I am home. Back from my Greenland fishing trip and trying to sort out my final impressions of the adventure, emphasis on adventure. The quick and dirty of the trip is that it wasn’t what I expected or exactly what was described but, in the end, it still turned out to be a lot of fun and good fishing. If you are satisfied with that, you can stop reading here. But if you want to know more, continue on and be the judge of how you categorize this trip and whether you would do it yourself.
I met the organizer and host of the Greenland trip last year at the Edison, New Jersey Fly Fishing Show. Indrek is the owner of Breakaway Classic Adventures. He was in the booth next to our Zen Tenkara booth and over the course of a few days we spoke about Greenland and the trip he offered there. He showed me pictures, described the fishing and even drew a picture of the “rustic cabin” with 4 rooms, a common area and a deck overlooking the bay where one could watch whales, drink coffee in the morning and do yoga. It sounded great and he encouraged me to organize and bring a group of anglers. As winter melted away and spring arrived, Indrek reached out to me and suggested I come in August, the start of prime fishing season in Greenland. I was on the fence due to other travel plans to Alaska but in early June it sounded too good to pass up so I and my husband committed to it.
Indrek sent me a packet with general information on Greenland and Mantiisoq, the nearest town to where we’d be fishing. The packet gave a description of accommodations, meals, itinerary and provided a gear list. “Fly Fishing for Arctic Char is catch and release with barbless hooks. The average char will weigh around 5-6lbs but larger char in the 10-14lb range are landed regularly.” The packet went on to describe the camp as “safari style with all the basic necessities and comfortable raised tent cots with 3” foam pads.” As for food, “Meals include the bounty of the land and sea; ptarmigan, hare, caribou, shrimp, mussels, snow crab, cod, and of course Arctic Char. Necessary staples round out the menu; fruit, vegetables, pasta, rice and potatoes. All prepared in Dutch ovens and upon grills…nature’s bounty of sweet cold water shrimp, snow-crab and blue mussels all of which will satisfy our hungry appetites!” Sounds pretty incredible, right? We were provided a menu form and asked to fill it out. We checked off our preferences for each meal, for each day.
The compound was described as having a “…large dinning tent set up that will accommodate all of our hungry fishermen as well as for socialization…a solar shower and an outhouse.” The all-inclusive trip also included guides with a 1-4 ratio (a little concerning depending on river access and fishability). Indrek also mentioned that the camp site was about 1.5-2 kilometers from the boat drop-off point, so a modest hike was necessary to reach the destination. “No problem” I said. I’m in shape and am accustomed to hiking a few miles to reach a river. When asked about weather and temperatures he said mid-60’s during the day, “like Alaskan temperatures” and maybe, maybe it could drop into the high to mid-40s at night.
As the trip went, I and my husband (who has never camped in his life but was willing to go based on Indrek’s description) took a direct flight from Denver, Colorado to Reykjavik, Iceland. It was about an 8-hour red-eye flight which ended with a 2-hour layover before the roughly 3 hour flight to Nuuk, Greenland the next morning. From Nuuk we would be picked up and transported to a marina where we would meet boat Captain, Arnannguaq Heilmann Christensen. She would take us in her cabin cruiser/water taxi about 3 hours north, along the southeast coastline of Greenland. We would then transfer to a smaller boat operated by local guide, Ole Zeeb Skifte. He runs Maniitsoq Adventure Tours and is an experienced caribou hunter and guide. Ole would take us to the mouth of the river where we would unload our luggage then hike to the campsite. As weather in this arctic region is quite tumultuous, our 2- hour layover in Reykjavik turned into a 4-hour layover. It was a very long day of travel, about 21 hours.
Both Captain Arnannguaq and Ole were friendly and professional. Arnannguaq’s husband picked us up at the Nuuk airport and transported us to the marina. Ole’s wife had just recently left her job as a Danish translator and had begun working along side him. Since it was summer, both Captain Arnannquaq and Ole’s children were out of school and with us. Everyone spoke some English and were more than welcoming. Ole’s son was just learning how to fly fish and interested in learning more.
