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Over the past couple of years there has been some scuffling, even some acrimony, regarding angling permissions in Kamchatka, usually arising from confusion about who can deliver what. When Kamchatka was first opened to angling tourism in the early 1990s, pioneered by Ouzel Expeditions in Alaska ( and the Wild Salmon Center in Oregon (, neither the Russian federal government nor local Kamchatkan authorities had established any procedures for allocating outfitting rights for sportfishing. Consequently, Russian outfitters could organize fishing trips with few limitations. In those days, we could, and did, go anywhere our imagination took us. Nowadays, that is no longer true.

As word spread about the world-class rainbow trout fisheries in Kamchatka, there was a rapid growth in both Russian outfitters and in Western booking partners eager to do business with them. At this point, there are a lot of Russian companies out there that offer angling trips to world-famous destinations: the Zhupanova, Sedanka, Ozernaya, Opala, and Kolpakova rivers, for example. These destinations are, in turn, being widely advertised and promoted by a growing number of Western partners.

This is an important distinction. As a potential visiting angler, you should understand that the Western partner you are in contact with is not the actual entity offering the angling trip. Rather, he is the marketing partner of a Russian outfitter who will actually conduct your trip and obtain the necessary permits, fishing licenses, and so on. Thus, the Fly Shop, Emerald Waters, Fly Water Travel, Ouzel, and so on do not conduct trips to Kamchatka; they connect you with their Russian partners (Purga, Vulcan, Utgard, etc.).

Until recently, this was not a very important distinction because the Russian government did not restrict where Russian outfitters could conduct sportfishing tours. They simply issued fishing licenses to anyone who asked for one. That has changed rather dramatically over the past four or five years.

n the beginning, because there were just a few Russian outfitters interested in angling and only a very small number of Western companies involved, there were very few conflicts. Over the first 10 to 12 years, all of us were trying to sort out the scores of rivers within helicopter range to assess their angling potential. During this period, I organized expeditions myself to more than 30 different watersheds to evaluate their angling potential. It soon became apparent, not just to me, but to everyone else who was exploring Kamchatka, that the area’s low population and minimal development did not mean the fishing was good everywhere. Quite the contrary, in fact. A handful of rivers, we quickly learned, are good beyond one’s imagination – Zhupanova, Sedanka, Ozernaya, Piriznikova, and Kolpakova, for example. Others, though good compared to U.S. rivers, had distinctly lower quality angling – Khairusovo, for instance. Some rivers, it turned out, such as the Utka and Vyampolka, had few, if any, rainbow trout at all. Not surprisingly, outfitters and their Western partners homed in on the rather small number of really good rivers, and that is what began to create tension between outfitters, along with overcrowding and other unintended impacts on some fisheries. To address these issues, Kamchatka authorities first imposed mandatory catch-and-release regulations on rainbow trout. Next, they set up a process for allocating the right to operate on entire watersheds, entire rivers, or, in some cases, on particularly desirable stretches of rivers. To get these waters in strong hands, the authorities promulgated decision criterion such as financial strength of the outfitter, staff training programs, commitment to improve tourist infrastructure, monitoring/conservation of the fishery resource, and ability to market, attract, and conduct tourist activity as demonstrated by actual rod counts.

The authorities initially awarded provisional leases for two to three years, during which time the outfitter was obliged to demonstrate his performance against the criteria noted above. Then, last year, the government awarded 77 leases to a variety of outfitters. In general, the recipients of these leases hold 100 percent of the sports fishing licenses for the leased water. The lessee is responsible for issuing individual sportfishing licenses to anglers who wish to fish those waters on a river-by-river and day-to-day basis. The lessee is not required to issue fishing licenses to anglers from competing outfitters, and, based upon my experience, they will not do so.

The impact of this move has been enormous because it puts individual outfitters in complete control of all of the fishing in many of the top destination rivers in Kamchatka, including Zhupanova, Sedanka, Tigil, Savan (a tributary of Opala), Kolpakova, Pympta, and Krutogorova. So, what does this mean in practical terms? Let’s say you want to fish Kamchatka’s wonderful Zhupanova River for monster rainbows. Purga holds the sports angling licenses. At this writing, the Fly Shop in Redding, California, is the exclusive booking partner for Purga. So, if you book a trip to Zhupanova from any agent other than the Fly Shop, they will not be able to provide you with a fishing license. This means that when you get to Kamchatka you will either be sent to a different river or, if you proceed to the Zhupanova anyway, you are almost certainly going to be angling without the necessary license, which, of course, exposes you to official sanction. Similar circumstances obtain on other leased rivers, which probably explains why some anglers this past season suddenly found themselves heading for rivers other than what they thought they had booked.

Kamchatka authorities, I should note, have not awarded leases on all Kamchatkan rivers, including some well-known destination rivers such as the Ozernaya and the main stem of the Opala. In these cases, the angling licenses are still issued by the local fisheries officials to any outfitter wishing to conduct tours there. Your obligation as a would-be tourist angler is to insist that your booking agent prove that his outfitter is the leaseholder for your destination or that he has a legal means of obtaining the requisite license for you to fish there. As some of you will have noted, this Kamchatkan lease system is very similar to the lease program on the Kola Peninsula for Atlantic salmon rivers. That system has worked well on the Kola and it promises to work equally well in Kamchatka. – Pete Soverel.

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