Rynda Fishing Reports 2001
Rynda – The End of a Magnificent Season
In the last four weeks we have had a wonderful variety of guests. In the first week the British, then Russians, then Norwegians and to end we are entertaining a group of Scandinavians including the Ulvang film team so you will soon be able to share the experience on film. 29 rods have landed 288 salmon the five best being 40, 32, 28, 27 & 27 lbs.
We have had the water basins of all ‘Three Rivers’ at our disposal and roamed at will. We have developed marvellous new areas to fish for late salmon. On the Upper Kharlovka about 8 kilometres from the power line there is excellent late salmon fishing. The first visit of two rods produced 11 salmon and two weeks ago we landed our 3rd 40 lbs plus salmon there in a pool now called Reid’s Pool. The area is so stunning we all agreed to call it Kharlovka National Park and a group of adventurous Norwegians will camp there at the end of next season fishing for salmon and trout.
The Litza has also done well again so that we are going to keep Litza Tent Camp open until the end of the season next year which is part of a very exciting plan for the more agile. From 17th August 2002 we will combine Litza with Rynda Camp so that half the party will fish Rynda out of the lodge and half the party will fish Litza camping at Tent Pool. They will change over mid week and Vassily, of course, will be the host.
And by the way! One of us popped over to Zolotaya last week having seen big fish in the Long Pool from the helicopter. It turned into the most exciting moments in a life of salmon fishing. A cock salmon of about 35 lbs took the fly and raced and leapt about that pool for some 5 minutes before breaking the leader around the big rock on the right bank. Sergei, the poacher, was the guide and, gazing into the pool as if to find the fish and jump in after it, said to Volodya. ‘I am not really surprised, you see the largest fish I ever netted was 23 kilos in 1998. It was just there. The same day I had a 15 kilos fish out of Jeremy Pool.’ Yes you have guessed it! There will be a tent camp at Russian Pool from 15th June next year so pairs of Rynda guests can spend 24 hours with a river to themselves if they want to.
The Rynda has fished very well right to the end and guests have landed an amazing 1225 salmon and grilse this year the best five being 32, 30, 30, 29 & 28 lbs. 269 were 15 lbs plus and 90 were 20 lbs plus. The average number of fish per rod was an impressive 10.6 however it should be understood this masks a very wide variation between rods in the same week. Always remember that Rynda is one of the most challenging rivers to get results. Many of us have spent years casting successfully on the rivers of Scotland and/or the larger Kola rivers only to become a little disillusioned on our first visit to Rynda until we realise this is serious ‘fishing’. We have to carefully study the wide variety of pools and think about each cast individually. This is why Rynda is such an interesting delight. Often it is the ladies who do best on their first visit because they listen to the excellent guides without feeling the need to prove their prowess. Of course most of the men are natural fisherman and do well on any water but others surprise themselves with their success when they return.
We came in mid May with the geese. It is now mid September and we must reluctantly return with them for the same reason. It has been a privilege to live through the drama of the extremes of nature in the short Arctic summer. The great wall of ice across Home Pool was followed by a raging torrent replaced by a month of drought that has now become a gin clear tranquil flow that will freeze over when we are safely away. In the beginning we returned home by the midnight sun but now it is dark at 9.00PM and are witness to the extraordinary spectacle of the aurora borealis. At the moment we are having an Indian summer with incredible sunsets so that even the swans appear pink from the air. Minus 30C to plus 30C and back within six months and in the extreme of winter maybe -45C. The sea eagles can be seen flying low over Rock Island which means the salmon are moving back down the river to the spawning areas below the lodge. The little frog will survive because nature has endowed it with anti freeze but we must go.
The end or near the end is normally the best of all. The birch tree leaves turn to burnished gold and, against the green and grey background, much of the vegetation goes brown and red with significant splashes of really bright red from berry clusters. Of course it is beautiful in the making for some two weeks but there is a day in the year when it is overwhelmingly at its best developing into a crescendo of splendid colour bringing about mystical thoughts in one’s mind. We call it the ‘Golden Day’. It was 12th September this year with the sun full out all through and, by some cruel irony, it was on this very day that our protected world at Rynda fell apart with limited news on the HF radio about the tragedy unfolding in America. Without visual evidence it was impossible to take in and we left in emotional turmoil on Friday 14th September to join the world in sorrow. The flora will deteriorate as always until it is covered in a blanket of snow protected for its re-awakening when we return with the geese and the salmon in May 2002 but we will not be quite the same. Maybe we will appreciate all the more the privilege of ‘Life at Rynda’.
Life at Rynda – 21st July to 23rd August 2001
Last Wednesday one of the guests came back after seven fish, one of which was remarkable. It was an old cock taken at Dancing Platform on a Sunray Shadow. After an exhilarating hour it was landed and measured at 109 cms. (42.9′) but it only weighed 28 lbs. because the girth was 54 cms. (21.2′) The wonderful fact is that from our records of big fish and girth etc. we know this salmon must have entered the river in June as a beautiful silver salmon of over 35 lbs. This is very exciting because several times this season we have encountered fish in this awesome category.
We think these very large fish are the result of our elaborate security system against poaching that began in earnest in 1998 and is now absolute. A small number of our summer salmon do return the following season and this is probably why these monsters are being caught or seen throughout the ‘Three Rivers’ on a regular basis. Of course the real benefits will be from the spawners but sadly the first fruit will not appear until 2003/4 in the form of grilse and thereafter as multiple sea winter fish.
