Your guide to
fly fishing in Greenland

Catch an Arctic Char with us!

Fly fishing in Greenland is a short but exciting season. Avid fly fisherman Michael Rosing shares some of his in-depth knowledge about fly fishing in Greenland. 

About the Author

Michael Rosing has fished all his life and tied his own flies from the start. His fly-fishing experience includes trout and common roach in Denmark; Char in Greenland; salmon, char, grayling, and pike in Alaska. He even caught a starry flounder on a fly once, but that was not the plan!

Michael has been sailing and guiding the last 10 summers.

Why Greenland?

Fly fishing is the act of trying to catch a fish using an angled technique where the bait usually looks like a fly that has landed on top of the water. It is sometimes considered artwork, not only because of the technical considerations required based on location and fish, but also because one can travel to the most beautiful places in the world to do it. One of these places is Greenland. If you would like to have an introduction to flyfishing in general, check this out.

Greenland is mostly (but not always) dry in the summer. The rivers often cut their way through a rocky landscape with little vegetation. As a consequence, hiking to and along the rivers is often much easier than other places in the world where bogs and dense vegetation make natural barriers between the fly fisherman and the river. Another advantage is the lack of high vegetation around the rivers that may entangle the fly. Of course, on the flip side, there is nothing to slow down the sometimes fiercely wind from blowing directly into your face.

The rivers of Greenland are pristine with mostly crystal clear water, making sight fishing a possibility. The excitement of casting for a visible fish is simply unparalleled. The closest thing is using a streaming caddish fly (or a foam fly) and seeing a bulge behind the fly as you let it skate across the surface. When the fly is in the water and you see the fish reacting to it (or not) the hardest part is often to wait for it to actually take the fly before attempting to set the hook. The flipside to sight fishing is that if you can see the fish, the fish can see you. So sight fishing requires a bit of stealth.

As you embark on your quest deep into the fjords, and journey away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is easy to fall into the mindset that you are on an adventure. You might even be the first person that year to trek out this far to fish at that particular river. Whether this is true or not, there is no doubt that the peace and tranquility of Greenland’s backcountry, the breathing in of the purest air with only your guide and companions with you, will make you feel like you are the only persons in the world. And if you are thirsty, you can drink directly from the freshwater streams. 

It feels like stepping back in time to when the glaciers just retreated, and the rivers became colonized by fierce strong arctic char.

A fly fishing trip can be a day trip or a multi day tour. On a day trip, you will typically go to the harbour in the morning for a boat shuttle to the river. Depending on the river, you may have to hike a while to get to the best fishing spots. The day will then be spent fishing until you return to town in the evening. The level of guide services and food included are subject to the provider. 

On a multi day tour, you will have the chance to really slow down your pulse and explore the surroundings. Multi day tours typically entail staying at a lodge or tent camp. There are plenty of things to do besides fishing. Take a walk in the mountains, look at the local wildlife. Depending on location you may be able to see caribou, muskox, all kinds of birds, and lots of rocks.

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Kindred spirits: Dog sled mushers and fly fishers

For those of you who know anything about dog sledding, you might be curious to know that dog mushers can learn the art of fly fishing very quickly. This is because casting a fly and handling a dog whip are very similar! Experience has proven that if you give dog mushers a fly rod to try out, they will catch on very fast. The only problem is that you are supposed to crack a whip, and if you do that with a fly rod the fly has an unfortunate habit of flying off. It is the weight of the line, not the fly, that provides the momentum.

Package Tours

Disko Line: Whale Safari

Disko Line

Whale Safari

Take a whale safari in Disko Bay and have a unique experience.

Greenland Tours – East & West

Greenland Tours

East & West

8 days exploring Disko Bay & East Greenland with stop in Nuuk

Greenland Tours: Disko Adventure

Greenland Tours

Disko Adventure

4 days in Disko Bay incl. hiking and kayaking

North Safari Outfitters: The Arctic Five winter and spring hunt

North Safari Outfitters

The Arctic Five winter and spring hunt

North Safari Outfitters offers a unique hunt on the Arctic five species, Muskox, Caribou, Polarfox, Polarhare and Ptarmigan.