Here’s where the trip got interesting. When we landed ashore and our bags were unloaded from Ole’s boat, we noticed no one was there to meet us. We each had about a 32—35lb waterproof duffle bag filled with cold weather clothing, toiletries, etc. There was also a third duffel bag filled with waders, wading boots and some tackle. A fourth bag weighing about 17lbs, was filled with fly rods, reels, lines, tenkara rods, pliers, etc. Additionally, we each had a backpack that probably weighed about 5-10lbs a piece. There was mention of this hike into camp. That was no problem. But there was never any mention that we would be required to pack in all our luggage and gear ourselves. Call me naïve, but in all my travels and fly-fishing trips, I always had assistance. The host and guides were always there to meet, greet and assist. After more than 21 hours of travel, the hike was a suck-it-up-buttercup must-do. But a 1.5-mile hike on a caribou “trail”- rough, uneven, inclined terrain, carrying between 50- 60lbs of luggage each, after more than 21 hours of travel was not something I or my husband was prepared for. If we were told this bit of information, we would have packed accordingly. The only reference we were provided was an airline limit of 44lbs per bag. We were well under the airline limit but never expected to have to haul our own bags into camp. I was tired, and now frustrated. Things got slightly easier when we had to put our waders and boots on to carry our bags across the river. We were now one bag lighter.
Finally, we arrived at camp and saw Indrek. He pointed out our tent as well as the “home pool” that we could fish. We unloaded our bags into the tent and went back outside expecting some sort of orientation. Nothing. Indrek did ask if we wanted any dinner. After almost 24 hours of travel by plane, boats and on foot both me and my husband were hungry. Heck, a beer would be awesome too. Dinner was this.
We discovered there was no dining tent, no solar shower, no guides, not even a net in camp. The extensive menu that we were required to fill out prior to the trip was nonexistent. After we fished the home pool for about 30 minutes we returned to our tent to find our meal containers sitting on a chair and our host gone and retreated to his tent. We thought it odd and were feeling a little concerned after the unexpected luggage fiasco and our sparse “dinner” but were tired and ate our single slice of hash, our two dry crackers and our two pickles (he only got one but whose counting), then went to bed thoroughly exhausted.
The cot did not have a 3” foam pad but it did have an air mattress that wasn’t bad. Highs were in the mid-40s. It dropped into the 30s that night. The wind blew hard, like 20-25mph hard, which made it even colder. There were no full sides to the tent, only netting which did nothing to stop the wind but did help with the constant, thick swarm of bugs that remained forever around our heads. I was grateful that I owned and packed technical gear and had experience with winter camping. I could get warm but still would have brought less had I known I would be carrying it myself for the hike in and out of camp.
The next morning, we were shown how to heat water using the small, ultralight camping stove for coffee. A single Solo-type propaine burner was all they had for the camp. We had eggs and ate solitarily in our own tents to try to avoid the multitude of bugs that generously sprinkled our breakfast, swam in our coffee, and landed in our eyes and up our nose. By Day Two, the camp was out of eggs and a few other provisions. This was concerning since two additional guests were scheduled to arrive the next day, as well as two more that should have arrived with us, but had mistakenly flown to Maniitsoq from Nuuk instead of boarding the chartered boat. Plans were being made to orchestrate a pickup and get them to camp. There would eventually be a total of 6 guests plus Indrek, Ole, Ole’s wife, their two children and another gentleman that seemed to simply be Indrek’s friend who came along on the trip. That would bring the total number of people in camp to twelve.
My husband and I are proficient and experienced anglers. Indrek fly fished but Ole said he was just learning. We realized there would be no guided fishing so we set off on our own to find Arctic Char. With no net in camp and being informed this was all catch and release, we were concerned (again) about landing some of these large fish safely. Indrek had provided us with a gear list including flies, line and tippets we should bring. 2x and 0x was recommended along with brightly colored steelhead flies and streamers. Thank goodness we had just returned from Alaska and decided to throw in a few extra patterns.
