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CHASING BALTIC SALMON

June 26 2016

Baltic Salmon have been a mythical creature in my eyes since I was a young boy, fishing for Atlantic Salmon in Scottish spate rivers. Old magazine articles and books revealed countless record fish from the Baltic sea. This continued to fuel the fire that is my addiction to Salmon fishing. Sparking the dream of fly-fishing in the picturesque forest rivers of Scandinavia, chasing the largest Salmon imaginable.

 

ABOUT BALTIC SALMON

 

It is believed that the Baltic Salmon of Northern Sweden are the strongest of the Salmo Salar gene pool. It isn’t so hard to believe when viewing the enormity of the river systems and obstacles they must tackle travelling upstream. Many of the big rivers in the North of Sweden have large sections of lake like systems with slow water. This allows the salmon to pass at the same pace as when they are at sea. Around 30mph. These larger bodies of slack water are divided by long sections of hard rapids and small glides within them. Here it can be possible to catch them with a fly. The rapids are so intense and the spawning grounds are far upstream, some 100- 300km inland. These fish have to have formidable power and endurance to reach their mark.

 

BALTIC SALMON LIFE CYCLE

 

The Baltic salmon stay in their pre natal streams for 1-4 years before heading to sea around 10-30cm in length. Baltic Salmon mostly feed on Herring and Sprat.  The feeding grounds are located in the southern most area of the Baltic Sea. They feed here for another 1-4 years, allowing the fish to gain a lot of weight quickly. They re-enter the rivers at weights anywhere between 4-45lbs and around 50-130cm in length. Some are expected to be even larger if they spend longer periods at sea. Others can survive spawning and are able to return to the river one or multiple times in their life time. Many male salmon do not survive after spawning due to battling for territories. However many females are able to make the journey more than once. The average weight for a fly caught salmon in the north is somewhere between 12-15lbs.

 

FISHING IN NORTHERN SWEDEN

 

Northern Sweden has something to offer all avid salmon anglers. The majority of fishing waters are owned by associations, selling licences at great prices. The average day card rate for salmon fishing is between 100-300 SEK.

 

The most notable rivers are the Torne, Lainio, Kalix, Ängesån & Byske, of which many locals and now international anglers travel to explore and fish annually.

 

RETURN OF THE BALTICS

 

The last 4 years have seen a dramatic increase in Salmon stocks. This is due to heavier restrictions on commercial fishing at sea. As a result the fishing has become exceptional. Running numbers on the Torne River reached an all time high in 2014. 104,000 fish were recorded through the fish counter. Some rivers now offer private fishing on small sections of these rivers. Camp Onka on the Lainio River and Kengis Bruk on the Torne River.

 

Due to the influx of fly fishing tourism in Northern Sweden, it is suspected that these rivers could be put right at the top of the list of salmon rivers to visit for a chance of catching a fish of a life time. It is also hoped locally that the increase in tourism will encourage an even stronger management and protection of salmon stocks for the future.

 

BALTIC SALMON SEASON

 

The Baltic salmon season in Northern Sweden officially starts on June 01st and ends August 31st. The season is short and intense. When the ice frees up the river in early to mid May, there is generally a lot of activity from Kelts and Smolts heading back to sea in large numbers. Osenkas are also shaking off the cold dark winter ready to wait out another summer to spawn.

 

EARLY SEASON

 

Like Atlantic Salmon, the Osenkas maintain incredible conditioning only losing around 20% of their mass. Towards the end of May into early June the first of the Baltic Salmon enter the river. These are predominantly males and are the largest fish of the season between 25-50lbs. These fish are few but to the most patient and persistent fly fisher willing to brave the long hours and changeable conditions, it is a chance to be rewarded with a fish of a lifetime.

 

Sinking lines with large tube flies are employed. Many hours are spent searching for what can seem like a needle in a haystack. In early June 2015 Kristian Stridsman a local to the Torne river landed an immaculate fresh fish of 43.7lbs. The fish measured 128cm and shortly after he landed another of 36lbs and 116cm. Both fish were caught at Kengis Bruk, one of a handful of private fishing locations in Northern Sweden. As the season progresses towards mid to late June a larger number of big female salmon from 15-35lbs enter the river. They are followed by main run males and females from 10-20lbs that continue to run through to the end of July.

 

MID SEASON

 

Late June and early July is certainly a peak time to be fishing for salmon as the water temperature sits between 10-12 degrees. Floating, intermediate and slow sinking lines with smaller flies take over. Many anglers still have a chance at fish of 20-30lbs, a remarkable fish by anyone’s standards.

 

BACK END SEASON

 

Towards the middle and end of July, a small run of grilse weave up the rivers around 3-6lbs. The cause havoc in all the pools they briefly occupy, eventually reaching their mark in early August. Throughout the month, Grilse mingle with the larger early run fish that have transformed and taken on their spawning colours. This is when the salmon are becoming territorial when anything invades their claimed space.