Useful Information
& planning

The fishing season in Greenland is very short. The char leaves the rivers in early spring as soon as the ice breaks in the rivers, depending on location this could be as early as May and stay in salt water until July, where they start migrating back into the rivers. The timing of the return varies between locations, but it is roughly during the first three weeks of July where most rivers start seeing runs of char. The fishing is consistently good through to the end of August, and in some places until mid-September.

This gives two distinct seasons in Greenland: a spring season in salt water and a mid-summer to fall season in freshwater. Fishing camps and lodges situated at rivers start accepting fishermen from about July 1st depending on location.

Some camps do a bit of saltwater fishing, and some local outfitters offer saltwater fly-fishing on a day trip basis. This however is mostly for fishermen who find themselves in Greenland off season and want to try fishing before the runs start.

Depending on the season and location in Greenland you should expect just about anything. You may be blessed with a week of sunny skies with hardly any wind, or get days where the wind is howling and the rain pouring. The important thing is to be prepared. Expect the unexpected and put a buffer in your program in case of a few days of bad weather.

The thing that catches most people off guard are the warm and sunny days. Greenland does not automatically evoke pictures of t-shirt weather, however, this is a likely possibility that you should also be prepared for. 

Mosquitoes are pretty much unavoidable early to mid-season. Later in the season mosquitoes give way to biting flies. But as with everything else, preparation is key. A good mosquito net will keep them at bay. Or if you are so inclined, a good dose of mosquito repellent.

For fly fishing purposes there are 3 kinds of rivers: Glacial, muddy, and clear.

There are no real large rivers in Greenland. Simple geography dictates that large rivers need a large river basin. The longest distance from coast to icecap is less than 200 km (125 miles) and rivers run generally from inland towards the sea. That is not enough to generate very large rivers. There are however large glacially-fed rivers.

Glacial rivers

Glacial Rivers range from large muddy rivers with runoff from the icecap to smaller rivers starting with runoff from local glaciers.

Fly fishing large glacial rivers is pretty much impossible. The visibility is so low that even the brightest fly is hard to see. That is not to say that there are no fish. Lots of glacial rivers have runs of fish that enter the clear tributaries where they can be caught with a fly. However, the tributaries can be hard to reach because of the distance from the coast.

Smaller glacial rivers that have their origin in smaller glaciers are much more fishable. They often have cold water only tinged with silt. One thing to note is that on warm days the river will rise a bit due to increased glacial runoff.

Muddy rivers

Muddy rivers are typically found where they run through a large area of mud or sand and become muddy that way. Muddy rivers have various amounts of silt and mud in them. They will often be clear enough to fish a fly, even a dry fly, but will get muddier when swollen by rain.

Clear rivers

Clear rivers have no glacial source. Clear rivers are very clear and excellent for fly fishing. The fish are visible, and the fish can see the fly. Of course, too much of a good thing is sometimes tricky. If the water is very clear it may call for more discrete flies and long leaders.

One important thing to keep in mind is that outside towns there are no roads in Greenland. In a few places, ATV tracks are planned but not built yet. In some places it is possible to hike to char rivers from town, but hardly any of them are day trips from town. The remaining options are boats and helicopters. Boats are by far the least expensive option. 

Charter boats in Greenland must conform to the standards set by the Danish Maritime Authority. They must have safety equipment like Personal Flotation Devices and VHF radios on board.

Ask the local tourist information about which boats are legal.

To fish in Greenland you need a fishing license. The easiest way to obtain one is to go to the post office and fill out a postal cheque that then acts as your fishing-license, when paid.

The price is

DKK 75 for a 24-hour fishing license

DKK 200 for a 7-day license

DKK 500 for a month-long license

The way to acquire a fishing license is explained in this document.

Once you have purchased a license there are few restrictions on fly-fishing. There is no privately owned land in Greenland, hence there is no privately owned fishing.

The exception is rivers with a sport fishing concession. In a concession river, you must obtain a permit from the concession owner and pay a fee. In most cases, the concession owner will only permit their own guests to access to the river. The rivers with a concession are often the best ones in an area so it is worth going there.

