Kharlovka Fishing Reports 2009
The Kharlovka Report: Friday, 19-Feb-10
“Home for Salmon” London Premiere
Last evening was a rather special occasion in the salmon fishing community. From across the globe 600 invited guests gathered together at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London for the premiere of the film “Home for Salmon”. The event was divided into three sessions from 6:00pm to 1:00am with each screening followed by a drinks reception. Even for Bafta this was most unusual and they complimented us on the ASR “attention to detail”. Justin Mc. excelled himself as “major domo” working with Alison, Ruth and Luise who received extravagant praise. I have not known a reception where there seemed to be such instant bonding and good humour – never mind three in one evening! I suppose it was because we were in a charming environment just after a pleasant shared experience in the film and, as I often say about our fishing guests, were “kindred spirits in harmony with nature”. Of course the second and third sessions came in on a high with so many having enjoyed “Sophie’s” restaurant as arranged by Rupert and Justin Maxwell Stuart again in aid of the NASF. Inevitably they then led astray the younger hardcore ASR fishers to the delights of the Dover Street Wine bar. I understand they helped close the club at about 5:00am. Some of us are concerned that my dear friend Per Stadigh has not been seen since. We anxiously await word from Sweden.
Each session kicked off with a little speech by “yours truly”. It gave me great pleasure to thank Antony Pinsent, President of the Flyfishers’ Club, for bringing together over 200 members and their friends. He in turn made a charming speech at the first reception and thanked Piers Eley for suggesting to him the idea of this event. I took the opportunity to thank our club for their past support particularly during Sir Peter Cresswell’s tenure as President. When the future of the ASR was in doubt he composed an elegant letter to our Foreign Office endorsed by no less than four previous Presidents and Commander Boycott. Dr Morozov, a famous scientist, was our guest of honour representing Russian Federation. I asked him to convey to his government our gratitude for permitting the ASR to flourish and commented upon the worldwide goodwill this has created towards Russia and its people through many thousands of visitors.
By the second and third sessions I confess to feeling a little more relaxed and found myself with the confidence to express my extraordinary gratitude to those of you who have supported the ASR over the last ten years and in so doing have given me the most wonderful end game – the best and most spiritually rewarding 10 years of my life. I wish you all the same good fortune.
The evening was in aid of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and this presented the opportunity to pay tribute to the brilliant and successful campaign conducted on our behalf by my dear friend Orri Vigfusson. The audiences were interested to learn how he was fundamental to the founding of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve. Of course special thanks and acclaim were reserved for our film director Kristian and, Justin Mc, his co-opted deputy director, for their incredible achievement on a limited budget.
By all accounts the film was a resounding success. It illustrated the way of life at the ASR in its magnificent tundra setting and the excitement through fly fishing for the “King of Fish”. It demonstrated the world class standard of service provided by the Northern Rivers team and the close bonds created between Russian and western people. Some were amazed at the astonishing infrastructure and accommodation that has been constructed in the tundra off the back of a helicopter. The sheer joy and intoxication of fishing for the ultimate multiple sea winter Atlantic Salmon was demonstrated through our star performer Mikael Frodin with a supporting cast of great anglers. I particular enjoyed the moment when an emotionally exhausted Hugo Bauman managed to combine a look of pleasure and sadness with the words “You see it’s just not possible to land a 30lbs plus fish if it goes through two nets” and there you saw the line through those two nets with the fish at the other end. Or then when Chris Tarrant described his shock at first comprehending the size of his record 47 pounder ‘”Its head was over there and its tail was over there” looking from one end of a 34ft screen to the other. Kristian has done an incredible job of capturing amazing salmon action shots with salmon leaping in the pools, over the falls and actually taking the fly and fighting under water, interspersed with brilliant shots by Justin Mc. beneath the falls. Trout fishers found themselves overwhelmed when Kai Finbraten landed the 8 lbs trout he had been after for 3 days, looked up to heaven, down to the fish in awe and then, with tears in his eyes said to the camera “this is simply the best fishing in the world”. Brian Dalton, who flew over from Canada with his family including 10 year old William who featured in the film and gave us fabulous demonstrations of the art of dry fly fishing for big salmon – even I did not know you can catch a salmon as if you were fishing on the Test. But what really moved the audience was how he, Mikael Frodin, Peter Wulf and Kai Finbraten, spoke movingly about the fragility of the tundra ecosystem, how well the rivers were managed, how the fishing was improving and how they expected their children and grandchildren to have even better fishing even knowing many other salmon rivers are in decline. I fear I bear a huge responsibility to try to justify their faith in my efforts to secure the future. Sir Peter Cresswell opined that ASR conservation management met the highest standards and that in his view the territory should become a World Heritage Site. Roger Harrison, a fellow past President of the Flyfishers’, elegantly reminded is that the ASR epitomized the Club motto which is “There is more to fishing than fishing” which evoked mild humour amongst his friends when, Peter, his long time fishing partner caught a fish on camera as Roger was speaking and happened to say “that makes the 44th fish we have caught this week.”
Perhaps the most rewarding experience for me was the reaction of the ladies. All through this wonderful evening they wanted to let me know how they now understood the passion of their men to fish in such a well organized, magical, faraway place. I in turn let them know I would like to see more lady fishers visit the ASR as the “the men behave better”.
The film was most unusual because it did not have a professional presenter in the limelight – the stars were quite simply the people who live and work in the ASR camps together with the guests who happened to be there over the four weeks of filming. There were no rehearsals. Kristian just lived amongst us capturing moments on film as the spirit moved him encouraging people to talk to him about their thoughts and feelings. Then with Justin Mc. he brilliantly created a story about man’s duty to nature as inspired by the Holy Russian Orthodox Church. He encouraged me to explain the fundamental concept of the ASR which is that the best inland salmon conservation theory is no theory. In essence all we do is literally protect nature, including all the fauna and flora not just the salmon; we do not make changes to the topography; we try to earn the support of our employees, visitors and local community; and in the words of Palmi Gunnarsson in the film “leave it up to nature”. I hope the film makes it clear our isolation and control is unique but then again I hope it will give cause for further reflection by salmon anglers and river owners to consider that the problems for the Atlantic salmon are not just at sea but also in our rivers where they spend the greatest proportion of their life. We all know the salmon is an endangered species but does everyone know the Scottish Natural Heritage estimate the decline between 1968 and 2002 was about 74%. Since then, thanks to the work of the NASF and others, there are signs of stabilization. In this light is it not illogical, if not ridiculous, to kill this magnificent species in our rivers’ Why is it that you never see articles about river engineering which destroys ancient spawning beds replacing them with holding pools which by definition have reduced the breeding potential’
Over the next month the “Home for Salmon” film will be premiered in Oslo, Stockholm, Spain and Scotland with a special Russian sub-titled version in Moscow and Murmansk. Plans are afoot for New York. Thereafter a DVD will become available in support of the NASF.
I wish you all a very happy fishing season this year and thank you again from the bottom of my heart for you support and encouragement. You make it all worthwhile!
November – 2009
The rivers of the ASR (Kharlovka, Eastern Litza, Rynda and Zolotaya) operate under a self-imposed “Mandate” . The Polar Research Institute of Fisheries of Murmansk (PINRO) conduct an annual count of the number of parr per 100 square meters (juvenile Atlantic Salmon) in the rivers of the Kola Peninsula. I have just received the official figures for the 2009 season. I am delighted to summarise the results from the low levels we inherited at the turn of the century to the 2008/9 highs:
The Litza was brought back from near extinction after the final battle with poachers in 2001/2002. If you would like to study the figures in greater depth please refer to our “Big Fish Science” in the above “Directory”.
Next season we will be operating a second MI-2 helicopter for fishing deployments on the Kharlovka & Litza bringing back easy fishing access.
The Atlantic Salmon Reserve has built up a tremendous loyalty with our valued guests, which is evident by the exceptional response for next season. Our reduced helicopter and walking weeks have proven extremely popular amongst the fitter and younger elements and enabled us to offer fishing at attractive rates. Please click on “Tundra Adventure” in the above “Directory” to read more about these exciting programs.
Last season we embarked on a major film project with Kristian Topp. I am pleased to report initial “rushes” are very inspiring and we should have the whole one hour film put together for a New Year Film Premier Party.
My best wishes to you all
September – 2009
Justin and I are back in the UK and will be sending out the invitations for 2010 ASR Season within the next 7/10 days. Prices generally are down, there will be a few economic “limited helicopter” & “walking” weeks, and, in some weeks, additional special discounts for the under 30′s and under 25′s.
Fly fishers at Kharlovka & Litza have just completed our greatest and most exciting season ever! Fortunately, despite the economic chaos this time last year, we were able to share the experience as a full house of guests. The fishing for Multiple Sea Winter Atlantic Salmon has never been better. Think about this! For the first third of the season the chances of landing (never mind losing) a 20 lbs+ salmon were better than one in every six and throughout the whole season one in every ten. Put another way there was a one in six chance of catching an 18 lbs+ salmon throughout the season. All these figures include salmon & grilse.
Like Scotland & Norway the grilse run was drastically down on last season – 26.6% from 52.2%. Last year was our best ever for catch numbers and this year has been about the same. But to put this in perspective, this year the total catch would have been 37.4% up if we had had the same number of grilse in proportion to salmon this year.
However, the big news is that the average weight of all fish caught this season was more than 20% up over last year. The average weight of the salmon was exactly 14 lbs. Without question, by far the best year in our history for making possible fabulous fly fishing for Multiple Sea Winter Atlantic Salmon to so many guests. I have never known such an abundance of happiness in our camps. Maybe this was partly to do with the suspension of worry away from a world in turmoil.
The above figures are for the season as a whole to end August, 2009. The fishing has slowed down in September because the K & L water temperatures has been hovering around 14C. Normally water temperatures of 8-10C induce the resident fish to take and entice the big fresh “Osenka” to come in from the sea. Having said this Kharlovka has just landed a beautiful 22 lbs Osenka and Rynda had 31 & 32 lbs monsters this week and there are enough taking fish to keep everyone happy.
Years ago I often used to write for this column and at this time of year I would describe the approach to “Golden Day”. I would speak about the tundra going purple with splashes of bright red and the leaves turning first yellow and then a burnished gold – red, black and blue berries in abundance and mushrooms all over the place. And then one morning I would wake up to a see a slight deterioration in the colours and so I would declare “Golden Day” was the day before. You never knew until it was all over just as you cannot be sure the star you see is still there or that the recession has ended. Sadly this season there will be no such day.
We have just completed our new “Tundra Adventure Program” with two weeks at K & L and three weeks at Rynda. These programs were designed to substantially reduce our prices and encourage young people. I am delighted to inform you they have been a huge success. From my evening “interrogations” I have learned a great deal. You see, for over 10 years I have done my best to raise and raise again the standards and have trained everyone to think detail a la Charles Ritz. The idea of getting guests to walk to and from their starting point (we don’t really have beats) was taboo. Now I am shaken to be receiving letters saying thank you for creating a holiday that has sent me home not just happy, but fit. It seems our guests of late have been more prone to exaggerate their lbs weight loss than their fish weight gain. There must be some very grateful wives out there! Our “walking” program guests felt closer to nature and, without helicopters, the wildlife were more in evidence. The rods are going home with tales of salmon, sea trout and char along with close encounters with Reindeer, Wolverine and even pure white “Arctic Wolves”.
