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 First Fly Caught and Released Atlantic Salmon over Forty (40) Pounds on the Alta River, Norway.

The Alta River currently holds five (5) of the seven (7) IGFA (International Game Fish Association) world records for fly caught Atlantic Salmon:

2 lb
4 lb
8 lb
16 lb
20 lb
22 lb 0 oz
38 lb 8 oz
31 lb 8 oz
51 lb 2 oz
48 lb 15 oz
June 28, 1983
June 30, 1983
June 25, 1983
July 7, 1994
August 16, 1993


The successful preservation of perhaps the world’s finest wild habitat for Atlantic Salmon (which also happens to be located near a sizeable city) resulted from a creative access policy for fishing on the river that empowered all the community without over-using or over-pressuring the scarce resource. The people of Alta, Norway (300 miles north of the Arctic Circle) and the members of the Alta Association (all the landowners along the river) saved their stupendous river with an access policy similar to MāHUNT’s.

They allow any Norwegian to fish the river free without restriction on the number of fisherpersons from June 1 to June 23, syndicates to buy (highest bid generally) the next three weeks plus two weeks in August for 70 percent of the river, and a free draw for the other 30 percent of the river and for the other five weeks where landowners are given preference (nearly 100% likelihood of fly fishing for at least one day per year). Residents of Alta have a likelihood of fly fishing for at least one day every three or four years during that lottery period. Without the cash from the syndicates to pay for maintenance and habitat improvement of the river, police to stop trespassers and poachers, and access (or a chance of access) to all Altans and most Norwegians, the county or Norway would have long ago destroyed the pristine river and its run of large Atlantic Salmon or allowed sprawling development along its banks.

The hieroglyphs carved into the rocks near the mouth of the Alta River are dated at least 5,000 years ago. They clearly show fisherpersons in the bow of boats, in the river, twirling a net over their heads ready to throw it over Atlantic Salmon. It is laudable that creative Norwegians (Daphne H. Schneider’s lineage) established an innovative policy to protect an asset and heritage that has flourished for over 5,000 years in spite of  man’s acquisitive pressure. Wildlife has to pay to stay.

This gigantic buck Atlantic Salmon (notice the large upward hook at the end of the lower jaw, which fits into a matching indent in the upper jaw) was caught and released by James A. Schneider on a tube fly with a 20 pound tippet and a single handed eight (8) weight Sage fly rod on June 24, 2000 at 9:00 PM after thirty (30) minutes in Sandiakoski. Its length was 45” with a girth of 25 1/4”. Using a formula tested on fish caught and not released on the Alta River in previous years --- length (45”) x girth (25 1/4”) x girth (25 1/4”) divided by 705 equals 40.7 pounds.

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Your soul mate, closest friend, best career, perfect home, finest property/habitat to save, largest Atlantic Salmon, biggest deer/elk, or most superb way to relax and stay healthy might cross your path anytime, anywhere, especially when least expected near the end of your journey.

This large buck Atlantic Salmon was caught by James A. Schneider on a Y./Schneider tube fly (invented by James A. Schneider with Bill Y. catching the first Atlantic Salmon ever on the fly) with a 20 pound tippet and a single handed seven (7) weight Sage flyrod on June 30, 2003 at 3:00 AM on the Alta River after twenty-five (25) minutes below Sandiakoski and above Mikkeli. Its length was 44 1/8” with a girth of 24 3/4”. Using a formula tested on fish caught and not released on the Alta River in previous years --- length (44 1/8”) x girth (24 3/4”) x girth (24 3/4”) divided by 705 equals 38.4 pounds.

What lessons for life and saving wild places and wildlife emerges from this thrilling experience?

  • Never give up.
  • Observe nature’s changes.
  • Think about a wild creature’s situation/pressures—become one with your surroundings.
  • Restore balance to Nature.

This gorgeous Atlantic Salmon was hooked:

  1. within one hour of the final moment of fly fishing for the week (fishing stops at 4:00 AM)
  2. in extremely low water (1/2 foot in terms of the river’s base measurement --- versus 4 feet for the 40.7 pound Atlantic Salmon pictured on the top of this section—a level not seen during this time of year in the past twenty years)
  3. between pools where no one had ever caught an Atlantic Salmon in anyone’s recollection
  4. on a fly that was created/invented/first cast in 2000
  5. after the County of Alta removed the nine nets in Alta Fjord closest to the mouth of the Alta River.

