By Kieran Conlon, Guideline Powerteam Ireland.
There are very few places I’ve fished that seep into the soul like the big rivers of northern Sweden. Especially the mighty Kalix river. Fishing this river is a big challenge and can lead to moments of absolute chaos when a big one decides to let you know who is really in charge but in stark contrast there are quiet moments when you feel this powerful river has accepted your presence and allows you to share it’s peace and rhythms.
Casting a line out on this river is truly an interactive experience, the pull of the heavy flow on the rod, feeling the tension through the line as the fly swings through pockets of turbulent water or gets pulled down in the an eddy of a rock the size of a small car. You need to be alert to fish these waters correctly, constantly aware of any subtle changes in order to maintain good speed to the swing and even adding a bit of extra life to the fly if you think something other than the water or rocks has interacted with the fly. Baltic Salmon often want to be provoked into taking the fly and when you get it right the takes are truly spectacular. This trip saw us with much higher colder water than upon the previous occasion with air temps down as low as 3 degrees and while not cold by arctic standards this was June. Nothing but the toughest equipment will suffice. For me it was the LXi T-Pac 14’9 10/11, VOSSO 1113, my old trusty Quadra 1013 and a selection of 3D+ & 4D lines. Egor in .47 & . 52 diameters with lots of PE Extreme backing on the reels.
While upon first glance from a distance it looks like one big sheet of water going by at a ridiculous pace but upon closer inspection you start to spot the individual runs, creases, and pocket water of the edges of roaring rapids. There are tails outs to dream off but in true Baltic Salmon style the best places to meet one of these powerful fish often leave you thinking that if I hook one here i haven’t a hope and more often than not this turns out to be only too true. One encounter this year saw me attached to a very large fish hooked half way down lovely run about a hundred meters above some real hard water. The first searing run saw backing disappear at an alarming rate after which the fish promptly left the pool and held position in the top of the hard water and just decided that he couldn’t be bothered moving anymore. This stand off lasted for about two minutes after which he just spat the hook back at me as if to say today is not your day. If your going to fish this river you better learn to enjoy loosing a lot of the bigs ones if your fortunate enough to hook them, though I must admit its one river where I do just that and when they do show you who’s really in charge and spit the hook or break .52 leader like cotton I find myself just smiling and taking my hat of to the fish.
Then I need to sit down for ten minutes until the legs stop feeling like jelly. Two nights later I returned somewhat tentatively to the same pool, not sure if i was ready for another beating. A local angler was tackling up and he kindly waved me into the run. I fished the same 3D+ 3/5/8 and fly through the pool as the previous occasion and just in the tail out as the fly swung behind some large boulders the loop was torn from my fingers again and the reel went into full song. It was the usual story straight away with a large fish cartwheeling of my right shoulder with the line going into the water 150 meters below the fish. A series of what I assume where Swedish expletives from the other angler confirmed my fears that it was indeed one of the bigger ones. These fish move so fast when hooked. There’s no warning, no head shakes while they decide where they’re going its just full throttle from the second they hit the fly.
After an obscene amount of backing had been removed from the reel this fish went straight for the hard water below and stopped in exactly the same spot as the other fish two nights previous. I thought here we go again and wound down on the fish getting level with it. This one however wasn’t fond of the side strain and started moving again the only problem was it was down stream through the hard water. What followed was a tug of war with the fish taking line out and using the flow to drop down 100 meters each time whereby I had to scramble along over rocks and through pockets of turbulent water to catch up and get level with the fish again. Water levels where high so where the water stopped the trees started, no easy following here. This was the pattern for almost almost 35 minutes and probably close to a kilometre down stream. The amount of pressure I was having to put on the fish to keep some illusion of control left me expecting the hook to pop or the line to break on any of the many boulders at any second.
Eventually however I got to a pool that had some soft water along the edge and a bit of room between the water and the trees where I was able to get some control over the fish and after a lot of back and forth antics under the rod tip the fish was brought to the edge and landed with the assistance of another angler who was fortunately fishing the pool. The Swedish angler who had been tackling up when I hooked the fish had stayed with me the whole time and was able to get a couple of photos in the pouring rain before the fish was quickly released. My thanks to both of you. I remember the long somewhat surreal walk back up to the guys who i’d been fishing with where the story was recounted many times. Despite a good run of fish still going through I felt no inclination to fish again that night indeed I didn’t even cast a line again till the following evening. I was happy to just sit by the fire drinking coffee and watching the guys fish the night away.
The Kalix had given me an incredible gift and it would have just felt wrong, almost disrespectful to go straight back into the water again. I now have an incredible experience to think back on during the coming winter where thoughts will turn to possible future encounters on these rivers for one thing I am certain of I will be back…
Gallery below with images above + additional selection.