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.
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.
Greenland’s fishing season: Very short but thriving
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 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 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 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.
Getting to the rivers
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.
Rules and Regulations
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.
Size limits for fish
There are no size limits for fish in Greenland.
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.
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.
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.
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.