Of course, some of the rods found the walking both ways challenging but everyone has told me they really enjoy the walk home in harmony with nature. Therefore, for next season, we will introduce a few “limited” helicopter programs with morning deployment only in addition to the “walking” programs.
The Kharlovka Report for Week 35 ending Friday, 28-Aug-09>
The Tundra Adventure Program
Fishermen frequently talk to me about the big fish and stunning landscape of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve. Some years ago I was privileged to fish the Kharlovka and Litza for a short time. The visit left me feeling ecstatic and speechless. I landed my biggest salmon on dry fly and lost a Crocodile which still haunts me in Military Pool so I was desperate to get back to Litza.
Many of the rods had been before. The big attraction this time around was to spend 3 days camping on the Litza with very good tents, hot showers and great food combined with 3 days staying at the Kharlovka lodge all at very attractive prices resulting from the minimum use of helicopters.
Each day we would walk the tundra to our beats. Some tricky/ tough / stiff walks but surprisingly enjoyable. The longest is from the lodge to the Kharlovka Waterfall, about 4 km in one hour, to arrive at a spectacular fishing environment followed by fishing great pools on the way home walking down the river. Don’t let this put you off, one of the returning for the 3rd time Philip Pinney put us all to shame and celebrated his 70 birthday during the week ! Lunch was a bowl of warming soup, cheese, ham, boiled eggs, salad and black Russian bread with cokes, tea or coffee and a chocolate bar all nicely set out on the rocks by our guides.
The home pool seamed stuffed with grumpy Crocodiles despite the Northern wind and stormy weather some were hooked and several very big fish laughed at our attempts to land them. The water temperature dropped rapidly but some of the rods still managed to turn those frustrating little plucks into hook ups and cries of “fish on”!
Several fresh fish were seen moving and it was not long before the first Osenka, covered with sea lice, was landed. These enter the river but don’t breed till the end of next season, over winter in the river for the second time and leave the following spring, an astonishing 15 months in the river.
In the group were two Vikings from Iceland, Hordur and Fridfinnur, who told wonderful stories from their last invasion of the region. From Spain, Enrique and Luis, who quickly found out that these Russian salmon grow much bigger anything they had yet hooked. As we departed they told me they had unfinished history on the Litza ! A small heavy tube had been stolen by a huge fish. They politely asked if the could borrow some more – the things you have to do as team leader to keep a grown man from crying !
The move from Litza to Kharlovka Lodge for the second half was most impressive. Since my first visit the camp has been rebuilt to the best international standards with solid wood cabins each with its own bathroom. The lodge itself has excellent dinning and social areas encouraging a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Next morning the weather had calmed and the guides said we would catch fish and we did. Had a very interesting day fishing the lower section of the river down to the sea pool were sea trout of 5lb were landed and fresh fish were seen coming off the tide. Congratulations go to Arthur landed his personal best fish on his 21st birthday !
Andrei from team Russia landed his PB at 26lbs, on a Shnellder brass tube. He also lost a much bigger fish from Cliff pool. He was fishing with Vladimir who confirmed that the animal watching us from the other bank was a Wolverine the size of a big Labrador and looking very aggressive. It was amazing the way even when I called out it just kept staring at us and then decided no easy food and strolled off. This just confirmed how far we really were from any so called “civilization”.
Last day of the week 22lb fresh Osenka landed on Litza these bright really fish steam off when hooked so you won’t just be trying to land 40lb Crocodiles when fish in the Autumn in the ASR high above the Arctic Circle.
The first Kharlovka-Litza Tundra Adventure Report – Week 34 ending Friday, 21-Aug-09
Like a scene from the latest Bond film, two white mini vans loaded with our first brave Tundra Adventurers suddenly appeared at the crossroads out of the mist. With foul weather rapidly closing in and the commander of the MI-8 helicopter encouraging us to load them up quick, we wasted no time relocating ourselves along with all their fishy kit. In a race against an advancing wall of weather, we soared low across the tundra and safely into camp. Resembling a military operation, thirty minutes was all it took for us to divide the teams and construct our plan of attack. All of a sudden the big blades were spinning again, as half the campers were swiftly deployed over to the remote Tent camp of the great Eastern Litza. This is where we would hang our lucky fishing hats for the next three and a half glorious days.
Baton down the hatches! Less than twenty minutes after being dropped into paradise, the clouds closed in and everything started to darken. Patagonia like winds gusted from all directions. Rain and water sprayed through valley. Before long the quiet tributaries began to blare and the low summer river along with our hopes were again on the rise. Geared up to the hilt, the boys braved their way through the storm pulling in four salmon that first stimulating evening. Raindrops along with an extra vodka shot produced some fantastic dreams as we all snuggled down deep into our bags for the night. The next morning we woke up to additional rain and wild winds, unbuttoning the flaps to find the river had already risen by some ten centimetres. To say that the lads were setting off into gear-testing conditions would have been putting it lightly. Seventeen salmon were admired along the blustery banks of the Litza that day.
Nevertheless, what a delight it was to actually enjoy the refreshing arctic conditions for a change and not have to concern ourselves about marching up the hill to evacuate from them. Thankfully we were already stranded in paradise with much more than we could ever need. Like heaven on earth, very few things in life are better than getting lost on this river for a couple of days. The Litza is rugged, untouched and roars with opportunity. With a heart – along several teeth that are made of gold, we lived it up with our charming hosts Luba and Oleg. Tantalizing smells of BBQ steaks, morning bacon, smoke billowing from the salmon smoker along with Luba’s special soups, we simply all hunkered down and enjoyed every minute of it.
Who needs a helicopter when the camps are perfectly situated in the middle of the best nine kilometres of salmon real estate on earth! The old mountain goat Philip who will be turning 65 soon certainly did not. After landing three small salmon the first day on his hike down to the bottom of the Litza, Philip was not more than a step behind on his march down the upper Litza to the Ledge pool to find his son James cradling his new P.B. 19 pounder for the snapping cameras. And then there was our keen new friend Andrey from Moscow who came to the ASR to learn how to salmon fish and see what the big fuss was all about. Arriving here under some sort of delusion that these Tymen fish from Kamchatka put up a better fight than our prized Atlantics, a couple of days on the Litza straighten this new addict out. After learning how to hold the rod and brake a couple of large ones off on the opening day, he went on to land his first ever 10 pound silver beauty on the second. Before leaving the Litza he was hooked for life coming ever so close to taming that last one that leapt five times – high into the air leaving Andrey with an understanding smile along with a deformed hook.
If Salmon fishing were ever to become an Olympic sport, the three deadly Danes would certainly make the first squad. Wielding their single-handed rods, gracefully double hauling out spey casts with their specially designed heads, these three whippersnappers were like poetry in motion. Gliding across the slippery rocks like a ballerina over ice there was very little this trio couldn’t do. Along with clearing the tents one evening after dark for us all to witness a feisty 18 pounder that crashed down on Ander’s rubber-backed Jerk fly, these boys combined for some 19 Litza salmon including several other large ones up to 24 pounds.
Meanwhile back in the luxurious Kharlovka camp the other half of our adventurers were being pampered with their private on suite cozy cabins. Mark got the big ball rolling with his exciting 22-pounder off the Julian’s pool. This time of year you never want to ignore the tiny pockets. Sean and his trusty Willie Gunn will no doubt testify to that pulling in a 22-pounder out of the often-overlooked Grilse Stones. And after finally convincing Ed to forget about his businesses in the Middle East for a week, and that there are actually very few large salmon running the Yemen, this busy angler had no problem finding what he traveled for. Pulling in a couple wherever he went, one sunny morning Ed joined up with his other friend Ed and decided to pull a fast on up the Little Kharlovka Creek. Wise move! Armed with a pocket full of stoneflies and some measly trout rods you can imagine their joy when they found a pool that was stuffed with good-sized salmon. Crawling about on their knees like a couple of kids, the Ed’s managed to sneak out 10, 12, and 15 pounders! These two were also part of the discovery team that figure out how exciting the sea trout fishing can be way down where the mighty Kharlovka pours into the Barents Sea. Approximately 20 sea trout weighing up to 5 pounds were landed in short order on their first couple of days.
Although taking our time along the banks was definitely a treat, we had to contend with some tricky conditions to finish things off. The Litza eventually topped out 17cm higher while the Kharlovka was bumped up by 10cm. Even though we finally received the rains that we have been praying for and the rivers continued to flow clear, little bits of algae – small sticks and yellow leaves didn’t help our cause. Bright sun followed that big downpour raising the river temperatures back up to an unseasonably warm 14.6 degrees C. Despite our challenges the deadly Danes continued to entice them up with their Jerk flies. John from Wales will surely be sending around the photo of his Kharlovka 28 pounder to all his mates. The salmon were reportedly jumping one-a-minute down in Rock and Julian’s pools. Andrey our Russian friend lost count of the number of trout he landed after 25 up the Little Kharlovka. Our experienced guide Volodya who has been walking the trails for the last 18 seasons knew just where to lead his team as both Mark and David reeled in 20+ers in addition to a P.B. 21 pounder for Irwin.
How often does ‘the bite’ turn on again in the late afternoon just as it is time to fly you back into camp’ Tired of rushing in the big one in even though you understand that the MI-8 has been instructed to shut down while you land that fish on a lifetime’ Are you capable of spending more than 12 hours a day on a world-class river’ Want to do your part to save the salmon and help curb global warming’ Well this back to the Tundra program might just be the answer for you. With dinner not scheduled until after nine, you get quality time to relax and enjoy the day. There is no camp rule number one or hurry to do anything but fish away at your own pace. When you are exploring from pool to pool on foot you take your time and do it all. Berry stains on their backsides show us who has been pacing themselves the most. You stop and smell those tundra roses. You pick a few mushrooms and berries knowing that Luba will be able to make something tasty with them back in camp. You refill your water bottle and sit and wonder by the creek. You wander off into the birch for a photo while your buddy makes a last pass with his Red Francis down through the pool. These rivers are mysterious and intimidating yet possible – hard work and exhausting yet the rewards can be enormous. Life would simply be boring without big salmon rivers. Tales from the trails – It’s a proverbial walk in the awe-inspiring park.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 33 ended Friday, 14-Aug-09
Making their final approach down through the dark river valley into camp with a soft roll of promising thunder at their backs, Canada, Sweden, along with a spirited gang of good English mates from the north who have all been here many times before, proceeded to pile off the helicopter and disappear into the private cabins. In addition to all those familiar faces, we also had a couple of cheerful Muscovites joining us who swiftly blended to the exciting pace. Before we could herd them back together for some fish soup and that all-important safety briefing signaling the start of our adventure, light showers began to sprinkle down atop our lucky fishing hats. Like sweet music to our ears, raindrops along with big salmon dominated our Saturday dreams.
