DENMARK: Country of unlimited fly fishing possibilities. A country where many fishermen came to their senses, but also a country many fly fishermen returned from with frustrations. I can understand this very well because from the last 15 sea-trout trips I made, there were four without one single fish. Nothing! Altogether more than five weeks of toiling and sweating in all sorts of weather without any results. Not even a take! Five weeks of carrying on with fishing with the only bright spot: the chance to hook an enormous sea trout. Believe it or not the Danish sea trout is one of the biggest in Europe.
THE DANISH ATMOSPHERE
Why such a negative start you will wonder, and why should anybody want to return again and again after such experiences over the years? Let me try to explain. For me, fishing in Scandinavia is totally different from all the other countries in Central Europe. A fly fisherman who wants to travel to Denmark must have a special attitude. Denmark is a fishing country with atmosphere. On the eastern-coast and around islands you can fish for hours, even days, without one moment of boredom and annoyance. Here you can settle down, especially during the evening, when the wind subsides and the sun fades away in a tangle of colours. Just fancy, one of your greatest fights, with a beautiful scarlet sky flaming in the background.
Dreams mixed with reality! A hunting sea trout attracts all your attention, but this notice disappears at once when the sound of a passing porpoise provides you with many riddles. Again you missed a good fish and again an enchanting evening passed too quickly. But many more will follow! I am quite sure you will see a lot of animal life. Hunting garfish during spring and summer and when you are lucky you may even spot some curious seal or tumbler, there is a large variety of beautiful seabirds and perhaps you even hear the unknown and mysterious sounds of the Danish night. The water of the Baltic sea is still crystal clear and the sea-trout are feeding with a lot of splashing and surface activity, especially by night. When it is dark, you sometimes get almost frightened to death when a large fish head parts the moving sea grass floating on the surface just a few feet in front of you. Its great sickle tail scything the surface leaving barely a trace of its presence. This is an electrifying sight, certain to quicken the nerves of any fly fisher. Head and tailing fish will not only keep your adrenalin level up to the mark but will be testing your attention all the time.
Then …… on that particular day, the line will leave your creaking reel with an unprecedented speed, without you realizing what is happening. A jumping sea trout, your first whopper, brings you back into reality. Yes, the most beautiful takes always occur when you do not expect it. In Denmark the catch for a modest fly fisherman always comes second and I am sure of that because many of my fishing friends who frequently fished in Scandinavia, fully agree with me.
One of the most spectacular fishing projects ever is no doubt the planting of sea trout, brown trout and rainbows in the Baltic Sea. Around the island of Funen, over a million trout were planted during the last few years and the trout thriving and grow up to unbelievable sizes. Because of this success fly-fishing in Denmark has got an enormous impulse and has become immensely popular. Unfortunately the fishing is not easy and catches of big fish are not plentiful every day. From a group of fishermen there will be just a few who have any success. If you keep in mind that you have an excellent day when you catch two or three nice fish. My best day catch was 8 fish but I also had my blank days.
Today, several fly fishermen from all over Europe travel to Denmark to try their luck in saltwater fishing. Many of them without any knowledge and just having plenty of fish in mind. I have seen a lot of them, using the wrong equipment, useless flies, having an incorrect attitude; start with a bad preparation and of course without any form of success.
SALTWATER FISHING ASPECTS
There are a lot of interesting aspects about salt water fly fishing in Europe, and they are worth describing, because it is not very popular and there are not many fishermen who are familiar with the conditions and techniques at the coast. The Danes try to do something about it. In European books you will only seldom find information and good and objective articles about saltwater fly-fishing in Europe are rare, in spite of the fact that the British writer and fisherman John Bickerdyke carried out some salt-water fishing experiments earlier this century.