When new situations (lowest water known by anyone) face you, increase your focus and become one with the world in which you exist. While fishing the upriver run Sandiakoski after seven (7) hours with one rise to the fly and no hook-ups, do not let your mind or focus turn to far away places and worries or wishes. Remember that each cast could connect with the largest Atlantic Salmon of your life. Did you miss it because your mind and body were away?

Was that a swirl downriver about 300 yards between runs where Atlantic Salmon never stay for longer than one minute as they rush upriver? It was a swirl! A large swirl of an Atlantic Salmon, not a trout or grayling, in the same place as the apparition. Why would a large male Atlantic Salmon rest there? Could he have just been chased out of Mikkeli below by a larger Atlantic Salmon that just moved in? In higher water, would the larger Atlantic Salmon have let this lesser competitor stay in the pool, but at a comfortable distance?

Can we make a long cast across the calm, slower, shallower water, and make the fly move fast enough to attract this now upset Atlantic Salmon, without spooking him up or down river? The long straight cast perpendicular to the caster to maximize fly speed gently touches the water. No mend is put in the line. The fly sinks and reaches maximum speed about two-thirds through the swing. A large boil erupts. The line begins to escape the reel. After ten feet of line drift away, with your heart in your throat and your brain screaming do not strike the fish, the rod is raised and the reel begins to scream.

The Atlantic Salmon (weighing almost twice as much as the pound test of the tippet) takes charge. It speedily powers downstream and across the river. Will the 350 yards of line/backing on the reel dissipate before he tires or finds a lair where his instinct predicts safety? Is the line taut and never slack so the hook is not shook? Is the pressure on the line enough to tire the charge, but not too much so it snaps? As the boatmen direct our canoe (the same design that has been used successfully for a number of centuries) downstream, we regain a smidgen of line so that the spool now is no longer visible.

A never before challenge emerges. The gigantic rock at the head of Mikkeli is no longer underwater. It juts about two feet above the splashing waters’ surface. Where a fly line would normally slide over its point, it now will catch. The Atlantic Salmon is 100 feet below the rock. Which route did he travel? Inside or outside the boulder? The fast water is keeping us from going around the far side. We are below the rock and the line is upstream and caught on the rock. Can we force the boat upstream around the rock and still have the monster stay attached to the hook? The line is free from the rock, but it is not moving. Is it caught on another rock or is the leviathan just resting/sulking in the deepest part of the run straight below us?

We must get the boat sideways of the fish so that the rod can be placed at a 45 degree angle to exert the maximum pressure to make the fish work to keep his position or make him expend energy running up or downstream. The outcome of the battle is still tenuous, but the flyfisher has scored some points and almost evened the score.

We are out of the boat and the Atlantic Salmon is about fifty yards straight out in the river. We are in the flat section below Mikkeli about one-half mile and twenty plus minutes into the tug-of-war. The broad tail of the Atlantic Salmon has just swished the surface. He is more tired than our arms. Now gentle pressure, not maximum rod bend, is required. A small knick in the tippet from rubbing the rocks or brushing over the Salmon’s teeth could free him prematurely, especially if the line is held too tight and he makes an abrupt run. The rod is now parallel to the ground to not raise the fish to the surface where the Salmon can more easily thrash or roll and change the angle of pressure on the hook. The Salmon is led gradually towards the net so that the pin-prick hole in his jaw (which may have widened during the journey) does not allow the hook and the superb Atlantic Salmon to escape before pictures.

The net is placed in the water with the front flat edge on the bottom about three feet from the surface. The fish should be led into the net head first. The net should not be moved until the fish’s head is past the rim. The Atlantic Salmon cannot back up. The net is up. The Atlantic Salmon is immediately lowered into the water to minimize thrashing and eye, fin, or scale damage and preserve his remaining energy.

This monarch’s existence and the freedom to pursue him ensures that conservationist caretakers will preserve this river from development and habitat destruction for another five thousand years beyond the five thousand years since mankind first was known to hunt Atlantic Salmon in the Alta River.