Yesterday, Thursday 23rd August, will be a day to remember in the life of Rynda. In the morning we knew 993 fish had been landed this season and the rods set out in anticipation of the 1000th salmon. By 1740 hours ‘Yours Truly’ was approaching the Home Pool feeling pretty pleased with himself having landed five fish being old fish of 24, 9, & 18 and fabulous fresh Osenkas of 17 & 12 all on the good old Sunray Shadow as developed by Ray Brooks at Laerdal. There was just time to try one more pool and there was Little Eva in perfect condition. Wham! A big cock lurched across the surface and slammed down on the fly obviously well hooked. Despite the rapids he was a certainty because the leader was 30 lbs. – 999 was in the bag! As we weighed him at 26 lbs. the helicopter was landing with the guests so we got Sergei on the radio. ‘Give us the name of the first person to inform you he landed a fish’. ‘Young Andrew – a 22 lbs. Osenka’ was the reply. ‘Well tell him he has caught Number 1000′ we said. Andrew is 19 years of age and in fact he landed five fish of 22, 8, 25, 4 & 10 yesterday.
We had a lovely instantaneous champagne party with the guides and, of course, the ‘dry camp’ rule had to be broken. It was an occasion to recognise the excellence of our guides and to thank them for their help and for being the wonderful people they are. When we first came to Rynda in 1998 we understood the river was good for about 250 salmon a year with the possibility of the odd fish around 25 lbs. The development of the Rynda is an extraordinary and fascinating experience. If you have to pick one reason for the remarkable success it must be the policy of Russian only guides. These young men have dedicated themselves to learning about the Rynda water and the ways of salmon and the ways of Western fly fishermen. Their enthusiasm can at times be almost disconcerting when you realise their pleasure in the landing of a fine fish can be greater than your own. But they have come to understand something else besides. It is that Rynda is a way of life where time and worries are suspended in the pursuit of happiness and pleasure.
So what is it all about? Water and weather of course – we knew the fish were there. Since we last reported on 21st June the water went down and down until it hit bottom on 7th August having fallen a further 5′ so that we were 11′ below normal. And then the rain came frustratingly little at first but all the while building up so that the river never became turbid and now we have the normal height again and it is like fishing another river. Meanwhile the temperature has also moved as we would have wished having fallen steadily from 18C to 9C. The result is that the old fish are now active and the Osenka fresh autumn fish are moving in on schedule. We have every reason to expect a good end to the season.
Strangely most of us will miss the four drought weeks since 21st July because our skills were tested to the limit and we got to know the river intimately. Indeed we got to know some of the fish intimately – in some places you could get your partner or guide to watch large groups of fish reacting to the fly and we feel we gained some special knowledge. And what about the results the reader might be asking. In the four weeks 37 rods landed 234 fish. Not bad! The best fish was only 27 lbs. but it was great fun. It was hooked in the Canyon at the end of the day as the helicopter came in so the pilot ‘cut engines’ as is the rule. After 30 minutes word came over the radio the fight might go on for some time so we ordered the helicopter to take some of the guests up to the canyon for a grandstand view. On a light leader it yielded after another 45 minutes having given us the pleasure of observing its every move from above in clear water on a bright day. It should be noted the best of the Irish and the US Steelheaders showed the way with brilliant low water techniques. One genius had surprising success with the nymph so we added ‘omaniac’ for his nickname.
The best news of all is that these were some of the happiest weeks we have ever experienced. There were no glum faces. In addition to the salmon we went on char, brown trout and sea trout expeditions with brilliant results. Maybe it was a sense of shared adversity and challenge. Maybe it was because one comes here by referral or invitation – Rynda is decidedly not commercial. Whatever it is or was the guests were true sportsmen, they made the best of it and met with success in difficult conditions. Their kind and generous letters overwhelm us.
Rynda Continues to Surprise – 18th July to 21st July 2001
The water temperature has fallen to 14C and the longest day is a month passed so now our worst fears on this front are allayed. Meanwhile there has been no useful rain and the river has fallen another 2.5′ so that it is now 6′ lower than we have ever seen before making the river more beautiful than ever and throwing up more secret places to fish.
Rynda did ‘continue to surprise in any event’!! Last week 10 rods took 137 fish maintaining the excellent numbers per rod. Of these 70 were salmon at an incredible average weight of 14.9 lbs. The best five were 33, 29, 28, 27 & 27 lbs. Seven of the ten rods broke their record and we have broken ours with the 33 pounder which may have been more. It came to the net in Iron Gate much too easily in 15 minutes. The fisherman had two hands around its huge wrist and the guide was attempting to measure it when it broke free full of latent energy. They are certain it was well over 15 kilos and 110 cms, by all accounts truly awesome. After much debate we have entered it in our records at 33 lbs. but it is not properly authenticated and we must await another great event for this to become the official record.
In this low water some of the rods prefer to use single-handed rods and this has produced occasions of ridiculous good fun. One fish of 27 lbs. caught in Prunella was landed in Rebecca after 1 hour and 47 minutes setting an endurance record. Another of only 17 lbs. was again caught in Prunella, went through both Rupert and Rebecca and was landed in Sunray, setting a distance record.
Last night there was a good run of large grilse but it has been a few days since fresh salmon have entered the river. Any moment now we are expecting the ‘Ilyinko’s’ which are 4/6 kilos salmon which normally arrive at the beginning of August which will almost certainly be early this year like everything else. Then, of course’ the ‘Osenka’s’ from end August on. We know from the scientists these are our biggest fish, even larger than the first Spring runs in June, of between 5 & 15 kilos. This year we will be ready for them with a full team of rods to the end of our season on 15th September. There is a lot more excitement to come in this extraordinary season!