There are no size limits for fish in Greenland.

Fishing Locations

There are simply too many fishable rivers to mention them all. If you want to arrange your own trip the easiest way is to contact the local tourist operator where you want to go. The local operators know the area and most have at least a passing understanding of flyfishing.

Concessions

There are now 9 rivers with sport-fishing concessions. This means that only the holder of the concession can bring sport fishermen to the rivers, and that people from outside Greenland are only allowed to fish those rivers with a license from the concession holder.

Qeqqata Kommunia

Concession holder: Albatros Arctic Circle
River: Angujaartorfik (Robinson River)

Concession holder: Tobias Gredal / Major Hunting
River: Qôrqut (Kangia Fjorden)

Concession holder: Sirius Greenland
River: Eqalussuit, Erfalik, Napiarissat

Concession holder: Leif Fontaine
River: Sassannguit

Concession holder: Karl Davidsen
River: Elven Kangia at Kangia Fjorden

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About Arctic char

There are only 4 species of freshwater fish in Greenland. Char, 3 spined stickleback, eel, and salmon. Salmon exists only in 1 river, eel can be found many places – up to mid Greenland – but is rarely fished and definitely not on fly gear, stickleback is a baitfish. This leaves char as the only fishable species.

Arctic char is an anadromous species. This means that it winters in fresh water but as soon as the rivers break up in spring, they migrate to saltwater.

They stay in salt water for a couple of months, re-entering the fresh water around the third week of July (varies a bit between rivers). During the rest of July and August the rivers fill up with fresh char from the salt water. They start turning into spawning colors and spawn in late September. Like some other salmonids the males start developing a characteristic hook along with the spawning colors.

Arctic Char – Morphological variants

Char are found in at least 3 and often 4 distinct morphological variants (fish of the same species with different life strategies. They may consequently even look different). 

  • The anadromous morph is by far the most fished, and the one that all lodges and camps fish for. It migrates to salt water every summer, and consequently grows bigger than the others.  The anadromous morph is silvery in the summer but changes color as spawning time approaches.

  • A cannibalistic morph can be found in lakes and tend to be large and very rare. In lakes without access to salt water (usually due to waterfalls), these versions of fish can be caught but are not very plentiful. They respond to the same flies as the other morphs. This morph has spawning colours all year.
  • The pelagic morph can be found in lakes and tend to be small, silvery, and eating insects. The pelagic morph is occasionally fishable near streams running into and out of lakes, often late evening, or early morning. They usually respond to very small dry flies (#18 -#22) corresponding to the insects they eat. In lakes without access to salt water (usually due to waterfalls), these versions of fish can be caught but are not very plentiful. They respond to the same flies as the other morphs. The pelagic morph does not don spawning colours all year.
  • A dwarf morph lives in rivers and does not migrate to either lakes or the ocean. They can be fished with small flies, it can be quite fun to catch them on small dry flies even if they only grow to be 10-20 cm. One of my first trips back to Greenland after living in Denmark for some years I spent a lot of evenings catching small char on dry flies.

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Arctic char vs
Salmon and Trout

When it comes to eating it a char is more like a trout than a salmon. It has a mild flavour and more delicate flesh, this is in part due to the smaller size.

Char is great for grilling. It is so fat that grilling does not easily dry it out.

Michael’s favourite Greenlandic Arctic recipe

My favourite way to cook Arctic char is to find some angelica. Cut the stems of this fragrant wild celery-like herb into small pieces and put them inside the char along with some salt and pepper. Now wrap the char in angelica leaves and put it on a fire (or the grill). The result is an angelica infused char. Another option is to add Tupaarnat, Scottish thyme, if you can find it.

Fly fishing gear

you should bring to Greenland

Fly fishing gear is in general not available in Greenland. You will need to bring your own. A few places sell fly-fishing sets but no flies and more importantly, no leaders.

Leaders tend to get frayed by the rocky bottoms during a day of fishing.

Some lodges have extra fly rods in case a guest runs into trouble with gear.

In general the fly fishing techniques and methods that you use at home for trout and similar fish are the same as the ones you can use in Greenland.