 

This time of the season calls for tactics to trigger the rage of holding salmon. Riffling small Sunray shadows, fast stripping or dangling small bright flies over suspected lies. An angry take and a formidable fight from one of these fish can be the most exciting time in the season. Many fish year after year are landed of 30lbs or more. Many anglers often lose the battle to fish suspected to be 35-40lbs plus. They run and never stop, leaving empty reels and an ever-lasting impression.

 

RIVERS

 

The main Baltic Salmon Rivers in Northern Sweden include: Torne, Lanio, Muonio, Kalix, Ängesån, Byske, Vindel, Lögde. There are also many other big and small rivers in the north that have both Salmon & Sea Trout.

 

KALIX RIVER – JOCKFALL

 

My first 2 years chasing Baltic Salmon were unsuccessful, though I only had a couple of days to try at the time and was still rewarded with excellent Sea Trout between 8-16lbs, but when I was given the opportunity to spend 10 days exploring the Kalix, Torne and Lainio Rivers in 2015, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

 

The anticipation when arriving at Jockfall in mid June was overwhelming, so many fantastic fish over 20, 30 and 40lbs had been landed on these rivers already and I just knew this year would be the one for me also. The Kalix River at Jockfall is home to Loop Pro Team member Ronny Landin, and is a daunting power house of hard rapids and very wide deep pools, especially below the 9m waterfall at the head of the beat. The fish that run the Kalix River here are rather unique in shape, shorter and deeper bellied with enormous tails to thrust themselves through the harshest conditions.

 

A FIRST TASTE OF SCANDI RIVERS

 

I took to the river as fast as I could and enjoyed experimenting with a new concept to me, using shooting heads in all different sink rates as low as sink 7, not a very commonly used set of lines on my annual trips to the Deveron in Banffshire Scotland. It was a beautiful sunny day, perhaps not the best in terms of Salmon fishing, but this was all new territory, who really knows with salmon fishing anyway?

 

After a couple of hours changing out enormous flies and sink rates, I pulled out a 10cm bright yellow and gold tube fly that felt like it was well worth a go and I tied it to a 1m leader on a Sink 1/3/5 shooting head. As the sun was at it’s strongest, I thought that despite it’s size it might work quite well, down in the depths. Sure enough on the second cast as the fly left the main flow and swung into the softer glide, a second or two allowed the fly to sink and then… bang!

 

FISH ON

 

A salmon had taken the fly and with such force it almost tore the rod out of my hand. Launching clean out of the air I got the first site of the fish, a perfectly sparkling salmon of epic proportions. As it hit the water the salmon began running downstream. Perched on a precarious rocky cliff over hanging the river, I had no chance to follow, so all I could do was hold on and pray. As the line quickly ran into the backing, suddenly the line went loose. It was off and I was left with a mixture of devastation, shock and awe. I had had never felt something that powerful before. After reeling up and inspecting the leader I found the 44lbs fluorocarbon leader sheared right through.

 

PRO IN ACTION

 

The next day on returning to the river, I had hoped that this would not be my only chance at a fish here again. During the first run through the pool a voice from behind me shouted “get out of the water… fish on” I turned around to see Loop Team member Ville Rakkolainen bent into a fish and clutching a screaming reel. The fight was immense, a very big fish tossing and turning, dive bombing up and down the pool.

 

After a solid 10-15 minute battle, Ville brought the fish to shore and this was the first time I had seen a salmon of this size in the flesh. A real silver torpedo of 30lbs that was every bit as beautiful and mean looking as I had imagined, Long fat and fresh. After some quick photos the fish was returned and sparked thoughts in my head of what could have been the day before.

 

LAINIO RIVER – CAMP ONKA

 

Leaving Jockfall felt like a big mistake, but I set off to Camp Onka on the Lainio River and my first impressions were, what the hell am I doing here? 250km from the sea, early season, deep within the forest and the furthest I’ve ever felt from civilisation, when we have just come from a river teaming with fish. I was obviously mistaken. Allowing myself the opportunity to take in the majesty of the Lainio River and it’s forest lined banks and multiple enticing glides crying out to be fished, I was treated to some stories of big fish caught in previous years and some fish already caught this year.

 

ANOTHER FISH LOST

 

On my first run through Phatakoski pool a couple of km downstream from the Onka home pool I connected with another large fish. Determined not to lose this one, I held onto the fish and kept it within short range under control. However after a steady 5 minute brawl, the salmon leaped clean out of the water and the words from our guide “Oi oi oi oi oi… this is a big one!” still haunt me, as in those few seconds the fish had tumbled over the leader and pulled the fly loose. Disaster again! But how wrong I was to think of this place as second best to our previous location at Jockfall, the river was full of fish. Running hard, but full of fish!

 

FIRST BALTIC SALMON

 

Determined I fished on through the other pools and later that evening returned to Phatakoski. This time on the first run through, another Salmon took the fly, not as big this time but I was delighted to connect with a third fish in 3 days. A short fight and I was finally rewarded with a beautiful silvery 87cm fish estimated at 14-15lbs. I was ecstatic finally a Baltic salmon! By no means a monster but after 2 lost fish this was just what I needed. Reports soon came over the phone from another local river. The Swedish Loop team including Andreas Lundberg had taken the river by storm and landed 6 fish between 90-110cm / 20-30lbs.