Amazing Fishing at Rynda to 18th July 2001
Right from the beginning the fishing has been incredibly good and remains so. Each week we worry about the water levels going down and the temperature going up only to find ourselves amazed at the wonderful sport and stunning catch results. Most of us have been having some of the best times of our lives.
Consider this: 41 rods have caught 566 fish in five weeks since 9th June which is an average of 13.8 fish per rod. 413 were salmon with an average weight of 13.5 lbs. 135 were over 15 lbs. The five largest were 30, 30, 28, 28 & 28 lbs. Just moments ago as this report is being written in the 4th day of our 6th week a 29 lbs. fish has been reported over the radio at Swan Lake Pool. As of yesterday we had already landed 72 fish in 3 days.
What is it about? Yes it is an above average fish run but this is only half the story. It seems that Rynda does very well in low water conditions. We have a rock structure that gives us an unusual variety of over 60 named pools holding the salmon in 15 kilometres in normal conditions and we are catching fish in nearly all of them. But as the water level falls small ‘Surprise’ Pools appear. For example ‘Big Rapids’ was always thought to be unfishable but a pool has now appeared two thirds of the way up providing wild stories of rods clambering over the boulders to land their fish. The Rynda House Falls and the Black Cliff area are other classic examples. On most days fish are taken in new places.
The other main reason for the results is familiarity by both guides and rods. It is our fourth season and the Russian guides know a great deal about the river. They are starting to overcome their natural reticence with foreigners although it is always important to press them for advice. But perhaps the most important factor is that most of our rods have been before, exchanging information with each other, and approaching the water with confidence and affection. Rynda is one of the most difficult rivers to fish where experience and knowledge really count.
The skilled anglers spend a lot of time studying the water looking for depth and the concentration of flow. They fish with long leaders of 15 lbs. and even 12 lbs. using small traditional No.8 & 10 flies. They use bombers and skate flies. One guest has been having great success hitching small sunrays and dappling them over the pockets.
And where do we go from here? On the 14th July the water temperature reached 20C and we are relieved it has now down to 17C and falling. On 12th June the water level was 12′ below normal and it has fallen 30′ since then. It is now 3.5′ below the lowest point last year. To be on the safe side we went over to night fishing last Saturday and everyone has enjoyed the fabulous midnight sun. We will probably do this next week as well and change back to day fishing on the 28th July when the nights are drawing in and we will have beaten any potential temperature problems. But as to water levels we are in uncharted territory and we pray for rain. If we are unlucky in this we will abandon all restraint on helicopter flying and allow guests to explore the fabulous wild trout and char fishing over our vast territory. But on the other hand we may have rain and the bonanza will continue. Then again Rynda salmon fishing may continue to surprise in any event.
The Sea Eagle’s have returned with one of their young but they are not nesting at Eagle’s Nest Pool now that we have named it so and we have not found their nest but perhaps this is just as well. There is a magnificent Honey Buzzard nest at Five Pools. We have had visitations from great herds of reindeer and the Saamii Indians paid us a visit last week. Such is their reserved nature or fear of the white man that they stood on the mountain behind the lodge for some time waiting silently to be invited down. Some 5 miles to the east of Litza we came across a bear with two cubs and have some fine film.
A final note for the naturalist, the statistician or philosopher. The tundra is responding to the extra weeks of warmth in wonderful ways. For example the trees around the camp are 200-300 years old and average about 100′ in height. In previous years the growth shoots have been almost indiscernible. This year they are up to 6′. We are seeing flora we have never seen before and may never see again!
“RYNDA 2000 – A Brilliant Season” by Northern Rivers
The catch results were excellent with 792 fish landed. We started with an average weight of 15.6 lbs. and ended the guest season with a figure of 9.6 lbs. Even at the height of the grilse season the weekly average weight never fell below 8.6 lbs. Of the total number of fish caught 46% were grilse and 54% were salmon with an average weight of 13 lbs. exactly. We were delighted that large multiple sea winter fish were spread over the whole season and river for example:
- June 14 – 30 lbs. in Upper Sea Pool by Per Stadigh
- June 19 – 26 lbs. in Dancing Platform by Colin Taylor
- July 7 – 27 lbs. in 2nd Waterfall by Graham Ferguson
- July 14 – 31 lbs. in Norway Pool by Don Calder
- July 24 – 27 lbs. in Flekke’s Pool by Mark Brooks
- Aug 26 – 25 lbs. in Tolstoi Pool by Peter Power
- Sept 12 – 32 lbs. in Eagle’s Nest by Per Stadigh
- Sept 13 – 25 lbs. in Lower Home Pool by Tim Haskins
In our first full season we were amazed that we were able to sustain our catch rates/rod and record rising average weights as the summer turned to autumn and the tundra became even more beautiful. It has generally been believed that ‘prime’ North Coast fishing is over by mid July but Rynda appears to be unique judging by the fine results at the end of July and early August.
Fresh fish continued to enter the river throughout the season but the real thrill came at the end of August when the first magnificent silver 25 lbs. ‘Osenka’ was caught in Tolstoi Pool. The ‘Osenka’ is a late run fish that survives the winter under the ice to spawn the following year. They are few and far between but the most exciting experience amidst the spectacular autumn colours. The writer returned to close the camp in the week starting 23rd September and was overjoyed to land 3 ‘Osenka’s’ out of 5 fish averaging 16.2 lbs in about the equivalent of 2 days fishing. Next year we will invite more guests to do some serious fishing in September.
