I was baffled when my son came to me one day and told me that he wanted to go out fishing. Until then, Ólafur Grettir, aged 11 and much like his father, had no interest in sports; like most preteens in the Western world, he met his friends online to shoot and scream at each other in some cartoonish video games. I hadn’t gone fishing in ages, though my late father’s fishing gear had, for some reason, landed in my storage space rather than with my brother, who actually likes to fish.
Red wine and fish
Last time I went fishing was in the middle of the night with my cousin Gabríel, and my girlfriend, in Patreksfjörður a few years ago. We took a rowboat, sailed to the middle of the fjord and brought a few bottles of red wine with us. We got piss-drunk and woke up the day with ten codfish in the boat that we barely remembered catching, and had no idea what to do with.
So, I told my son that I would go and look in the storage space. And sure enough, I found two fishing rods, waders from the ‘90s, and a fishing vest that made me look like a full-kit-wanker. I was only missing the green hat with the spinner stuck in the brim.
Despite my older son’s protest, I took his five-year-old brother with us, and we headed for the hunting store to buy a fishing card that gives you access to 34 lakes all around the country, including Þingvallavatn and Elliðavatn. It costs about 7000 ISK, or €50— about the same amount as a new PS4 game. My impostor syndrome was triggered when the clerk wished me—optimistically, and not sarcastically—“good hunting.”
Something about life and death
We drove to Elliðavatn lake at the edge of Reykjavík. Our aim was to catch river trout—optimistic indeed. I quickly remembered why I was never a fan of fishing when I had to prepare the lines. First we had to tie the hook and the float. Then the artificial worms, which I thought were my best investment in the hunting shop, had to be thread on each hook. This took 30 minutes.
I tried to turn the occasion into a teachable moment, explaining to my sons how relieved I was that we were not using live worms, as it must be painful to be dangling on a hook for some creature to eat you, only to then be eaten by us.
My sons had no empathy for worms. They just wanted to catch a fish. Fair enough. I guess we are here to learn something about life and death and the complicated balance of nature.
The weather was fine. There were grey skies, no wind and light rain. Perfect for killing fish.
My older son tried to cast the line in the water but hit me instead and got the hook tangled in my vest. Not our finest moment. The younger one was a natural. He just cast the line into the middle of the water like he had been doing it for years.
The one that got away
My older son finally got the line into the water, but it quickly got stuck in the bottom of the lake. He thought that he’d caught something and started wrestling frantically with the pole. When the hook got loose again, I told him that the fish probably got away. Better luck next time.
After a while I thought, well, perhaps I can try to catch something myself. I lifted my pole to cast, but both of my sons called for me at the same moment. Their lines had gotten tangled and they needed help.
I quickly found out that there was no way I could disentangle it, so I had to cut the lines and start the whole procedure again. I tried to explain that they had to watch out for the lines, it has to be tight all the time. They didn’t listen.
We repeated this sequence, more or less, for the next two hours.
The King Of The Lake
Just as we were giving up, and my younger son was crying for his mother, it happened. We were looking at the still surface of the water, and we saw a beautiful grey salmon leaping from the water and splashing down again, just a few metres from shore. My younger son stopped crying immediately, in awe of this impressive sight, and my older son—the determined killer—grabbed his pole, and cast the line, only to get it stuck once more in my full-kit-wanker vest. It was time to go.
On our way home, we felt good, like we’d connected with nature in some way. At least we got to see that salmon, the king of the lake, that leapt so impressively, almost like he was taunting us.
We agreed we’d return to the lake next weekend and catch that arrogant salmon.
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