It really was the strangest sensation, certainly it had been a first for me! Once again I was dropping my Storm Giant Swimming Shad back down to the bottom, controlling its quivering decent with the lightest of thumb pressure on the slowly revolving spool of my reel. Many of the trophy sized cod and bountiful coalfish we were currently catching had been duped into eating this deadliest of lures on the drop, others had sucked it in as I had slowly retrieved it back up up through the cold Arctic water; but I am starting to digress.
So there I was stood at the bow enjoying the warm sunshine as we drifted a slick calm across a mark at the outer reaches of Gryllefjord, allowing that jumbo sized shad to fall through the clearest sea water imaginable, when suddenly it started to accelerate away from me. I did not feel any bite, I didn’t feel anything, just a smooth acceleration of braid as it left the spool. It took a second or two for the penny to drop but finally the grey matter computed that a fish had taken the lure, and now it was diving for the bottom. I clicked the reel back into gear and immediately the line tightened and the rod lurched over the gunwale, its tip getting dragged beneath the surface as despite a hefty clutch setting line was ripped out through the rod rings: “halibut,” I had shouted!
Situated to the south of Tromso and north of Harstad in Arctic Norway, the island of Senja is widely regarded as being something of the jewel in the crown of the Norwegian tourist board. Senja, which is actually the second largest island in Norway, is where many Norwegians choose to take their holidays, and as we drove through the heart of the island the previous day it had been easy to see just why.
As soon as we had crossed the bridge from the mainland over to Senja we could see we had indeed arrived at a very special place. Almost all of northern Norway is what you could describe as ‘picture postcard perfect’ with snow capped peaks, glistening fjords and pretty clapboard cottages, and usually it’s as much as you can do to maintain progress on your journey without continually stopping to take yet another stunning landscape photograph. But Senja takes this natural beauty to another level, and we had almost been too soon when we arrived at our base for the next few days; the truly first class vacation centre that is Senja Hamn.
Tucked away at the south-western corner of Senja in a perfectly formed natural harbour, yet another ‘must have’ photo opportunity, from my experience the facilities and accommodations we found at Senja Hamn are second to none. For example the self-drive boats here are truly exceptional, large, spacious, sea worthy to the extreme and powered by substantial 130hp Evinrude outboards, all featuring top quality electronics including plotters with upgraded cartography.
The inshore waters off the coast here are widely quoted as being among the richest in the North Atlantic, and certainly a quick glance at a chart of the area will quickly reveal a plethora of likely places to stop at and explore with a lure or bait. As soon as you nose your way out of the harbour you are confronted with the most amazing selection of different areas to fish, including countless small islands and tiny individual outcrops of rock, weed covered reefs that often lurk ominously just below the surface, deep drop offs, exquisite little sandy beaches that would be more at home off the coast of Portugal rather Norway, all available to fish within a very short run from Senja Hamn.
Testing ground for the inexperienced navigator for sure, especially so when your boat is potentially so fast, so with safety in mind all anglers making use of the self drive boats at Senja Hamn are given an introductory tour of the area the first morning. The hour long tour takes in the main hazards and no-go areas to be avoided, while you are also shown the most productive fishing areas. You can if you wish arrange for a guide to accompany you on your first days fishing, other days too if you like, which might be the best option if you are new to handling boats.
Following our introductory trip we faced the tough decision about where to try first, there really are so many pieces of interesting ground that scream at you to be fished. We decided to head west and after a few quick stops on route ended up working a patch of broken ground lying in 120ft of water off the end of the high peninsula of rock that flanks the northern side of Gryllefjord.
Bent rods quickly confirmed what the boats electronics were showing us, that the area was thick with fish, especially purple flanked haddock in the 2-6lb range, beautiful fish that as always amazed us by the size of lures they were eager to take. Look at a haddock with its neat, underslung mouth and you can see what the text books confirm, that here is a species designed to feed on the likes of shellfish, prawns and marine worms along the bottom, so why do haddock routinely smash at a metal pirk or in this case a huge shad as if its the first offering of food they have seen in weeks?
We played with those eager haddock for the better part of an hour, occasionally varying our drift to try and locate some of the large cod and coalfish we had been informed were abundant throughout the area, though aside from an occasional cod that just might have made double figures, we simply could not get away from those haddock.
The next spot we tried was inside of the Gryllefjord, a shallow bank we had spotted on the chartplotter that was barely outside of casting range from the adjacent shoreline. There wasn’t any wind to speak of that first day and what breeze there was was blowing came out of the north west, so now we were well protected fishing in the lee of the high mountains of the peninsula. We really were enjoying ideal conditions, with the tide ever so steadily pushing into the fjord our speed of drift was perfect.
We were soon catching fish, too, decent cod that were averaging close on 20lb apiece with the better specimens weighing closer to 30lb than 20lb. All were well conditioned, fighting fit fish that ate our lures with gusto, occasionally on the drop as they swam their way down to the bottom but more often than not as we slowly work them packed up. Always I am amazed at just how gentle a 25lb cod can take a lure, first a few tentative plucks and pulls at the vibrating tail of the shad, followed by a satisfying rod bending weight that kicks into life the moment the fish realises something is wrong.
And so it was I had hooked that halibut, which had crashed dived all the way down to the bottom as soon as I had set the hook. There really is no doubt about what you have hooked when you are connected to a decent halibut. Forget any comparisons you might hear about halibut being over-sized flounder, halibut are powerful, aggressive and very fast predators that when hooked will test every individual component of your tackle to the limit. If your knots are poorly tied, if you are using inadequate hooks, swivels or split rings, or if your clutch is not correctly set, then you will quickly lose the fish.
Thankfully everything held firm and about 10 minutes after the initial hook up we got our first glimpse of what we already knew was a substantial fish. But it was only the briefest of glimpses, as with a flap of its great paddle of a tail the fish put its head down and leaving boiling vortex in its wake disappeared all the way back down to the bottom. Perhaps twenty minutes after hook up I had it almost on the surface for a second time, the Storm Shad clearly visible lodged firmly in the corner of its jaw, but just as we were readying ourselves to bring it aboard, again it dived into the depths only this time it only made it about half way; it was starting to tire.
Next time I brought it to the surface was the last time, and a few minutes later dinner that evening for us and everyone else who was staying at Senja Hamn was secured, and lay glistening in the bottom of our boat. We had better than 50lb of prime Atlantic Halibut, a fish that produced the sweetest fillets imaginable when later served, cooked to perfection, at Senja Hamn’s excellent restaurant!
Senja Hamn really is a first class fishing centre, certainly one of the most impressive and productive locations I have stayed at in Norway; perfect for anglers who wish to take their families or groups of hardcore sea anglers alike. The location to prime fishing grounds and quality of the self-drive boats are unbeatable.
To book a trip to Senja Hamn contact Anglers World Holidays on Tel: 01246 221717 or visit: www.anglersworld.tv