Salmon run the Vatnsdalsa up to the majestic waterfall Dalsfoss, some forty kilometers from the sea. Two lakes, Hunavatn and Flodid, are not salmon water, and a middle beat, approximately twelve kilometers in length, is prime char water, with some brown trout, and a fair number of sea trout and salmon.
Three main salmon beats provide twenty kilometers of fishing, with more than four dozen named pools, for 6-8 rods only. This allows each angler, on average, over two-and-a-half kilometers of water. Prime time for fishing in Vatnsdalsa is usually the last week of July and first week of August.
The main characteristics of the Vatnsdalsa are its uniqueness as fly water, the size of its salmon, and the great beauty of the valley with its innumerable hillocks.
The lease was in Icelandic hands from 1951 to 1963, during which many prominent anglers, including former President Asgeir Asgeirsson, fished time the river.
In 1964 the famous English angler and angling author, John Ashley-Cooper, signed a ten-year lease, which was later extended for another three years. He permitted fly-fishing only during the time he was on the river himself. At the time of signing, the landowners decided to build a modern lodge, which was given the name Flo vangur.
Ashley-Cooper first visited Vatnsdalur in 1962 and in his book, A Salmon Fisher's Odyssey, he tells the story of his first weeks on the Vatnsdalsa. He fished it for a fortnight and one of his two fishing companions caught 17 salmon in one day before lunch, the other one, a skillful trout fisherman, but with only two salmon to his name, accounted for 50 during that two week period. The total bag was 256 fish.
In his book Ashley-Cooper remarked that the fishing on the Vatnsdalsa was magnificent, the salmon averaged 11lbs, and the biggest during his tenure was 26lbs. The grilse averaged 7lbs. He remarked that after that visit in 1962 things were never as good, but that sometimes they came pretty close to it.
A famous angler and angling writer from North America, Roderick Haig-Brown, fished the Vatnsdalsa, and wrote about his experience in the American Sportsman. Towards the end of his long article he says that when he is asked about the fishing in Iceland the only sensible answer he can give is that he wouldn't want it any better. He adds that he saw the rise of every single fish he hooked, and that to him was the ultimate in quality fishing.
Many other famous anglers and conservationists have fished the Vatndalsa, and continue to fish it.
Approximately half of the fish caught weigh in excess of 10lbs, ie. have spent two or more years in the sea before returning to the river. Every year salmon in the 22-25lbs range are caught.
Taking into account that the Vatnsdalsa produces anywhere from 700 to 1,200 fish in a three month season, half of which are salmon and not grilse, it is easy to understand why the river is held in such high regard by the international fly fishing fraternity.
Since 1997 the salmon beats of the Vatnsdalsa have been fished by fly only with a strict catch and release policy. Consequently the total run of salmon in the years to come, make the ratio between salmon and grilse more favorable, and further increase and stabilize the catch. At no time during the three-month season will any worm fishing be allowed.
This arrangement is in accordance with the guiding principles of the leaseholders, Guy Geffroy, of Paris, and Petur Petursson, of Reykjavik.
They enjoy the full support of the Vatnsdalsa Landowner's Association. This management policy will not only make the Vatnsdalsa unique in Iceland, but also in Western Europe, and ensure the maximization of the river's great potential.
The most common tackle used by anglers that visit Vatnsdalsa are large single-handers (9-10 feet and line weights #7-8) and small double handers (11-14 feet). Most of the fishing is done with floating lines but sinking lines and sinking tips are also used during the autumn fishing.
Hiring guides when fishing in Vatnsdalsa is recommended especially when visiting the river for the first time. The cost is 250 Euros per guide per day including a 4x4 vehicle which is almost a necessity when fishing in Vatnsdalsa. Fishing the river properly requires a lot of river crossing.