They shot a reindeer? Rudolph? I was way out east on the Russian tundra north of the Arctic Circle as these words were said. In fact we had travelled east to the border of the realm of the Atlantic salmon with a theory. Maybe global warming has pushed the salmon further east, where the temperature and waters are colder.
We came back without any confirmation of this. We caught some salmon, maybe 7-8, a few fresh bright ones; I landed a strong coloured cock fish of 15-16 pounds. The river ran too low for a decent run of large salmon. As it usually does in the autumn, we were told by the local Russian camp manager,… ‘Come back in June’! But we found sea trout fishing that was out of this world.
This all happened in September 2016 near a town with the exotic sounding name of Narayn-Mar. We arrived there after a short stopover in steamroller Moscow, and flew out to the camp in the ubiquitous MI-8 helicopter. The camp sat on a small rise at the mouth of the Velikaya River and the narrow fjord that leads to the Barents Sea.
We were met by a hardened bunch of tough looking Russians, who stay out there most of the summer living on whatever the tundra yields. I have been to a few camps on the Kola Peninsula, some more comfortable than others, but this one would certainly classify as very rustic. That is to be expected from a place that is mainly used by local hunters in the autumn and winter.
There was one main hut (everything is of course made of wood) with a makeshift kitchen, complete with an excellent chef that flew in with us. He’d normally be out on nuclear powered icebreakers in the winter cooking for the crew.
He had one small end of the main building, the other end was the dining area combined with 6 bunk beds and a Russian type wood stove that looked like the insides of a diesel tractor motor. Mads, also from Denmark, and I had to sleep in a small cabin next to the main hut. Comfortable with a generator powered electrical heater, and furnished with the largest brown bear fur I have ever seen outside North America.
We were told that the huge male bear was shot right inside the camp a couple of year back. Go figure! Only downside was that the camp generator would usually only be running in late afternoon and the evening. It got rather cold at night, but we slept in thick Norwegian woollen undergarments and we were fine.
The first morning we were quite surprised at the sight of our transportation vehicle for getting us to the pools of the river 4 km upstream from the camp, a mixture between a military amphibian vessel, a monster truck and a tank. As I wrote in the intro, the salmon fishing was not great.
As soon as we hit the river on that first morning, we could see, we would be in for trouble aiming for salmon fishing. The river was very shallow in most places, and the only deeper spots were without much current. We obviously and immediately targeted the head of pools where a good current would run into the deeper and slower sections, typically where there was a bend in the river.
I found one such place and put on a Phatagorva (Mikael Frödin pattern) 1 inch tube fly, tied on a rather thin tippet (0.26 fluorocarbon) and made a few cast. Seconds later I was into a good sized salmon that put up a strong and determined fight on my 7 weight Switch rod.
No jumps though, and as expected it was a coloured fish that had entered the river some months prior. My fishing buddies Mads and Jens Peter also managed a couple of nicely coloured salmon, and one of the Russian anglers got a bright autumn fish.
However, there was no real autumn run of salmon; I think the river was simply too low for salmon comfort. I have no doubt that the river has a decent salmon run in early summer (June), some say that biologists have estimated the total run at 3,000 salmon, which is a god number, since the river hardly gets fished.
The sea trout fishing that we came upon is a completely different story. It was in fact ridiculously good, even if you take trophy sized fish out of the equation. I must have caught between 40-50 sea trout, and the three of us fly fishing guys landed and released over 100 sea trout in total.
All fat, bright and super strong fish that jumped like rainbows in the rather shallow water. On light tackle, i.e. single hand 5 weight and 7 weight switch rods they provided some great fun. Some pools were literally aquariums, and fish could be seen moving everywhere you looked making wakes.
The best sea trout I got was app 70 cm, and awesome fish on light tackle. Russian biologists have supposedly estimated the run of sea trout at 7,000 individuals, and we landed right in the middle of it! We also landed a few sea-run Arctic char with splendid colours and a couple of big resident browns. Grayling were so plentiful that they actually became a genuine nuisance.
Russian hospitality takes many forms, and at a certain point we weren’t actually sure we’d make out of there with so many vodka toasts around the dinner table at night! Russia is often a real adventure for the spirit.
If you are interested in an exploratory trip to this river, contact me via the links below.
More images from the trip and other adventures can be found here:
Contents NEW ZEALANDSOUTH ISLANDFEBRUARY 2012WEST OTAGO NEW ZEALAND New Zealand’s South Island is practically uninhabited; today, in an overpopulated
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