The single best piece of advice is that you should bring the fly fishing rod and reel you are comfortable with. Having said that, most choose a rod in the #5 – #7 range. No rivers in Greenland are large enough to warrant a rod heavier than #8, although some fishermen prefer far casting rods for some of the rivers. Ask the outfitter if you are in doubt.

Most camps recommend a floating WF line with the option of a sinking leader to get to the bottom. But it will be wise to check the providers specific recommendations for the particular river you will be fishing.

Bring lots of leaders, the piece of tapered nylon between the line and the fly. Greenland rivers are filled with rocks, and leaders are hard to come by in Greenland. For clear water rivers, it will sometimes be advantageous to use leaders as long as 12 feet.

Furthermore, it is not necessary to disinfect the gear by law, but we recommend that this is done to kill any fish pathogens.

This can be done by using one of the following methods:

  • Rinse your gear in tap water and keep at a minimum temperature of 20°C for at least two days after drying
  • Rinse your gear in tap water and then dry and heat for at least one hour at a temperature above 60°C
  • Rinse your gear in tap water and then soak in a disinfecting solution for a minimum of ten minutes.

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Flies

The basic definition of a fly is that it is a hook with some particles tied onto it in order to attract a fish. By adding some weight, you can cast a fly with a spin rod, but it’s not very easy to cast a spinner with a fly rod. 

Note that most camps only allow barbless or de-barbed hooks.

Michael, the author, divides flies into 4 broad categories and provides examples of flies:

BouncyBounce along the bottom

Fishy –  Looks like a fish

BushyFloating due to Elk hair or foam

BuggyLooks like bugs

Bouncy

Alaskan Egg sucking leech. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Alaskan Egg sucking leech

My all-time favourite fly is a purple Alaskan Egg sucking leech. I have likely caught more fish of various species on that fly than any other fly. Although I must note that I have also spent more time fishing an egg sucking leech than likely any other fly.

My favourite way to tie it is a wee bit different than the standard. I like to tie it on a size 8 dog nobbler hook. This produces a jig-like fly that bounces along the bottom of the river without getting stuck too many times. I tie it in various weights to account for different rivers. I fish it both dead drifting and retrieved in short spurs.

The dog nobbler hook has been a bit in and out of production since I took to using it, so I buy a bunch of them whenever I can find them. A standard streamer hook will do just fine. Some tiers bend the standard streamer hook a bit to make it into a dog nobbler hook.

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No-body bounce fly. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

No-body

My version of a No-body is an egg sucking leech with No-body. The only things left are the egg and the tail. It can be tied in different colors but I like the pink body and pink marabou tail. As with the full bodied egg sucking leech the eyes are used as weight.

Fishy

Mickey Finn fishy fly. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Mickey Finn

Some flyfishermen swear by streamers and will catch any fish on a streamer. Char is no exception to the rule that whatever you can’t catch on an egg sucking leech you can catch on a Mikey finn.

Smolt Fly fishy type. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Smolt pattern

Any smolt pattern will work, particularly in salt water. I like to use a green tinged fly. Mostly because capelin have a slight green tinge.

Christmas tree fishy fly. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Christmas tree

One, perhaps surprising fly that I have had success with is the Christmas tree. It was originally tied by Steen Ulnits to imitate spawning nerididae worms. I find it works well in both salt and fresh water when fishing for char.

Teal Red and Silver fishy fly. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Teal Red and Silver

A classic pattern. Whenever a smaller fly is called for. I often fish a smaller stream with shallow water. The Teal Red and silver is my go to fly in those conditions. It also works like a charm when fishing for small landlocked fish. I could also have used an Alexandra or a Telemark king. Both work as well, I just like the TRS.

Bushy

Elk Hair bushy fly. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Elk hair caddis

Another classic the Elk hair caddis is also on my most favourite list.

In my mind the only thing beating the sight of a fish breaching to chase a streaming caddish is a fish taking a dead drifted dry fly. Since regular dry fly fishing is a bit rare in Greenland, I make do with streaming caddis flies whenever I have a chance.

Foam Fly bushy type. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Pink Foam Fly

A more modern take on the elk hair caddis fly is a foam fly. They come in a bewildering number of colors. I like pink.