Of course I have learned a lot about saltwater fishing during the years. Not only from my own experience in Holland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden but also with a lot of help from my Danish friends. For fly fishermen who never fished in saltwater it may seem that I have a great knowledge, but I can assure you that I have not. My experience is just starting to build up. Mogens Espersen from Denmark, who is not only a very good friend of mine but is also one of the most respectable and skilful saltwater fishermen I know, was a very good teacher. His books, patterns and articles about saltwater fishing are of a very high standard. I really learn a lot from him and we had some very nice trips together. During our correspondence, conversations and discussions about saltwater fly fishing we concluded that we had a lot in common. In spite of this he easily convinced me that most of my saltwater flies were not the best standard patterns for the Danish coast. All those flies I used with great success in our Dutch saltwater reservoirs were only occasionally successful to tempt the Danish fish, and my special Norwegian sea trout designs only attract fish in early spring. Therefore I listen carefully to the tips and advice Mogens and other well- respected Danish fly fishermen gave me about the patterns they used. During the years I developed a new series of saltwater patterns, some after the ideas from other people but I also made several flies from my own design.
I was very happy that a man with so much experience like Mogens was all ears for my ideas, techniques, suggestions and my new developed patterns. He stimulated me to write this story. With this article I will not try to persuade anybody to go to Denmark but I will be happy if you just think about the possibilities and impossibilities of a trip like this. My intention is to give you a little impression about a total different way of fly fishing. I will try to give you some valuable tips about saltwater fishing in Northern-Europe and to let you feel something of the atmosphere.
FLIES FOR SALTWATER
During the development of the saltwater fishing in Denmark flies have been changed all the time and it really took rather a long time before effective patterns where developed. Thanks to the efforts of fly fishers like Jens Staal, Jan Gruhnwald, Orla Grell, Per Karlsen and Mogens Espersen the fly fishermen of today have a fine selection of excellent saltwater patterns to choose from. Some are fancies, some attractors but many are realistic imitations. Good local flies are available in every good tackle shop in Denmark.
One of the best-organized tackle shops for saltwater fishing is undoubtedly “Go Fishing” in the city of Odense on the island of Funen. Their selection of saltwater patterns is enormous and their advice, tips and hospitality to foreign anglers is superb and very objective. The best thing a newcomer can do is to visit those experts. It will save you a lot of time, and prevent problems and frustration.
A double-handed fly rod is unusual for coastal fishing. Most people use a single handed 9-10ft rates 7 up to 9. A little heavy but in windy conditions you may need some extra power. Personally I started many years ago with a rate 9 rod but to day I use even a rate 6 rod. Of course only when the weather conditions are right. This gives me much more satisfaction. We mainly use floating lines and weight forward and shootingheads are favourite. According to my personal experience a braided tapered intermediate leader with a tippet of 0.20-0.25mm monofil is the most effective. Intermediate fly lines are indispensable and will be used when there are waves or when you are fishing in more open water. This allows you to fish under the waves and retain contact with fly and fish. Sink-tip lines can be successful at times and it is advisable to try them during the night or at places where the deep water is close to the shore. Both sinktip and intermediated are also very successful at places were the tide causes a strong current. The reel must be saltwater-protected. A System Two or even the cheaper ones like the Dragon Fly or LC from Leeda are highly recommended. Whether you use excellent saltwater equipment or not, cleaning afterwards is essential. A good selection of traditional Danish patterns, zonkers, matukas and shrimps, all tied in several colour combinations and sizes are functional for fishing under all circumstances. Use or look for patterns tied on high quality saltwater hooks and clean the flies you used in fresh water.
WHERE TO FISH
When we fish on the Danish coast we look for places with a lot of stones and rocky reefs. This in combination with deeper water is by far the best place, the hot spots, to wet your flies. A famous German writer once said that places with nets should be avoided at all times. I do not agree with this because at sandy beaches they are the only hot spots. Small fish find shelter between the nets and poles and therefore they are excellent places for the sea trout to feed. Many of my sea trout are caught between those poles or even close to nets. Between the stones, sea grass, poles and weed you will find shrimps, crustae, small fish and sticklebacks. They are the main food for the sea trout. The Danish sea trout seem to grow up around the islands and feed not far away from the coast. Therefore it is not necessary to wade very far into the sea. When the fish are hunting they come to the shore very closely. My last good fish I caught a few weeks ago just 5 metres from the shore. At all Danish tourist offices you can buy a nice booklet with information about one hundred good fishing places in Funen. This information is available in several languages. The best places are marked on maps easy to find for every tourist. Car parks aces are marked too. Each fishing place is numbered and you can read some extra information about the coastline at your favourite spot. It tells you which kind of fish you will find but also if there are cliffs, sea grass and stones, and therefore I never went out fishing without this booklet in my pocket. If you are still not satisfied you can hire a local guide.
