I've been looking into it myself. The cost of getting there and all those connections look like the biggest problem. That and getting your gear through there in one piece. Fishing looks like the easy part.
Count me in.... I have been dreaming of doing it for probably ten years now. Unfortunately I'll be in the 'shoestring budget' category, but I'm willing to take on some part-time side jobs if I have to for a chance like that.
Our Contacts out there make it that much more appealing
I have been waiting to reply on this thread until I really had time to do so. I will be try to be crisp here and list those rivers I feel to be worthwhile, for you guys to follow up with questions. I have fished the following: Umba (3 weeks), Yokanga (7 weeks), Kharlovka/Litza (7 weeks), (Rynda 11 weeks). Ponoi and Varzuga I never have fished but have decent insight through clients, friends and colleagues.
Rivers starting from the south west, working around the peninsula counter clockwise to the north west:
A large river that runs through coniferous forest from the north to the south into the White Sea. It drains several huge lakes and is stable in water levels, for better or worse. (If it is high it will be so for weeks and if low it is slow to react on rain)
Umba has a long season with good fishing already in late May. This early fishing is for salmons of the “listopadka” type. They enter the river already in the fall to “hibernate” under the ice, to continue the run for the coming fall’s spawning once the water starts to warm up in June. Once these marginally stale fish (8-30 pounds with the bulk at around 10) have moved off, June can be rather bleak – the summer run normally starts in early July and keeps on into August. Most summer fish are 8 – 14 pounds with the odd +20 pounder appearing. Mosquitoes can be testing at times. The prime time for Umba starts in late August when the first “listopadka” start to appear, and as this run builds up the fishing gets gradually better throughout September. Umba is much fished with Grumman type boats that are used for both transportation and as mobile casting platformsin the larger pools. Serious attempts to minimize the severe poaching are undertaken.
To get there one is on a 5-6 hour van ride from Murmansk, rather than the helicopter transfers used to other rivers. Due to the possible size of the fish in combination with decent numbers I rate Umba as one of the more interesting Kola destinations.
Another huge and braided river system that hits the White Sea about 100 miles east of Umba. Varzuga has enormous runs of smaller salmon (6-10 pounds) that run most of the long and numerous forks. (Miramichi comes to mind!) It is one of Kola’s most popular destinations, with May and June as the key months. The bulk of this early fishing is for over wintered fish (again: NOT KELTS!!) Here also un-experienced anglers can catch dozens of fish. Top rods might reach a 100. From my point of view the lack of large fish still is a handicap.
Ponoi might very well be the best river on the Kola, especially when numbers are brought into the calculation. It is a huge and rather shallow river that drains much of the interior peninsula to empty into the White Sea at the “nose” of it. The season is long with an early “listopadka” peak in late May and early June. Contrary to the other White Sea rivers, Ponoi has a really strong summer run of medium sized fish giving great fishing throughout most of July. In late August and in September the winter fish are arriving to give a good backend. To me Ponoi appears to be a scaled up version of the Varzuga: one can catch very good numbers of fish in the 7-12 pound bracket, but chances to get much past 20 pounds seem slim. (Possibly September involves a bit more large fish)
OK, it is a great place with a superb organisation, and I very much would like to wet a fly in it. But the lack of seriously big fish still makes me a bit reluctant when seeing the prices.
Yokanga is the eastern most of the North Coast rivers, all emptying into the Barents sea. It is the by far largest of these rivers and can be awesome in places. I mapped it in –96 and hosted the camp with Dick Talleur in 1997.
Huge fish run the river in June and sometimes are caught. Both years of mine were late “big snow” years. The river was high and cold throughout most of June and the fishing was crap up to around the 25th, with mainly kelts being caught prior to that. The Russian guides were twisting their fingers as we not had spinning gear – then we would have reached all the far out big fish lies. Big fish just cruised past in all that water.