More fish came into the river than in 1999. However we think the development of the fishery and the experience of our rods and guides had more to do with the results than the run of fish. It was noticeable that returning rods improved their catch significantly. The prize this year went to Richard Maitland who caught 4 fish in 1999 and returned this year to get a 20/20.
The average number of fish per rod was 8.7. There was a remarkable difference between rods even in the same week. We have noticed over the years that an individuals catch in a week can vary by as much as three times the average to one third due to skill, experience, perseverance, agility and luck!
The water temperature was 5.5C on arrival in mid June and there was a good volume of water. It was clear from earlier sightings that we missed many serious fish so we will start on Saturday 2nd June in 2001. The water temperature peaked at 20C on 21st July when it was bright and sunny and yet we caught 16 fish that day proving some experts wrong. From end July onwards the water level was substantially down on past years which opened up hitherto unknown interesting places to fish.
When we came to Rynda three years ago we knew of 24 pools. By the end of 1999 we had discovered 42. Our helicopter explorations and determined fishing at all levels of water have now developed the river to the point that we can now boast 60 named pools over some 10 miles. They are extremely varied and sometimes rugged and difficult to fish but many are deep and this is why the entire system holds good fish in every week of the season. As we never operate more than five beats with two rods this is an average of 12 pools over two miles per pair of rods.
We held some fabulous on request events. Firstly the Zolotaya (it means ‘Golden River) was a great success. Each pair of rods found it very special to have the exclusive use of such a beautiful river for a day. No party went there without catching fish up to 15 lbs. but frankly we left it too late to take full advantage. Next year we will fish Zolotaya every day because it is so popular. Local knowledge says the early and late fish can match the Rynda and although we cannot quite get ourselves to fully believe this we expect some excellent results starting mid June.
It is well known the upper reaches of the ‘Three Rivers’ have what may be the world’s best wild brown trout fishing. On the Rynda numerous fish were caught and there were many exciting experiences. William Webb caught an 8 lbs. brown trout in Reindeer Crossing which he describes as his ‘best fish ever’. It decided to return to home base in Swan Lake and took him down the rapids.
We discovered marvellous Arctic Char and Sea Trout fishing taking baskets of a dozen fish and more of up to 7 lbs. There are three chains of lochs with burns feeding the lower Rynda which hold good quantities of char of both the red and yellow variety. We took parties down to the Rynda sea pools in the evening and had very exciting fishing. These events with both char and sea trout have become very popular. On request next year we will arrange for guests to spend a day wondering down the loch chains or even 24 hours in the estuary to catch the tides staying in the old village.
|CATCH RESULTS FOR 2000 SEASON|
|Salmon and Grilse only – No Kelts|
We have good feelings about the future because there were plenty of grilse and conditions seem to have taken a turn for the better in the North Sea. It must be remembered that we, from a biological point of view, are an eastern extension of the Norwegian strains of large Atlantic salmon – Alta through Tana and on to Rynda. The scientists tell us the river is in pristine condition and our parr counts are optimum. There were times when the smolts and parr were a serious impediment to fishing – one rod hooked 12 on his way through Norway pool plus one salmon and a grilse!
For the longer term there is one major factor we are now willing to disclose. The poaching before we came was horrendous. In the last three years we have protected through to the end of spawning all of the ‘Three Rivers’ (including Kharlovka and the Eastern Litza) with armed soldiers, fishing inspectors and our staff so that serious poaching is eliminated. Maybe this is why we had so many juveniles this year! Hopefully, all other things being equal, we should have further improved runs from 2002 onwards.
We had a rather pleasing moment just recently. A colonel in the FSS dropped in on us with a friend in the last week after the guests had departed. We entertained him as one would and encouraged him to fish and he caught four nice fish and was pleased. As he left he said that having now completed his fishing tour of all the North Coast rivers Rynda stood out as being a ‘clean’ river. We thought he was referring to the water but in fact what he meant was more than that, he was speaking of the total absence of human evidence – no litter, cigarette ends, new fires, moved boulders, fishing aids or even damaged branches. This is the way we are going to keep things and we appreciate your help. Always remember the birch trees at 2nd Waterfall maybe only 6 metres tall but they are up to 300 years old!
Everything about life at Rynda was quite wonderful this season. There was great happiness in the camp throughout and everyone, both guests and staff, seem to want to come back. It has taken three years to get where we are – to improve the buildings and facilities – create the right cuisine – perfect the daily schedules – train dedicated young guides – and learn the potential of the river and how to fish it. With your help and recommendations we will continue to strive for perfection.
“The Caviar of Rivers” by Mike Savage
Rynda is not a river where you expect large numbers of small fish. But salmon of 20 pounds plus are relatively common and fish of between 30 and 40 pounds are there to be caught – or lost! On my very first day on this river I beached a fish which I believe to have been 34 pounds and that same night another was caught of a similar size. This visit was intended to be for e few hours but we were stranded for two days.
This year there was a heat wave immediately before we came and I packed as if for the Mediterranean. The weather changed and has been near perfect fishing conditions except that the water level is unusually low. Landing big fish is extremely difficult and we have lost many. One fish took fly, line and rod! The rod was subsequently recovered!! Nylon of 26 pounds breaking strain is broken frequently!
Here the overall experience is unique. The river seems as much designed for enjoyment of the salmon as the fishermen. It is a totally unpolluted river running through virgin land with a huge variety of interesting pools, runs and lakes. There is plenty of varied aquatic life and the spawning beds are excellent. In fact from a scientific point of view smolt production is at optimum – the difficulties start at sea as with all salmon rivers. The camp is a model of unobtrusive service with a sensible level of comfort and facilities. The staff are 100% and the guides excellent. Here it is a Russian experience adapted to western tastes. You do not feel the pressures sometimes found in more fashionable camps. There is only one resident in the entire water basin called Kolya, a fund of tundra knowledge with a intelligent caring personality, and he works as a guide. The scenery is like the most beautiful parts of the west coast of Scotland with a great variety of wild birds and flowers.
