Sport fishing in the Årøy River
Sport fishing for salmon and sea trout in Årøy River is a tradition dating back to the 1840’s, when affluent Englishmen discovered Norway was a paradise for sport fishing. This rich man’s pastime started almost simultaneously in many of the well-known Norwegian salmon watercourses.
If we take a closer look at the period after 1860 until the present day the leasing of sport fishing rights in Årøy River has been a long-standing tradition interrupted only by World War II (1940-45). Neither World War I (1914-18) nor the epression years of the 1930’s appear to have lessened interest in leasing sport fishing rights.
The stretch of Årøy River where the salmon run is only 1,500 metres long. Previously the salmon were only able to swim as far as the 20-metre high falls, Helvetesfossen. However, after the last hydro power plant construction was completed in 1983, the fish have been able to swim further upriver by way of the power plant’s outlet ducts. Even though the river is a swift, swirling torrent, the salmon found in its waters have unique character traits, broad built and strong. Subsequently the river has gained fame among sport fisher folk across the globe. Few salmon rivers in Norway, if indeed any, have seen more fish over 30 kilos landed.
Catch quantities have varied considerably during the last two centuries according to reasonably reliable figures on record. This is partly due to natural causes but mainly to variations at any given time in the catches in sea and river fishing.
The 1860 decennium is an interesting decade with regard to salmon management in Norway after the government agency Fiskeetaten – the Fisheries Department – was established in 1855. The Salmon Act of 1863 with supplementary acts of 1866 and 1869 introduced the regulation of sea fishing, conservation regulations and regulation of the use of equipment and tackle in river estuaries – and not least the first Inspectorate of Fisheries. Simultaneously, the focus was on the construction of hatcheries and implementing comprehensive cultivation initiatives throughout the country. This resulted almost without exception in a considerable increase in the number of fish caught in the rivers and subsequently increasing the attractiveness of the sport.
In the years that have passed since 1860, many prominent figures have leased sport fishing rights in the Årøy River. Just as many famous people have fished in the river one or several seasons as guests and/or sub-lessors of the main rights holders.
In the first decade dealt with here, from 1860 to 1870, it was the Englishmen Squire Young, Colonel Fuller and Lord Russell who leased sport fishing rights for most of the season. The latter was apparently gored to death by a buffalo in Africa. At that time the fishing season was from around 15th May to 15th September, but they weren’t here for the full season. Salmon fishing normally doesn’t yield catches of notable size before early June and after the end of August. The so-called Midsummer’s Eve influx has traditionally marked the high point of the salmon season. Despite times and nature in general seeming to have changed, the salmon’s migratory pattern and all that relates to this does not appear to have changed to any significant extent in the period dealt with here. It has to be said though that catching record salmon weighing more than thirty kilos is now part of history. The big salmon are still there, but in fewer numbers, and it seems that they find safer waters before the start of the season.
The New Year of 1860 saw the advent of the first Norwegians, or more precisely some leading citizens from Bergen, as lessors. This in itself is not strange as Bergen businessmen in particular had international contacts, especially with England through their trading activities. Thus, in addition to being keen sport fisher folk themselves, they were also able to make contact with their English ‘masters’. Prominent figures from Bergen such as Consul Albert Gran and the businessman Dankert Kahrs who were first on the scene. Around 1870 a German appeared, Baron von Bulsingslöwen, who came and left again after a few seasons. He was followed by the American Harbeck and the English newspaper and magazine publisher/owner Lord Ingram.
Another well-known person was the English man Wilfred Kennedy. He was the first to sign a long-term lease agreement. As was common knowledge Wilfred Kennedy resided in Sogndal. He owned a property which he lived in, Bahus, which was later the doctor’s residence and where Sogndal Hotel is now located. Kennedy was an enterprising fellow who established the match factory at Foss. The factory was later converted to a wool spinnery and weaving mill. In more modern times this was where the company Lerum Konserves had the so-called Foss plant, which has now become the headquarters for Sogn and Fjordane University College. Wilfred Kennedy died in Sogndal and was buried at Stedje. He was disowned and bought out of the family business at home in England because he fell in love with and married a travelling Indian circus artiste and high wire dancer. That did not fit in with the ideals of the fine, aristocratic English family.
After Kennedy died Albert Gran took over leasing rights of the river, which he mainly re-let to foreigners. From 1st January 1901 he entered into a 15-year agreement with Consul Thorvald Beyer from Bergen. This agreement was registered in 1897. As early as in 1899 the agreement was extended by a further 25 years. The agreement also secured Beyer first option on the lease or acquisition of the waterfall if the agreement with a Consul Evensen should expire. For the last period of the agreement Beyer was to pay an annual lease of NOK 3,000.00, but this also included hunting rights on the property. There were also plans for construction of a power plant in the Årøy watercourse, but these were not realised until 1944.