Once the fishing starts on the middle to upper reaches allowed for Westerners (severe military restrictions still apply to the lower reaches, I think) the fishing becomes very good. Good numbers of grilse can be testing as one is armed for 30 pounders, but there are enough decent sized fish to justify heavier gear. The river is demanding and the wading often awkward – but for the really experienced and skilled angler it is fine going.
(The last two years have been mild with early springs, giving good fishing already in first 1/3 of June. Big hype has been built around this, but I fear that many will be disappointed once we see a normal to late spring again)
I rate Yokanga just under Umba, when it all is taken into account.
These two rivers were treasured gems already under the Soviet era. High brass, astronauts and other members of the upper nomenclatura had it as a safeguarded retreat – the best fishing was simply reserved for them.
I am very happy to be involved in them, as they without question are the best and most challenging rivers found out on the Kola. The steep gradient and fast pools has spooled more anglers empty than any other rivers I know of. Fish adopted to this demanding environment have a “fight ability” that is unsurpassed. (Thanks God there are many pools that gives the angler better chanses than those in the "spooled again" category!)
Both are relatively short and of a fine medium size. They flow from south to north and cut through the low coastal range before finding the Barents sea. All guests stay at the Kharlovka Camp Lodge with daily trips on a rotation to the Litza, where a tented satellite camp is kept.
They are serious big fish rivers. Fish to well over 40 pounds always are present with good numbers of +25 pounds being caught on a regular basis. The smaller size of the rivers in combination with serious obstacles in the Kharlovka and Litza waterfalls concentrate the runs into a number of well defined pools spread out over no more than 5-6 miles of river. You fish all the way from down the very surf up to the water falls. The waterfall pools themselves give some of the World’s finest dry fly fishing for really big fish.
Kharlovka is famous for its early fishing. As we can fish the tidal reaches, as well as the lower pools, the first big run of large multiple seawinter fish can be intercepted before they are keen to navigate the first serious rapids. It creates a unique concentration of big and sealiced fish on only a few miles of river.
To me this is Kola at its best. Due to the strong spring flow fish are tucked under the banks or hold in more sheltered pots, well within reach. Fights are spectacular in the heavy water!!
A few years ago I was the only early rod in camp and hit it right; my tally was 15 salmon with an incredible average weight of 18 lbs(The largest five were 23, 25, 25, 27 & 28 lbs)
As prices are at their lowest this early I strongly suggest this time for those Steelheaders that are budget minded. You have to be prepared to dig deep for the fish and to have an ability to endure the sometimes cold and rough weather. If so, the rewards are more than worth the effort.
Rynda is a lovely sister river to Kharlovka/Eastern Litza and is run by the same British controlled and Murmansk based company, Northern Rivers Company (Kolas largest fishing operator with +300 guests per season).Rynda is retained as a private river by the British owner group and is fished by invitation only. It is described in the web-page.
Almost all guests, regardless of destinations, come to Murmansk on a Saturday morning after an early Finnair flight from Helsinki, Finland. (An overnight stay in Helsinki is needed on the way in, but normally not on the way out, as the flight arrives Helsinki around noon.) Once through passports & customs, guests are met by respective river’s staff for helicopter/van transfers to the rivers. (With us being closest (120miles east of) to Murmansk this flight takes around 40 minutes, with up to 2 hours for rivers further out. We do a quick lunch that is followed by an introduction to the guides and a long afternoon-late evening session on the rivers, already the first day.
Please be free to ask me questions. This peninsula offers the best consistent Atlantic Salmon fishing still found.
The rod that rests on the ice behind me is Thomas&Thomas 16' "single hander" rigged with an old Martin MD12 and a 42' feet head of #13 Masterline Ultrafast sinking head. (TypeIV-V).
The fly was a 2 1/2" "Animal Garden" on a brass tube.
(That Martin reel is a very under rated Speyreel.)