 

GOOD VIBES

 

The feeling in the North was great and things were really warming up. Over the coming days more fish were hooked and lost, other guests managed true beauties of 26lbs despite rapid rising water, the fish kept coming fast and furious. We even had the opportunity to view numerous schools of big fish resting below the Kangos town bridge. Our fellow guests attempted to target them, but the salmon ducked and dodged at every attempt thrown at them, until they eventually meandered upstream at a swift pace. This made us all wonder just how many fish our flies had passed over during our stay and the mystery of salmon fishing seemed to have widened even further with these Baltic fish.

 

TORNE RIVER – KENGIS BRUK

 

My final stop brought me to Kengis Bruk on the Torne River, home waters of another Loop Pro team member Lars Munk. Four days of persistent rain and an onslaught of recently hatched hungry mosquitoes in Onka had finally given way to bright sunshine and a wide open river valley mostly free of critters at Kengis Bruk, situated 100km downstream from Camp Onka as the Lainio River is just one of the Torne river systems tributaries.

 

The number of fish present in the river at Kengis Bruk during the back end of June into early July is truly staggering and every pool is alive with activity. The stretch of water offers 2.5km of private single bank fishing, split in two by the famous Kengis Rapids dropping 18.5m in height over a 600m stretch. These rapids provide fantastic holding pools above and below the rapids where many big fish are caught each year.

 

EVERLASTING MEMORIES

 

As always it is a pleasure to join experienced salmon fishers and excellent Spey and modern underhand casters such as Lars who is a marvel to watch, listen and learn from. Despite Kengis Bruk holding a lot of fresh and holding fish, we were unable to connect with any of them, but the spectacle of an active pool of fish is something to witness in itself and I knew that this would be a new special place I would have to return to, along with the wilderness of the Lainio river at Camp Onka and the sheer power of the Kalix River at Jockfall.

 

It was no surprise to hear that shortly after I flew home, many more fish between 20-30lbs were landed on all three rivers, at the end of the season between Camp Onka and Kengis Bruk, 1 over 40lbs, 6 over 30lbs and 20% of all fish caught were over 20lbs and to this day I haven’t stopped thinking about going back again. Now I am counting down the days until June 15th, when the fishing at Kengis Bruk and Camp Onka starts again for another action packed season.

 

BALTIC SALMON FISHING LINKS

 

For more information on fly-fishing in Sweden visit: – flyfishscandinavia.com – flyfishadventures.co.uk – camponka.com – kengisbruk.com – jockfall.com

 

5 TIPS FOR BALTIC SALMON

 

1. EARLY SEASON

 

In the early season of June, big flies and heavy sinking lines can make all the difference when judging the right tackle set up in changeable conditions. Cold weather calls for larger deeper fished flies and warm water beckons smaller flies fished close to or on the surface. The water and air temperature can change dramatically, so pay attention to these changes and tackle up accordingly.

 

2. CORRCT TACKLE

 

Choose fast action rods to handle the biggest flies and heaviest sinking lines. Big rivers sometimes call for maximum distance to cover all water available. Though many fly fishers catch fish on shorter lines as well. 14’0” – 15’0” fast action rods will give you the best of both worlds. To be able to control fly speed and pump out a little extra distance if necessary. Large arbour reels with a fast retrieve rate are the best pairing to gain quick ground on lively fish.

 

3. FLY CHOICE

 

Nothing beats a fly with maximum mobility when fishing for Baltic Salmon. These fish are fickle creatures and much of the season the rivers flow relatively clear. Locals believe that longer slimmer flies with the softest most mobile materials are more effective than others. Lighter flies used with heavier sinking lines are becoming more popular for ultra mobile flies. However weighted flies are still employed in the heaviest flows and deepest pools.

 

4. FISH HARD & WITH CONFIDENCE

 

Bring your “A Game” in terms of concentration, patience and belief in your tactics as a salmon fisher. Baltic Salmon are considered to be even harder to catch then their Atlantic cousins. Only the strongest willed and committed anglers are often rewarded when everything falls into place. Going without fish for days can sometimes be demoralising. But in the right place at the right time, you could experience the magical raw power of a fish of a lifetime.

 

5. LAND MORE FISH

 

Fight tactical and clever. Playing a big Salmon sets heart rates flying. Trusting your instincts can go a long way. If a fish is dangerously close to disappearing down hard rapids never to be seen again, hold steady, with no sudden movements. Let the fish calm down and walk the fish upstream. They will almost always follow like a dog. When it is time, set the pressure fairly hard and give it all you’ve got.

 

Apply side on pressure to throw fish off balance and prevent them from running. Try your best to keep them under control and on a short line. If they can’t be stopped let them have some line. Calm them down before they reach the hard water again. Repeat the process until you have the upper hand. The more control you have over how the fight is played the more big fish you are likely to land.

 

BY JAY BARTLETT

 

LOOP TACKLE FOR BALTIC SALMON

 

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