The Sunndal troll
is no joke. Warty, whiskery, snaggle-toothed, elephant-nosed, six-fingered, 7
feet high, he dominates the bright new shopping center in Sunndalsora, western
Norway. So he's made of foam rubber, and he's there to draw attention to the
tourist information bureau. It makes no difference. The real Sunndal troll, up
in the snowy mountain peaks above the town, would make short work of all that
prosperous Scandinavian normality with a few well-aimed rocks tossed down in
the traditional manner. That image is there to show proper respect and to keep
the old fellow sweet.
would think that Herr Heien, chairman of the local fishing club, would have
full control of the Driva River down there in the valley, especially since he
issues fishing licenses. But that intimidating piece of rubber clutches a
massive salmon to his breast—a good 55 pounds, from the look of it—and I'll bet
he didn't have a license or a rod, either. The troll was there before the
fishing club, and the possessive way he holds that salmon might go some little
way to account for what happened to Mike Prichard and me on our fishing trip to
We had laid our
plans in troll-free London, where everything seemed straightforward. We had a
good idea of the kind of river the Driva was—huge, icy and turbulent, a wild
mountain stream multiplied many times over. There were enormous salmon, a
number of 40-pounders caught each season, and the ever-present chance of a 50-,
even a 60-pounder. And there were lots of them—an annual average of 20 tons
caught on rod and line. The main problem would be transporting the catch home,
and in the end we decided that this would be sheer extravagance in terms of the
extra air freight. Better perhaps to travel back with just one 20-pounder
apiece—we would have them smoked before we left.
We gave some
consideration to tackle also. Fighting 40-pounders among those white cascades
would call for solid gear. The ancient firm of Hardy's obliged (a fishing
friend of mine once described Rolls-Royce as the Hardy's of the automobile
industry). They sent us down mighty two-handed, steel-centered, split-cane rods
that had clearly been built for some red-bearded, 10-foot-tall Highlander in
Queen Victoria's reign, and reels and lines to match. The recommended Driva
flies turned out to be monstrous and brightly colored and mounted on double
hooks—Jock Scotts, Silver Doctors and wild confections of jungle cock and hot
orange. Spoon baits to be of use were to scale, nothing less than one and a
half ounces. "The nights will be very cold," said Prichard. "Don't
forget: sheepskin coats and long Johns."
So we did have
this weight problem at the airport, but that passed over. We also spent some
time in the dutyfree shop. Norwegians have plenty of salmon, but in another way
they are ill-provided for. If they want a drop of the hard stuff, they queue at
the Vinmonopolet, the state booze shop, which keeps, roughly speaking, bank
hours—steel shutters slam down at closing time. In particular, Scotch is
expensive, and even at that it's 10 to 1 you would never recognize the label.
What colored beads were to the first explorers in Africa, good-brand Scotch is
to the visitor to Norway.
So with a grip
full of instant welcome between us, it was as well we missed the Bergen
customs. We were late for the local bus-stop plane up-country, so they rushed
us across the airport there without formality. At Vigra we landed again and
caught the Hovercraft up the coast, and this was when we noticed something odd
going on. It had become very hot. The Atlantic, instead of being a nice,
respectable gray, sparkled with a vivid Mediterranean blue. The Hovercraft run
ended at the little town of Molde, where Kristian Fahlstrom was waiting for
us—and he was tanned.
Norway. No one had warned us about this. What about the gray curtains of rain
that were supposed to wash the coast between Bergen and Trondheim through the
summer months, pausing only to change to snow in the fall? We drove up to
Sunndalsora with Kristian, ties loosened, jackets off. We leaned out the window
and made no unnecessary movements beyond a slow head swivel when we passed a
bunch of the local Valkyries out cycling. How Norwegian girls turn into blonde
Tahitians after a couple of days' sun defeats the imagination. But they do.
We'd come to
Norway for salmon, though, and I told Prichard to pull himself together. It was
no time to fall into the slack, native ways of this sun-soaked coast. I knew
Prichard. Another couple of hours and he'd be looking round for breadfruit and
a suitable beach to enjoy it on. "Straight to the river," I said.
The Driva was as
big and as brutal as we'd been told, but there was no clarity in the water. It
ran gray and opaque like soup-kitchen gruel. The reason was not far to find.
Every mountainside was laced with streams of white water as the snow melted in
the violent sun. Each stream, laden with earth and debris, poured into the
river. Significantly, there were no rods out on the salmon pools. No wonder.
Salmon heading in from the fjord would take advantage of every extra inch of
water to go racing upstream. The only chance then was to drop a big spoon right
on the nose of a fish that was taking a 10-minute rest. And to do that you need
an intimate knowledge of the river, which we did not have.
experience I have learned that in this situation there is only one thing to
do—go to the fountainhead, which usually means the local tackle shop. Our
guide, Kristian Fahlstrom, was strictly a trout man, of that special kind you
meet in England as well as Norway who regard salmon as gross, loutish intruders
into waters which should rightly be reserved for trout, a fish to be caught
only by precise imitation and perfect casting. In comparison, these purists
imply, hurling a 5/0 Jock Scott or a 1�-ounce spoon is a hairy, thick-eared
occupation. The only response a salmon fisherman can make here is, "Who
wants to hunt rabbits when there are tigers about?" This, of course, is a
question that will never be resolved.