Kharlovka Fishing Reports 2001
Salmon Fishing on the Kharlovka and Eastern Litza by Per Stadigh
June on the Kola’s North Coast rivers, like in Norway, is the month ruled by the big and sealiced fish. Nowhere is this truer than on the Kharlovka where fresh run salmon are caught in good numbers already from the ice out.
Up north the transition from late winter into early summer is ever so rapid. Here “spring” can be a matter of hours. The bright midnight sun lit nights, full of innumerable swans, geese and waders that are flying the last leg to the nearby breeding grounds, make the setting magic. Everything alive is determined to take full advantage of the short window in winter that we call summer. By early June, a good head of large fish is certain to be found in the lower reaches and that is when our season opens.
Kharlovka with its sister river Eastern Litza, are two of the world’s most prolific rivers for big Atlantic salmon. The combination of awesome big fish and the manageable size of the rivers is a great asset when compared to other Kola destination.
On both rivers we can fish the entire length from the very surf up to the Fall’s pools. In a normal year few fish make it to the uppermost reaches prior to early midmonth. This means that much of the first fortnight is a matter of the lower river. Places like Sea Pool, Buchanan’s Run, Island Pool, Rock Pool and the mighty Barrel are reeking with large fish. Kharlovka also is blessed with what has been called “The finest Home Pool in the World”. Sitting on top massive rapids with even fiercer ones above, also the largest specimens will make a temporary halt here. It is all yours out of hours!!
The Litza shares the same pattern. Sea Pool, Military and the fabulous Snowbank hold the lion’s share of the early run. Later on fish quickly spread past Tent up through Dream and Flat stone into the so well known Falls Pool.
The rivers can be swollen and brutal in early June. But the huge fish are there and then in a way are easier to catch than later on when they are spreading out over the river. Now they are tucked into sheltered pools or hold just under the bank in the swifter ones. I rank this as the finest time of them all. The fish are big, aggressive and sealiced. The sensational feeling of hooking into a rock hard +25 pound salmon on a short line, seconds before he explodes out into the powerful flow to disappear in a 100 yard long screaming run is unsurpassed!
This time predominantly is a matter of lines ranging from fast sink tips to heavy dredging 550 and 700 grain heads. The name of the game is to cut under the fast surface current, rather than having to dig really deep. Long and powerful rods are needed to work these lines and reels should be of a good quality carrying a minimum of 200 yds of backing. Typical flies are big gaudy tubes like our “in house” Animal Garden or the duskier Willie Gunn for an overcast day.
The second week should see the arrival of more numerous runs, also with the odd early summer salmon. Chances improve for getting some action higher up in the water column. (This northern breed of salmon clearly is adjusted to a different temperature range- already at 5-6 degrees C. they are inclined to chase flies fished close to the surface.) In pools with semi-resident fish it can be smart to fish through with something less striking than what the salmons already have seen. My choice are lightly dressed Sunrays with no flash whatsoever. This week is when the Home pool should starts to yield in really good numbers.
The third week to many is the finest June week of them all. We have regular rods that swear by it. In most years the upper pools really start to produce now, meaning that every major pool on the two rivers is in full ply. If you not are too keen on really fast sinking lines and still want to be certain to reach good results this a fine week to choose. On warmer days the first serious attacks to Bombers or skated tubes can be expected. Whoever happens to be at any of the two Fall’s pools when this first occurs is in for one of the wildest treats this sport can offer. Still it is worthwhile to cover some of the deeper runs with fast sinkers – often enough the larger specimens are less keen to rise all the way through.
In the last week of June the water levels have gone down to make for easier wading and the temperatures are such that floating lines and lighter sink tips often fare best. In late June/ early July a fresh push of very large males often arrive. With these mixed in among earlier arrivers and more moderate fresh run summer salmon, anything can happen. As the Kharlovka falls still will keep the run back the upper river is stuffed with large fish.
