I was dreaming about this destination almost a year, since I read about it in the blog of fellow German fly fisherman. I meticulously gathered all information about this river and the area: weather reports, fishing reports from previous years week by week, river flow measurements, maps and locations of the pools and fishing beats. Everything needed I found in the Internet and from fellow fishermen, who already was of this river. Most of information was in Norwegian, Danish or German languages which I don't understand, but I used Google translator. The most comprehensive source is afiskeri.eu, site maintained by Danish fisherman Michael Olsen. Michael wrote almost encyclopedia about Mandal river, with maps, photos, video clips and descriptions of the bits. It's mostly in Danish only, but when you read it from mobile phone, it's automatically translated to your language.
To save time and get more productive, I hired a guide Ryan Marchese (anglerpilot.no). He tailored a guiding program for me, which included river observation tour, and suggested fishing tactics for each individual place. The goal was to show me as much as possible places in short time, so I can continue on my own for the rest of the days. I booked full day guiding (8 hours) , but we split it into two sessions, 4 hours each for convenience of both of us.
Ryan is British living in Norway many years, he's guiding both in saltwater and in the rivers. His other profession is paramedic in ambulance, and he also has certificate of water and mountain rescue. So I felt myself safe with such a guide.
Fishing in Norway requires two documents. First is national fishing fee (Fiskeravgift), kind of statewide license. it is required in all kinds of fishing, both in the sea and in the internal waters. It's paid once in a year for whole season, and it costs 260 kronas.
For fishing in the saltwater this is enough, no additional fees required.
Can be bought online here: Om fiskeravgiften
Fishing in rivers and lakes requires local license for particular body of water, river stretch or beat. It's issued by land owners and fishing associations, but usually sold through fishing shops and in other points of interest (hotels, campings, on some gas stations).
Most of licenses for Mandalselva and other Norwegian rivers can be bought also in the web shop:
Licenses can be of many kinds: day card, week card, or season card. Week cards are cheaper than few day cards, so it make sense to buy a week card , even if you fishing for 4 days.
Third document required in salmon rivers only, is disinfection certificate. All fishing gear contacted with water, like rods, reels, fly lines, flies, boots, waders must be disinfected prior usage, if was previously used in another water source. It costs 50 kronas first time, but prolonging certificate is free for the rest of the season. This measure was established since few Norwegian rivers were infected with Gyrodactylis salaris - salmon parasite, which almost destroyed population of salmon in these rivers. Apart from disinfection, it's strongly prohibited to move live fish or other aquatic organisms between rivers, as it may contribute to distribution of G. salaris.
Mandalselva river is divided to zones 1, 2, 3, 4.
Zone 1 is out of interest for fly fishermen. It's wide, slow and deep part of the river, where it joins the sea, and it can be fished effectively only from boats. Trolling is the most usable method of catching salmon there.
Zone 2 is quite long, but it subdivided to small sub-zones, beats, or individial pools. They have their own names, like: Hauge A/B/C/D, Holmesland A/B/C, Finsdal A/B, etc.
Day cards for these beats allow limited number of anglers, from 2 to 4, depending on size of the beat. The beats can be booked from webshop scanatura.no, which shows which cards are available for which dates. Pre-season sales started in 15.02 each year, but the most popular beats sold out almost immediately, and it's hardly possible to get cards for it.
Especially popular are beats Holmesland P and Hauge C, because of big concentration of salmon in the pools below Haugefossen waterfall. But it's not as good for fly fishermen.
The other downside of these beats in zone 2 is that some of them are very small, so it's boring to run the same pool over and over the whole day. It's more popular between worm fishermen, who sitting on the chair on the river bank. Yes, they catching salmon on worms too!
Some parts of the Zone 2 are in the canyon, where access to the river is quite challenging: you have to descent to the water through steep slopes or rocks.
Zone 3 is quite a long stretch of the river, 20 or 25 kilometers, and it's single open zone. You get an unlimited license and can fish everywhere . This part is the most appealing to fly fishermen. It's good because if there's no signs of fish in the particular pool , or uncomfortable wind, or place is busy with other fishermen, you can drive to another place, still using the same day card or week card. River is very diverse in Zone 3. There's calm wide pools, fast shallow riffles, islands, gravel beaches, rapids and waterfalls. You can drive 5 km from previous place and it feels like you are on the different river.
Zone 3 can be busy during hot season time, and there can be a queue in the most popular pools. Usually crowded places are with easiest access, near the bridges or parking spots. But if you not afraid of walking, you can find some place to fish alone. Most people are lazy and don't walk too far from the place , where they parked a car :-)
The rules are: if someone already fishing particular run , don't go in front of other fishermen. Stay behind and move with others. These rules are written near parking spots in Norwegian and English. I hate "queue fishing" and prefer to fish alone, so I usually go to other places, if I see that queue thing , with few exceptions.
Also, I employed some tactics of "team fishing", being alone. Some beats are diverse, and one part requires a floating/intermediate line, but the other is more effectively fished with heavy sinking line. I loaded two rods with different lines, and arranged them on the pool. So I fish head of the run with floating or intermediate, and when I reach deep spot, I take another rod with sinking line, which stashed somewhere in the bushes. It saves a lot of time to change lines and re-tying flies. As my guide said - the more time fly spends in the water - the more chance to catch a salmon.
