For starters, you’ll just never find clearer water anywhere and most of the Greenlandic rivers make the Itchen look like a mud hole. Not surprising, really: they flow straight from the Ice Cap with the crystal purity of eternity in their veins. And then there is the number of fish available. Arctic char. As wild as the wind. Pulse after pulse of fish coming in on each and every tide. Sometimes there are so many in the fjords that the seals can eat no more. The cormorants are gorged. And when the char climb the rivers, they flow like a scaled escalator, a constant flow of fish. And what fish!

Can there be a more beautiful sight than the Arctic char? Magnificently finned. Superbly shaped. Colours from sizzling orange to the serenest, most flawless of silvers. And these are fish that punch their weight too: forget steelhead, forget mahseer, you’ll always remember the streaking two pounder that takes you down to your backing. To say that you love char, or admire them or whatever else it’s bound to be an understatement. People just become obsessed with them. They’re just compulsive. You cannot catch enough. Under the midnight sun you can fish for them twenty-four hours a day and resent even minutes lost to eating or sleeping. And if the fishing isn’t enough, then you’ve got the landscape. So huge, so eternal, so awe-inspiring and so empty it looks like something from a film set, unbelievably grand, remarkably elemental. So you get the picture? You think I like Greenland? Damn right I do!

Of course, there are char all round Greenland and you can catch them on the rugged east coast but it’s to the west that most people who are in the know go a-flocking. Broadly speaking, you’ll find char from Disco Bay southwards pushing up into virtually all the rivers that make their short way from the Ice Cap to the fjord. A ten-mile long river is large for Greenland, most are five miles or less. But what waters they are. Frighteningly quick, icily cold, angel-tear clear.

You’ll find the char everywhere – in the ferocious white water, the imperious glides, the deep, brooding pools. Look for the very biggest fish in the skimpiest of waters, often within spitting distance of the Ice Cap itself. The head of the river, the top of the ladder is where all the biggest fish want to be.

But these are vulnerable rivers and they can change year to year. On most of the river mouths you’ll find local Inuits netting and just sometimes a run can be ruined. Floods, too, can wash away gravels, cloak spawning beds, destroy totally the run of the char. Lakes can build up in the interior over years and then burst and flood valleys, scouring out all the features, rendering them useless for generations. Greenland can be a harsh, unforgiving, cruel place. Don’t mess with it.

If it’s adventure you’re seeking then Greenland is it, the tops. You don’t find hotels on Greenlandic rivers, or lodges and the odds are that if you want a tent you’ll have to take it yourself. And don’t go looking for roads either, or even airstrips. Your boat will land you at the point where the river meets the sea and from then on you walk. If you want to change valleys, then you climb the mountainous divides. If you want to eat, you cook. If you want food, you catch fish. There’s next to nothing else: you’ll be lucky even to find a berry. After two weeks in Greenland you’re lean and you’re mean and your soul is absolutely soaked up with beauty.

TACKLE AND METHODS

You can spin for the Arctic char but it’s a travesty if you do so. Everyone can catch them on the fly and if you’re not really a fly fisherman, then this is the place to learn. Also, for the good of the char themselves, don’t use a spinner: they hit them with such gusto chances are you’ll have a throat hooked fish. And that’s a dead one.

You don’t need anything special when it comes to the gear. An ordinary English trout outfit – weight six or seven is all you’re going to need. And I almost invariably make do with a floating line. Okay, a sink tip is useful perhaps for the deepest pools but the very best of char fishing is generally in water less than a metre deep. You’ll need a leader of not less than six pounds and as for flies, take everything. Times are they’ll even come up to the surface for a big mayfly or a Daddy rolled out into the wind. Czech nymphs will catch fish as will all manner of reservoir type lures. Sometimes it’s got to be black, sometimes red and other times silver.

Methods? Well everything works but if there’s one tip for the bigger fish it’s simply getting the fly to work at exactly the right level. Smaller ones – char to three pounds or so, will come up or will go down but the daddies – those of five to ten pounds won’t do a great deal of chasing. Get a fly on the nose of a big fish and you’re in for a fight like nothing else you’ve ever experienced - but get that fly six inches too deep or too high and you might as well cast onto the Ice Cap. Fast retrieve, slow retrieve, no retrieve at all? Try ‘em all. There are no rules when it comes to char fishing and as for char experts, I’ve never met one and doubt if I ever will.


SEASONS AND TRAVEL

The best of the char fishing is generally considered to be July and August, often warm months with little rain and virtually twenty-four hours of daylight. But don’t take anything for granted in Greenland: it can rain and when cloud comes over, temperatures drop close to freezing. You expect to pick up a tan but there can be times you’re fishing in the sleet.

You’ll almost certainly fly into Greenland from Denmark, commonly the Copenhagen to Kangerlussaq flight. Mind you, they’ve just opened up Manitsoq to international flights and that way, you can jet in to the heart of some of the best fishing of all. Whether from Kangerlussaq or Manitsoq, you’ll hit the rivers themselves by ferry, sometimes an overnighter, other times just a short journey of three or six hours. And watch out on the way. Chances are you’ll see whales spouting, seals lounging on the icebergs and seabirds as large and as scary as pterodactyls.

DO’S AND DON’TS

You don’t need a visa for Greenland but don’t forget to buy your fishing licence, available from tourist offices in the towns.

Whatever you do, don’t forget your head net. And your Deet. Sometimes the flies are negligible. Most times, they can drive you absolutely mad without protection, especially when the sun comes out and the wind dies and you think every fly in the world has chosen you for its mate.

Take warm clothes for those days of grey. Take a good waterproof shell to repel the hours of horizontal sleet.

Chest waders are good but make sure they’ve got a boot comfortable enough to allow for hours of walking. If you don’t walk you simply don’t get to the best of the water.

Take a rubber underlay for your mattress. Greenland is a hard, stony place that can make sleeping in a bag difficult. And it’s difficult enough when the sun refuses to drop and the light never goes out of the sky

Always take care with fires. Often, the tundra is like tinder and a badly tended fire can created havoc with pasture for musk ox, deer and reindeer.

Choose a really reliable outfitter. Make sure that your presence on the river is accepted by the local Inuits. Check and double check when your pick-up boat will arrive and make sure you’re on time to meet it: tides can make beaching hazardous with limited windows of opportunity.

Never take more char than you need to eat. Use barbless hooks so that ninety-nine percent of the catch can be slipped back and never lifted from the water’s surface. Remember that the Inuits will be watching you and your behaviour in this, the world’s most pristine place.

Never drop litter. Burn or bury your poo. Remember that in this atmosphere, your garbage lasts until the end of the world.

Always have binoculars around your neck. Musk ox, Arctic fox, whales in the bay, reindeer on the horizon…Greenland is a wonderful world of natural history but the animals do keep their distance.

Take everything, I mean everything, with you that you’re going to need. Shopping malls, corner shops, forget them. It’s you and the wilderness and nothing in between. Cards. Novels. Walkmans. If you think you’re going to need entertainment, then take it yourself. Soaps, cinemas and steakhouses you just won’t find in Greenland.

Always tell people where you are going and when you’re due back. Break a leg in Greenland and the chances of anybody passing by are zero. A whistle isn’t a bad idea either to attract attention over large distances.