Stuck between summer and fall as if our arctic time clock has been standing still for the last several weeks, our latest bunch of characters unfortunately inherited some extra tricky conditions. While raindrops did hammer down on us here locally through that first celebrated night, it turned our to be just enough to moisten up the bone dry trails crisscrossing the tundra. With great anticipation we ran down to the home pool Sunday morning to find that the river level had merely risen by one centimetre to a reading of 2cm on the Home Pool scale. Unseasonably warm river temps averaging 17.5 degrees C, which remained with us through the week, did little to help us with our fishy cause.
Nevertheless, it turned out that playing musical chairs each evening around the dinning room, so that we could all learn from each other’s deadly secrets, certainly added to our success. Interesting tales from the past, along with multiple exaggerations about their daily trials and tribulations, mixed with an onslaught of bad jokes kept the boys raising their glasses well into the night – Skol – Naz Darovia – Cheers!
Bombs Away! With colourful wads of deer hair neatly trimmed down to all shapes and sizes that were literally falling out of their worn fishing vests, the Canadians were obviously back in town again. Going through as much as six bottles of grease each to keep them all dancing on top straight through the year, every evening the rest would gather around in amazement as they dried their soaked bugs out over the wood burning stove like our Russian chef prepares his croutons for our daily dose of soup. This season Brian, a Master Bomber, decided to introduce his ten-year-old son William to the mighty Kharlovka. Catching his memorable first on fly at the tender age four, this little man had no trouble keeping himself entertained. False casting away like a champion to shake out his bug, the guides kept a close eye on this young dry fly prodigy so that the big one did not up and drag him away. Teasing several to the surface down through the various daunting beats, William went on to scribble his name down multiple times in the big leather book.
Although William no doubt had a ball, Brian the master Bomber along with his double hauling friend Chad, certainly did not travel all this way just to mess around. Having up to 20+ strikes on a few of the beats, this deadly trio played the salmon their special dry fly tune. Unable to resist their hairy bombers, these boys drummed up plenty of action pretty much everywhere they went. The Swedes were finally convinced mid week after Brian’s stories from every pool on the Lower Kharlovka including that one about his flying 35 pounder that lunged several meters across the run before charging out of the pool – finally spitting his white and orange hair ball back at him on its way freedom. ‘That was one of the most memorable days I have ever had here – too bad that angry monster got away!’
This next one goes out to Fast Eddie, Slick Alan, Rob the comedian, that father-son duo of Ian and Peter, The John’s – along with the good dentist Mike who keeps them all smiling shinny and bright. While F. Eddie deserves another big thanks for pulling this jolly mob all together, it was that S. Alan with his Litza 21 pounder that got the party started. Challenging Thursday was certainly Ian and Peter’s day going on to break their family P.B’s with a brace of 24 and 18 pounders. And although big Rob could hardly walk when he arrived here with his bad back, the comedian seemed to have a special knack for choosing the right joke – we meant stone. While the rest staggered down over the boulder for miles, Rob happily heroned away a cool half dozen salmon from a few select flat rocks. Speaking of on the rocks, we nearly had to ring through to the Rynda for more Tonic to celebrate Big John’s brace of 17ers. One of them was spanking fresh while the other simply crashed down on another one of those Bombers never to be forgotten.
You would not want to hook any of these guys with your fly in some dark alley. Sporting their fast haircuts, all wearing their signature black, short sleeved T-shirts; our charming Swedish friends, otherwise known around camp as the Men in Black, were back for their annual scramble down the beats along the Barents Sea. While the infamous Timo and Michael never stopped believing or for that matter praising their guide Volodya, it was Peter returning with that confident nod scoring five out of the Tent pool with his simple Blue and Silver including that notable one that weighted in at 24.5 pounds. Honourable mention must also go out to our new friend Alexey who seemed to have all the right answers along the river persuading in 14 salmon including those very satisfying 24 and 34 pounders. He has promised to buy a camera before he gets home.
After conducting a daily annalists of the up-to-the-minute river conditions along with keeping a very close eye on those mythical forecasts, we all seemed to be turning into self-proclaimed weather experts up here. We have learned with certainty that the salmon continue to advance upstream with the warm river temps. Meanwhile the tundra seems to be more influenced by the light, for even with the unseasonable late season warmth, the leaves are turning gold right before our eyes. Returning low long along the remote Barents coast beneath the fog, a whale or possibly the largest salmon ever witnessed was spotted spewing water several meters into the air. The reindeer don’t seem to know which way to turn either scattering into hundreds of small groups atop the hills. A family of falcons screeches down on us as we approach the lower canyon. The eagles seem to also understand that the season is quickly drawing to a close. Peter and Ian were lucky enough to come face to face with a wolverine. Bear tracks were spotted near the cloudberry patch above the Kharlovka Falls. Complete darkness is finally reality for several minutes a night. After double checking the forecast, which promises a proper downpour along with cooling temperatures through the coming weekend, we are understandably all fired up for our grand introduction of the Tundra Adventure Program. Stay Tuned!
The Kharlovka Report – Week 32 ended Friday, 7-Aug-09
While we have certainly had our fair share of those dreaded fog delays lately, last week’s team was held up for a few additional minutes in the Murmansk airport explaining the two extra bottles of Cognac that somehow must have slipped, by complete accident, into their bags. Instead of simply confiscating their moonshine and keeping the rest unhurriedly moving on way, they quite rightly had them fill out some forms to explain why on earth they would have even considered such a move when they would soon be flying onto the mighty Kharlovka with probably the best stocked free bar north of the Arctic circle’ Arriving a couple of bottles down and a few minutes short, we still managed to make the most of our first glorious Saturday afternoon recording 10 salmon in the big leather book before most of the lads even had the chance to fully unpack what remained in their bags.
As they say, ‘You simply can’t control the weather!’ Coming off some tricky conditions the previous week, the northern Kola Peninsula remains under the firm grip of a record high pressure system leading way again to an additional week of arctic Indian summer. Without a proper cloud in the sky all week, everyday like clockwork we would go from calm, cool foggy mornings that would eventually gust into bright blue sunny afternoons. Then, with our sights firmly set on that final pool of the day, a thick grey mist would send us all marching early for the helicopter on the hill. Over the week, rivers temps thankfully cooled back down a bit to a more reasonable 17.5C, meanwhile the water levels continued to slowly drop away down to a low summer reading of 2cm on the home pool scale. To make a long story short, we could use a dash of rain.
Nevertheless, when the conditions are challenging and the rivers are warm and low then is the time to prove your abilities as a dedicated salmon angler. Are you covering the pool with your fly’ It has been reported that the famous pile cast hasn’t been very effective up here lately. More importantly, are you listening to every precious word of advice that your experienced guide gives you’ Why didn’t you sprint down the bank after that one’ All of this can make a tremendous amount of difference when the going gets delicate and sunny. While there are many moments along those great salmon rivers of life that vary between complete success and total failure, our friends last week must be commended for their creativity on the water. With fishing techniques ranging from the depths to the surface, with flies large and small, from the plain to the outright gaudy – hitched and greased, swung, dead drifted, and worked – they certainly tried it all. Despite the plethora of challenges we faced, which no doubt keeps us all returning for more, the fishing results, as well as the excitement levels every evening back in the lodge – continue to impress.
Last week’s jolly gang of characters was comprised of three groups of four good friends representing the countries of Norway, Ireland and England – in addition to a wee bit Scotland, plus one charming lady returning for her fifth visit that must have been sent from above just to keep us all in check.
Unzipping his unfamiliar bag upon arrival, a sinking feeling came over our new Norwegian friend Viggo when he noticed his daughter’s tiny pink raincoat folded up neatly inside. While the rest of the family was definitely well supplied with plenty of Shooting heads and Sun Ray Shadows for their holiday on the beach, Viggo arrived here to camp with very little to show. Thankfully for him, the ASR along with the rest of his Norwegian buddies were tackled up to the hilt and in a sharing mood. Although Norway landed a fraction of the salmon they had this same time last year, their Viking spirits never wavered.
And then there were the good old beer-drinking boys from Northern Ireland. While Bob and Sam, a couple of Kola veterans who had seen it all before, were quite relaxed about their week in the sun, casually enjoying everyday with the attitude that each salmon was simply icing on the cake, it was Jonathan and Richard that went on to do the real damage. In between all the high pressure and fog, R and J landed 12 salmon on their shot down through the pools of the upper Litza. Not giving up until the big helicopter sings, Jonathan’s hard work paid off that one afternoon bombing up a fat 26 pounder on his final casts of the day in the Dream pool. Stay tuned to Ireland for R and J will be carrying on to test their amazing fly boxes out again next week down through those 1000 fishy pockets over on the Rynda.
P B and J’s – Yes that’s right, we are talking about those Personal Bests of Joy! Fishing a clever quarter inch Snelda delicately down through the pool, Bruce deserved a medal to go with his 36-pound monster after his 200-meter dash down the rapids into Lower tent pool.
Quickly accepting the title of Big Fish Bruce, this excited young angler ended up going to bed that night clutching his precious digit camera that was loaded with proof for the family back home. Counting staff, there must be some 40 of us running around here on camp and by the time we finally shut the generator down there wasn’t a single man left standing that hadn’t heard about B.F. Bruce’s memorable day. And let’s not forget about Philip the comedian, who for once was not joking around when he credited our head guide Vasili for every last one of his salmon, especially that 21 pound P.B. that they unburied from the daunting Reindeer Rapids. Looking out across the slippery boulders and fast current, Philip said ‘I would not of even considered stepping out there and attempting my patented spray-cast without my trusty wading stick Vasili by my side!’ Honourable mention must also go out to all the stories from Scotland along with Elizabeth – who came to the Kharlovka for a bit of therapy. Thankfully Big Alex had just the cure leading Liz and her favourite Willie Gunn down to the soothing waters of the Rugged Rock pool to be healed with another Litza 21 pounder to keep Liz smiling until we see her back again next year.
The subtle signs of autumn are beginning to appear all around us. Several yellow leaves along with the odd glint of red were noticed staggering through the birch between the pools. The cloudberries will be ripe for the picking sometime next week. Delicious giant mushrooms catch eye off in the distance as our as we fly into the beats. It looks like we are going to have to start cutting back on your extravagant stream side lunches, as a family of five crafty minks has taken up residence along the boulders of the Rock pool. Wolverine tracks showed us all the way up to the Kharlovka Falls last week. Tall purple flowers that the Russians call Ivan Chai, are just starting to open up. Oleg, from the Litza Tent camp, who has lived here for the last 18 years, says that when these flowers are in full bloom and their leaves start to turn red that is when the first Osenkas will arrive. With the dark of night quickly approaching to cool the season off, those large spring salmon will soon be waking up to go on the prowl. With the barometer dropping away and much needed rains forecasted for early next week, stay tuned for what is sure to be – a big autumn finale!
The Kharlovka Report – Week 31 ended Friday, 31-July-09
Although the weather up here at these northern latitudes is rarely ideal, last week we experienced a perfect storm of late summer conditions from the very beginning. It all started out when we left Murmansk, returning low beneath the advancing clouds along the remote scenic coast of the Barents Sea. By the time we all touched down on the mighty Kharlovka, thick fog had put a lid on any thoughts we had of ranging further a field that first evening. In fact, it wasn’t until late Sunday afternoon that we were safely able to spread our eager lads down through the beats of the great Eastern Litza. Come Monday morning, after that dash of encouraging rain which was just barely enough to get our hopes up, the intense sun blasted out and it was time to lather on the sun screen and get back down to work again. Without a cloud in the vast Arctic sky through the middle of the week, the river temps subsequently shot up to concerning 19 degrees C. Then going from one extreme back to the other, those winds of change swung around to the north again late week covering us all back over with yet another thick blanket of foggy mist. Unfortunately, our good friends never really had much of a fighting chance.
