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This past September, a friend and I fished for rainbow trout, Pacific salmon and Arctic char on the southern Kamchatka Peninsula of far eastern Russia with Ouzel Expeditions (*). Paul and Sharon Allred, the principals of Ouzel Expeditions, have been outfitting in Alaska for more than 15 years and in Russia since 1990. They primarily outfit floatfishing trips, using inflatable rafts and tent camps. Ouzel offers a variety of trips to Kamchatka, including the 15 day trip that we took.
Our trip featured fishing on two different rivers. Much of Kamchatka is indeed true wilderness. The countryside varies from active volcanoes… to mountain ranges… to temperate hardwood forests… to tundra like meadows. We traveled on huge Aeroflot helicopters for up to 1 1/2 hours at a time to reach uninhabited, unspoiled rivers. Aeroflot aircraft are not cosmetically up to Western standards, but the engineering is first rate, providing a smooth ride.
We spent the first four fishing days of our trip floating a "secret river" on Kamchatka’s western coast for rainbow trout. The weather was warm (in the high 70’s) with clear skies. Unfortunately, our trip coincided with the largest run of pink salmon here in the past 10 years. There were literally millions of spawning salmon that made the bottom of this small to medium sized river look like a "rolling snowstorm" of salmon eggs. It was difficult not to hook a salmon on every cast. Nevertheless, I was still able to land four to six beautiful rainbows each day, averaging six pounds and weighing up to 11 pounds. We found the trout mostly in faster water and behind structures, as well as at the mouths of smaller feeder streams. I am sure the rainbow fishing would be much better between salmon runs.
Standard equipment for Pacific salmon and rainbows in Kamchatka is similar to what you would use in Alaska namely, 7 to 8 weight rods with 10 to 15 foot high density sink tips, short 10 to 12 pound test tippet leaders and a selection of typical Alaskan flies. Egg sucking leeches in purple, black and white; black and green woolhead sculpins; and variegated muddler minnows in sizes two, four and six all did the job.
After four days on our "secret river" and a rain delay in camp of two days, we helicoptered to the more well known Zhupanova River, which flows to the east coast of Kamchatka. The Zhupanova is a beautiful medium to large river that goes through a temperate hardwood forest over much of its fishable range, circumscribing several beautiful active volcanoes before it hits tundra country as it meets the sea. The Zhupanova has very large numbers of Arctic char that take streamers and dry flies (gray and royal wulffs 12 to 14). It was possible to entice a char on nearly every cast. Silver salmon weighing up to 10 pounds were plentiful in the lower reaches of the river. We also found some rainbow trout weighing up to eight pounds in side channels.
The scenery and river conditions on both the "secret river" and the Zhupanova were perfect. Paul Allred, who accompanied us on the entire trip, and his Russian team (known as The Mikizha Expeditions "Mikizha" is Russian for rainbow trout) did an excellent job. The Russian team consisted of three boatmen, one interpreter and a cook. The three boatmen guides did all of the camp setup work. The camps were chosen with an eye toward offering evening fishing.
We enjoyed typical Russian food with wonderful soups and great bread, lots of fresh green vegetables, fish and some chicken with a little beef, all accompanied by lots of vodka. The food was more than adequate and ample in quantity. After dinner the cooking fire was "built up" to provide a wonderful campfire. Our last evening on the Zhupanova was fantastic with a full moon shining over the river and a full display of northern lights. It was a beautiful fall evening with a large campfire, good guitar music and song.
The total cost of the 15 day trip was $5,600. That price included roundtrip airfare on Aeroflot from Anchorage, Alaska through Chabarovsk, Russia. Our stopover in Chabarovsk was a highlight of the trip. This major international city is located on the Amur River that separates Russia from Manchuria, China. The city has a history that goes back thousands of years. There is a wonderful art gallery here, as well as a military museum that documents the history of military operations in Russia. The city also provides very interesting shopping opportunities.
All considered, this trip was a once in a lifetime experience. It cannot ever be duplicated exactly, I’m sure, because Russia is changing so fast. Let’s all hope the trips and Russia in general get better, not worse. Gordon L. Cox.