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Fishing in Iceland: A Comprehensive Guide

03-11-2023

Iceland fishing

Iceland, a Nordic island nation, is not just about its breathtaking landscapes, geysers, and hot springs. It's also a haven for fishing enthusiasts. With a rich history intertwined with fishing, Iceland offers a unique fishing experience that's deeply rooted in its culture and traditions.

The Historical Context of Fishing in Iceland

Fishing in Iceland is not just a hobby; it's a way of life. Historically, the country's survival depended on fishing. The Norse heritage, with its tales of Viking fishermen braving the North Atlantic, showcases the importance of fishing to the Icelandic economy and culture. Over the centuries, fishing has evolved, but its significance remains unchanged.

Fishing has been the lifeblood of Iceland since its settlement in the late 9th century. The nation's early economy was anchored in farming and fisheries, with the fishing season dictated by the migratory patterns of fish and the constraints of fishing from open rowing boats. 

By the 1300s, fishing had surpassed agriculture in terms of foreign exchange earnings, with stockfish and fish oil as primary exports. The advent of sail-powered vessels in the early 1800s marked a significant shift in Icelandic fisheries, leading to increased exports and diversification of products.

As the centuries progressed, while the methods and technologies evolved, the central role of fishing in Iceland's culture and economy remained steadfast.

fishing in Iceland

Types of Fish in Iceland

Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar)

  • Description: A favorite among anglers, the Atlantic salmon spawns in rivers. After spending 2 to 5 years in rivers, they enter the sea and live in the uppermost layers. They can reach sizes of 55-65 cm after one year in the sea and up to 100 cm after two years. They are known for their challenging catch and delicious taste.

  • Habitat: Found in waters all around Iceland, with main fishing grounds at the edge of the continental shelf at a depth of 200–400 meters southwest and west of Iceland.

Atlantic salmon

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

  • Description: Found both as anadromous fish and as resident freshwater stocks. They require running water for spawning and are only found in lakes with inflowing and outflowing streams. Common sizes range from 35 to 50 cm.

  • Habitat: Common in Icelandic waters, especially in rivers and lakes.

Brown trout

Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus)

  • Description: A widespread species in Iceland with a circumpolar distribution. They can spawn in both rivers and lakes. Sea char migrate to the sea in early spring and return to freshwater in mid-July. Common sizes range from 35-45 cm.

  • Habitat: Found in waters all around Iceland, especially in rivers and lakes.

Arctic Char

Best Places to Fish in Iceland

Lake Þingvallavatn

  • Description: Famous for its monster trouts, Lake Þingvallavatn is a prime location for anglers looking to catch large brown trout.

River Laxá

  • Description: Known for salmon fishing, River Laxá is a hotspot for anglers looking to catch Atlantic salmon.

River Jökla

  • Description: A diverse river system with salmon, trout, and char. River Jökla offers a variety of fishing opportunities for anglers.

Jokla River

Best Time of Year to Fish in Iceland

Salmon (June to September)

  • Peak Season: July and August are considered the peak months for salmon fishing in Iceland. During these months, the salmon run is at its highest, and anglers have the best chance of landing a big catch.

  • Considerations: While June marks the beginning of the salmon season, the early runs might be smaller. By September, the season starts to wind down, but there are still opportunities for late-season catches.

Trout and Char (April to October)

  • Peak Season: The prime months for trout and char fishing are from late May to early September. During this period, the fish are more active, and the chances of catching bigger specimens are higher.

  • Considerations: April marks the beginning of the trout and char season, but the weather can still be quite cold. By October, as temperatures drop, the fishing season for these species comes to an end.

Iceland fishing

Fishing Gear and Techniques

Fly Fishing

  • Description: Fly fishing is a method that uses a lightweight lure—called an artificial fly—to catch fish. The fly is cast using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line.

  • Best For: This technique is especially popular for salmon and trout fishing in Iceland. The art of fly fishing allows anglers to mimic the natural movement of the fish's prey, making it an effective method.

Spinning

  • Description: Spinning involves using a spinning reel and rod to cast lures and bait. The lure's weight pulls the line off the reel during the cast.

  • Best For: Suitable for all types of fish, spinning is versatile and can be used in various water conditions, from rivers to lakes and even the sea.

Ice Fishing

  • Description: As the name suggests, ice fishing involves drilling a hole in the ice and fishing through it. It's a unique and adventurous way to fish during the cold winter months.

  • Best For: Ice fishing in Iceland is primarily done for char and trout. It's a winter activity that offers a one-of-a-kind experience, especially for those who haven't tried it before.

Ice fishing

Regulations and Licenses

Licenses

Icelandic Fishing Card (Veidikortid): This economical fishing card provides access to fish in over 35 lakes in Iceland. It comes with a booklet detailing the locations covered under the card, a sticker for visibility to park rangers and landowners, and offers unlimited fishing access throughout a calendar year. 

Some lakes and ponds allow fishing free of cost, but consent from the landowner or park ranger is required. These cards can be ordered online.

Catch and Release

Catch and release is encouraged, especially for certain species like the endangered Halibut, to maintain and protect fish populations. This practice ensures the sustainability of the fish species and their habitats.

Restricted Areas

It's essential to familiarize oneself with the rules established by the Fishery Associations in Iceland. For instance, the fishing card or Veidikortid only permits fishing in the lakes listed on the card, not in rivers. 

There are also specific regulations regarding the use of hooks, bait, and fishing locations. Always ensure you're fishing in permitted areas and obtain consent when fishing in private locations.

Iceland fishing permit

Tips for Fishing in Iceland

Hire a Local Guide

Local guides have extensive knowledge of the best fishing spots, techniques, and local regulations. They can enhance the fishing experience by guiding anglers to prime locations and offering insights into the local fish species.

Respect the Environment

Iceland's waters are mostly disease and pollution-free, so it's crucial to maintain this pristine condition. All fishing equipment used outside of Iceland must be disinfected before use in Icelandic waters. 

This is to prevent the introduction of foreign diseases and pollutants. A certificate of disinfection from a licensed veterinarian, as per the Freshwater Fisheries Law of Iceland, is required.

Stay Updated

Iceland's weather can be unpredictable. Before heading out for a fishing trip, it's essential to check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes. Additionally, staying updated on fishing regulations and any changes is crucial to ensure a smooth and legal fishing experience.

Just fish it!


Fishing in Iceland offers an unparalleled experience. The blend of history, diverse fish species, and stunning landscapes makes it a must-visit for every fishing enthusiast. And while you're planning your trip, consider exploring Iceland at your own pace. Renting a car from Iceland Cars allows you to discover hidden gems and make the most of your Icelandic adventure. 

Whether you're fishing or sightseeing, a reliable car rental ensures you don't miss out on anything. So, pack your fishing gear, book your car, and dive into the Icelandic fishing experience!