Two critical human adaptations/creations led this tribute/salute to spur continued preservation of this unique giant Atlantic Salmon  habitat and the river. The Y./Schneider tube fly was created by changing the colors, configuration, and combination of past proven fly patterns in oneness with the Alta River’s wild nature. Willie Gunns and Green Highlanders had produced perhaps over fifty (50) percent of the Atlantic Salmon taken during the last week at June at the Alta River over the past ten years. No one knows for sure why Atlantic Salmon take flies when they return to fresh water from the sea, since they do not feed. Does the fly trigger a long established feeding response to strike even though devouring the fly is not the objective? During 2006 while fly fishing the Alta River in Norway, James A. Schneider live-released a five (5) inch wild Atlantic Salmon smolt which hit/took a three and one-half (3 1/2) inch Y./Schneider tube fly from behind. The eat or be eaten truth of Nature (even attacking/eating prey two-thirds their own size) certainly shows that a wild river is not an aquarium.

Is the taking of the fly by the Atlantic Salmon an attack/revenge response or a fit of pique? Since the Alta River contains many large brown trout, native Norwegians believe that they devour many parr and smolt (parr are one to two inch minnow Atlantic Salmon and smolt are four to six inch Atlantic Salmon heading to the sea) and should be removed from the river when they hit Atlantic Salmon flies to tip the balance of survival towards the Atlantic Salmon. A check of Brown Trout stomachs invariably shows whole or partially digested Atlantic Salmon parr/smolt. Although a Willie Gunn is multicolored like a brown trout, especially the black body of a small predator, it does not have the yellowish underbelly of larger more voracious brown trout. Does the yellow/green of the Green Highlander flash like the turn of a large brown trout that chased the Atlantic Salmon parr/smolt five years ago?

Can the wing and color of a Willie Gunn tube fly be augmented with the yellow/green body of a Green Highlander and remind large Atlantic Salmon of large brown trout that tried to end their existence five years before so that an attack/revenge response is triggered? Since the general use of the Y./Schneider tube fly the last week of June on the Alta River in 2001, it has been the fly that has caught over forty (40) percent of the Atlantic Salmon brought to the net. Many fisherman espouse that just being on the river brings them back each year and leads them to contribute to saving the wild Atlantic Salmon and its habitat, but the presence or increase in silver torpedoes attached to their fly and live-released reinforces that conviction and adds to the money spent to save their target and its habitat.

Governmental units run or influenced by fisherman can also reinstate the balance of Nature. After five or six years of steady declines in the summer run of Atlantic Salmon on the Alta River, foreigners who pay for their rods (right to fish the Alta) advocated and got permission from the Alta River’s Association in 1997 to live-release/tag fly caught Atlantic Salmon, which proved to locals that the fish were unharmed, survived to spawn, and fought just as hard when hooked again later in the summer as when first hooked. After that revelation Alta County acted.

Landowners on both sides of the forty mile long Alta Fjord have placed nets in the sea to intercept Atlantic Salmon for centuries. These live-caught salmon are quickly cleaned and transported to local markets (and beginning in 2006 to upscale exclusive French restaurants) for the freshest possible consumption. Lore taught that one-third of the Atlantic Salmon run each year succumb to the nets in the fjord, one-third were captured and kept by fisherman in the river, and one-third remained to spawn in the winter and revitalize the next generation of females that would leave the river as smolts and return during their sixth year to repeat the cycle.

Around 1990 after many years of persistent declines in Atlantic Salmon caught by hook and line on the Alta River, Alta County declared that no fjord netting could occur from Friday night until Sunday night. The numbers of hook and line caught Atlantic Salmon immediately soared. As the decline resumed in the mid l990's another boost to the balance of Nature was required. The Alta County in l997 decreed that the nine nets in the fjord closest to the mouth of the Alta River could no longer be placed in the fjord. They did not pay landowners for eliminating that flow of revenue. They merely waited for lawsuits which would show how much revenue was lost by each landowner to determine the amount of the taking by the government. The lawsuits never materialized. Could it have been that the local fjord netters did not want an inquiry into how much income they had actually declared on their income taxes in past years to determine the amount of loss they suffered?