Comparing last week’s cruel fishing conditions to the same record July week we experienced the previous season would be like comparing apples to oranges or better yet, Sun Rays to a Francis – in other words, not even close. Going back through the records, it appears that many of the same gang who were fishing here with us last season enjoyed an entire week of dark fishy clouds along with perfect river temps of 10.4C – resulting in a staggering total catch of 214 salmon. As we all know by now, conditions along a big salmon river are the name of the game.
Oh well. If you can’t beat them – join them! In between our record four Litza fog outs, those after dinner parties that seemed to go on forever and the three days of dazzling sun, which put an unexplainable tan on everyone’s face, our jolly spirits never wavered. Just ask the four new American friends who had the best Atlantic salmon adventure so far of their lives each pulling in their first several ever. After just returning from their annual Steelhead week on the famous Dean River, Hal commented how he was top rod there with his three smallish fish. ‘Hell’ he said, ‘I went tarpon fishing a half dozen times before I finally touched the first one. If it was all about the numbers, I would have given up on my favourite sport a long time ago.’ While Hal certainly had the right attitude, he may have made a serious mistake this time bringing his lovely wife Connie along to experience the magic of the ASR. Imagining this to be an unforgiving place that only the boys could appreciate, Connie appeared to be hooked from the moment she stepped off the helicopter. Although Connie broke the big one off up at the Kharlovka Falls and we had to patch her up after tumbling on the rocks, she announced to everyone that evening at dinner ‘If anyone catches a large fish with a red fly in its mouth then you must record the entry in the big leather book as half mine!’
Our next honourable mention goes out to the good Dr. Sean and his son Andrew, along with their dear friend Damon who are still bloody here! Having sprinting out of the blocks on what would turn out to be the fishing marathon of their lives, these three troublemakers crawled back up the stairs on the final evening waving a silver flag. After two glorious weeks of chasing the salmon up and down the beats, they managed to pull in a hard-earned 76 salmon – one dozen of them were greater than 18 pounds including that 30 pound exclamation point that should keep young Andrew focusing in school until it is time to run that big salmon marathon again next year.
Other highlights must include the great Eastern Litza Falls. Located 10 kilometres up from the Barents Sea, with a vertical gradient of some 15 meters, this is the end of the big fish road. Giving up five to ten salmon everyday we had enough visibility to fly the boys in, this was the proverbial ‘Hot Spot’ of the week. This next one goes out Bobby, Kerry, and Sam the Butcher – otherwise known as the three fishing musketeers from Belfast. Good old working class boys who dream and save hard all year for their annual dose of the Kharlovka, this lot arrived on time as usual, all fired up and ready to play. Thankfully the boys decided to go for broke this season and were able to sit back and laugh at the nearly unfishable conditions on this first half of their big two-week adventure. While Bob and Sam were still getting warmed up with a couple of smaller salmon in the teens, it was Kerry with the biggest smile that one evening telling us all about the 26 pounder he teased in stripping his 15 centimetres monkey tube down the current of the famous Flat Stone pool. And how could we ever forget about big Vlada and his young friend Radek – a couple of cool Czech nymphers with a serious fishing disease. Although Vlada normally visits the ASR three times a season, he was lured astray to experiment this year on a couple of other cheap deals. Landing a total of three fish on his two trips to other unmentionable locations, our friend unfortunately had to learn the hard way that you get what you pay for. Begging for forgiveness, he commented, ‘That will be the last time I ever try another stunt like that again!’ Vlada has learned that sharing with your good friend can sometimes be better then landing them yourself. While Vlada had three very pleasing salmon one afternoon up at the Litza Falls, he seemed much more overjoyed for the young Radek who with his measly single hand rod managed to pull in four better salmon up into the middle teens. Chau Chau! – As our good friends liked to say.
There are very few spectacles of nature more pleasing then to sit quietly on the rocks and enjoy the salmon leaping through the bubbly wrath of the Kharlovka Falls. Sometime each season between early July and mid August, when the sun, moon and stars are aligned just right, the window opens up for the salmon to run. Obviously enjoying the warm summer temps and low water conditions much more that the rest of us, it appeared that every fish in the river was stacked up like cord wood at the Kharlovka falls just waiting for its chance to jump into the freedom of the upper drainage. While this natural wonder of the world didn’t do much for our fishing on the day, it was nothing less than a miracle to see so many of the biggest and best of the stock disappear into the upper 35 kilometres, to later spawn peacefully on their way.
Nighttime is finally becoming a fact of life up here again. Furry black minks prowl the banks while we rest in thought after lunch. Those red hard cloudberries sprouting up along the reindeer trails are still far from ripe, however it won’t be long now. With the last of the precious breeze at their backs, the reindeer were finally spotted all huddling together along the coast, atop the highest hill. Gazing down out of the windows of the helicopter on the couple of scheduled flights that we were able to make it safely over the Litza, we notice countless unexplored creeks and lakes. Bright white Bean Geese certainly migrate here in good numbers however has anyone ever seen them on a nest or for that matter, with their young’ It is difficult to realize just how many trout and parr are lurking about in the rivers until high summer comes to town. Along with all those happy resident fish, which were making hay last week with hopefully the last of the really warm days – Caddis, stoneflies, mayflies, and midges also kept those wagtails a waving and the sandpipers piping.
Living half of their lives under a depressing arctic darkness, the Russians are parading their sunburns around the camp. Our Friday evening party kicked off with some of the tannest guides you ever saw doing their special rain dance into the lodge. Although the rivers are still flowing warm and we could certainly use a spat of rain, we just got word from the security guards along the coast that more dark grey is currently heading our way. With a record number of fish entering the system this season, we remain optimistic for what surely lies ahead – Bring it on!
We are now at the half way mark so let’s take stock at the ASR! We are 24% up on the total catch over last year and 37.9% up on the five year average. But it gets better:
At this point in 2008 45.3% of the fish landed were grilse whereas this year only 22.9% have been grilse. The extraordinary result of this is that the total weight of fish caught to date is 58% up on the same period last season. The average weight of salmon stands at 14.2 lbs at Kharlovka with the three best at 38, 36 & 34 lbs and 12.4 lbs at Rynda with the best at 37, 32 & 31.
In summary we have been having a great MSW2 run keeping everyone happy on a daily basis with sufficient MSW3 salmon to maintain a constant stream of those fabulous stories that follow upon the capture of these most magnificent of fish. There is a “feel good factor” in the camps that will live on in the minds of the fortunate who were able to come this season. If we have a good grilse run it will be a record season for numbers but regardless of this 2009 will go down in the annals as a great ASR Season for the most exciting Atlantic Salmon fly fishing.
We are now at the half way mark so let’s take stock at the ASR! We are 24% up on the total catch over last year and 37.9% up on the five year average. But it gets better:
At this point in 2008 45.3% of the fish landed were grilse whereas this year only 22.9% have been grilse. The extraordinary result of this is that the total weight of fish caught to date is 58% up on the same period last season. The average weight of salmon stands at 14.2 lbs at Kharlovka with the three best at 38, 36 & 34 lbs and 12.4 lbs at Rynda with the best at 32, 31 & 30 lbs.
In summary we have been having a great MSW2 run keeping everyone happy on a daily basis with sufficient MSW3 salmon to maintain a constant stream of those fabulous stories that follow upon the capture of these most magnificent of fish. There is a “feel good factor” in the camps that will live on in the minds of the fortunate who were able to come this season. If we have a good grilse run it will be a record season for numbers but regardless of this 2009 will go down in the annals as a truly Great ASR Season for the most exciting Atlantic Salmon fly fishing.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 30 ended Friday, 24-July-09
Ah yes! You could see it on all their jolly faces when they jumped off the helicopter and filled their city lungs with that first big breath of fresh Kharlovka air that they were finally – Home at last. There were seven familiar faced lads that seemed to know exactly what to do first as they hugged their old guides, dropped off the kit, and then proceeded to line up under the big fish mounts back in the lodge – ready for action. Not wanting to miss out on single step, our other five smiling rookies were not that far behind, quickly joining in the exciting flow. Unfortunately, due to a last minute visa complication for two of our Norwegian friends, we were a couple of men down on what would soon develop into another epic summer week here to remember.
Conditions during the first half were basically perfect with partly fishy skies along with a good chance of reeling in the big one. Then all of a sudden midweek, despite what the latest AccuWeather forecast was calling for, things began to get nasty. Cold winds, gusting up to 50kms/hr along with belting rains began to blow in, straight up the rivers off the Barents Sea. Up and down the Litza beats, HF radios were crackling with last minute instructions. Before we could reel them up and get everyone into position, a thick blanket of fog came down and grounded us all for the night. One by one, they staggered back into the Litza tent. Ordering up shots of whiskey to wash down those tasty BBQ steaks – all with tales to tell!
Here on his second week in a row James, our senior mountain goat with a good 65 years along the reindeer trials of life, came marching back down into camp from the Litza Falls having landed four – like it was just another day at the office. The going was a bit more challenging, to say the least, for our friend Dominc who had been paying very little attention to his muscular sclerosis until his refreshing walk back up from the Snowbank pool. Over the last two seasons here, Dominic has now learned that he is capable of much more than he ever thought possible. At the end of the day, isn’t life all about overcoming those boulders that stand in our way’ Fortunately after our memorable celebration together back in the tent, the biggest crisis we had that evening was bunking up with a certain anonymous friend that could doubt – Snore for the English national team! The next day Mother Nature waved her unpredictable hand again as the clouds gave way to patches of sun for the remainder of our unforgettable adventure.
Despite our dramatic weather observations lately, Good news continues to roll in daily on the high tide. Apparently you could almost set your watch by it last week as nearly every afternoon a spanking fresh pod would come porpoising through the pool, livening up our spirits along with the big one that was sleeping at the tail of the pool. Just ask David, the good doctor, who received a proper Kharlovka welcome pulling in a bright fresh sea liced 21.5 pounder from the Falls pool only hours after arrival.
And then there was our new Welsh friend Damon who after popping another five-pound shinny bar of silver back into the tail of the Kharlovka Falls was suddenly hooked up with something he had been looking for all his life. Crashing up through the water like a drunkard lunges up to the bar; they were shocked when they saw the size of it. The fisheries scientist – guide Dima who was faithfully standing by Damon’s side, estimated the great fish to be ‘Way over 40 pounds!’ For 22 long minutes, Damon pulled with all his might. Unfortunately however, it was to little avail as his dream nonchalantly slalomed from boulder to boulder with ease. ‘There was nothing I could do but hold on for dear life.’ Soon after that the line went limp and he slowly reeled in what he had left. Shaking his head in awe, Damon sat down on the bank feeling very alone, starring down at his large number four double hooks which had been straightened flat as if they were made of aluminum. That is what we call the big Das Veedanya! We will see you again next season..