One of the most important factors to make a success of your saltwater trip is the weather condition. The weather is really one of the crucial aspects when you are fishing on the coast and the most important factors are probably the wind and the sun. The worst condition is in my experience when it is too bright weather with a lot of sunshine and without any wind. In this situation night fishing is essential to achieve any success. Most fly fishermen do not like head wind but personally I don’t like it when the water looks like a mirror. This is not based on my experience in Scandinavia only but includes my practice on the big saltwater reservoirs in Holland too. Under calm sunny conditions it seems that sea trout avoid the shore most of the time. Especially at daytime during the summer or in late spring! During one of my latest trips it was confirmed again. Hot weather, no wind, a beautiful calm sea, lots of sea trout, but all outside casting range. Just a few small trout were impudent enough to take a small shrimp imitation. On a completely other location I frequently saw some very nice fish but unfortunately they were feeding too far away from the shore. Even just before and after sunset it seems they avoid the shallow waters timorously. They came in total darkness.
If you read the above carefully you may conclude that I do not like calm conditions. I prefer a good breeze coming from the sea or side-wind, especially in springtime. A sea-wind blows the warmer water close to the shore, which not only attracts large shoals of sticklebacks and other small fish but also activates innumerable shrimps and crustae. Sea trout seem to know this very well and more than once I experienced (especially when I waded too far out) that fish were feeding in the shallow water behind me.
The bottom structure is of vital importance, especially at places where wind and wash of the waves can play freely. Sand or clay is mixed with the rough sea and change the color of the water. In this situation it is almost impossible to succeed. Not because the sea-trout should have problems with sand in their gills as many fishermen claim, but because they can not see their prey from a distance so that hooking chances are reduced considerably. In spite of this I still prefer slightly colored water because if I cannot see the fish they hardly can see me either. Just a thought but it gives me some extra confidence.
Because of a frequent and too strong wind from the sea (of course always at the hot spots) we are most of the time committed to fish with wind from the back. I call it land wind. Often it is only possible to fish in the shelter of the cliffs and therefore I look for the wind direction and make a good map orientation before I start fishing. This has enabled me to make some remarkable discoveries over the last few years and I go into it very intensively. Some very Old Danish fishing books were an extremely good help and I found some excellent information, which helped me with my evaluations.
LAND WIND IN SPRINGTIME
In springtime land wind is not very favorable. The warm surface water is blow to the sea and colder water from the bottom will circulate very close to the shore. The food is thrifty and the sea trout feel more comfortable in the warmer water far beyond casting distance. However the exception proves the rule. In spring I normally look for the hot spots with a breeze coming from the sea.
LAND WIND IN SUMMER TIME
During the summer the land wind has a positive effect on the circulation of the seawater. The warmer water close to the shore will be blow away and mixed with the colder water from the seabed. In this situation the sea trout may stay close to the shore. In this case remember the remarks I made about the effects of the summer sun. Night fishing will be highly recommended during the summer time. I only fish during the daytime when it is cloudy or gloomy, overcast.
LAND WIND IN AUTUMN
During the typical rain showers in the autumn, the influence of the land wind can be neglected. However there will be some circulation of the seawater but in this season the temperature of the seawater on the surface is almost the same as on the bottom. The fish can be anywhere. Most people say that autumn is the prime time for the sea-trout fishing. My best days I always had during autumn time.
LAND WIND IN WINTERTIME
As soon as winter starts the surface water will cools down very quickly. Land wind will blow away the cold surface water and the warmer water from the bottom will be circulating close to the shore. In this situation you can find sea trout very close to the shore and it is very nice to fish in wintertime, in the shelter of the cliffs.
