One day by car
or an hour by seaplane from Oslo, 13 hours by fjord steamer from the west
Norwegian city of Bergen, the L�rdal Valley opens into Sogne Fjord's blue
water. Every side gorge of Sogne Fjord is a Yosemite. This is no exception—a
U-shaped glacial gorge, its floor patterned with hay drying in long racks
across mown fields; its lower slopes dotted with s�ter huts used during the
summer grazing; its dark walls lifting to rims half a mile high and sloping off
beyond to the mile-high rock roof of Europe.
Valley comes a river, one of the most beautiful in Norway, where all rivers are
beautiful. It comes in cascades and running pools and occasional rapids,
between farms that have been there since Stone Age man crept northward after
the retreating ice. It comes past the carved dragon gables of the stave church
at Borgund, a relic of earliest Christian times, and foams through a narrow
gorge that ends in a fall and a series of cascade pools. From the fall to the
open fjord, it is 16 miles of open river: those 16 miles are probably the most
famous salmon water in the world.
It has been
famous, among English sport fishermen since 1837: they called it the Queen of
Salmon Rivers, and one of them, Lord Portman, went to the trouble of acquiring
a monopoly on its fishing rights for some years before the turn of the century.
The English no longer dominate the L�dal—the war and currency restrictions
hurt—but their sporting traditions have been passed on to their successors,
mainly Norwegians. You don't merely catch salmon on the L�rdal. You catch them
An American used
to mountain or North-woods fishing would find here none of the outdoor
atmosphere he might expect. No cabins or trailers or camps; nobody rising
before sunup to perfume the crisp air with coffee while the night dew is still
pearled on grass-blades and wet around the exposed edges of sleeping bags; no
fishermen walking off up or downstream to fish the water of their choice.
This is more
like a very quiet, very exclusive summer colony. A few summer residents own
their places; some rent from season to season; some stay with farmers or at
Lindstr�ms Hotel, established as a fishermen's inn in the 1860's. And you don't
fish the water of your choice. You fish your own "beat," rented from
some farmer-owner through the agency of the village lawyer, Schjelderup Jansen.
Probably you take your lease at least five years ahead; some L�rdal fishermen
have fished the same stretch of river for a quarter-century or more.
It is a closed
corporation, a preserve hedged with rules, written and unwritten, aiming to
protect private rights and maintain the fishing. No limits in the American
sense apply: you may catch as many salmon or sea trout as you can, and sell
them in the market if you want. But by tradition and agreement, only so many
rods will fish any beat, and most beats are fished only with fly. Sea trout
under a pound get thrown back.
trip-fisherman or weekender finds no place here. At other spots, as for
instance at Lilands Hotel on the Vossa at Bulken, fishing is free to hotel
guests, and it can be good fishing too. Vossa River salmon sometimes come
king-sized; and on a morning in August, 1954, I watched a motley collection of
men, women and children, armed with everything from dry flies to bamboo poles
and worms, pull 34 fat sea trout out of the pool below the fall there. On
rivers in Nordland and Finnmark, in the far north, fishing cards may be bought
by the day or week. But not on the L�rdal, except perhaps at season's end when
the lessor of a beat may sublet it for the tail end of the fishing. As befits a
queen, the L�rdal keeps exclusive company. She is a rich man's river, it is
true; she is an expert's river as well.
exclusive right to a beat, a man pays somewhere between 5,000 and 12,000
Norwegian kroner ($700 to $1,700) a season. With every beat, at an additional
fee, comes a gillie (Norwegian "klepper") who cares for and carries
tackle, unsnags hooks from brush or bottom, advises on lures and tactics, nets
or gaffs hooked fish, fishes when the boss gets tired; talks, drinks, smokes,
or speculates when invited to; cleans and smokes the catch, and does anything
else that a combination guide and body servant might do.
The gillie is
the guardian of his beat. He knows his river as he knows the lines of his own
face; and he is a student of fish, a library of lore. Let a fish jump in the
dusk, when your straining eyes can see only a vague splash. Your gillie will
tell you whether it is sea trout or salmon, whether he-fish or she-fish, how
long it is, what it weighs: Catch it and you prove him right.
He is steady,
friendly, untalkative, extremely skilled; and he has seen at close range a good
many of Europe's great. Besides a collection of English peers, the L�rdal has
played host to George V of England, who came here as Prince of Wales with
Fridtjof Nansen; to ex-King Michael of Rumania; to Princes Axel of Denmark (a
regular), Vilhelm of Sweden, and Harald of Norway; to Sir Winston Churchill; to
many of the shipping magnates who are the most powerful men in Norway; and to
some of the most skilled sport fishermen of the world.