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Fly Fishing for Iceland Brown Trout: Bucket List Trips

J.D. Blackburn

“Iceland. Is that the one that’s all ice, or is that Greenland?” I heard that question a few times since I started telling friends we were vacationing there this summer.

Leif Erikson, born in Iceland but expelled in 980 A.D., somehow pulled off the stunt of naming Greenland, which is covered with glaciers and snow, with a much more marketable name. In contrast, Iceland, which is beautiful and not covered with ice, got named as it did.

iceland landscape

Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice. Thermal activity, kind of like Yellowstone, is abundant. I had the opportunity to travel there in July with my family. A volcano began spewing molten lava just a week after we left. Not seeing actual molten lava was one of the very few misses on our trip. For the most part, the country did not disappoint.

Initially planned for March of 2020, my wonderful travel agent wife rebooked the trip four times until we could finally go in late July, and we were all so glad she did. I’ve watched enough fly fishing videos over the years to know that I needed to carve out some time to fish as soon as she mentioned Iceland. Thanks to the pandemic, I got to look forward to this trip for over two years.

Mossy Oak Store fishing gear

Fishing in Iceland is some of the most restricted in the world. I checked into trying to pack my own gear and fishing what looked good, but research showed me it was just best to hire a guide who handles the “beat” system. Iceland fishing uses the term “beats” to keep the fishery the best it can be by limiting access. You can’t just fish anywhere that looks good. Hiring an outfitter is the way to go, from what I could tell, especially on a family trip like this.

I hired a guide through and was paired up with Jerome. He was awesome. With his sunglasses on, he looked exactly like Mossy Oak Fishing pro Drew Benton. They could be brothers. Jerome is from Sweden. (@saunders.flyfishing)

Jerome Saunders trout


The outfitter planned for Jerome and me to fish Lake Villingavatn, and here’s what their website says about it:

Despite being small, Lake Villingavatn is the home to some very large brown trout. It has been kept under the radar for years and has only been fished by selected few. From the lake, a small stream runs into Lake Thingvallavatn, connecting the two lakes and allowing the Thingvallavatn trout to enter the lake. It has a four-rod limitation. The lake is fly-fishing only and catch-and-release.

Stealth is often needed here as the fish can be right up along the bank, and wading is not advised. Casting along the banks and towards the weed lines usually produces the best results.

Streamers are most productive here, for instance, any patterns that resemble sticklebacks (local bait fish); however, the browns will take nymphs and dries in the right conditions.

The fishing on Villingavatn was a lot like farm pond bass fishing, but instead of largemouth and cows, I saw sheep in the fields and 24 to 27-inch brown trout cruising the shoreline. Before I caught them, though, I saw them jumping completely out of the water, leaving me in awe. I’ve only seen a few trout that big in my entire life fishing in the U.S., and I have never had a legitimate shot at getting one to bite.

JD Blackburn trout


Getting them to bite wasn’t the hard part (due to Jerome knowing what to use) but landing them was a whole different story. I’m a half-decent fly caster, but I tend to lose my mind when a big fish eats my fly. It is absolutely a fair fight on a fly rod. With conventional gear, the angler definitely has the upper hand. With a fly rod, “getting him on the reel” where the rod and the reel’s drag can fight the fish is the hard part, for me at least. It seems like there is fly line everywhere. If you put too much tension on the line while the fish is making a run, you’ll either break him off or bend the hook out but not keep enough pressure, and the fish will get off from the slack.

Both of those happened at least once, and I missed several hits. I caught two giants, both personal bests, and managed to lose the others more from user error.

Jerome had a great attitude, knew the lake very well, and could tie a loop knot on a fly, in a cold rain, in the dark, as fast as I could tie my shoes. I’m always impressed by professional guides and how they enjoy the day. They’re doing what that love, and that’s awesome.

We alternated between streamers of various sizes, hoppers, and mouse patterns. One of the fish I had bite, but never hooked up with, struck a big mouse fly five different times. I went from setting the hook too fast to too slow but never got a hook in him. I think about that one going to bed some nights.

iceland sheep

Hopefully, one day I will get to return to Iceland, see some lava, and try to break that personal best brown trout. However, on the flight home, I got a peek at Greenland, which looked pretty unspoiled. I wonder if there’s some world-class fishing there, too? Maybe that’s what Leif Erikson was really up to when he named it Greenland.

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