I was in high spirit reaching the River Orkla close to Trondheim. Yet another stunning piece of nature to experience in Norway. Vegard Heggem, the owner of Aunan Lodge, greeted me as I arrived. Vegard used to be a professional soccer player and did impressive 5 years in the Liverpool shirt!
Orkla’s famous rapids and deep pools around Aunan is holding the big, powerful and mysterious Atlantic salmon. A place any fly fisherman is dreaming to visit. I was not sure if diving, or photographing, in the river was going to be a dream or a nightmare…
If the spirit was high the river was a bit low. I started snorkelling stretches before my assistant Patrik arrived and drifted through slow and rapid parts for a whole day. In the highest pool I had my first contact with big salmon. I sweeped past two giants in express speed watching their effortless movement in the strong rapid. Impressive animals and evolution have seemed to have given them an outstanding rapid river design.
Patrik arrived and looked at the rapids and sighed. Before asking about the salmon he asked about the rapids, concerned, of course regarding safety. That was one of his tasks to manage. The next two days we dived the river in every way we could think.
We found good spots for young salmons in a deep pool and another spot for even smaller ones in the shallow sheltered high up in the river. Beautiful red spotted ”smolt” hunting over the fine-grained bottom.
But our effort in trying to get close to the big ones was fruitless. The river was low and the big ones seemed to favour the most current swept spots. We managed occasionally to drift pass them in hurricane speed but to stay in position was simply impossible. We even tried to use climbing equipment to fix ourselves in ”pole position” but without success. Camera flying around, regulator free flowing, and the salmon long gone.
A small break-through
Monday night we followed two guides fly-fishing in the evening. I was sitting “dive ready” by the campfire in drysuit baking like a loaf of bread waiting for a big salmon to bite a fly. It was a perfect evening with a clear sky. Around 9.30 pm Christer, fishing guide, signalled salmon. I got in the river with the camera in fire-fighter speed. It was semi-dark already.
I enjoyed a salmon fight from underwater trying to avoid to snug the line with my camera gear and staying in position in the river. The salmon was a fantastic specimen. A big male with a hooked jaw. The guide carefully wheeled it in, unhooked and measured length, held it in the river for a minute to be sure it was alert again, and then let it back. It was probably quite a few minutes but to me it was super brief. I managed to shoot the splits I wanted and even got some images while the salmon gently swam back into the dark and deep part of the river. It was a truly majestic moment when the fisherman let the big salmon return to its habitat.
The day after, Erik, another guide at Aunan caught another one of the big guys on a fly. Dusk again and I was waiting, baking in my drysuit as every night. This time he was a steep hike away in inaccessible terrain in a strong rapid. Worst possible scenario. We ran over there in drysuit, weight belt and my monster underwater camera and strobes on my shoulder. It must have been quite a sight to see me and Patrik running through the sheep paddock, over big stones, through small tiny paths, and down the steep rocks along a fierce rapid.
Patrik told me -It is not possible! But I found a small ”not so dangerous” place behind a huge rock. ‘Bring the salmon in here’, I shouted to Erik. The fish was enormous, bigger than yesterday. Erik was really pushing his fishing gear to the limits and I was a bit worried it was too much.
I was shooting a bit from the hip trying to not loose contact with the bottom. It was little bit experience but more luck that gave me the shots I got from this session. I did not even damage my camera gear too much. When releasing the fish I was ready to shoot the free swimming shots but this guy turned the wrong way and was gone before I could say ”flasklock” (Swedish for bottlelid…). Phew… that was exciting moments and my knees where shaking.
Time for those salmon shots or…
After the first two salmon encounters I was ready to shoot THE salmon shoots. Swapping from an ultra-wide lens to a straight 12-24 mm lens, I now had the idea how to get shots of the big ones and the splits with the fishermen was already done. 4-5 days to go and I was in good hope.
The rest of the days Patrik and me was rising with the birds staying up until late, late night. We stayed close to the fishing guides at all times diving and snorkelling as much as we could. We revisited our great spots for small salmons and enjoyed these places, as we were actually able to dive there. We investigated the deeper pools and all ”not likely to get injured” rapids diving and snorkelling.
I was waiting for the guides to catch another salmon. Nothing happened.
A bit desperate we decided to drive up to the very top pools some 40 km up the river. From the parking it was a strenuous hike down to a beautiful river valley. This is the area where the salmon can go no further. The river is narrow and deep and the water moves slowly. We were guided by Stein and his brother who have been up there for 30 years. We saw one fish and I snorkelled through to find out it was a coloured male. Not huge but still 6-7 kg. But not approachable, not even snorkelling.
All the guides, Stein and Vegard kept fishing the whole week but the luck did not turn our way. They and I got no action.
Plan B – Mating season
I will go back during the mating which takes place in October or maybe November to try again. The salmon is then mating in calmer areas that are easier to be positioned in. The salmon males will be in full mating dress and hopefully even more photogenic. I hope they will be busy mating and not minding me being there watching them going about. Or maybe they will be aggressive.
We will see but hopefully I will get the chance to be up close with these beautiful and mysterious giants of the river. One of the truly amazing species of the Atlantic Ocean, mating in the river. A Wild Wonder indeed.
Wish me the best of luck.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.