Zone 4 is also long and diverse stretch, 20 or 30 km long. It has plenty of space, and also fly-friendly. But, most of the salmon reach this zone in July, so it's more a late season game. Although, this year fish run started earlier, and first salmon were caught in Zone 4 already in the beginning of June. But still, there's not so much fish in June, so I didn't try .
Between Zone 3 and 4, near Laudal power station, there's another canyon stretch, with challenging bank access. Not so many fishermen dare to fish there. But further upstream, there are many fly-friendly stretches with nice gravel bars.
The cost of day card is 200 - 350 kronas (25- 38 euros), depending of the zone/beat, which is cheap for Scandinavian countries, and Europe in general. If you buy a week card for Zone 3, cost of one fishing day will be 275 kronas.
One fisherman can take and kill two salmon per day, but not more than 50 kg for the whole season. Once quota is exhausted, one can proceed to C&R fishing to the end of license period. All caught fish (killed or released), must be reported to the catch report system.
Reported data are license number, zone, fish species (salmon or sea trout), length, weight, taken/released. Catch reports are mandatory, if one didn't submit the report, he can be banned in the system and not able to buy licenses in the future.
Link for submitting catch reports: https://www.inatur.no/fangstrapportering
The catch registration system keeps statistics of caught salmon for few recent years.
It's a convenient tool for analysis, for example to check what week what the best and in which year largest number of salmon was caught.
Statistics can be observed here: select river Mandalselva
Whe I arrived to Mandal, conditions for the salmon fishing was poor. Hot weather, no rain for the last 3 weeks. Most rivers in the area were running very low. Some smaller rivers, like Audna and Lygna , were looking almost like a small stream with ankle-deep water. Salmon fishing is hardly possible in such water, smaller rivers are called spate rivers, and salmon starts to move in there only after decent rains, which raise the level up. But Mandalselva is one of the biggest rivers in Southern Norway, and it's regulated by hydropower station, so it's level fluctuations are not so big. Still, it was low, warm water, and not the best for fishing, because most of the salmon were sitting in deepest pools , under rapids, or other places where water is colder, and not willing to move.
First half of fishing day I spent with the guide. He showed me places and tactics in Zone 3.
Later in the day, I moved to place Hauge A in Zone 2, for which I booked day card.
I shared this beat with two German fly fishermen, who were living in the tent near the river.
The fish were jumping in the pool from time to time, but nobody of us had contact.
On the next day I met with the guide again. He showed me many places in Zone 3.
Then I continued to use other day card, Holmesland A. There's a lot of fish jumping, but still nothing. I stayed in the trailer/RV camping, which called Mjaland camping.
Camping - Mjåland GårdMjåland Gård
This is very convenient place for fishermen to stay, because it's located near the river and very close to good fishing spots in Zone 3.
In the camp I befriended with Lithuanian fishermen, two of them were speaking Russian. We had some beer and meet, and shared our unsuccessful stories. Nobody of us caught a salmon yet, at least in this week.
On the third day I fished all day alone, thoroughly running my flies through the pools, which Ryan showed me during guiding session. I fished beats in Fuglestveit, Finsadal bridge, near Laksehytter and Railway bridge. I've seen fish jumping, which is a good sign. At least, I was sure I cast my fly over the salmon holding water, rather than do it blindly and randomly.
I had two subtle takes in one pool, on my own "Byske spey" fly. It was like something shortly nipped on the fly. It can be a trout, but I want to believe it was a salmon.
Fourth day was Sunday. Due to weekend, there was too much people in Zone 3. Queue fishing, as I said before. So I concentrated in individual beat Hauge A , to which I bought day card earlier. This run is very good to fly fishing, but fish weren't cooperative. The guy from Lithuania, my neighbour in the camp, got a 5 strikes, and 5 fish lost. All in Holmesland/Hauge A beat. This place has largest number of salmon in it, that's why it is so popular and hard to get a day card for. I booked mine in February, and cards was sold in first 2-3 days of sale.
Day 5. I found the place with jumping salmon near the camping. It's very deep pool. I used sink3/sink4 line, and never snagged the bottom. I don't know how deep is it, maybe 2 or 3 meters. In the late evening, I had a two subtle nips on the fly. This is good sign. There's fish for sure, and i'm trying in right place.
During the day, a decent rain passed. I tried in other pools, zero contacts. Before get to sleep, I had a chat with fellow Czech fly fisherman. I was bitching about bad conditions and no active fish. He said: " I guess you using floating line , right? And other guys with zero catches doing the same? Try to do something different from the crowd. If tactic with floating/intermediate line didn't bring you to success in 5 days, there's one chance in a million casts that you'll get the fish. Forget about stereotypes that sinking lines are only for high water. ". I think he was right. It's time to improvise. If fish doesn't move for the fly, I need to move fly to the fish's nose. I already figured out it myself, because I used sink3/4 day before and I have two nips on that. His words convinced me believe more in what im' doing.