Fantastic fishing in Hemsila:
Meet guide and Nordic master of Fly-Fishing Tor Grøthe
The first catch
Tor Grøthe is a familiar face in Hemsedal. For many guests, it is the big smile, Hemsedal dialect and his hospitality that they remember most after meeting him.
Tor is a cheerful guy, with an arsenal of interesting stories up his sleeve, some of which he shared with us around the table in his charming typically Norwegian kitchen on Grøthe farm between Ulsåk and the town centre.
When he starts telling a story, it's like listening to a well-narrated audiobook. Tor has all kinds of stories to tell, too, from buried Viking goods found at the farm, kings and the battle between fisherman and fish.
Tor is a Hemsedal local legend and grew up on the farm where he still lives to this day. He works on the family farm as a sheep farmer in addition to running his business as a fishing guide.
Fishing has been a lifelong passion for Tor.
"My father had an old fishing rod that I started using at first. It was quite heavy," he reminisces.
"We fished down by the river, and even the fish wouldn't bite, you just stood there waving the fly rod. In the end, I become a pretty good fisherman," he jokes.
However, Tor’s ascent to master fisher didn't begin with flyfishing, and Tor's first-ever catch was with an old reel rod on Hundsemnatnet by Skogshorn in Hemsedal, aged seven.
"The line was smoking on the reel, but luckily I was good at holding on. The fish disappeared and came back again. When it finally came close enough, I managed to get it into the boat. It was an 800-gram trout, and I was so happy. I lay flat out on top of the fish so that it wouldn't escape. I am sure there were tears in my eyes," He says, looking back on the treasured memory.
"Since then, things have gone smoothly. If dad wanted to avoid me becoming a fly fisherman, then he probably never would have taken me on that fishing trip," Tor says with a twinkle in his eye.
He spent many a long summer day in Hemsedal as a youth down by the river, practising or learning new tips and tricks from the foreign fishermen at Fossheim camping. This is where Tor learned to tie his own flies.
"It takes many years to master fly fishing, and you don't just learn to throw a fly in one year, whereas a reel rod is quite simple. With a fly rod, you'll need to have a few years under your belt before you get good," Tor explains.
Norwegian Championship’s and jet-setting around the globe
In 1992 Tor, aged 24 at the time, participated in his first-ever fly-fishing competition in England.
"I thought it was great fun to be a part of, and after that, I got more interested in being involved in competitive fly fishing," Tor says.
Fishing contests may sound like a strange proposition for many unfamiliar with the sport. Still, they take place in much the same way as a regular fishing trip.
"The most important thing is to be a little extra sharp; you have to know what to do. Luckily learning in Hemsedal teaches you to fish in all other places," he explains.
Just one year after entering his first competition, Tor took victory during the Nordic championships in 1993, being crowned "Nordic Champion", a title he still holds to this day due to the competition not being held since.
"I guess that means I am still the reigning champion," he jokes.
Before ending his career in competitive fishing, Tor racked up an impressive list of honours. He was named Norwegian champion on four separate occasions and placed 12th during the fly-fishing world championships in Scotland.
"There were between 120-130 participants, so 12th place wasn't too bad. Many nations are better at fishing in Norway, but we do have a talent for fly fishing," he says.
Today, Tor's personal record in Hemsedal is a trout weighing four kilos.
"It was absolutely incredible! That summer, I didn't fish much more after that because I knew I'd never
be able to experience the same thing again. There are not many fish of that size in The Hemsila," Tor explains.
While Hemsedal will always be Tor's favourite spot for fishing, he has also tested the waters in many other countries.
"I have fished in Russia, France, Australia, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland and a few other places," he says.
Of all the places Tor has travelled to, the Kola Peninsula in Russia, between the Barents Sea and the White Sea and Australia, were his favourites.
"Australia, I thought was an exciting and pleasant trip, and the fishing was very similar to what we have in Hemsedal, even though the nature was different. And the journey to the Kola Peninsula was fascinating, but the weather there can be extreme. One night, there was so much wind that one of our tents blew to pieces, says Tor.
"In addition, I am fascinated by boat fishing in the UK, but it is always good to come back to Hemsedal and Hemsila because the fishing here is actually world-class! It is some of the best and most unique fishing you can get, so Hemsedal and Norway are the dream place for me," he adds.
Guided fishing trips
Today, Tor focuses mostly on his passing on his knowledge and love for fishing to others. When he's not busy with the farm, he can be found in waders up to his knees in water out on a guided fishing tour.
"I think I have become a fairly good fisherman, and it is nice to share that joy and information with others, to see them experience the same as I have experienced. It means a lot, and it is enjoyable to fish in a group with others," Tor says.
He began guiding in the 1990s. However, it didn't really take off until the early 2000s. Since then, Tor has received rave reviews from guests all over the world. Tor's guided tours have also been featured in many well-known fishing books and magazines.
