues to be a favourite among many famous anglers and conservationists.
Considering that the Vatnsdalsá produces anywhere from 700 to 1,200 fish in a three-month season, it comes as no surprise that the International fly-fishing fraternity holds the river in high regard. In 1997, Vatnsdalsá River implemented a strict ‘catch and release’ policy for all the salmon-beats, and only fly-fishing is allowed. This arrangement is in accordance with the guiding principles of the leaseholder, Pétur Pétursson of Reykjavík. He has the full support of the Vatnsdalsá River Landowner’s Association.