We brought a few large sized chubbies, grasshoppers, caddis dries and several nymph patterns including Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs, Bead head Pheasant Tails and midges. All of which we caught our fish on. Not a single char was hooked on a steelhead pattern or streamer. We were grateful that we packed the additional flies. On the second day when we returned to camp for dinner, Indrek had hooked several fish and showed us the size 22 midge on 7x tippet and size 14 dry fly he got action on. Those were not on the list nor was anything that small or that light remotely recommended.
Dinner the next two nights was rice, potatoes, and a small amount of pork mixed into the rice or potatoes. No lunches were prepared or offered, not even snacks that we could pack with us and take while fishing. Although this was supposed to be catch and release, one of the large fish we over worked to land and unhook with no net was found floating in the water one morning. Thus we had char for breakfast – which was awesome since we had run out of eggs.
The fish was one of three which we unintentionally killed after a long, hard fight to land. This impacted me greatly. This was a “barbless, catch and release fishery” with zero nets. These are fish that do not swim upriver to spawn and die, but rather spawn and return to the ocean. At least one was eaten. Again, concerning. Very concerning.
On Day Three my husband and I set out after breakfast to explore upriver and a lake we were told existed. We were asked to “bring back fishing intel”. My husband and I hiked the almost 2-mile trek upstream and discovered a number of wonderful pools and beautiful scenery. The area is void of any dangerous animals – no bears, mountain lions or snakes to be wary of, so hiking was chill and relaxing. We caught tons of fish. Many small char, lots of mid-sized and a handful of monsters. Fishing alone with an 8wt and no net meant pictures were slim to none. My husband and I rarely fish right next to each other. We tend to gradually separate and distance ourselves. When we have a guide, we usually take turns with them. Here in Greenland, we claimed individual pools and leap-frogged each other but eventually fished separately.
Except for a few spots, tenkara was not ideal. Many of the upstream pools were very deep and most of my casts were made while balanced precariously on raised, slippery rocks or boulders. For many of the smaller to mid-sized char tenkara was fine. My Zen Tenkara Taka rod paired with a 15ft Zen Fusion Line Light and 8ft of 20lb test was efficient. But if I hooked into one of the large fellows, I would be putting myself at risk, and it just wasn’t worth it, especially without a net to land. In fact, my husband went down and fell pretty hard on this day. His hand swelled. It was a reminder to think twice when so remote, without any satellite phone. Unnecessary risks are foolish. With little to no maneuverability I didn’t want to take the chance of hooking into a really big char on my tenkara rod. When there is little maneuverability sometimes a reel is better. I’m okay admitting that.
Even in some lake-like sections of the river, fish were still tough to land due to a combination of melon-sized, slick rocks that were hard to walk on and the absence of any net. Handlining a 6-16lb fish without a landing net was hard enough on a conventional reel setup, it was super tough on a tenkara rod. After losing a few incredible fish right at the very end, I gave my tenkara rod up and stuck with the reel for the rest of Greenland. I love the added challenge that tenkara offers but never at the expense of a fish. I hated tiring them out on the reel just to land them and I never like to break fish off or leave hardware. Leave no trace behind is all encompassing for me.
The vibe and mood at the camp was “restrained”. The two guests that came in after us had little technical gear to manage the cold, nor did they have much fly-fishing experience. These two gentlemen also had no idea they’d be required to haul in their luggage and were pretty upset upon arrival. I knew they would need help getting into fish and wondered how this would all play out since there was no guide and our host spent his day fishing on his own.
Complicating things even more, two additional men would be joining us the following day, bringing the total number of guests at the camp up to six. Would there be enough food? This trip would go down in my fly-fishing journal as the only trip I have ever lost weight on instead of gaining a few vacation pounds. That night after a dinner of potatoes and onions, our bellies were still hungry. We had hiked a few miles and been wading in frigid water all day. With no lunch or snacks provided we had a real appetite. The Dutch oven that our dinner was prepared in was emptied and we contemplated how two additional men would be fed out of the same single pot that we just cleaned out. On night four, my husband called it and told Indrek we wanted to leave.
