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It’s been a while since we provided an update and overview of the Atlantic salmon fishing on the Kola Peninsula of Russia. It’s a complex international fishery with many outfitters and agents. Our new Atlantic salmon guru, Paul Marriner, sizes up the situation here. We welcome additional feedback from subscribers who have been to the Kola recently.
Ask a cross section of international Atlantic salmon fishermen about the best salmon angling today and Russia’s Kola Peninsula would undoubtedly top the list. The Kola does not offer the largest fish, nor necessarily even the most fish, but in terms of consistency and pounds per rod per day, it is simply unparalleled. Of the 30-odd rivers and river systems on the Kola, more than a third have been exploited for catchand-release sport fishing. Most are exclusive to a single outfitter/booking agent combo, but you’ll find the odd reseller with potpourri of opportunities, such as Lax-A (www.lax-a.net) in Iceland.
In the early years when this fishery was being developed, conditions were frequently chaotic. Today, the situation has generally stabilized. That’s true regarding the professionalism of the Russian partners and staff, as well as the quality and reliability of travel arrangements. Moreover, negotiations to end or greatly curtail commercial netting have resulted in improved runs on some rivers. Pricing has fluctuated, coming down on some rivers and going up on others. Today, you can find Kola salmon trips for as little as $2,100 a week, all the way up to $17,000 per week. Slow and therefore lowerpriced weeks are generally midsummer. Virtually all quoted prices today include transportation from Murmansk, but helicopter flights to remote pools aren’t always included, so book with care. Although all operations have a front-end season (late May to mid-July), several also offer fishing until early October. Advance booking is necessary to obtain visas, a service generally provided by booking agents. Most pools on the larger rivers are accessed by boat, and, given suitable conditions, boat fishing is typically an option. Be certain to inquire about wading conditions, as some rivers are rough and unsuitable for those who aren’t physically fit.
To date, some outfitters consider the 2011 season an average one, but opinions vary. Lax-A’s Arni Balderson, a highly experienced Kola hand, told me it “was not even a good June on the Kola Peninsula. It was a very, very slow season in general. I spent four weeks on Kola—Varzina, Kola River, Kharlovka, and Litza—very disappointing weeks with very few fish. I guess it was just a bad year. Hopefully, next year will be better!” Don’t let those downbeat comments carry too much weight, as a poor season on the Kola is frequently better than the best season in other venues.
Here are some river-by-river observations that may help you decide where to focus your efforts.
Umba: Troubled by poaching and other problems, the Umba almost disappeared from the lineup of Kola’s fishable waters for nearly a decade before being brought back online in 2010 by a company called Salmon Junkies (http:// salmonjunkies.com). The principal there, Stephen Juhl, believes they have turned the corner on this fishery. “The new controls have been very successful so far. We have guards from a private security company in Murmansk who patrol the river 24/7. They have the authority to take all nets they find from the mouth of the river and for seven-plus kilometers upstream. That has given us a 20 to 25 percent catch increase. This year, we bought out four legal netting stations that were placed near the estuary. We will see how many more fish that will bring during the fall period. Additional controls and conservation ideas and methods are in the pipeline.” Unique among Kola offerings, the Umba boasts an exceptional fall fishery. Shorter and colder days are balanced by the arrival of Osenka salmon, typically tipping the scales between 15 and 25 pounds. These powerful salmon arrive in autumn in pristine condition. They spend a full winter under the ice then emerge the next spring to pass the summer in the river before spawning the following autumn. As this issue went to press, 2012 pricing was still being negotiated.
Varzuga: Operated for 20 years by Roxtons (www.roxtons.com), the Varzuga and Kitza, its primary tributary, feature four camps with a six-week season (mid-May to late June). As earlier reported in the January 2010 Angling Report, Charlie White, director of fishing, said experiments with offering the shoulder weeks proved unsuccessful, so they now fish only the best weeks. Even within that short period, the individual camps are restricted to the best times. For example, the upriver Pana camp (eight rods) doesn’t open until the third week and closes a month later. The middle Varzuga camp (12 rods) is the only camp open for the entire season.
For the second and third weeks, the lower Varzuga and Kitza camps run as split venues, with 20 rods evenly divided between the camps, which are then switched midweek. To introduce anglers to their new lower Varzuga lodge, Roxtons is offering rods for $5,700 from Murmansk for 2012, an outstanding savings over the 2011 price of $8,600.
Also new for 2012 is what Roxtons calls “the ultimate Atlantic salmon fishing course”: a week at the lower Varzuga camp with prime-time, top-flight instructors and plenty of fishing time, all for $5,300 from Murmansk. According to Charlie, the 2011 season was just slightly above average, with about 37 salmon per rod, per week.