Each portion of former takers of Atlantic Salmon had contributed to increasing the number of giant Atlantic Salmon that would be available to replenish future generations. Fly fisherman (only foreigners to date) during the syndicate period had voluntarily paid their guides the cash equivalent of the one Atlantic Salmon that each would receive as a tip had the fly fisherperson not released his fly caught fish. That cash tip allowed the guides to purchase Atlantic Salmon from the fjord netters and allow the Atlantic Salmon  that had come to a fly and survived running the gauntlet to have a high probability of keeping those genes in the pool. Fly fisherman (only foreigners during the syndicate period to date) had also increased their percentage of live-released mature salmon to almost sixty (60) percent. The nine fjord netters nearest the mouth of the Alta River had probably involuntarily increased the run by an even larger percentage than the live-release syndicate flyfishpersons. Someone had to pay for the Atlantic Salmon to stay.

Fly-caught Atlantic Salmon that are live-released in the Alta River (where native Norwegians still predominantly kill their fly caught Atlantic Salmon) have not been tortured for mere fun, but rather tested/hardened/saved for their legacy. In fact, their likelihood of rising to take another fly has been dramatically reduced. After the battle, in which they did not feel pain, since they lack the physiology (ask yourself if you had a hook in your mouth would you run away and pull hard against the tether like the Atlantic Salmon do?), they will proceed upriver, run the gauntlet of more flies and fisherpersons, and spawn six months later. They, like their brethren that have been in a holding pool for more than one day, are said “to sulk” (remain quietly inactive near the bottom of the river and not rise to future presented flies which could lead to their demise), thereby enhancing their likelihood of survival to replenish future generations.

A hen wild Atlantic Salmon that is live-released in the summer of year one, will lay her eggs that winter, which will hatch in the spring of year two as fry, stay in the river and grow to parr (if not devoured by mergansers, brown trout, arctic grayling, seagulls, and arctic terns) in year three and head downriver to the sea in year four as smolts, where they will flourish (so long as they do not accumulate too many sea lice when they swim past the farm-raised pens of Atlantic Salmon in the fjord or are ravaged by seals-MāHUNT has a video from 2006 of a fly caught and live-released hen wild Atlantic Salmon that survived a mauling by a seal with its dorsal fin bitten in half and six inch circles of scrapes, scratches and holes on both sides of its flank from the seal’s claws) for years five, six and seven to return to the Alta River to spawn. A long lead time with foresighted patience for positive results is required. This means that the positive results of beginning widespread live-release of mature fly caught Atlantic Salmon by the foreign syndicates in l997 and the removal of the nine fjord nets closest to the mouth of the Alta River in l997 would not be first evident for seven years or until the summer run of 2004.

The last week of June 2006 where ten (10) rods from the first foreign syndicate of the year fished the Alta River exemplified the success of the above live-release, diminution of fjord netting, and limited access to the river. This syndicate began in l991 and most of the same members have fished the same days (June 24 through June 29) each year for sixteen (16) years. In l992, those ten (10) rods caught and killed (our Norwegian hosts would not allow live-release) one-hundred and twenty-eight (128) wild mature Atlantic Salmon. This was the most fly caught Atlantic Salmon by this syndicate for these days in the sixteen years of existence, with some years as low as twenty (20) mature Atlantic Salmon ( 1993 and l999) brought to the net. During those six days in 2006, the ten rods fly caught and live-released over 90 percent of their fly caught one-hundred twenty-nine (129) wild mature Atlantic Salmon for its best year during the entire sixteen year history. Wild Atlantic Salmon that are bleeding when netted are not live-released, since their likelihood of survival is near zero, their dead carcasses floating in the river would discourage native Norwegians from allowing future live-release, and their precious healthy omega-3 flesh should not be wasted.

Most rivers in cental Norway (farther south) and the Tanana River thirty-miles farther north showed dramatic declines in runs of wild Atlantic Salmon in 2006. The Tanana River was even closed to hook/line fishing in 2006, because of the dramatic decrease in the run. No live-release fly fishing had occurred on the Tanana River in past years.

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