The next day we fished in the morning then loaded our bags and hiked them back out to Ole’s small shuttle boat. He was going to attempt to collect the two additional anglers. Weather had not permitted this to happen so far. We recognized this would be our opportunity to be shuttled out and connect with the charter boat that would bring us back to Nuuk.
Sensing something was up since we were leaving 5 days early, the lovely Captain Arnannguaq had an incredible lunch and cold beer waiting for us on her boat. She even brought us back to her home, let us use her shower and we ended up enjoying dinner together with her husband. We even tried whale sushi. Interestingly, the very next day, she returned to the camp and picked up the two gentlemen that came in directly after us- after they stayed in camp only one night. So we weren’t just being finicky or high maintenance. We lasted four nights, they lasted one. Four out of the six guests had already left early – way early. I had never experienced anything like this before. We saw these gentleman at the Nuuk Airport. They were angry and felt they had been conned. This was crazy.
Upon arriving in Iceland, we scrambled to rent a car and make alternative plans with our now available extra days. I immediately contacted my friend Matti Por Hakonarson, owner of Iceland Fishing Guide to see if he could hook us up for some lodging and fishing. He came through with flying colors! We would have 2 days of fishing and comfortable beds to rest our heads upon at the Myrarkvisl Fishing Lodge. SCORE!
We had to spend one night in Reykjavik then headed out to explore the Iceland countryside early the next morning. The roughly six-hour drive would be broken up with sightseeing opportunities that included viewing lava fields, relaxing in geothermal baths and a whale watching tour. We stayed one night at the Laxa Hotel in Myvatn and enjoyed a delicious dinner. The next morning, we headed out after breakfast to drive to the lodge.
Upon arrival we were shown our rooms, given a thorough orientation, and tutored on the section of river we’d be fishing that afternoon. While the lodge didn’t have an available guide for us on such short notice, they set us up with a net, flies, leaders, tippet and lots of advice. An enlarged arial photograph provided us a layout of the area and we were able to identify holes and pools where hopefully Atlantic Salmon would be hanging out.
In Iceland like Greenland, the hours of sunlight are extremely long. By Icelandic law fishing begins at 7:00am through 1:00pm. There is a required rest period until 4:00pm when fishing is permitted again through 10:00pm. It translates into 12 hours of fishing with a break for lunch and a nap midday. Even though our first fishing day began at 4pm, we fished for six hours and felt like we had a full day on the water. We landed several browns and returned to enjoy a wonderful late dinner with other guest at the the Myrarkvisl Lodge.
The next day we had a full 12-hour fishing day but did spend substantial time figuring out holes, where to fish and clearing the dirt road of rocks since the car we rented was a Kia and only had about six inches of clearance. My husband drove the car, creeping along while I walked out infront, picking up and throwing rocks off to the side. It was definitely not a vehicle made for the high country. Tons of browns were landed, and we had a blast hiking through open terrain sprinkled with fluffy, white sheep and herds of Icelandic horses. We scaled cliffs using ropes and generally had a fantastic day of adventure fishing.
We never landed an Atlantic Salmon. We did have a number of solid follows and near hits that got our hearts racing at full speed. I think if we had a guide during our stay, we would certainly have had more success. Atlantic Salmon were a new species for me and my husband and some coaching would have paid off. The stay was short, but the experience was fantastic and left me wanting and craving more time to explore and fish in Iceland.
We woke early the next morning, packed our bags, enjoyed a delicious breakfast, and said our goodbyes. They were amazing hosts and even though we sort of “crashed” their party last minute, they indulged and took good care of us. We were so appreciative. Another nearly 6-hour drive brought us back to Reykjavik Airport where we caught our direct flight back home to Denver. Our Greenland/Iceland fishing adventure was over.
Since returning I have wondered if we and the other two gentlemen had stayed, how it all would have played out. Did the two additional guys ever arrive? Did they stay the entire time? Did they enjoy themselves and their stay? With four less anglers in camp, food would no longer have been an issue. Most importantly, was the trip and camp what they had expected or what they were told…or more to the point, what they were sold? I will never know.
What do you think?