Fog is a special item and there are Danes who declare that it will be impossible to hook a fish under foggy conditions. I think they are right because I never caught a fish under these circumstances.
TIME AND PERIODS
The question people pose most frequently is undoubtedly: “What is the best period to go to Denmark?” It seems a simple question but as far as advice about particular periods goes, it is very difficult to answer because we always dependent on the weather situation. I am not able to give you any catch guarantee. I will give a clear example: In the middle of summer time the prospects are not very hopeful during the day time, but one dark chilly night can give you one of the most spectacular experiences in your life. For people who have had this experience it will be very difficult to accept that spring and autumn are even better. I have made a lot of friends over the years and I think, in view of my personal experience, added to the experience of my Danish friends, I can say with certainty that April-May and September-October are the best of all periods.
This doesn’t mean that outside these periods you will get no fish and it would not be fair to suggest that in the months of March and August no great success can be achieved, but then the factors luck and experience of the angler are of much more importance. Statistically most fish have been caught in spring and autumn.
During spring time because the sea trout migrate close to shore constantly looking for some food. This migration is strongly dependent on the water temperature and severe ness of the last winter period. Some experts told me that after a mild winter the sea-trout stay longer at sea and migration to the rivers take place over a longer period. The first large migration usually starts in May and the largest fish will be the first. This continues until the end of October with some exceptions in November. The smaller the river the later migration takes place. On the West coast migration will be earlier then in the Baltic Sea.
During the autumn because then the last big migration takes place. Thousands of fish are looking for fresh water.
The winter fishing for sea trout is in general highly underrated. Over the last few years the Danish winters have been rather mild which means that it is possible to fish almost the whole winter period. In fairness I must admit that winter fishing will require much perseverance because your patience will be put to the test even more. Large shoals of smaller sea trout (Greenlanders) are continuously on the move. The water temperature is the most important factor behind this. The colder the water the bigger the shoals. The shoals are looking for water levels or areas with the lowest concentration of salt. Now it will be clear why the Danes have a prohibited zone at the mouth of their rivers. Even the smallest brook can bring enough freshwater to attract big shoals of “Greenlanders” over a longer period. Fishing in Winter requires a thorough knowledge of places where the percentage of salt is lowest and only with a good local guide is it possible to succeed.
NIGHT FISHING AT THE COAST
In general the most experienced anglers favor night and evening fishing. Fishing by daylight is best in early spring, late autumn, and winter and in somber weather conditions. If we take the view that the Danes consider night fishing as most successful, I can assure you that the equipment doesn’t change much. Even rod and line will be the same. I usually shorten the leader and use 0.25mm tippet instead of 0.20mm. A lot of people suggest to use black floating flies which give the best silhouette. I am not of this opinion because my most successful pattern is white and silver. If you use muddlers make sure that the fish has to turn first before you set the hook. Are you fishing the patterns a little deeper, I can give you the advice to try flies with bodies of silver or mother-of-pearl. A few important tips: Do not forget a small pocket-torch. I often had to stop fishing prematurely because I had forgotten to bring one. Do not think you can manage easily in the dark because you cannot. Survey the areas where you want to fish at night during daytime. Locate the stones and remember the tide. Stop fishing after a while and give the fish the chance to come to the shore more closely.
TO PLAN A TRIP TO DENMARK
A good preparation is essential. It is important is to look for good alternatives. Plenty of information in the English language is available at the Danish Tourist-Boards. It is handy to contact not only the T-Board in the U.K but also different Tourist Offices in Denmark. Fyn Tour has excellent fishing information about the island Funen. The best tip I can give you is not to plan a trip for sea trout only but combine this with the excellent river fishing in Jutland. If the conditions on the coast are not ideal you can be very lucky in the rivers.
Camping’s are excellent and at many places it is possible to rent a cabin but when you have in mind to go to Denmark in early spring or late autumn a good accommodation is essential because of the weather. In Denmark you can find many nice hotels, Kro (inn) and boarding houses. But look-for a location that is central, from which you can reach many good fishing places. There are even some very nice hotels, which are familiar with the wishes of fly fishermen.
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