This river does not wear its heart on its sleeve! The salmon are not concentrated by large waterfalls. The beats are long and interesting. There is a real sense of freedom. It is a place for a fisherman with a reasonable level of fitness, who is prepared to work hard, who likes a challenge is and not driven to achieve record numbers of small fish.
In the past it has suffered more than most by bureaucratic problems and under capitalised operators. This is now ancient history but it does leave much to be discovered as to where the fish go or lie which adds to the challenge. Dozens of fine pools are unnamed. The house rule for these is that the first to catch a 25 plus salmon may name their pool. There is an MI-2 helicopter in camp with a fuel station supplied for the season. A serious anti-poaching campaign appears to have been a total success, and also net marked fish have not been seen this year. Every prospect pleases – even the cigarette butts are picked up!
This river is a low profile river for quiet enjoyment in pleasant company without excess. It is a house party atmosphere not a fishing hotel. The owners only allow visitors who are known to them or well referred. It is not run on a normal commercial basis and is highly flexible in daily operation. The beauty of it all is mind blowing! Last night I fished by myself for two hours loosing two good fish before beaching a 20 pound plus bar of silver. When I finally left the river the sun was peeping over a saddle through a light drizzle and the rainbow ended in the pool.
By Mike Savage
‘An Unparalleled Adventure’ by Dickie Freemantle
I started thinking about putting ink to paper when sitting in a sauna at the very tip of the Kola peninsular in Northern Russia 150 miles from any form of civilisation. The reader might be forgiven for asking what on earth the writer of this passage, Dickie Freemantle, could possibly write about that would be of any interest to anybody. I would implore those sceptics to spend a few minutes to journey a little further.
Those personages who are acquainted with me might have guessed it. It is about fishing, Not however a normal run of the mill fishing story. Not another ”it was this big,…a wee treble that I bought in…I had it on for 45 minutes’ To be more precise it is a story of a fishing holiday with my chums, actually that even is not correct, it is about one particular day during the holiday. A party of friends, all from different parts of the globe had agreed to get together to fish the Rynda River with the owner who had recently acquired three rivers and a vast area of land on the Kola peninsular. Getting to Russia and finally the fishing Lodge, although exciting as I had not been to Russia before, plays no part, other than to say that the area about the lodge is one of the most memorable and ruggedly beautifully places that I have even seen. In fact it is a huge unspoilt wild area, untouched by modern life and all that that brings with it.
The day started when we emerged at a ‘sensible’ hour from our six individual extremely comfortable log cabins located 100 meters from the bank of the Rynda river. A bacon and egg breakfast was served and the Gang were assigned their various beats and guides. As soon as breakfast was finished we embarked into the helicopter and set off up the river to be deposited by the various pools we were to fish. A long hard fishing session then followed on a series of breathtaking and spectacular pools with fish caught and lost at regular intervals.
By now the reader will be asking ‘How many and how big?’ The final tally at the end of the day by six of us was twenty six salmon. Seven fish in excess of fifteen pounds – the largest at 22 lbs. Many of them were bars of silver covered in sea lice. Everybody had had at least one adventure where fish had left pools, taking out yards of backing, under rocks and every other conceivable type of memorable moment.
Before I leave this wonderful unspoilt river I wish to make one final comment. Those people who have the chance to come to this vast unspoilt land and who also have the chance as I have had to fish this river, will take away memories that will last for ever. Thank you Russia and my kind and generous host for allowing me to fish this wonderful piece of God’s country. I do not know enough adjectives to describe the pleasure that I have had.
By Dickie Freemantle
‘Russian Idyll’ by Anthony Lowes
Whilst I had heard a great deal from angling friends about the fantastic Atlantic Salmon fishing now available in Northern Russia on the Kola peninsula, catching large numbers of easy-to-catch fish has never been my scene. I very much enjoy salmon fly fishing, but I am probably more a trout fisherman at heart, generally preferring the challenge of matching the hatch and tempting large wild trout to take a dry fly. But few fisherman can resist the opportunity of catching large salmon if the chance presents itself, so I needed little persuading when my friend Don Calder suggested last September that I join him and his wife Ann, on a trip to the Rynda, one of the Northern rivers on the Kola in July this year. In prior years Don and the other members of the party had fished both the Rynda’s sister rivers, the Kharlovka and Eastern Litza,and had caught and lost large fish up to 35 lbs.
The Kola is a remote area to the East of Northern Norway situated largely above the Arctic Circle. Apart from the industrial city of Murmansk, it is a sparsely inhabited pristine wilderness.The climate is harsh with temperatures often dropping to below -30 degrees Celsius in the long dark winter; the Arctic summer, with twenty-four hour daylight, is short.In the South of the peninsula,the region is relatively flat and forested, giving way to the tundra and more hilly, almost treeless terrain in the North.The whole area is interlaced with unpolluted lakes,streams,and rivers,most of which are bulging with trout and salmon. In the South,rivers such as the Umba and Varzuga provide anglers with the chance to catch 50 plus salmon averaging 4 to 6 lbs to their own rod in a week’s fishing. The Northern coast rivers offer the chance of fewer but much larger fish, related to their cousins in the Alta and other big fish Norwegian rivers.