A month that very well might have started with some ice and plenty of snow by now has turned into full summer. The birches are green and the reindeers arrive in thousands along with the first odd grilse. It is full summer on the tundra and no place can be better to be, for us that cherish the search for Atlantic salmon in complex and mind bogglingly beautiful rivers.
In most years there still is a good amount of water in the first part of July. In a later than normal year the first week in effect fits well with the June description. Accordingly it also is highly sought after. Fish run in good numbers with a fair share of grilse starting to show up. Normal methods employing doubled handed rods and medium sized flies do well. The Americans swear by this week as they are certain to take full advantage of single handed rods, while the big fish still run in earnest. It also is one of the two first weeks when the upper Litza really comes alive.
Our American guests have shown that big riffled flies (as big as 4/0 singles) of Muddler type will rise fish like little else. In combination with Bombers these surface oriented methods by now often are suggested by our cunning Russian guides – they like no fuzz and only suggest what works – their pride relies on your catch!!
In the second week of July the rivers should have dropped a good deal, to eventually reach the lower levels associated with summer. When I mapped the area in 1996 we enjoyed a huge run of large fish around mid July. I, and my assistant, had some 40 fish between us with several in the high to mid 20′s. One rod caught 7 to 30 pounds on Bombers during a wild night in the Kharlovka Falls Pool. This is worth mentioning, as many wrongly believe that the latter half of July and August are doggy days up north. Nothing can be more wrong and it sadly is the result of ill informed and far too price profiled marketing. For many, these weeks in reality would be the most suited ones – the pools are well stocked and far easier to approach than earlier in the season.
If one detaches all ideas of swollen rivers, heavy lines and “macho” fishing from the Kharlovka/Litza calculus one will find two of the World’s finest medium sized clear water rivers for Atlantic salmon. In July and August the conditions very well can be compared to the best Icelandic ones, with the only difference being that here we cover fish of 25, 35 or even 45 pounds on any given day. Seen from that perspective it becomes easier to adjust to lighter tackle and to realize that stealth and finesse is more advantageous than the ability to whack 40 yds of line out…!
In 2001 we finally learned where the large fish that navigate the Kharlovka Falls go. With a minimal amount of test fishing in the river section found immediately above the first lakes, we caught a good of number of fish up to 40 pounds. The area is so pristine and of such extraordinary beauty that we named it “Kharlovka Park”. From 2003 on it will be part of the Kharlovka circulation once the Camp Host is certain that the Park area has been reached by a good head of fish. It is very likely that this is the last serious “big fish” river section on the Kola Peninsula that remains unexplored. Something tells me that new records will be broken there!!
Fresh summer salmon and grilse will pour in well into August, stirring the resident stock up. As the season advances one will find that the steeper and more turbulent Litza gives more available fishing than what the Kharlovka does. As we can fine-tune the circulation more rods will be helicoptered over to the Litza, with some having the chance to spend the night there in the upgraded Tent camp. On the Litza all migration is blocked by the falls making for an amazing accumulation of fish from the Fall’s Pool and down. Aside from all the named pools there are hundreds of smaller lies to be searched through, way past the Tent Pools. On the Kharlovka places like Home Pool, The Washing Machine, Golden Run, Tail of Canyon and the complex portion from Falls through Guy’s Pools are hot spots.
In mid- late August the cooler weather and the darker nights starts to bring water temperatures down. The resident stock becomes more alert and even the largest males are getting aggressive. Almost always are the record sized fish caught at this time. As a wonderful bonus the elusive “osenkas” start their run. These are salmon that have a strategy to spend a full winter in the rivers not to spawn until the coming autumn. They run from August up to freeze over. To survive all these extra months in fresh water they arrive in a fantastic condition, plumper than even an early springer with the same size range of 12 lbs to 30lbs plus. We never get that many, but those we get easily are the most appreciated of the season. Big, bright and brutal!