The best single salmon pool anywhere

Norway's fabled Malangsfoss Pool, far above the Arctic Circle, has provided superb salmon fishing for centuries, but only for a favored few. Now it has been opened to anyone who wants to lease it—at $435 a day
August 16, 1964

By long acclamation, the king of freshwater game fishes is the Atlantic salmon. He can be taken in the New World and the Old, in Maine (to some extent), Canada, Scotland and Ireland, but his finest domain is Norway, where the world-record salmon of 75 pounds was killed in 1928. And now Norway, "for the first time in a thousand years," as one awed Norwegian put it, has opened one of the world's best salmon pools to the general public.

It is the Malangsfoss, situated on the Maals River 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. The farmers who own it were persuaded by Eric Myhre of Mytravel International, Oslo, that anglers from the world over would flock to it once they learned it was available for short-term leases to be obtained through Myhre's agency. They have begun to do so, even though an individual who wants it all to himself is taxed $435 a day. A party of four, on the other hand, may fish it for $148 a day apiece, a rate that includes comfortable accommodations in a pine-paneled, sod-roofed lodge, good meals and expert gillies—among them the celebrated Konrad Foshaug, who has assisted some of the world's foremost anglers.

If the price seems high, consider that since 1954 Sampson R. Field, an angler of renown and high desire, has paid $35,000 each year for fishing rights to the Alta River during the month of July and next year expects the price to go up to almost $50,000. Six friends share the lease with him, but the lease is not the only expense.

"Once you have secured your beat," says Field, "your problems have just started. On the Alta we have to keep guards posted constantly to protect the river from poachers. This year we had to bring in 12 policemen from various parts of Norway and police dogs. It was worth the trouble. We caught, red-handed, six poachers who were working as a group. They even had walkie-talkies, and women acting as lookouts."

Field has fished Norway for the past 14 summers, 10 of them on the Alta, which he leases in its entirety. He took over Tony Pulitzer's Alta lease 10 years ago. Pulitzer had acquired it from the late Duke of Westminster, who in 1926 took 33 salmon there in a single "night." (In the Land of the Midnight Sun one may fish in broad daylight 24 hours a day, but the best fishing, it is said, comes when the sun is lowest on the horizon, and that period is called night.) Field himself has taken 17 fish in one night on the Alta. Before Westminster the river was controlled for decades by Scotland's Duke of Roxburghe.

Even outside Norway, salmon fishing can be mighty expensive. An angler fishing New Brunswick's famed Restigouche on a beat owned by the exclusive Ristigouche (that's the way they spell it) Salmon Club might find that his expenditure came to $1,000 a fish. In this year of high prosperity in Europe and America, salmon-fishing rates are escalating, as they say in Washington, like moon rockets. Nor have the best beats ever been cheap. Laval University has calculated that the annual average number of salmon taken by Quebec Club anglers from 1950 to 1954 was 7,000 and that each salmon brought in by rod and reel cost its proud conqueror $175, or, averaging them at 12 pounds each, $14.60 a pound. But to keep it all relative and in scale, let us remember that last winter some persons paid $250 a ticket to see Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, neither of whom can fight as well as a salmon.

Besides, not all good salmon beats are so expensive. The Tana, where that record 75-pounder was taken, holds heavier fish than any other river in the world and can be fished for as little as a license fee of $5 a week on some stretches, $12 on others. Unfortunately, 90% of the Tana's fish are netted, legally and illegally. On some of the best salmon-fishing waters of Ireland the cost averages about $6 a day, though on the River Black-water in County Cork it can rise to as much as $450 per rod per week. In Norway some beats can be had for no more than the price of a night's lodging. Thus, if you check in at the Lilands Hotel at Bulken, free fishing is available in the Vossa River, where on just one day in 1958 three 60-pound salmon were taken.

Perhaps the most interesting Norwegian river to watch over the next few years will be the Sand, whose lodge is only one hour by hydrofoil from Stavanger. From 1884 to 1924 the entire Sand was leased by British anglers. Thereafter it was turned over to commercial nets and traps, which vastly reduced the stock of salmon. Since 1957 the rights have been owned by Charles Bergesen, one of the shareholders of Stavanger's very modern Hotel Atlantic, through which fishing reservations may be made at a cost of $126 a day for a party of six. The price, one may expect, will rise as the Sand fulfills its promise. All commercial fishing on it ceased in 1956 after a restocking program was instituted, and the salmon have now begun to come back in quantity. Early this season, which started late in May, a 52-pounder was taken. The year 1964 looks to be 200% better than was 1963, and next year ought to be wonderful.

If you would like to fish the river that General Eisenhower visited on weekends just after World War II, flying in from his Berlin headquarters, you might try the small but very pretty Figgen, a dozen miles from Stavanger, for as little as $3.60 per rod per day. The season runs from April 15 to September 15, with the salmon at their best from mid-July onward and sea trout (salmo trutta forma trutta), well worth angling for, taking over in August and September.