In early July we travelled to Helsinki, overnighting there before taking an early morning flight to Murmansk,which was filled almost exclusively with 150 plus fellow anglers. We arrived just before 11 in low cloud and mist. I had been warned to be patient as there were only two immigration channels at Murmansk airport,which first process the outgoing passengers(the previous week’s returning fisherman) before admitting the incoming parties. Although I had been told that the reception would be unfriendly and facilities limited, things must be changing — not only were drinks available at the bar while we waited; we even received a smile or two from the immigration officials.By 2.30 pm we had cleared immigration and customs, but now the weather was becoming a problem. After 2-3 weeks of heat wave, with temperatures up in the 30′s, conditions had given way to rain,low cloud and poor visibility.The only means of transport to the Rynda camp,some 250 kms to the East was by helicopter.These were not permitted to operate when the cloud ceiling was less than 350 ft,and by 8.30 pm with no let up in the weather , it was suggested we spend the night at a hotel in Murmansk.Taxis appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and we were driven for 40 minutes at high speed in pouring rain to Murmansk-without a doubt the most hair raising part of our entire trip!
For my friends who had been fishing in Russia before, this was an unwelcome diversion at best, but for me, having never visited the country, the overnight stay in the Hotel Poliarnie Zori and the visit to Murmansk were fascinating.The drab uniformity of Soviet architecture and the rudimentary nature of the rooms in the hotel (one of the better ones in the city) was remarkable. Even so every room was equipped with a TV which picked up BBC World, Eurosport,and other foreign channels,all of which are now available to and viewed by the Russians themselves. Dinner was better than expected, but by 12.30 am I was ready for a good night’s sleep.The next morning all our minds were on fishing, and at noon, with the weather lifting, we were told to get to the airport as quickly as possible. The Russian MI-8 helicopter lifted off from the runway about 2.30 pm, and in little more than an hour we arrived at Rynda camp, located some 4 km from the mouth of the river. The camp is perched above a small lake through which the Rynda runs on its way to the sea.
We were greeted most cordially by our host for the week from the Northern Rivers Company. This Russian firm manages operations and owns the fishing rights to the three major salmon rivers in the area,the Rynda,the Kharlovka,and the Eastern Litza. There is also a fourth, smaller ‘grilse’ river,the Zolotaya which is sandwiched between the Rynda and Kharlovka.All four flow North into the Barents Sea.
Once we had been shown to our individual wood cabins, we changed,and acclimatised ourselves generally, but our host was keen for us to get fishing. With the rain and cooler weather,conditions were improving after the heat of the previous week. Then the water temperature had reached 19 degrees C, necessitating night fishing,though at this time of year it never gets dark,just slightly less bright than at mid-day. As we were to experience during the week,the weather can change from hour to hour,one minute bright sunshine with temperatures up into the 20′s and the next driving rain with temperatures dropping into single digits.
The Rynda is about 100 km long and accessible throughout most of its length to salmon. At the present time only the first 20 km or so from the sea are seriously fished,though undoubtedly further pools will be discovered upstream as the fishery develops.The fishing is split into four beats, comprising about five main pools per beat. Beat 1 encompasses the Upper Sea Pool up to the Home Pool opposite the camp,above which Beat 2 starts and so on upstream.Generally transport is by helicopter and you are expected to be on time both for departure and pick-up. Forget all the talk you hear about poorly maintained Russian helicopters. We had a highly skilled pilot and mechanic who gave every confidence in their professionalism and attention to safety. The MI-2 helicopter,which remained on-site at the camp, was perfectly suited to the role, with a capacity to carry up to nine people.But ear defenders were needed as helicopters are very noisy.
I was allocated Beat 3 by our trip leader, Laurence Banks, and was paired with Mike Savage, a Kola veteran who has fished virtually every Kola river since it opened up,and who was a fund of information and knowledge during our time together.Although I had seen photographs of the Rynda in Roxton’s brochure,I was not prepared for its rugged beauty. A fast flowing river which over the centuries has cut its course into the boulder strewn glacial landscape,it reminded me somewhat of the River Orchy in the West Highlands of Scotland,though it is less of a spate river:11% of its watershed is made up of lakes.The river has a huge variety of classic pools,rapids and falls up which salmon are able to ascend, leaving the fish less concentrated than on the Kharlovka and Eastern Litza, where impassable waterfalls prohibit upstream passage. Small birch trees are to be found along the more sheltered areas of the river bank, and dwarf birch grows over the rocky ground. A variety of alpine flowers, none of whose names I knew ,were also much in evidence round the camp.
We arrived on our beat at around 6.30 pm in driving rain and high wind,a blessing as I learned the next day,and were told that the helicopter would pick us up at 10.15 pm sharp that night. Dinner would be at 11. Sergei,the manager of the camp, accompanied us and put us on to the top two pools(none of the beat’s five pools have names). The house rule is that the first person to catch a 25 lb plus fish in an unnamed pool has the right to name it. I was using a 15 ft Sage rod, Valentine reel , and a new floating 10 wt Rio Windcutter line,with a 9 ft tapered 22 lb breaking strain leader,attached to which was a size 1/0 barbless single hook Bryson’s Sheep fly which I had tied in London the previous week.The Bryson’s Sheep is a black bodied fly with a long black and yellow hair wing overlaid with a rich yellow hackle,jungle cock cheeks,and a few strands of lureflash,which had proved effective on these rivers.This overall outfit was well suited to the river,and the Windcutter line proved to be aptly named in the strong winds that we experienced at times during the week.We had been warned not to use under 20 lb leader as large fish often break these round the numerous rocks to be found in many of the pools.A sensible precaution as the fish at this time of year tend to weigh between 15-20 lbs,with a good chance of hooking,though not necessarily landing,a 25-30 lber.By mid July the grilse start to come in, followed by a less prolific run of heavy salmon up to 40 lbs plus in September before the Arctic winter closes in.
