Thomas J. McGraw is very pleased with his trip to the Ozernaya River on the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, and he does such a good job describing it we think it deserves to be fully aired. His trip was conducted for himself and seven other anglers by Will Blair’s Best of Kamchatka fishing company. Their contact for the trip was Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters in Michigan http://schultzoutfitters.com), who turned to Fly Water Travel (www.flywatertravel.com) in Ashland, Oregon, for some help with the logistics of the trip. The end result was a trip that exceeded McGraw’s very high expectations. He goes on to write:
Our group of eight had a great trip to the Ozernaya River in Kamchatka, Russia, August 14–21, 2017. We arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday, prior to our Monday departure, and stayed at the Lakefront Millennium Hotel. Our rooms, the restaurant, the bar, and the lakefront patio all proved to be fantastic. Highlights of our stopover were dinner at Simon & Seafort’s downtown and a flight over the glaciers around Anchorage provided by Rust’s Flying Service (www.flyrusts.com). (http://www.flyrusts.com).
Our driver picked us up at 5:15 AM Monday for our 7:30 flight from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk. The only line at the airport was for our flight. The four-hour flight aboard Yakutia Airlines’ Boeing 737 was uneventful, except for the mind-blowing views of Kamchatka.
Petro greeted us with rain, but this was the last rain we would see before returning to Anchorage. The customs line was about one and a half hours long, largely due to one passenger who thought he could bring a handgun into Russia without any preapproval or paperwork. Otherwise, we had no problems and were soon on our tour bus—where they had beer, water, and hors d’oeuvres waiting for us! Along the way, we hit a local market (WAMCA) that had a great selection of US liquor and beer at a fraction of US prices after the exchange rate.
Victor (Russian owner) and Svetlana (21-year manager/chef) met us at the airport. They handled the luggage and any issues at customs and accompanied us on the bus and chopper all the way to camp. It’s not often that the lodge owner is your baggage assistant and escort!
The bus ride from Petro to the chopper in the town of Milkovo is about three and a half hours. The bus is comfortable, and the route is now over 50 percent paved. They were paving the remainder of the road while we were there. When finished, it will probably be a three-hour trip or less.
The Russian MI-8 chopper is big and sturdy. You fly over landscape that is incredibly lush, full of rivers, 100 ft trees, waterfalls, lakes, hundreds of creeks and rivers, mountains, volcanoes, and wildlife. At this point, it’s no longer just logging miles. The views from the chopper and the bus make it part of the experience. Don’t forget earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones for the chopper ride.
The pictures cannot do the camp justice. Four two-person A-frame cabins up top, a large dining cabin/kitchen down the stairs, and the guides’ cabin and another two-person cabin down by the river. All of the cabins have electricity, small wood-burning stoves, wooden bed frames, and a five-inch mattress. It’s not the Westin heavenly bed, but no need for my Thermarest. And as it turned out, also no need for that stop at the liquor market: the camp was already fully stocked with stream-chilled Kamchatka beer and vodka! Still, with the help of the guides, we managed to dedicate a night to consuming our purchase.
I had worried about mosquitoes, but they also were a nonissue. It is worse in early July, they told us, but all the cabins have a net inside the door, and each bed has a mosquito net. I’m sure they come in handy, but they were not needed on this trip.
There are two “outhouses” just outside the cabins—with flush toilets! Next to the bathrooms is a shower house that holds two separate hot-water showers, each with its own sitting room. They are ready to go after each day of fishing.
We were greeted by The Best of Kamchatka owner Will Blair, upon arrival. Will guided with us all week. We truly enjoyed his company, his knowledge, and his enthusiasm and genuine excitement. He was positively jumping for joy at the giant rainbows, which he must have seen a thousand times. He was genuinely excited for us to experience this fishery for the first time.
The food Svetlana prepared might have been the biggest surprise. We had chicken, moose stew, coho, Dolly Varden trout, spaghetti with handmade meatballs, soups, salads, and fresh vegetables. For breakfast, it was egg scrambles, French toast, crepes, fruit, fresh cowberry jam, OJ, hash browns, sausage, fresh coffee and more. We all were amazed by the food. But one tip: Bring one or two pounds of ground coffee, or you might get instant.
Another tip: This is bear country. Wow, are there giant brown bears! Every inch of the grassy riverbank has been worn down by them. But you can rest easy at night, knowing that you have the best guards available. Three bear dogs protect the camp. They are the Kamchatka Laika breed, which is specific to the region. Smart and fast, they resemble Australian Shepherds. Three or four times a night you may hear them barking, working a bear, usually a few hundred yards out. Their longtime friend and fellow Laika, Chuk, died in a battle with a bear last year. Chuk was a 15-year veteran and legend on the Oz. But Kamchatka bears are not used to people, and they will not be hanging out near you. They will run, hopefully. But if not, a couple shots in the air do the trick.