Kharlovka, East Litza, Rynda: By far, the biggest news on the peninsula in 2011 was the sale of Peter Power’s Atlantic Salmon Reserve (ASR) to Vladimir Rybalchenko. For those unfamiliar with the project, the ASR is a large region in the northern Kola dedicated to the preservation of natural flora and fauna, particularly Atlantic salmon. Though sometimes called the “Three Rivers,” the ASR also includes the Zolotaya, a small but frequently productive tributary. The reserve was the brainchild of Peter Power, achieved in partnership with the leaseholders, the Northern Rivers Company. For the full story of its formation and recent sale, visit www.kharlovka.com. All the rivers will remain accessible, but at deadline, details for the 2012 season were not yet available. That said, it’s been hinted that prices may drop somewhat.
Kola: Near its confluence with the Barents Sea on the north side of the peninsula, the Kola River runs near Murmansk. This lower portion is easily accessed and open for public fishing. I’ve had friends fish it “on the economy.” The best time for salmon up to 50 pounds is early June. All fully organized Kola angling ended two seasons ago. The current Russian leaseholders don’t book clients directly. Regardless, Lax-A will arrange guides, boats, transfers, meals, and lodging. Arni Balderson wrote, “I do not bring many people to the Kola River, only the ones that know the river well and want to fish only the Kola River.”
Varzina: Fishbum Travel (www.varzina.fi) operates Varzina River Lodge and tent camps on two nearby rivers, Drozdovka and Sidorovka. This is a Finnish company that I was unable to contact for this report. The main camp offers 12 to 16 rods depending upon the season. Peak period on the Varzina is later than typical—mid-June to mid-July— with the full season running from early June to early September. Drozdovka accommodates six rods per week during July and August. Sidorovka offers the same number of rods during June and July.
Subscribers and others with more information on this river are urged to weigh in. My e-mail address is pmarr@ tallships.ca.
Ponoi: Certainly the best known of the Kola’s rivers, the Ponoi is also its largest. Ryabaga camp, largest on the peninsula and expertly managed, consists of hard-sided tents that typically accommodate 20 rods. With additional tents added in 2011, most guests now enjoy single occupancy. Mollie Fitzgerald of Frontiers (www.frontierstravel.com) adds this: “The owner has built a beautiful lodge facility high on a hill overlooking the Ryabaga camp. Available most weeks as an upgrade option for rooms with en suite bathrooms at approximately 12 percent upcharge, it is also ideal for a
party of up to six that wants single rooms and the creature comforts associated with a fixed lodge facility.” Prime times are early June and September, but the camp is fished the entire 20-week season from late May to early October. The downriver Brevyeni camp operates on a group basis only. Long-term averages are the best indicator of success and the numbers for Ryabaga range from seven per rod per day for the best weeks and three to four per rod per day for the slowest. Beyond reliable returns, a plus for Ryabaga is that the pools are accessed by boat and much of the wading is easy. The Ponoi River Company operates the camps, which are booked by Frontiers Travel (www.frontierstravel.com).
The other Ponoi operator is Silver of Ponoi (www.silverofponoi.com). He offers fishing from the end of May until the end of September. Their Pacha, Porog, and Acha camps are farther upriver. Pacha (12 rods) is located at the confluence of the Racha tributary and the main river, and Porog (10 rods) near the mouth of Poperechny Stream. Acha camp (12 rods) is booked in two ways.
The main camp is booked by Silver (stats unavailable) and Salmon Junkies (http://salmonjunkies.com), which booked six rods during June 2011. These rods traveled by helicopter to the priver stretches of the Acha tributary, then floated and fished the 25 kilometers back to the main camp, over nighting at two established tent camps en route. Typical stats are 16 to 35 fish per rod, per week, with salmon ranging from six to 20 pounds. Only the very fit should contemplate this trip.
Yokanga: The most recent of the Kola rivers opened to sport fishing, the Yokanga’s season extends from mid-June until the end of August. The best fishing is typically during the first six weeks. Rarely matching the fish-per-rod rates on the other Kola rivers, the attraction of Yokanga is size. Salmon up to 70 pounds have been recorded. A review of 2011 catch stats revealed that 60 percent of a total of 945 salmon exceeded 10 pounds,with 10 fish topping the 30-pound mark. Up to sixteen rods fish from the fully equipped Yokanga Lodge (www.flyfishyokanga.com), with daily helicopter transport to the day’s assigned beats. Another eight rods can be accommodated in the Gremikha tent camp on the lower river. This area is only for very fit and experienced salmon fishermen,
as the wading is rough and the casting long. Most weeks, prices are from Murmansk, but from time to time specials are offered, including a Helsinki-Murmansk flight.—Paul Marriner.
Postscript: Paul Marriner’s latest book, Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies, second edition, is available from his Web site, www.galesendpress.com.