I drew a blank in the top pool and walked down to the second pool already fished by Mike Savage,who had moved on down.Towards the tail in what looked lovely holding water my fly stopped,and moved steadily upstream.I was into my first Rynda salmon! After I suppose a ten minute fight,I was able to beach and then release unharmed an estimated 15 lb bar of silver. Before close of play that evening,I had had another 15 lber, again on the Bryson’s Sheep, and Mike had caught a grilse and lost a large fish he estimated to be 18 lbs, both of which came to a much smaller Ally Shrimp. As if to celebrate our success a Rough Legged Buzzard squawked overhead as we left.
In Russia all salmon fishing on the Kola is catch and release with only barbless single or double hooked fly permitted. Only the occasional grilse is kept for culinary purposes.In my view this is a thoroughly responsible approach to conserving stocks and the Russians are to be congratulated on these regulations. As an example of the wisdom of these controls, the experience on the Laerdal in Norway is instructive. The river had to be poisoned throughout its length to eliminate the Gyrodactylus Salaris parasite that had infected the head waters killing all juvenile salmon parr. The only cure is to eliminate all life from a river, then restock, and close it to fisherman for five years. Prior to the poisoning in mid June, rods caught about 300 salmon that year. Only another 300 mature fish were retrieved from the river after poisoning, which surely proves how important it is to return fish unharmed when stocks are low ,as indeed they are today across Britain.
The next day I was again teamed up with Mike and we were sent to the top beat, Beat 4.The weather was less windy and rather humid, an immediate invitation for the mosquitoes to appear en masse, and a head net became essential protection. Only Sergei seemed somehow able to tolerate them. We fished some lovely pools, but drew a blank until Mike hit a pod of 8-10 lbers in this beat’s Falls Pool, and in quick succession had three out of exactly the same spot. I never even rose a fish all day, and was quite pleased when the helicopter arrived to whisk us away from the increasingly attentive mosquitoes. That evening at dinner the rest of the party reported mixed success, which depended on which beat they had been fishing ,a sure sign that fresh shoals of fish were beginning to run upstream.
The third day, Tuesday, saw me allocated to the lowest beat,Beat 1,under Sergei’s exclusive tutelage. We first drew a blank on one of the most scenic of pools, the Rock Island Pool, which was within walking distance of the camp. When I asked Sergei if any of the pools had Russian names, he said many were unnamed but this one was called the ‘Dancing Platform’ in Russian, which given the topography of the pool seemed an altogether more apt and romantic description. Sergei was also keen to get down to the Upper Sea Pool about two hours before high tide as this was the best time to intercept fish coming in from the sea. However, before reaching there I picked up a 5 lb Brown Trout in a run, the only trout of the week. Whilst the Rynda does have some very good trout fishing with a plentiful population of fish up to this size in its head waters, fish to 12 lbs or more are there to be caught on the Kharlovka and Eastern Litza above the falls impassable to salmon. Presumably the lack of competition for food from salmon parr accounts for the large size of trout in these rivers. We arrived at the sea pool in perfect time, and I decided to put on a large double hooked orange Shrimp Fly, the thought being that a fish fresh from the sea might find a prawn or shrimp imitation attractive. I was right! Casting across intervening currents, a large fish immediately grabbed the fly, leaped right out of the water about twenty-five yards distance from us, and roared off across the pool. After a few minutes, when I thought matters were being brought under some sort of control, the fish decided to stop fooling around and headed at high speed back towards the sea only for the line to go slack as the hook came out. A bitter blow as this was by far the largest salmon I had ever hooked, a fish we had both clearly seen and which Sergei estimated weighed around 27 lbs. After lunch as the flood tide came in, I managed to lose one and raise two more fish, but it was a bit of an anti-climax after what had gone before!
Wednesday was a fishing day I will never forget. Paired with Liz Banks, wife of Laurence ,we were dropped off near the top of Beat 2 in high wind and driving rain. Our guide was Misha, who spoke excellent English and, like Sergei, was a delightful companion. After catching a small grilse(which was kept for dinner) in, as Misha described, the Secret Pool since it was not named, we walked down towards that beat’s Falls Pool. Suddenly, at no more than 50 yards, we came across a herd of about 75 reindeer, which had been sheltering from the wind and rain on a steep bank by the river. As they moved away we saw what looked like an albino amongst the herd, an unusual sight apparently. After this excitement, we soon arrived at the Falls Pool, a gorge which opened up into a magnificent very wide pool. As Liz and Misha walked up to the head by the falls, I perched on a cliff 25 ft above the water half way down the pool and started to wet my Bryson’s Sheep fly. On the second cast, a submarine emerged from the depths, totally missing the fly that was swimming just under the surface. Yelling to the others, I cast again and almost immediately hooked up into a heavy fish, which then proceeded to thrash around on the surface — an ominous sign that it was probably lightly hooked. We had just begun to manoeuvre down the rocks when once again out came the fly. Having had a good view of the initial take, I estimate I had lost another 25 lb plus salmon. Two in two days was becoming a bad habit! We fished another two pools without further incident before the helicopter picked us up for lunch back at the camp. That afternoon our host wanted us both to concentrate on the Norway Pool, clearly one of his favourites. In two hours fishing we lost five fish ranging from 15-20 lbs each and all were on for considerable periods of time before coming off. Most came to a No.4 Bryson’s Sheep fly, but any suitably sized fly would probably have worked given that these fish had clearly not been in freshwater for more than a very few days. I was beginning to think that barbless hooks were the problem, though Misha wanted me to strike and strike hard when the take was felt, a practice I had learnt in my teens that would generally pull the fly out of the salmon’s mouth! In thinking about this, I recalled a conversation with another friend who had often fished in Russia and had had the same problem. He advised the use of single crab hooks with tube flies, as these hooks are offset at an angle from the shank, and he had found they were more effective than standard hooks. I resolved to use a Collie Dog tube with one of these hooks the next day, particularly as a favourite fly on these rivers called the Sunray Shadow bears more than a passing resemblance to it.
