Iceland Mag

7 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


An ode to salmon and trout river Vatnsdalsá

By Staff

  • Vatnsdalsá river The fishing lodge Flóðvangur nestles under the Vatnsdalshólar hillocks and behind them is Lake Hóp. Click on photo to get a full screen version. Photo/Einar Falur Ingólfsson

  • Fly-fishing Vatnsdalur valley, the home of the river, is of one of the most awe-inspiring areas you will find in Iceland. Photo/Einar Falur Ingólfsson

A new book, named Vatnsdalsá after its subject, tells the story of one of the most beautiful rivers in Iceland, where salmon and trout are plentiful.


Vatnsdalsá river is known in Iceland and among serious anglers around the world for its big and strong salmon. The river is also renown for its strict catch and release rule. All salmon caught in Vatnsdalsá are released back to the nature.

One of the main architects of this rule is Pétur Pétursson, who became Vatnsdalsá’s leaseholder and guardian in 1997. Pétur is the publisher of this beautiful book, available in Icelandic and English, which tells the story of angling in Vatnsdalur valley, West Iceland, from the time of the first settlements in the country to modern times.


The book Vatnsdalsá is available in the Eymundsson bookshops in Iceland and in selected angling and hunting stores. You can also buy the book online at


The authors are photographer Einar Falur Ingólfsson, broadcast journalist Þorsteinn J. and painter Sigurður Árni Sigurðsson, who are all also avid sport fishermen. The trio spent four years on the project, interviewing many anglers, farmers, leaseholders and guides about the river and recording fishing adventures from both past and recent times.

The book also contains interesting stories about life in Vatnsdalur valley through history. It has a new map of the river and many stunning photographs of the surroundings, the natural beauty of the valley and anglers searching for and fighting powerful salmon, trout and char.

A big attraction Vatnsdalsá guardian Pétur Pétursson with actress Susan Sarandon. The river attracts visitors from around the world. Musician Eric Clapton is a regular and so is Harald king of Norway, to name just a few.

The home of the river is of one of the most awe-inspiring areas you will find in Iceland. Englishman Lionel S. Fortesque, a Vatnsdalsá leaseholder from the last century, advised anglers that if the catch was poor and they were bored, “then go up to Forsæludalur valley and sit there and look at the landscape. I have never seen a more beautiful place. It’s Paradise up there.” 

Below is a short chapter from the book:


When Pétur Pétursson and Guy Geffroy leased the fishing rights in Vatnsdalsá in the summer of 1997 it surprised many when they decided, with the approval of the river‘s angling association, that every caught salmon should be released. Not everybody was happy and a group of anglers who had fished the river for a long time decided never to come back as they weren’t satisfied with the arrangement. At that time, catch-and-release was not well known in Iceland even though a few foreign anglers had made a point of releasing their catch for many years.

Catch-and-release is not at all a new method to protect and strengthen stocks in rivers and lakes. In England this method has been used in certain rivers for more than a century and has gained more and more support among anglers who saw that it worked; the fish was still in the river and kept growing and getting bigger, to the great enjoyment of anglers as well as other lovers of nature. From the middle of the 20th Century the method gained wider acceptance among anglers and fishing rights owners and it has been used in many of the most popular fishing areas of the USA and Canada. Those who want to take their fish with them sometimes use the argument that a large portion of released fishes will die soon after, but this argument has been proven untrue by research, for instance in Canada and Norway. Studies in those countries showed the same result: 98 percent of salmon released survive as long as the heat of the water does not rise above 18 degrees. Of course the salmon have to be handled carefully and not put back in the river until they have recovered. 


Monster This impressive beast was returned to the river after posing for the camera. The proud angler is Orri Stefánsson. Photo/Einar Falur Ingólfsson


Pétur Pétursson said he never questioned the policy of catch-and-release.  “Vatnsdalsá has become sustainable,” he says. “The decision is based on the idea of good management of resources, of letting nature enjoy the benefit. We were successful in that. I’m convinced that the catch-and-release method has resulted in us tying the food chain back together in Vatnsdalsá I have to thank the late Ásgeir Ingólfsson for his moral support when we discussed this method. His conviction and arguments were a great help when we decided to do this.”


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