And let us not forget about PCP’s rare visit to the middle Litza. One grey morning, with an unexpected open beat on the fishing rotor last week this week, our glorious leader decided to fire up the little helicopter and come see for himself what all the fuss was about. Doing his best to listen to his guide, Peter had four bright silver grilse in a row skating our tiny Sun Rays through the Dream pools. Then after an interesting stream side lunch, he decided that enough was enough. Politely handing us back our measly tube, he whacked on his trusty 5 inch ‘proper’ Sun Ray, strapped up his wading vest and shot off down the rapids in his favourite little boat without a care in the world. Ledge pool nothing. Crack pool nothing. Determined he carried on through those pesky upstream breezes until we finally caught up with him perched atop a boulder in the middle of the Rugged Rock pool. Next cast his line went stiff. Just as he was looking to the bank wondering if his fly had hooked a rock; a beautiful 20+ pounder came flying out of the water – splash! Not in the mood this time for the big chase, Peter cranked up the Bogdan and showed he was boss. After releasing his fifth of the day, Peter commented ‘To cast back in now for another would be greedy.’ and with that radioed Sasha and flew home smiling all the way.
This next story belongs to the birthday boy Jan Eric who from the moment he arrived simply could not stop chattering away. His condition was completely understandable for after landing only one salmon the previous season on another unmentionable river, Jan could sense early on that this was going to be a week in paradise. Forget all that surface skating and hitching humbug – ‘Go deep or go home!’ Jan liked to say. Sweeping the bottom for all those who were unwilling to rise to the occasion, the Norwegian appeared to be a sink tip master. Beside having the best 60 minutes of his life playing around deep down in Mark’s pockets, coming into contact with salmon of 25, 20, 14 and 9 pounds, Jan went on to fill his fishing log with some 21 entries which should keep him talking straight through to next year. Happy Birthday!
Other highlights last week must include the 25-pounder that Alan so skillfully coaxed to the bank of the Litza Military pool. Mungo probably deserves a quick mention for bringing in that 18er out of the Home pool with the 32 or so inches that was left of his shattered single-handed rod. And who says that you can’t teach an old friend new tricks’ After graduating from our Hitching school the previous week with top honours, James ‘I would rather forget my fishing rod than my wading stick’ nearly doubled his catch this time around playing in some two dozen for his efforts. And last but not least, as these two will be carrying on with us again next week, there was the father son duo of Sean and Andrew. What better education is there for your son then to bring him to the Big time – to give him a taste of what life is really all about. Young Andrew appears to be a quick learner, hauling in the salmon of the week that weighed in at a solid 30 pounds from of the mysterious Secret pool. Ever so proud of his son’s achievements, Sean stepped into the pool five minutes later and picked up a stunning 27 pounder to show that it must obviously run in the family.
Our amazing season continues to impress. While great weeks are made up of much more than just the numbers, the 189 salmon our 12 friends landed here last week should keep them charged up until we see them all back the next time around.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 29 ended Friday, 17-July-09
It looks like High summer has finally arrived to our pristine arctic paradise. After coming off cool conditions the previous week with a notably low river temp of 7.5 degrees C, the weather has recently shifted dramatically back the other way. Over the first couple of days of our adventure, we soaked up dazzling amounts of sun, along with those warm temps in the mid twenties. Unfortunately, there was also very little breeze to boot. By Monday evening, the temperature in the mighty Kharlovka had shot up to an eye opening 17 degrees C. Then midweek the winds of change thankfully began to gust our way again, drawing in those dark fishy clouds along with scattered showers, freshening back up our rivers with a much needed five centimetres of H2O.
There were seven flags proudly waving over our humble camp here last week. It was like a high level conference from the United Nations with Sweden, Canadian, Scotland, England, Spain, America, and Russia – all coming together in agreement that it was an absolute pleasure to be in such great company together. One half of the group was made up of old pros from the past and the other seemed to be arriving with their eyes wide open for the very first time. While the chatter around the dinning room table seemed to be even more diverse than normal, there was certainly more exaggerating – often going on well into extra time. Thankfully, everyone’s jolly attitudes were spotted early on as extra cases of wine had to be immediately dispatched from the reliable Rynda to keep the lads charged up straight through the week.
Despite the weather that has blown through over the recent days and the odds appearing to be stacked against us from the sunny start – we should all know by now, that Team Kharlovka thrives under challenge. Most of us have heard the old story about how it is always better to have loved and lost – than to have never tasted anything at all, well – unfortunately many of our guests needed a remainder around here last week. Although the salmon were certainly showing off in the pools, the majority of them were simply coming up to have a good look before losing interest with the bright sunlight and then settling back down into the cooler, more comfortable depths below. It seemed like for every one that properly latched on, there were another eight that came ever so close, but no cigar.
Just ask our good old friend Christer who you would have thought, after previously owning the place, would have known better than to brake several of the biggest fish he has ever seen off during his long overdue reunion with the great Northern Rivers! Giving us the entire blow-by-blow commentary, like our good friend always tends to do ‘Sheeeeeeeeeee down the rapids. Followed by a few Skiiiiiiips of the reel and then whoooops – nothing! I really could not stop these fiske!’ Other highlights must include the master Danish Spey caster Henrik, who besides pulling in more than two dozen with his fancy new rod, also managed to rustle up a 30 pound 107cm sleeping giant one afternoon out of the Litza Tent pool – cleverly using both a Snelda and a Francis that were tied on together at the same time. And how could we ever forget about our dear friend Richard, who will be back again soon after a few well earned weeks of rest, going on to show that experience really does matter, enticing some 30 salmon to the bank last week including the 23 pounder that he bombed off the surface of the Litza Tent just after midnight, topping off one unforgettable day. TGIF – On the final afternoon, Richard and Ronald, along with their super guide ‘Kola Salmon’, came proudly marching in with their double hook-up photo of the week that simply tells it all.
Why wade out to that big boulder in the tail of the Kharlovka Falls when you could just as easily swim out to it! From a distance, there appeared to be a giant Red Francis drifting along until we realized it was Enrich swimming ashore with his high visibility wading vest dragging in another 15 pounder. While Spain is not accustomed to loosing the big one these days, Enrich and Pepe, who landed nearly two dozen salmon on the week, were able to hold onto another 9 that were greater than 15 pounds.
First you have to consider Wild Bill’s nine years of experience, then add on another half dozen for Simon, and lets not forget about the 17 years Big Alex has been stalking the banks. All this equals up to a serious threat. Skating up a dozen or so off the surface with your blessed Sun Rays or presenting things a bit deeper with the big fly – Big fish theory. Playing rock-scissors-paper to see who will go first down the best bank. Taking bets on how many 20+ers they will have on the day’ These were the type of childish games we caught Wild Bill and Simon entertaining themselves with last week. Putting their money where their mouth was, S and B crawled back up the stairs on the final evening, unshaven and wind burned with joy, having teamed up for an impressive 52 salmon on the week – including those four 20+ers for Simon and another two for Wild Bill. However, on the final afternoon, it was Simon that managed to put the exclamation point on the week – skillfully coaxing in a massive 38 pounder. I guess we all know who will be buying the drinks on the way home this time around’
Thanks to Peter’s 11 years of unprecedented dedication to conservation and the ASR, there are noticeably more salmon in our precious rivers these days. Even these so called more challenging summer weeks are turning out to be a huge success. However, let us slow back down and take a moment remind everyone that summertime is a time for the adventurous and creative angler. With all the pools alive with promise these days, we must remember that we are always playing to an aquatic audience. Low summer conditions require a bit more finesse and stealth than usual, understanding that the salmon can feel and see every mistake. We must never be afraid to use those bombers or to even be seen on occasion grasping our shinny nymph. It’s about believing in the smallest of tubes, hitching them with confidence, and even stripping them down and across every once in a while – just to sex it all up! Satisfied, along with ‘good and knackered’ from throwing nearly every fly we had in the box, the boys last week deserve top marks on their 237 salmon!
Isn’t everyday along one of the last remote, big salmon rivers in the world potentially the most memorable of our life’ Having obviously graduated from the easy stuff, it is becoming apparent that many of you have become hopelessly addicted to the Northern Rivers. Listening to the hundreds of you who have been returning forever, you seem to be able to recall nearly every detail from your rocky past. It is like some of you have been holding your breath all year until you finally leap off the big MI-8 and scurry off to your old cabin. For a great many of us, this is obviously our home away from home, a place free of rules or worry – where the unexpected is waiting for you just beyond that big boulder at the back lip of the pool.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 28 ended Friday, 10-July-09
Peter has been active in the Russian fly fishing movement in Moscow and Murmansk for some years. It is great news for the future of the ASR that more and more Russians are joining with us in the pleasure of “catch & release” fly fishing. Armed with the very best in kit and completely fascinated like the rest of us with trying to master it. Last week was a mixture of east and west which was great fun and highly successful.
Surely we have all learned by now that following every boom, we must see some sort of correction. After enjoying several weeks of nearly irrelevant fishing conditions, last weekend the weather finally started to catch up with us. Without a drop of sun for miles, most of us packed away our blessed Sun Ray Shadows for another day as ‘character building’ rainy days and rainy nights proved to be a real test for our Gore-Tex early on. Cold temperatures in the low single digits along with low visibility prevented us from flying safely over to the Litza last Sunday.
Amazing what a couple of degrees can bring around here! We could all feel it in the cork as the barometer then began to rise. Early week the cloud levels lifted and we could all suddenly read again straight through the night. Temperatures in the rivers went from a chilly 7.5C to a more seasonal 10C. Straight back up on the hitch, Tuesday turned out to be another one of those banner days for the boys, recording some 46 salmon in the big leather book. Then towards the end, we all of a sudden went from one extreme to the other, as our final three days of the week were certainly the warmest and brightest so far this year.
Let the good times roll! It is always an encouraging sign when you see your friend jump off the helicopter with his Loomis and a guitar. It’s even better when the guy knows how to use them both. Forget about owning rivers and running a massive factory near Moscow, Leonid should have been in show business. Singing us all the Big salmon blues, we enjoyed hours of Leonid’s unplugged talent late night after dinner. Joining up with his good friends Boris along with his son Illya, the trio danced about the beats with joy. In addition to the more than three dozen salmon they enticed to the bank with their tune, it was Illya that ended up stealing the show with his bright fresh 28 pound P.B. The great thing about Illya’s special salmon was that it was wearing one of our old tags from July of 2007. After going back through the files, we realized that this salmon previously weighed in at 20 pounds when we released it the first time around.
Maybe it was the pheromone factor’ Or possibly it was because when the guides say stand on this stone and pull off exactly 11 inches of line in between each cast – they do it. Or when it is time to reel them up and look elsewhere, they are never more than a step or two behind. While it is true that the men do their best to listen to the guides, they are simply incapable of following out directions in this exact way. This might explain why Svetlana always returned to camp on time last week. Cheerful and quite bubbly with her four or so a day, not to mention those fancy 19, 21, and 25 and 26 pounders, we soon stopped questioning her about the whereabouts of her husband Vladimir and big Alex’ All week long, Vladimir never gave up until the sun went down – well after the rest of us had gone to bed. In the end, everyone had found what they came for, finally satisfying Vladimir with well more than two dozen including that most satisfying 25er on the final day to guarantee his certain return next year.