The terms of the agreement entered into with Consul Beyer gradually became a source of conflict where the agreement on the falls eventually ended up in the hands of others. Conflicts in one area were no barrier to stable conditions with regard to the sub-leasing of the sport fishing rights. The Englishman, Colonel and Lord Percy Hargreaves, secured sport fishing rights early in the twentieth century. In 1906 he built the majestic so-called “English House”. This was an impressive building with two large wings that were connected by a large hallway with a courtyard in between. The architecture was very reminiscent of English colonial style. The house arrived by sea from Van Severen in Namdalen, delivered as a complete pre-fabricated build. The house was built by local workmen under the supervision of a contracted site manager from the sawmill in Trøndelag. Lord Hargreaves had fought with distinction in among others the Boer War from 1899-1901. Han was also a close friend of the then Prince of Wales, later King George V of England with all the grandeur that accompanies such a position. As Prince of Wales he represented the British Royal Family at Nidaros in 1906 in connection with the coronation of King Haakon and Queen Maud. On the way home he was invited to fish for salmon in Årøy River by Lord Hargreaves. The prince had his private yacht, a converted warship, anchored in the Barsnesfjord in proximity of the estuary.
Lord Hargreaves remained in Årøy until the end of the season in 1920. He was then succeeded by the legendary and myth-enshrouded Russian exile Nicolas Denissof. Mention should be made that it was in Lord Hargreave’s time that comprehensive building work was carried out to improve conditions for sport fishing here. The Duke of Westminster was also a friend of the Lord and he fished here for several seasons before and during World War I. On one occasion he was accompanied by a friend, Major W. J. Smith, who was an engineer and served with the Royal Engineers in World War I in the Royal Engineers. He had drawn and planned the large fishing bridge that crosses the upper stretch of the river where it is at its most torrential before the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. This stretch is particularly impressive in summer when the river has a flow of up to 130/140 m3/per second. This was part of the bridge system that included fishing bridges and stone tracts or sluices that led the fish in a certain direction and similar, most of which are still there today, were built in 1919 in accordance with Major W. J. Smith’s drawings.
Nicolas Denissof is more deserving of a whole book on his own. He passed himself off as an engineer and that he had been in charge of the building of the Trans-Siberian railway and that he had a shareholding in the railway company. He had almost certainly been a trusted civil servant in the service of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, but whether it is true he was the Minister of Finance for the Tsar until the Revolution in 1917, is another matter as it is impossible to find historic documentation to confirm this.
He was and remains a legend, and he had use of the river from 1921 until and including 1965, through sublease and direct leasing after Thorvald Beyer’s agreement expired in 1941. In 1965, at an age of 95 years, he wanted to renew the agreement for a further 10 years. Nothing came of that. In anger and frustration over the rejection he had the renowned angler’s villa, the “English House”, be demolished instead of giving the landowner an opportunity to take over the house. He died in Paris in 1969 at an age of 99 years – according to rumours by his own hand. He was blind the last two years of his life and that was in all likelihood a condition that was a great burden for this colourful individual.
Rumours also have it he had many ‘close alliances’ with the fairer sex. The famous fashion designer who had the perfume brand Chanel named after her, Coco Chanel, was Denissof’s lover for many years. She also had a relationship with the Duke of Westminster, who had proposed to her. He, as with all the others before and after, was turned down. The reason was that there were many prominent women who had been married with Dukes of Westminster, and most likely there would be more Duchesses of Westminster in the future. But there would only ever be one Coco Chanel!
Coco Chanel lived her whole life in Paris and resided permanently in a suite at the fashionable Hotel Ritz. The owner of the hotel, the legendary Charles Ritz, was a passionate salmon fisher. As a friend of Denissof he spent many seasons fishing at Årøy in the years between the two world wars.
During this period the mystical Indian Maharajah Holkar of Indore also fished in the Årøy River for a few seasons. The owner of the Hardy factory in England, famous for its fishing lines, reels and other fishing equipment, L. R. Hardy, visited Årøy each year in the period 1934 to 1936. At that time a commercial was filmed from fishing in Årøy River with Hardy lines and complementary fishing equipment. A lot of equipment such as fishing flies, taum, (a traditional fishing line, often made from horsehair) and similar goods, were made specifically for sport fishing in Årøy. If these passed the test there, the equipment could take any kind of ‘punishment’ anywhere in the world.
It is fitting to round off this 100-year long epoch with the following story. Finn de Lange, who in his time ran a fishing equipment business in Oslo, which at that time was called Christiania, told a tale about a fisherman who came to his shop to buy a line suitable for Årøy River, and was recommended something that according to the customer was much too thick: “I’m not going to be fishing for whales”, said the customer. “No”, replied Finn de Lange, “but you will be fishing for Årøy salmon, and they are worse.”
1966 marked the beginning of a new epoch in Årøy River. Pharmacist Erling Moe-Berntsen took over the lease agreement that year. He passed away in 1970. Continuity of the lease was however safeguarded. The current lessor, the Frenchman Jacques Bemberg, came to Denissof as early as in 1955 and is now at the age of 77, a doyen among sport fisher folk, who maintains the old traditions in the same way as the English lords when they started the whole ‘adventure’ more than 150 years ago.
Arnt Hovland Munthe
In 2012 Mr Bemberg had his last season in Årøy. He loved his river and fished it for 56 år. We have been very lucky to have such a gentleman here for all these years. 56 years – that´s not bad!
In 2013 we started our new consept: it´s all inclusive; food, lodge, guiding and the entire all by yourself. With respect for our history, for our past, we are writing new history every day along the river bank of Årøy River.
Knut Munthe Olsen