"Several years ago, we ran a Facebook campaign to try to find out what kind of activities tourists are looking for in Hemsedal, and even though hiking came out best, fishing came in second place. So I first think it was when Hemsedal understood the point of the whole thing," Tor explains.
Suddenly a new clientele came to Hemsedal for fishing, who were not interested in fishing the river empty, but instead came to enjoy the fishing experience. Among them were many Swiss.
Tor on an evening fishing trip in Hemsedal. Photo: private.
"The Swiss came back year after year. They enjoyed the experience, and then word spread," Tor says.
After a long winter, it is a special treat to go fishing again. Nature begins waking up again, the fish are more active, insects swirl around the river, and the sun shows its face. While some do yoga to relax, others do fishing, and according to Tor, it is essential to take the time to enjoy the experience.
"You long for fishing like that when the winter is over, but just to put on your waders, bring a fly rod and sit by the river and wait for the fish to wake up. It is very special!" he emphasizes.
"There is something about spring when the leaves spring out, the migratory birds return, and the insects begin to swarm. There is so much life along the river, so it's not just water and the sound of rivers. You hear everything. So it is a completely unique way to relax. It allows you to dream away and think of something completely different and really relax!" Tor says.
Today, Tor offers both half-week and weekly trips, where accommodation on the home farm is included in the price. He starts by finding out the skill level, and at least once during the trip, the fishermen gather around the kitchen table at Grøthe Gård for a delicious fish meal with the family.
"Attjern is a spot that has a lot of fish, and there we always get fish dinner if we are five around the dining table or twelve. On each guided tour, we have at least one trout dinner together. It tastes extra fresh!" The mister fisherman says.
Conversation and the proper management of the local fish population is something that Tor is incredibly passionate about. However, when he joined the board of the fishing association in 1996 and proposed fly zones in the river, he was pretty unpopular at the time.
"The river here is vulnerable. In The 70s and 80s, several Swede's came here to fish the river and fished it almost completely empty. As a result, there were almost no fish left, and the river's ecosystem was almost completely destroyed," Tor explained.
"I remember my friend Olav got a fish in 1989 when there was so little fish in the river, and it was 1.4 kilos and became a topic of conversation that year. But what saved Hemsila was that when the fish disappeared, the fisherman also disappeared," he says.
In what Tor describes as the "interwar period" in the river, the fishing association deployed so-called "crocodiles", fat exposed fish that functioned as a sportfish more than a food fish, to try to rebuild the river. In addition, a limit was set on how many fish each fisherman can take home from the river, and in 1998 came the fly zones Tor had long demanded. Thus, Hemsedal became the first to use this type of fisheries management.
Tor says the situation these days is much better, and although poaching has reared its head again in recent years, Tor isn't worried that the hard work will be reversed.
"It is not dangerous that some of the oldest fish in the stock is replaced, it can be healthy, and new healthy individuals are added. However, it is important to see fisheries management today in a larger context. I also believe that if we are to develop the fish product in Hemsedal, we must look at the enormous resources that lie in our mountain lakes," Tor says.
"It is fantastic to fish in running water, but there is something about mountain water: sitting in a boat, there are some waves in the water. The trout starts to move, and then you pull the fish up to the water. It is almost higher on my list than fishing in the river," he says.
RURAL LIFE AND GENERATION CHANGE
After more than 25 years working as a fishing guide, Tor built up a sea of experience. Still, in recent years he has been preparing his 19-year-old son Trond for one day taking over the family business.
"Young people learn so quickly, and Trond is very patient. It helps a lot," he says.
Last summer, Trond himself took several of his father's guided tours. Tor brags about his ability to talk to people from all backgrounds.
“He’s great with the guests. The most important thing a fisherman has is patience, and of course, interest! And then the knowledge comes eventually,” Tor says proudly.
Both have a significant focus on storytelling on the trips. For curious guests, it is extra exciting to stay on the generation farm Grøthe.
The farm can be traced all the way back to the 1000s, when a lady named Brynhild Grøto lived there. She would later marry the mighty King Roppe, who would later fall in a battle in Trøndelag. Several Viking tools have also been found on the farm in recent years, which indicates roots dating back to Norway's heyday with the Vikings. These finds are exhibited today as part of the Olso collection.
Tor's roots as a master fisherman could also potentially be traced back to the farm.
"We have always had a tradition of fishing on the farm. In the 19th century, a man named Tore Grøtho lived here, and just like me, he began his fishing adventure on Hundsemvatnet by Skogshorn. So maybe it's him I take after," Tor says.
And if he could choose for himself, this is probably where Tor prefers to be found: among reed edges and in the mountain landscape by the water where he caught his very first fish.
The fishing season in Hemsedal lasts from 1 June to 15 September, and fishing licenses remain sold at the tourist office and in the sports shops in the village.