A few black hairs snuggled round a golden hook along with a couple of attractive jungle cock eyes – it was the return of the deadly Golden Killer! Tying his favourite fly every night, Victor and his best friend Victor just could not seem to get enough. Unfortunately for the rest of us, V and V ended up getting stranded over on the Litza for the first two and a half days due to bad weather. Only 34 km away as the sea eagles fly, we nearly had to send the running boy over with more Vodka, another block of fags and more jungle cock! Along with the many Golden Killers, Victor seemed to have lost his mind over on the Litza, returning with delusions of his exact numbers; we had to get their guide Andrey to fill in those 16 blanks including the several 20+ers. They had obviously caught too many.
Other highlights included our fine Finish friend Juha, who appears to be a serious threat to all salmon, hauling in more than two dozen including those shinny 23 and 25 pounders that made it all worthwhile. And then there was the Tom and James report, who have learned that you have to be tough to survive a second prime week in a row here on the mighty Kharlovka. After patching one of them up over the weekend, T and J were straight back out with all guns a blazon! Over the last two weeks, T and J and Val have teamed up for a staggering 85 salmon including an unbelievable 18 that were greater than 18 pounds. And finally, there was our old friend Richard – who seriously must be mad! After causing substantial damage the previous week with his son Francis, breaking their P.Bs eight times over including that statement of the week of 36 pounds, there were few priorities more important for Richard on his second time around but to start off each morning with a good tundra nap to begin the day. ‘The dozen or so that I landed here this week were simply icing on the cake.’
The weather was certainly the controlling factor last week. Going from soaked to sun burned over a matter of days, our boys had to work hard for their 246 salmon. Although the big ones didn’t seem all that dazzled by the summer sun, we still managed to locate another 34 that were greater than 18 pounds – eight of these over 25 pounds. Despite the arrival of high summer, the rivers continue to flow nicely with temps of 13C along with a seasonal summer level of 17cm on the home pool scale.
Back on the Nature front – Raindrops must have been dancing through Victor’s dark thoughts early week in the Litza tent. Only the flocks of sea gulls and diving ducks along the coast seemed to be amused. With three times the number of parr in the rivers these days, of course we are noticing more of those mergansers. Ptarmigan chicks dash off the trail to hide in the lush green undergrowth. With the return of the sun, the little brown birds have all started chirping again. Patches of flowers give us reason to stop and admire them along our busy way. Arctic orange mayflies are gobbled up like candy by those tundra brownies that have been waiting patiently for so very long.
Predicting what the salmon are going to do next can be like betting on the horses – there are simply way too many variables to consider. Just when you think you have it figured out the sun pops out and you have to start all over again. Such is our merry life along a big salmon river.
The bonanza continues! The rivers of the ASR landed 518 fresh salmon last week – 36% up on the same week last year. On a year to date basis 1343 fish have been landed – 66% up on the same period last year.
At Kharlovka & Litza, only 8.5% of the fish have been grilse resulting in an average weight for salmon of just short of 15 lbs. A few very fortunate anglers fished last week with a 1 in 4 chance (25%) of a fresh salmon of over 18 lbs. The average number of fish caught was 19/rod.
In the ASR as a whole the records show 44 serious salmon in excess of 25 lbs, 11 over 30 lbs with the best at 36 lbs.
The state of exhilaration and happiness in the camps was wonderful to behold.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 27 ended Friday, 3-July-09
It is probably about time we rang the old Kharlovka bell! There are no doubt, more salmon returning to The Northern Rivers this season. Record numbers of large sea-liced fish continue to pour into the system. If fact, out of the 811 salmon we have released over the last five weeks, a staggering 117 of them have tipped the scales further than 20 pounds. There have been nine great salmon hauled in thus far – greater than 30 pounds. With all this big silver splashing about, the old saying that ‘You should have been here last week’ is starting be become irrelevant. It is more like, ‘You should have been here this season period!’
Flying in on a tailwind of expectations from our big numbers thus far, our latest group of diverse characters arrived eager for battle. Like a bunch of children returning to summer camp, everyone immediately shot off to claim their old cabins. Last week saw the return of our seniors tour as more than half the team had a good 60+ years of experience under their wading belts, including a couple of wise old boys of 78 and 79 years of age. However, as Age has always comes before Beauty here on the far northern tundra, none of this really seem to matter, for as one of the greats named Wulff once said ‘The more I salmon fish, the less I seem to know.’
Last week’s glorious adventure started out a bit on the dark side, as low visibility kept the boys close to home on the first evening. Then early week, as the temperatures began to equal out in both the rivers and the air, we had one of those magical days that will never be forgotten. 50 salmon crashed down on our hitched Sun Rays last Monday! The fish must have known that a change was eminent as the next day was ridiculously bright straight the night. Thankfully, good ol’ Gerald who was returning for the fifth time, remembered to bring his usual printed copy of the local weather forecasts with him again and we were all saved with those dark clouds and cooling temperatures for the last half of the week.
There are few things in life more enjoyable than taking your son with you on that Big adventure. Here on a mission to beat his old 16-pound Scottish P.B., the young Francis ended up graduating from the Home pool with bright silver honours before the first weekend was over – proudly holding up his fresh 20-pounder like he had just won the Stanley Cup. With little time in between for bragging, Francis was left speechless a couple days later, going on to break his P.B twice more on the week with those impressive 27 and 28 pounders! To make this story complete and demonstrate again that ‘Fathers always know best’, Richard along with his wading stick Big Alex, managed to break his personal best a staggering five times over landing an 18, 20, 23, 25, as well the salmon of the week off the Lower Kharlovka – weighing in at a mighty 36 pounds!
Bouncing around like a Jack Russell in a field full of rabbits, Yorkshire John didn’t quite know which way to turn first. Popping off the helicopter with his good mate Scott – top guile from the River Tweed, their huge expectations were about ready to be met head on. In addition to the near four dozen they teamed up for including those four sweet 20+ers, Yorkshire John seemed to have a knack for getting in big silver trouble – ‘I Love it!’ One fine evening, returning back to the lodge with that classic Litza stutter, it was reported that despite his drag being turned up so tight that Dima could hardly pull line off, Yorkshire John lost three more Sun Rays to great salmon estimated to be well over 30 pounds – Das Veedanya! We have already taken his booking again for round II next year.
This next one is about Big Chris and his eternal search for the 50-pounder. We are afraid that his huge salmon, a couple of years ago of 47.3 pounds out of the Litza Tent pool may have just stunned our dear friend forever. After just returning with his ol’ mate Sean, from their annual Litza adventure with more than a dozen salmon – let alone the other couple dozen they had during the rest of the week or those five others that topped the big 20 mark – Chris turned to us one evening after dinner and smirked, ‘Where do you think all the really big fish are lately Just” Well Chris, as the 40+ers don’t tend to stick around for autographs, and we are simply not able to follow them down in those canoes, we figure that less than one in six will actually see the bank along this northern obstacle course. Don’t worry though, for as the water levels reside, we will recover most of those lines that you all snapped off – giving it your best shot along the way.
Grease lightning! Tom and James along with the rock star they call Valentine, played the salmon a tune last week with their skated Muddler Minnows. Caught fiddling with their flies every morning before breakfast, T and J were merely settling in for what was about to become the most exciting two weeks of their lives. It was obvious in the afternoons as we picked them up from the beat and they staggered back onto the helicopter followed by Valentine’s moonwalk through to the far back seat, that their day – had no doubt been a joy. Stripping in an average of seven a day for a total of 45 on their first week including those seven other really happy moments that were greater than 20 pounds, these two claimed to have landed in ‘big salmon heaven.’ We are a bit worried though, for they may not have enough Muddlers to get them through their second week!
Life just simply wouldn’t be the same without a good dose of the Kharlovka each season for our old friend Gerald. Just ask his wife and children who have to spend the majority of the year hearing about it until they finally have to kick him out the door. All jokes aside, this appears to be serious therapy for our busy urban friend. The family back home can rest easy this time around for Gerald’s trip was made early on after returning sunburn, with a big smile along with the Sun Ray Shadow he used to tame all 11 of his unforgettable Litza salmon – including that bright silver brace of 24-pounders! Thankfully our friend will be returning home with nearly three dozen silver memories that should tide him over until he gets thrown out again next season.
We are now into July and it is still not all that warm around here. While we have had plenty of bright sun and fresh northern breeze, we could count on one hand, the number of warm days over 20 degrees C. The rivers continue to flow nicely with mild temps of 9.5C along with average summer levels of 22cm on the home pool scale. The conditions however, don’t seem to matter much around here these days as last week’s team combined for another astonishing 264 salmon – including 32 more biggies that topped the 20 pound mark.
As the air temperatures drop back into the chilly low single digits, those colourful wildflowers are all beginning to curl back up. Cleverly downwind, a bushy orange fox was spotted from the chopper keeping close tabs on the health of the reindeer herds. Large birds of prey decide wisely to back down as the MI-8 swoops through the morning valley. The pilots polished up the helicopter somewhere far upstream and magically returned with at least 50 pike. Apparently, bears tend to need a good bath every once in the while as well. Just ask Kola and Gerald who were slightly shocked to see a massive Brown bear flopping around in the Julian’s pool. Popping next up onto the bank for an impressive shake off, the bear then shot up across the boulders and disappeared over the hill like a Grand National winner goes for the line.
The catch results in the first four weeks from the ASR Rivers have been spectacular. We have landed 827 fresh salmon which is an astonishing 93% more than the same period last year. More importantly the result is 27% above the previous five year average.
We believe this may turn out to be a year of quantity and quality. At the moment we have taken 9 salmon of 30lbs plus of which the best was 34 lbs. More 40lbs+ sightings than usual are being reported. 104 salmon have been in excess of 20 lbs and 36 in excess of 25 lbs.
The results and prospects are well supported by the continued success of the ASR Conservation Program. Despite the Great Recession and a difficult booking season we are continuing this program unabated. The following chart shows the increase in the parr count per 100 square meters from the low point of the program until 2008.
On arrival in Murmansk I had an audience with the newly appointed Governor, Dimitry Dmitrienko. He was well informed about our activities and expressed his approval for my future plans. He gave me all the encouragement and support we could expect. He was pleased to reappoint me as a Counselor (Sovetnik) although it is unusual to serve two Governors. I hope this news will add to your confidence to support the ASR Fishing and Conservation Program in the future.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 26 ended Friday, 26-Jun-09
If we only had the ability to control the sands of time and enjoy those truly special moments for a bit longer before they disappeared down the rapids of life forever. While our previous weekend witnessed the passing of the summer solstice and the longest days of the year, we could have used a few more precious hours last Saturday as the fishing was set to explode. Returning to the lodge on the first evening, after only three hours on the water, our latest guests were welcomed back to the mighty Kharlovka with a record opening result of 17 salmon. The big news was that ten of these silver beauties were between 20 and 31 pounds!
