Most people have heard about the large migratory Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) of Southern Norway, but have you heard about the Bleka?
The Bleka as it’s officially known is a landlocked Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar 1758 L). As the Ice Age was coming to an end the sea rose and penetrated the low laying land which was then pressed low by the heavy ice. As the ice receded, salmon quickly found they’re way home into the rivers and lakes. But as the land based ice melted, the land rose and the salmon in the rivers and lakes became trapped. They were then forced to turn from migratory fish to freshwater fish.
The Bleka is mentioned by James Prosek in his book ‘Trout of the World’ where he also paints it – “There are several landlocked populations of Atlantic salmon throughout Europe, notable Sweden and Norway. They resemble the landlocked salmon of Maine and eastern Cananda, where it is called the Sebago salmon, or the Ouananiche. In many of the rivers where landlocked Atlantic salmon live, like the Otra River in Norway, where they are known as blege, they coexist with native brown trout. Landlocked salmon are as streamlined as their anadromous brothers, with elegant blue-black dorsal fins and tails that remind one of butterfly wings, especially when such a fish is sailing through the air on the end of a line.”
Originally there were just four populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Norway, but apart from the Otra population in Southern Norway, the other three are considered either threatened or extinct.
Until 1905 this fish was a very important source of food for all that lived along the Otra. In 1905 a hydroelectric dam was built which caused water levels to drop around the vital spawning areas of the Bleka leading to eggs, alevin and fry to die.
Beginning in the 1950’s, the remaining but greatly impacted population was then exposed to acid rain from Northern Europe. Westerly and Southerly winds brought clouds filled with acidic precipitation; this then rained down and dramatically lowered the pH level of the Bleka’s natural habitats. As all other salmonoids, the Bleka hadn’t the ability to tolerate these new low pH levels and as a result died.
Between 1968-1971 they were almost extinct. In 1970 there were only 202 individuals that could be found in a breeding farm in Reinsvoll, Oppland. Reproduction in fish farms including liming to increase pH levels started and in 1979 the introduction of millions of fry and eggs into Byglandsfjord began. Today Syrtveit fish farm produces million of eggs, which are sat out in the Bleka’s natural environment in, egg trays. This technique proved to a greatly decrease mortality rate in the Bleka and individuals adapted easier from artificial environments to natural. Though due to just 10% of the population coming from natural reproduction, the other 90% still coming from Syrtveit. Until the 1990’s catches were extremely low but in the 90’s fish started to be caught again.
The main area in which you can find the Bleka is Kilefjorden in the South to Hallandsfossen, Valle in the North. But some areas are often more productive than others. Catch percent Bleka to the indigenous brown trout (Salmo trutta) was 50% in 1927, which was down to almost 0% in 1977 but from personal experiences around Syrtveit, 10-15% being the norm depending on water temperatures and conditions.
How to identify a Bleka:
The Bleka tends to be slim rarely growing larger than 30cm but larger has been caught. Notice on the pictures below the distinctive forked tail as opposed to the squarer tail of the trout. The Bleka’s jaw stops at the middle of the eye, just like it’s migratory cousin. The trout’s jaw proceeds past the eye. The Bleka is a lot ‘greener’ with faded red or black spots, the trout are quite the opposite!
When you hook a Bleka, you can notice a difference in how it fights. With it’s slower but decisive pulls towards the river or lake bottom make them feel larger than their size. Trout tend to be more erratic and often jump.
Exactly the same tackle as we use to catch brown trout – typically 8-9 ft fly rods #4-6 with 5-6x (3-4lb) tippets. I’ve never caught on spinners or spoons, but they avidly take flies. Caddis or sedge patterns from nymphs (Caddis larve) to pupae (Gary LaFontaines sparkle pupa) to hatching patterns (klinkhammer) or smaller adults (CDC Elk Hair Caddis). Adults or emerger fished dry upstream or downstream, then nymphs fished with indicators and pupae typically fished swung in the current ‘across and down’.
It can take a few hours before the Bleka want to bite, but with gorgeous trout like this one above caught by one of my guiding clients Brendon on a guiding trip in October, the wait will fly by!