Buggy

Polywing Spinner buggy fly. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Polywing spinner

Flies that resemble bugs of any kind are the beginning of all fly-fishing.
There are a number of bugs in Greenland. All of them get eaten by char. In some admittedly rare instances I have caught small landlocked fish on very small flies, size 18-22. In that case I like the polywing spinner, another one of Steen Ulnits’s creations. I fish it in any size from 14-22. To imitate very small bugs it can be an advantage to tie a double polywing spinner in size 18. That will imitate two even smaller flies.

Spider fly buggy type. Photo by Vagn Hansen - Visit Greenland

Spider fly

Greenlandic spiders are large, this makes for a rather large dry fly. They can be tied in different ways.

An introduction to fly fishing

Fly fishing
versus regular fishing

Jigging, casting and fly fishing are three popular techniques for fishing.

Jigging is sitting above the fish and dropping either bait or lure down to the fish. Most often this is done from a boat, canoe or anything else that floats. Jigging typically requires fairly rigid rods because the rod is used to jig the lure up and down.

Casting is done with rod and reel. The lure is heavy enough to cast it out to the fish. Or in some cases extra weight is added.

Uniquely, fly fishing can be done with a hook weighing next to nothing but adorned with feathers glitter and whatever the flytier fancies. A lure in contrast is made of metal or wood with a hook attached. Casting lures are heavy enough to be used as weight in the cast. A fly has no weight but must be propelled by the line.

Fly fishing is often done with lighter and more sensitive equipment than spin fishing. This gives a more intense fight. The feeling of fighting a fish on lighter tackle is more immediate, it feels more like a direct interaction with the fish.

Something else that draws fishermen to fly fishing is the casting. It may sound silly, from a lure fishing perspective fly-casting seems difficult, time consuming, and hard to learn. But for a fly fisherman there is a joy in a well executed cast that simply isn’t there with lure casting. That is also why fly fishermen often stay longer at the river on days with few fish – just practising the cast is enough fun to keep them there.

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Common myths
about fly fishing

There is a common misconception that all flies float on the water. Although some of the best fly fishing I have ever done was with dry flies, foam flies, or other floating flies, the majority of fly fishing is with flies that sink. In a lot of cases we use weighted flies to get them down to the fish.

Another common misconception is that fly fishing equipment is very expensive. That may have been the case at some point in history. But as with everything else, prices have gone down with an increase in demand. Now it is perfectly possible to get a decent fly-fishing set at a price comparable to a decent spin fishing set. Of course, you can spend a year’s rent on just a fly rod, another year’s rent on a reel, and buy a lot of other cool stuff. The basic equipment, however, is not very expensive.

A couple of advantages to flies over lures is that they can be fished very slowly, and they don’t sink to the bottom as fast. This makes fly fishing in shallow rivers and for slow-moving fish easier than lure fishing.

If you want to try your hand at fly fishing the most important thing is to learn how to cast. It is possible to learn by yourself. However, some bad habits can be difficult to unlearn. Like anything else, a good start with a qualified instructor will pay off. Or just get hold of a fly rod, try it out, and if you decide to pursue it further, get some help. Youtube is stuffed with videos about fly casting. This is only a small selection.

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History of fly fishing

The craftsmanship of tying flies dates back to 13th century England. During the British colonization of large parts of the earth, the traders brought back a large variety of feathers that became stable on fly tying. To this day ultra-fancy salmon flies are still tied and fished even if the art of fly tying has undergone several renewals. 

The history of fly fishing is intertwined with the history of the western world. One of the largest reinventions of flies came about when the United States was settled. Lacking the fancy and expensive exotic feathers, the American fly fishermen and fly tiers used whatever was available to them, with great success. Today, modern technology has given us materials that Victorian fly fishermen would equally scorn and envy.

Fly fishing is a global phenomenon with new ideas coming from all over the world. The list of species fished with a fly grows as well. Traditionally fly fishing was for salmon, trout, and char. Now every conceivable fish that can be reached with fly fishing equipment is caught on a fly.

Author: Michael Rosing

Editor: Tanny Por 

Visual setup: Filip Gielda