But the opening of the Malangsfoss is what has created the most excitement among salmon fishermen this summer. The reputation of this beat is worldwide. Field considers it "perhaps the best single pool anywhere." To Charles Ritz, son of the Swiss hotelier and a fly-fisherman all his life, it is so gloriously packed with salmon as to be considered an "aquarium for salmon." It has already produced one fish of 57 pounds and, to judge by tantalizing tales of furious encounters in its deep, swift currents, others as big and bigger have been lost there. The tales are easily believed. Many Norwegian rivers produce 50-pounders every year, and the Maals River, on which the Malangsfoss pool is situated beneath a 70-foot waterfall, is one of Norway's best.

It is also one of the farthest north, lying at a parallel approximating that of northern Alaska. Because the Gulf Stream warms the area, summer temperatures are generally mild, with readings of from 50° to 70°. Even so, spray from the falls, just beneath which a good deal of the fishing is done, can be chill and penetrating. Lightweight woolen underwear, wool-and-cotton shirts and a water-repellent windbreaker are advisable, along with hip boots or waders and foul-weather gear. Since the snow-fed waters are icy, thick woolen socks should be worn.

The last major airport north on the western coast of Norway is at Bardufoss, 4½ hours flying time from Oslo and well into summer's nightless country. Malangsfoss is a short drive from Bardufoss.

When snows are melting fast the water becomes high and murky, and then the Malangsfoss is best fished by trolling a silver-and-copper spoon deep in the turbulent water below the falls. With low, clear water it can be fished with a fly (Silver Doctor, Black Doctor, Green Highlander and such on hooks up to 5/0). These can be cast from several spots on shore. In low water a little wading is possible. Even so, the best parts of the pool, which is a generous 250 by 200 yards, are reachable only by boat. As many as six rods can fish it at once, but four is ideal, with two anglers fishing from boats and two from shore. Because the currents are so swift and include everything from rapids to a small maelstrom (sometimes in high water it takes two gillies to handle a boat) outfitters urge double-handed fly rods 12 to 14 feet long and big reels backed with 150 yards of 15-pound-test line. The gillies frown on spinning tackle, holding that the fish are more easily controlled from a fly reel, but, if big enough, spinning outfits are certainly usable. This is the conservative approach to the Malangsfoss. Actually, when conditions are right, an experienced fisherman can do well and have more sport with a single-handed, powerful fly rod of nine feet or so, a much more wieldy and comfortable instrument.

In late June and early July the salmon enter the fjord into which the Maals empties and proceed eight miles up to the pool, where they are stopped for a while by the falls. There they rest, gathering strength to battle their way up a fish ladder and through the tumult of white water to their spawning beds. There are so many fish in the pool that a spoon trolled deep sometimes will foul-hook one in the back. During this period they do not feed. Food never has been found in a salmon's stomach at this time. Why, then, they strike at flies and spoons designed to resemble baitfish is a mystery. Out of irritability, perhaps. Or it may be a reflex brought on by a memory of youth, when they fed voraciously in this very river. Or at such a time they may want privacy. At any rate, from early July to mid-August there are six weeks of fine salmon fishing on the Malangsfoss. (In southern Norway, on the other hand, the season is at its peak in June and July.) The sea-trout season precedes and follows the salmon run, with a netted 38½-pounder the biggest ever taken in the country. Over and beyond that, Norway claims a 51-pound brown trout netted in 1880, and there is superb fishing for Arctic char and grayling, too.

The Malangsfoss beat could be the new rival to the Alta, which is even farther north, in Finnmark. During its best periods the Alta has been leased exclusively by British dukes and American millionaires since 1860. Only fly-fishing is permitted there. The season extends from early June through early September, but the river is available on daily terms only from August 5 through September 5, when the fishing is past its peak.

Among the 200-odd salmon and trout rivers of Norway, there are others that are famous, too. The Aaroy is held by some foremost anglers to be one of the world's five best. It is the home of immensely strong salmon, thicker in girth than the average of other streams. Because of its powerful current and because it produces 60-pounders with relative frequency, it is very sporting water indeed.

"Fishing the Aaroy is like stalking a tiger," says Field. "I've had salmon on in that river that would go over 60 pounds, although my friends don't believe me. We've even soldered our flies to the leaders and tried star drag reels. I've been down on my knees fishing, literally, and had the salmon simply whip me." But the Aaroy is almost always leased out. At times a beat may be available through Hardy Brothers, 61 Pall Mall, London, S W 1.

Even more sporting, some say, is the Laerdal, long a favorite of royalty. Fishing is from banks or special platforms only. With possibilities of 50-pound salmon and 20-pound sea trout, beats may be had just occasionally through Mr. Schjelderup Jansen, Laerdal.

And there is the Driva, which has been fished by British anglers for generations, some of the rights having been leased to a single family for more than 100 years. Only portions of it, and these not the best, are available on daily terms, but it is especially well suited to wading and fishing from the banks.

What does one do with the salmon after killing them? On most beats the angler is permitted to keep only one of his catch. The rest are sold. If he likes, his salmon will be smoked, refrigerated and shipped home to him. But the best treatment, since Norwegian smoked salmon is on the pungent side, is to make gravlaks of it. Gravlaks is a salmon that has been marinated in a little brandy, sherry and lots of dill for two or three days, the time depending on the size of the fish. Sprinkle it with a glass of cognac, slice thin and serve with hot stewed potatoes (chunks of potato in a white sauce containing plenty of chives). The beverage may be a white wine, but it goes excellently well with chilled Norwegian aquavit and beer.