When we returned to the camp that evening, we learned that we were not the only ones to have had some excitement that day. Laurence Banks had been fishing the Falls Pool on Beat 4 when he hooked into a very large salmon on the far side of the pool that swam at high speed directly towards him, before turning tail and breaking his line on a rock as it tried to run out of the pool. On Beat 3 Laurence’s son, Richard, had hooked a fish that initially did very little, giving the impression that it wasn’t big, before rocketing off downstream ripping Richard’s rod out of his hand into the river. His guide ,Kolya, who saw the fish and reckoned it was another 25 lber, immediately jumped in after the rod and managed to retrieve it safely, though by that time the fish had been lost. This action by Kolya was typical of the attitude of the guides and staff generally at the camp. They could not have been more helpful and we were looked after superbly throughout our stay. Even the cooking and food which I had expected to be mediocre was good.
As the Kharlovka camp wasn’t full, Laurence suggested that Ann and Don Calder and I should make a visit there the next day. The flight was a 15 minute helicopter ride and once we had picked up the head guide and manager, Volodya, we flew from the camp down to one of the best pools, the Island Pool, just above the sea. Because of the shorter length of river available to salmon due to impassable falls, fish were more concentrated in the pools than on the Rynda. The numbers caught during the week had been greater than with our party, but they too had experienced shoals of fish moving up river so that catches varied depending upon where you were. The Kharlovka looked a less pretty and larger river than the Rynda, though I only saw a small part of it downstream from the camp. Nevertheless the Island Pool just reeked of salmon, though none of us could do other than raise one fish all morning. However just before lunch, having put on a Collie Dog with the crab hook that I had resolved to do the day before, the fly stopped at the tail of the pool and a salmon of around 20 lbs leapt out of the water. This time there was no mistake and after a 15-20 minute fight Volodya expertly beached an extremely fresh 22 lb salmon covered in sea lice. The fish was in superb shape, very thick and deep, and it zoomed off into the deep water once it was released after the mandatory photographs had been taken. My largest salmon ever!
That evening after supper back at Rynda, we were offered the choice of flying down to the river’s mouth to see an old mainly deserted village, or of fishing the Norway pool for two hours. Don and Mike chose Norway and had a very similar experience to Liz and mine of the day before — four fish caught up to 20 lbs. Meanwhile Liz, Ann, and I helicoptered down to the village where one of our guides, Kolya, still lived along with a couple of scientists who had a small cabin on the opposite side of the river. There were another dozen derelict but imposing wooden houses, originally inhabited by the local white Russians who were massacred,down to the last woman and child, during the Stalin era – a sobering thought that made us all appreciate how very lucky we were to have lived in stable democracies all our lives.
Our last fishing day ,July 9, saw a large grilse run come into the river and in half an hour at the end of the day, two of our number hooked into five or six on the Home pool where nothing had been happening earlier. Previously Misha had taken me up to Beat 4 again and we had shared in what I described to him over lunch as the perfect salmon fishing day – one fish in the morning and one in the afternoon. A salmon which turned out to be 13 lbs rose from the depths of the beautiful Ptarmigan pool to grab a long tailed Garry I had put on at Misha’s suggestion just before lunch; and one fish after lunch of 15 lbs in the Falls pool was taken on a large black and yellow fly called a Tosh. This was probably the same fish that had risen to a Bomber dryfly which I had dragged across the pool a few minutes earlier. During our lunch of excellent hot Russian soup and reindeer meat, we had watched a Gyr Falcon quartering the ground whilst we discussed many subjects of mutual interest.
When the helicopter picked us up, Misha was handed a note in English from Sergei which just said ‘Go to Norway!’ without any mention of the pool,which seemed to amuse him.This reminded me of the understated sense of humour of our Russian guides,best manifested the night before when a guide who had looked after one of our party the previous year dropped in from the Kharlovka camp. The two welcomed each other like long lost friends, and when inquiries were made of Sergei as to whether it would be all right to have a drink with this guide, the reply came back (given that there is a no alcohol rule in the camp for the guides) ‘just one would be OK to support the conversation’. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Predictably at Norway we were into them again, landing a 15 lber soon after we arrived, and rising two more before leaving for the day. The pool was obviously packed with fish,as we frequently saw dorsal fins cutting through the water as the salmon moved upstream.
So ended the most wonderful week’s salmon fishing, which had far surpassed my expectations.Our party had landed about 45 fish, but this gives a false impression of the real possibilities as more fish were lost than brought to the net, and the hot weather that had preceded our trip had undoubtedly reduced the number of fish in the river. The Rynda and Kharlovka camps operated by the Northern Rivers Company,unlike I was told some other operations on the Kola, were superbly resourced and managed by the Russian team. This fishing must be the best Atlantic salmon fishing available in the world today, rivaling anything I had experienced in Alaska or elsewhere on my travels. I can’t wait to return.