They don’t call it prime time around here for nothing! Only the lucky ones, who have been here before and tasted it – could truly understand. While our record numbers from the previous week were certainly impressive, things were about ready to get a whole lot brighter. Despite starting out undermanned again with a couple of unfortunate rods that had ‘unbreakable priorities to attend to’, the remainder of team was resting easy by our final toast Sunday evening with 53 salmon already in the big leather book. With the rivers ‘fishing its socks off’ and a prime beat to spare, we had no other choice but to send for reinforcements from Rynda. Already landing their share off both the Zolotaya and Rynda rivers, Mark and David were all too happy to lend us a hand late week along the banks of the Kharlovka and E. Litza.
Lights – Camera – Action! It all begins with a massive salmon that comes crashing up out of the water! Flyfish Europe along with our new friend Kristian have moved in with us for the next four weeks to capture the magic of the ASR in High Definition. Complete with his remote controlled underwater video that is able to scan in on the salmon chasing down the fly, along with another 80 some kilos of bits and pieces, Kristian along with his Russian Sherpa Sasha started their one-month crusade last week along the majestic banks of the Kharlovka and Litza rivers.
One promising morning as the rods were beginning to gather Valentine said ‘Let me see your fly box. These salmon are clever – they like the same flies that I like!’ That evening Valentine popped off the helicopter first and proceeded to strum his large salmon net like an air-guitar, bouncing straight by us winking with a smile. Justin and Simon soon followed along shaking their heads in satisfaction, after returning from their Litza adventure with Val having each landed new personal bests of 26 pounds.
As for Ireland, we caught up with Richard one sunny evening as he was returning from the Lower Litza with a very scared look in his eyes. Turned out, that after spending a most memorable afternoon on the Military pool watching the salmon roll through on the tide, Richard was finally able to break his old P.B. with a cracking fresh 26 pounder that was only minutes in from sea. Staggering afterwards back up to Snowbank for a few last casts before the helicopter, Richard next saw something that would change his outlook on life forever. Stuttering and obviously a bit traumatized that night at dinner, Richard told us all about ‘Dolphin’ that he watched jump through the tail of Snowbank pool – claiming it to be twice the size of the great salmon that he had just landed minutes before. Not fully understanding that we would have shut the big MI-8 helicopter down, it was reported that they were reluctant to even have a cast at this great salmon with only an hour’s fishing left that unforgettable afternoon.
Other highlights included the lovely Lumila’s first – second – third … and sixth salmon ever! Not to be outdone, her husband Dimitri wasn’t just sitting around on the bank with the net, pulling his share as well including a sweet 20 pounder. And then their was our dear friend Jeremy who broke his long standing P.B. with a most satisfying 28 pounder – along with another four astonishing 20+ers that he managed to persuade to the bank before Sunday dinner! We are also happy to report that after slipping on a patch of grass in a freak accident the previous season and then having to be unfortunately sent home for surgery, Chris was straight back up on his arctic pony here last week. Most likely watching his step a bit closer, Chris along his fishing partner Mark were able to chase down a couple dozen on the week including three that were greater than 20 pounds.
Ho ho ho! With his signature bear claw chain fastened securely around his neck, the legendary Arni was skipping across the boulders of the Northern Rivers with us last week. Within his first 30 minutes of his arrival, he was being properly welcomed to the great Eastern Litza pulling in a thick-31-pounder from upper Dream pool. Giving us all a serious lesson on how Icelanders work the infamous Snelda through the pool, Arni proceeded to take three more of 26, 23, 22 pounds that evening before we finally had to yank him from the pool. Like a mink working its way down the riverbank, the Icelander had no trouble finding what he was after. Arni’s final stunt of the week came rolling in on the Military tide landing 4 last salmon for the road including a stunning 108cm – 32-pounder. With a collection of rivers already to himself, Arni commented ‘There is something very special about this place!’
And how could we ever forget about our old friend Mikael – who somehow managed to sneak back into camp again for his 16th visit. Showing off for the cameras with his lucky leather-fishing hat along with his trusty black green helmet, we had no other choice but to instate a new camp rule number 3… From now on all great Swedish fishermen named Mikael – must leave the pool after 5 salmon! It has been widely recognized around the world that this guy has a serious addiction to salmon fishing. Highly trained psychologists have advised him that it would be dangerous to his health to come to the Kharlovka more than two times a season. Mikael needed a calculator to keep track of it all last week touching well more than four-dozen along his merry way. Don’t worry; he has been officially black listed again until next year!
Alleluia! You can finally put those bloody sink tips away again until next year as the temperature in the river is currently flowing perfect at 12.2C. With the snow and ice now almost completely gone, the rivers levels have been slowly dropping back to a nice summer level of 37cm on the home pool scale. Besides that dash of rain to freshen things up at the beginning, our friends enjoyed a most pleasant week of overwhelmingly sunny skies and mild temperatures. Despite the lack of clouds and being several men down to start the week, we are proud to report that after sending the troops back out on the final evening after dinner – we somehow managed to beat our old standing record of 239 – The grand total for last week was a whopping 248 salmon. While it was simply way too bright for the really big boys to be exposing themselves, there were still a most respectable 31 salmon landed between 20 and 32 pounds.
High summer has now taken grip on the Kola Peninsula. Gazing north towards to pole, the Barents Sea is currently glassy calm. With a warm southern breeze at their back, reindeer are sprinting for the coastline. A skinny bear, with a bleached brown coat, looked ever so thankful that his fuzzy antlered friends are finally here in numbers. Respectable men have been known to behave like boys when they come fishing in Russia. With our rivers currently stuffed with bright silver salmon and some dark-black fishy clouds looming on the southern horizon – next week should no doubt be very interesting.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 25 ended Friday, 19-Jun-09
What a difference a day can make. While all the lads flew off with big smiles on their faces the previous week, everyone could tell by the result on their final Friday that the next one was going to be a true Bonanza. And guess what’ They were right! Despite being one rod less than normal due to an unfortunate bad back with one of the fathers, last week’s team managed to shatter our all time record landing an amazing 189 salmon on the week.
From the moment this new lot hit the water, the action was fast and furious with the team hauling in 42 bars of silver before the week even got started. With a room full of rosy cheeks and 1000-yard stares, everyone managed to get their name in the fishing book by teatime Sunday. Despite those first four days of bright blue skies, or those pesky southern breezes that canceled any thought of pulling off our favoured single spey or that one day the temperatures shot up to 30 degrees C in the shade or even that thick fog that prevented us all from flying to the Litza – this was simply one of those rare weeks where it didn’t really matter what Mother Nature threw at us.
Highlights were without a doubt – Big and Plentiful this time around however, as we only have so much ink in our arctic printers up here, we must to draw a line in the tundra somewhere. The story about your ’20 pounder that crashed down on your bomber’ probably won’t make the cut for the next several weeks. Unless you were able to amaze us all with some unprecedented stunt of bravery or you are returning with rock-star status on your umpteen visit or you battled hard against all odds to tame that thirty plus’er – you will just have to keep your fly in the water until the next time.
Ironically it was Philip the Scotsman recording the first big Sunday entry in the book with his giant silver brace from the Kharlovka Falls weight in at a hefty 22 and 31 pounds. Next was our good friend Brian from America who after getting warmed up on the Rynda the week before, was now fishing here with us on the Kharlovka on his second week in a row. One bright sunny morning Brian, along with his trusty Willie Gunn, decided to teach the Rock pool a serious lesson hauling out five in a row up to 18 pounds. The next day this poor guy ended up getting stranded with the whole of the Litza to himself for 24 hours. We noticed that the rest of the gang wasn’t all that sympathetic when they had heard that he lost a monster salmon out back of the Red Cliff that was estimated to be ‘way over 40 pounds!’ While certainly shaken and most likely a bit stunned on his return, Brian held his head high as he scribbled down the details in the fishing book about the other 10 Litza salmon that he did manage to get his hands on – Oh yes, one of them was 106X64cm weighing in at 34 pounds! It should also be noted that while Brian was catching his breath on a 10 minute break in the Ledge pool, he unwisely decided to hand the rod over to his guide Andrey who proceeded to rip in back to back 20 pounders before he had time to get his zipper done back up. We’re afraid that it could be some time before our friend Brian fully recovers for the whole ordeal.
When they first met in the Stockholm airport Rae looked up at the tall young German and asked ‘I bet you can’t remember one of the most important events of 1966” Home pool Fritz looked back with a smile and said ‘Of course, England beat Germany in the world cup!’ And with this, Rae knew immediately he had found a new fishing buddy for life. Returning on their third visit, together the Anglo-German Popular Front accounted for more than 33 salmon this time around. By the way, we don’t call him Home pool Fritz around here for nothing. While it may be true that gentlemen do not fish after dinner, nobody ever said anything about sneaking down to the Home pool every morning for a couple pre-breakfast salmon. By the time it was all said and done, Home pool Fritz was able to add some 8 bonus salmon to his overall total. Next season when they arrive back into Murmansk, Home pool Fritz will be able to question Rae ‘I bet you can’t remember one of the most important events in 2009” That was the season that Germany beat England in the Kharlovka World Cup!’
True VIP’s hit the tarmac in shinny blue Gulf Stream jets, they own their rivers, can take beats in prime time for themselves, and have spare rods with Bogdan reels standing by at the ready especially to fish the Home pool. After several seasons of learning the pools of northern rivers, Illya’s experience now shines through. Sharing the big adventure with his two friends Anatoly Jr. and Sr. who did well with more than dozen salmon up into the twenties – It was Illya who showed everyone the way last week landing some 24 salmon to his rod – two at 19 pounds – and 5 more were greater than 20 including an honest 106cm cock fish of 29 pounds.
Returning for the 16th season in a row, the legendary Sugai was on the prowl again – in his endless search for the giant salmon. Proudly wearing his new handmade prototype fishing vest armed with probably the best selection of flies that any of us had every seen, Sugai along with his old friend Valentine paced themselves nicely through the week. As you tend to do – with a second prime week coming up on the Rynda. While the skillful Sugai found the salmon nearly everywhere he went, his finest moment arrived on some of his final casts, one cold windy afternoon, in Kharlovka Home pool pulling in back to back 15 and 30 pounders – Bonzi!
David probably deserves a bit of sympathy as well for loosing a massive salmon off the lower Kharlovka that managed to completely spool him (backing and all) before he ever made it to the bank. Understandably quiet that night at dinner, David most likely went to bed with dark visions of his reel suddenly on empty – its doubtful that his experience will ever be forgotten.
Here is a good one for any of you non-believers still out there; Back on July 11th of 2007 a salmon of 6 kilos was caught – tagged as number 2560 – scales samples were taken and then it was released from the Lower Tent pool on the great Eastern Litza. It was reported by Dima, our resident fish scientist, that this fish had spent four years in the river as a par before smolting off for two sea winters. The next season on May 26th of 2008 this same salmon no. 2560 was caught and released by an unknown angler as a kelt on the Litza Military pool. Last week on June 14th 2009, good ol’ Rae was blasting them out in this same Military pool when fish no. 2560 was located yet again. After fattening up with another winter at sea, this same salmon was now weighing in at a beautifully fresh 20 pounds. It was then photographed and carefully released allowing it to carry on its remarkable way to delivering its precious genes to the river for a second time later this season.