Did I mention that there is fishing? They have six wide, 16-foot sturdy aluminum boats. Each has a great forward platform and large rear bench seat providing plenty of space for casting. All the boats have brand-new 40 hp jet motors.
The river is broken into five different beats, each five to 10 miles long. Each guide specializes in a particular beat, and you will get a chance with each guide on each section. They do not fish the same portion of a beat on consecutive days. They will also take trips outside of their normal beats. We fished small forks in the far upper river that have never seen fishermen. We fished far downriver as well, where the river was wide, reminding me of the Missouri in Craig, Montana. Each section was a totally different experience. What wasn’t different was the sun and 75 degrees every day. On the Oz, sun seems to enhance the streamer bite.
Day one on the water we were with Svetlana’s son Yegor. Yegor is a seasoned 29-year-old guide who knows the river and fish behavior very well. We went 20 minutes downriver to his beat. My second cast of the trip with a pure flash streamer landed a native Kamchatka rainbow, 24 x 14½ inches. Sam, fishing black, landed a huge rainbow a minute later. We had a day full of rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, a few grayling, and a silver. The rainbows average a fat 20+ inches. The grayling also average 20 inches. We had a fish every five minutes on a streamer or every 10 minutes on a mouse.
Day two we went farther downriver with Will Blair. Constant sea eagle sightings. The king, chum, and pink salmon runs were just ending, and the silver run was just beginning. The bottom of the river was literally a carpet of dead king salmon, many of them 70-80 pounds. We couldn’t keep the silvers off the hook, and the rainbows got heavy wherever the salmon were lighter. We each boated over 25 rainbows and 25 silvers, not to mention countless Dollies and a few grayling. We had a couple hours in a shallow, glassy creek where silvers and rainbows continually crushed the mouse in two feet of water.
Day three we were on the beat right near camp with the newest and youngest guide, Henry from Montana. What a great guy and guide. This day we actually counted and had 23 rainbows over 20 inches! Sam boated a 26 x 16½ specimen. And there were countless Dollies, grayling, and silvers.
Day four we were with Denise (Dennis) a seasoned Russian guide. We went more than one and a half hours upriver, and then hiked further upriver to an area that had never seen a fly fisherman. You could tell. The rainbow just slammed the fly when it hit the water. I took a 22 and a 24 off the same rock at the bank. At one point, I landed five rainbows over 20 inches on five consecutive casts. This is the stuff dreams are made of. We encountered one bear on foot that day, but saw 19 from the boat. Yet another day I will never forget. We also each landed over 20 grayling and 20 Dolly Varden.
Day five was a repeat of day two downriver. We were with Yegor and met up with Will and his group. More silvers and rainbows than one deserves. Never more than a few casts without a fish. The bonus of the trip was my last cast, which landed a Kundzha. On Sam’s last cast, he landed a larger Kundzha. It’s hard to believe that a river can hold these numbers.
Day six was departure day. The guides will take you out early for a few hours if you wish, but I chose to relax and pack. To be honest, I just couldn’t imagine catching any more fish. A couple groups went out and did great.
Around lunch, Will helped us on the 100-yard walk to the chopper. Victor and Svetlana accompanied us on the chopper and then the bus back to the airport. The chopper stops to refuel half way through the trip, where you may or may not drop off or pick others up from the Two Yurt or Rainbows from Above camps. We picked up the Two Yurt group, who had a similarly great trip filled with plenty of fish.
I had been thinking about this trip for years, envisioning constant fish in the most beautiful remote wilderness I could imagine. That’s exactly what I got. What I didn’t expect was the beautiful camp, incredible food, and the amiable camp staff and guides enjoying the food, fire, and drinks with us. That took an already next level trip to, well, the next level.
Like everyone, I weighed cost, time, remoteness, potential for great fishing, food, rustic lodging, and so on. I now look at it as an easy call. The cost was $8,195, plus the $700 flight to Anchorage, the $2,200 flight to Petropavlovsk, and Anchorage lodging and guide tips. I would peg the total cost at around $12,500.00.
Miscellaneous tips: Keep it simple—a couple 9′ 6 wt. and a couple 9′ 7 wt. Bring only the mouse patterns they allow. Bring any streamer you want. It will work. I only lost one while there. You could get by on 10 streamers and 10 mice. Use 15 lb maxima, or the best flouro you can buy, or twine. Bring an intermediate line and a floating line with a decent head. If it can chuck a large salmon fly pattern 60-70 feet, it will probably work. Get trip insurance in case you have to cancel last minute like my brother!
You don’t need a coffee maker, water boiler, water purifier, Thermarest, travel pillow, or fishing net. As perfectly rustic as it is, it’s not a camping trip. Enjoy!