Last week spring magically turned to summer right before our eyes. A carpet of green grass along with yellow buttercups now stand in awe where there was snow only days ago. Green Highlander is now the dominant color across the northern tundra. Birch forests with their fresh new leaves can be heard rustling on the afternoon breeze. An arctic fox took refuge from the freak thunderstorm under Peter’s house. Reindeer have gathered in the thousands, many with calves following close behind.
The salmon are now stacking up from the Falls pool down. The temperature in the river is currently flowing at 8.6 degrees C with good waters levels – reading at 45cm on the home pool scale. Out of our joyful 189 salmon last week – a staggering 31 of them were greater than 20 pounds including four more that topped the Big 30+ mark. As the Big one obviously swims these Northern Rivers – one should never give up until the fat Russian ladies begin to sing.
P.S. We have a couple rods still available for August. This is the month that we land most of our 40 pounders.
The Kharlovka Report – Week 23 ended Friday, 16-Jun-09
Half of the enjoyment of coming fishing on the Kola Peninsula is the excitement and anticipation of not having a clue what may happen next. Starting last week from the moment our guests arrived into the Murmansk airport when the air traffic controller radioed down to inform us all to make ourselves comfortable. Poor visibility and snow flurries along the north coast delayed our departure into the afternoon as our new friends finally arrived to the camps with just enough time for a few warm-up casts to break in the kit.
Cold conditions early week kept the salmon numbers down as low single digit temperatures along with freezing rain, hail, and snow made the going extra challenging. With the river temps dropping back down to 3.4C early week the majority of the spring run seemed to be put on hold in the still warmer estuary waters down near the sea. Not all that surprising considering that the temperature of the Barents Sea was still warmer than our rivers with a reading 4.5C. Meanwhile, the word from our security guards, who were watching the over the estuaries, reported good numbers of salmon rolling about on the surface through the night. On Tuesday afternoon, we then went from one extreme to the other with the sun breaking through and the temperatures suddenly shooting up to around 20 degrees C. While bright skies are normally not what you hope for on a salmon river, the much need warmth was just what the doctor ordered – kick starting the spring run to get things rolling.
One fine morning about seven o’clock we awoke to hear a strange yelp echoing through the camp. Searching around to make sure that everyone was o.k. we soon realized that Colin was missing from his room. We quickly sprinted off towards the home pool with big silver hopes on our mind. From a distance it appeared that Colin was saying his morning prayers along the riverbank. We arrived to find him cradling his huge salmon in the water like a baby. After snapping a couple shots to capture the moment forever, we stretched the tape to 104cm estimating his great salmon to be just under 30 pounds. With any pressure he might have had now relieved for another the day, Colin commented to the rest of his lazy friends at the breakfast table how his eggs and bacon never tasted so good.
There is something very special about fishing the Litza military pool on the incoming tide. Just ask the two brothers David and Michael, where along with the three good salmon they couldn’t hold onto – ended up hauling in three others with the big one stretching the scales to 26 pounds. However, all this appeared to be just a light warm up session for the brothers as the next day they would go on to have one of the most memorable sessions of their lives through the pools of the lower Kharlovka. That morning the radios started crackling early and then seem to go on consistently straight through the day. As the brothers have previously been spotted fishing around the world, and were now being guided by Dima, the top fishing scientist on the Kola – their vast experience was about to shine through like the bright Arctic sun.
Meeting the salmon on the incoming tide, Michael kicked the action off down at the sea pool pulling in a stunningly fresh 18 pounder. With perfect timing they next jumped up into Julian’s pool, which was reported to be full of moving salmon. Going back and forth, David managed to battle his first silver brace to the bank with the biggest weighing in at 24 pounds. Michael answered with a feisty 12 pounder followed by a grand 28.5 pounder that was in mint condition. And if this wasn’t enough, besides eventually loosing an epic half hour battle with a monster estimated to be over 35 pounds, David was able to hang onto a final consolation prize of 21 pounds that was eventually landed in the Long Pool. After reliving the memories with their remaining mates over dinner, Michael crept back down to the home pool that evening to land yet another 20 pounder finally wrapping up a day that will surely never be forgotten.
Stop right there! For the two brothers it was still far from over for on the their final day they managed to battled in five more including two of 20 and 26 pounds – bringing their combined total of salmon landed greater than 20 pounds to seven on the week.
When it comes to throwing a VIP party, the Kharlovka House must be the obvious answer. Watching salmon jump in the home pool while you eat your breakfast with a birds eye view. Enjoying what has to be the finest, most remote sauna above the Arctic Circle. Plenty of staff standing by patiently waiting for your signal to pop you another bottle of wine. Having the luxury of a private helicopter pad in your back yard. Reliving those fishy tales with your mates sat around a crackling warm fire. Reality quickly begins to fade away. Last week showed that despite the difficult going, that numbers aren’t always everything as our VIP guests seemed to be overwhelmed by the whole experience.
Other highlights included our good old friend Mikael, the Swedish fishing machine, who was joining us on his 15th Kharlovka adventure – impressing us all with his effortless ability to control the fly. Besides giving away most of his shooting heads to the rest of the gang, Mikael was also good for a dozen salmon ranging through the teens up to 20 pounds. Our final honourable mention must go out to Will who literally – never gave up to the last cast finally pulling in his bright silver personal best of 19 pounds – less than an hour before it was time to reel them up for the week.
Coming off a great result on our opening spring week of the season with 57 salmon, we would have bet our fishing hats that we would have gone well over a 100 this week. Cold temperatures early on held the majority of the run back as the team combined for a hard earned 11 salmon during the first half. 48 hours of high sun later and the rivers temps had shot up to 8.3C. The melting snow kept the river levels fairly consistent throughout with a final reading of 46cm on the home pool scale. Experience proved to be the key factor last week as the team combined for a total of 53 salmon with an average weight of 17.02 pounds.
After holding back since the beginning of the season, the birch buds have now turned to leaf with returning sun. Green shoots have suddenly appeared that certainly weren’t there yesterday. Birds of prey whistle down on us from above through the upper canyons along the river. Lemmings are out and about again however not in the record numbers of last year. Footprints traversing the remaining snowdrifts catch our eye on the flights over to the remote Eastern Litza. Welcomed by the breezes of the exposed northern coast, reindeer herds are now beginning to arrive. Noticeably clean fresh air along with the sound of the mighty spring river dominate our dreams. Although the sun never sets, the days seem to go twice as fast. Before you realize it – the amazing adventure has passed for another year.
Kharlovka Web Report – Opening Week 23 ended Friday, 5-Jun-09
It all started with a last minute satellite phone call to Volodya, who had arrived one week earlier into the camps with staff. Declaring with a rare tone of optimism he said, “Everything is as normal. Fishing should be good!”
With our long gloomy winter now simplified to a faint memory from the past, we made our final approach into Murmansk. Nearly everyone sat with a smile, peering out down through sun filled windows of the Stockholm charter. This season it was obvious before we even arrived that our big spring gambles were surely going to pay off. It had been reported earlier in May that the temperatures began to warm into the middle teens, as all the snow and ice in the Murmansk area had since melted away.
Touching down on the tarmac as the only plane in sight, we breezed straight through the usual red tape and were quickly back on our way. Heading east across the tundra in the helicopter it soon became apparent to us all that plenty of large snowdrifts along with icy lakes still remained hidden across the northern faces. Before reality had a chance to set in, our first eager group of the season was being greeted into the Kharlovka camp with fantastic air temperatures of 20+ degrees C – along with a promising river temp of 2.4C. The spring runoff just seemed to be peaking as we arrived, flowing at a mighty 115cm on the home pool scale.
Gold maybe the commodity of choice these days further south in the modern world however it’s definitely Big Silver that has got everyone’s attention here on the pristine northern coast. Just ask our new friend Steelhead Chuck, who as a part Native American Indian flew all the way over to investigate for himself from his fishy home on the famous Skeena system. It was quickly rumoured around the Kharlovka dinning room table that Chuck was capable of casting with the best of them. Before the week really got moving he was pulling in his first pair of sea liced Atlantics ever weighing in at 24 and 25 pounds out of the Military Pool. Chuck refused to cast back into the pool that afternoon opting to ‘take it all in’ on the bank while his partner finished things up. Chuck said it would have been greedy to go for another one in that situation.
Finally our friends from Iceland have something good to shout about! After hibernating through the economic storm – Hilli, Alti and Elvis showed up ready for action – each armed with literally hundred of Sneldas. While Hilli and Alti showed good teamwork eventually landing a dozen salmon up to 22 pounds, it was of course Elvis – that ended up stealing the show. Besides leading the way in late night shenanigans, Elvis impressed us all one morning in Julian’s Pool with his back to back to back fresh salmon of 15, 18, and 24 pounds. A couple days later he pulled in another hat trick out of the same pool landing three more nice salmon into upper teens. With a new bounce in his step Elvis said, “Doesn’t matter what fly you use as long as it is a Snelda!”
Other highlights included Brett from Orivs U.K along with his two new good friends for life George and Campbell. With experience always tending to shine through, Brett showed his mates the way landing 7 salmon up to 22 pounds. Understanding all the time that great adventures are best shared amongst friends, the three sat toasting their beers and grinning through the evenings late week as George finally broke his P.B with a cracking fresh 26 pounder which was landed less than a kilometre up from the Barents Sea on the Military pool. And lets not forget Campbell who sat proudly amongst his friends with his chest out as well, in memory of his back to back to back sea liced 17, 18, 26 pounders (new P.B) out of Julian’s Pool. Diego from Switzerland and Dan from Sweden also deserve a special mention with Diego claiming the first official salmon of the Kharlovka season only hours after arrival. Along with a couple more in between, Diego managed to finish with a bright fresh Litza 27 pounder for the road. As for Dan, besides missing breakfast nearly every morning, he proved to be quite effective once he started to swing his fly through the river eventually going on to land a 20, 22, and 26 as well as a big fresh 30 pounder (107cmX56cm) from the Rock pool on the final afternoon.
Our opening week of weather was not that surprisingly – all over the place. After arriving in short sleeve shirts and wondering who brought the sunscreen, the team was then suddenly very thankful 48 hours later that they had remembered to pack those crucial second layers. Early week the air temperature plummeted down into the low single digits – rain showers soon turned to snow flurries. Winds gusting up to 30m/s (67mph) kept the helicopter over night on the Litza. Thankfully the storm passed quickly and the conditions stabilized for the second half of the week. Our last few days saw partly cloudy skies with air temps of about 8C, while temps in the river topped out at an encouraging 4.2C. Over the week water levels in the Kharlovka went from a raging 115cm down to comfortable 60cm by the final day.
The total catch for our first team was 57 salmon as everyone will be returning home with stories to tell. 14 of the salmon landed were 20-30 pounds and all but one of them was carrying sea lice. The average weight for the week was 17.05 pounds.
Migratory birds arriving early will have plenty to sing about this time around. As the tundra quickly awakens from its long winter nap, the ptarmigan with their still white feathers are being caught off guard. Buds beginning to form on the birch signal the start of the salmon run. Water everywhere – A sun that hardly sets – Sore shoulders and cold fingers – Hot saunas every night – Vodka shots after dinner ‘- Warm soup along the bank – Sea eagles – Big flies – Sea lice and silver Salmon. Springtime in the arctic has always been for believers only.