PS. The pool is right bank of Julian's, the first pool above the tide on the Kharlovka. DS
per was kind enough to offer me and a friend an opportunity to fish the rynda when another group cancelled out last year. per's comprehensive knowledge of the kola peninsula from a fly fisherman's standpoint is astounding and encyclopedic. he is regarded by the russian guides as one of the finest rods ever to fish the rynda, anyway.
the russians were great. they know how to have a good time. even got a couple of the border guard ladies to smile!
i had a wonderful time on the rynda last year. the water was at a record low, crystal clear, and the days were almost hot (80 F). despite the challenging conditions, and the fact that i have never fished for atlantics before (almost like "anti-steelhead"), i had a ball. i landed many fewer fish than i hooked (kinda like starting to steelhead all over again), mainly because it took me some time to figure out which hooks worked the best, and because i insisted on fishing single barbless. i had multiple fish days every day, and one day hooked 10, and landed 7. i hooked and lost three fish over 20 lbs (two over 25 lbs), all on one very good day, which saw smaller fish landed too (light wire barbless singles may work great on the deschutes but suck for big salmon). fished floating line the whole time, riffle hitched wets, skated dries, and stripped large spey patterns depending on water conditions... all very effective. those atlantics sure are aggressive chasers and takers!
the river is a gem. the opportunity to fish very technical water in challenging conditions was a real treat. the rynda, at least with the conditions i experienced last year, was definitely not for the beginner or intermediate; those that were rewarded were the experienced casters and fishermen for sure. a bonus was some great hiking bewteen beats, sometimes up to 5 miles a day, in some really neat tundra. the guides were a cross between moutain goats, pack mules, and comedians.
i would highly recommend it to anyone serious about spey fishing. the cost is very high though, but for a once in a lifetime treat, it was worth every penny! savings permitting, i would go back in a heartbeat if the opportunity arose.
Thanks a lot for all nice comments! That late July week you came really was a record low water situation. It was amazing to see how many fish you guys pulled out, even under those tough conditions. Well done!
As you might have seen I have negotiated a few openings at lower than normal prices on the Kharlovka and Litza. I really think that chance should be considered. It is a unique oppertunity to get up for good $$$$, that not will be repetead for 2003 (Check my thread: " A chance to...)
I fished Kola very many times, it’s a nice river, but there are too many fishermen and poachers there. Titovka is most comfortable for flyfishing, Zapadnaya Litsa and Ura are very interesting too.
Ribalka is the best hobby!!!
P.S. You are quite right! The fish on photo is September “Listopadka” from Umba. 85 cm and 9 kilo. Assisted by Nikolaj Baleev (Kola Light – guide from Rynda and my friend).
"Kola Light" is a very fine fisherman and a great guide. If you are his friend you are mine! I am so happy that we only have local guides instead of "imported" western profesionals, as some camps have. Our guests just love them and really enjoy the Russian experience.
Now when they talk so good English much can be shared. Nikolaj, and his friends, have taught me a lot about life in Russia and the very interesting styles of flies and the ways to fish them that are uniquely Russian.
Hello Dana, I am finally back from Scotland. The Brora was too high to really fish well, but my friend Gordon was lucky and beached a cracking 10 pound springer, whereas I had two hookups but blew them both....
As for your Kola questions:
Has there been any work done on kola estimating run sizes on the various rivers?
P: Yes, there is a better knowledge of the runs in the Kola Peninsula's rivers than in most other places with Atlantic salmon. Up to only 10 years ago many of these rivers were blocked by a central and state controlled net that caught almost the entire run. However brutal this culling was it also was biologically sound as more than 50% of the fish were released to spawn. Careful logbooks were kept and the runs are well documented. Om rivers like the Umba and, I think, the Varzuga these nets still are run for scientific purposes. There the annoying runs of introduced Pink salmons also need to be controlled.
As the commercial harvest has been replaced by sport fishing, that to a large share is catch and release, and with the biological factors remaining the same (no pollution or influx from constructions or logging) one can assume that the runs are better or at least as good as when the documentation and culling took place. Recent tagging studies conducted on the Ponoi shows that this assumption is right.
Are there any current conservation concerns on kola and if so how are they being addressed?
P: Few places have salmon rivers that are managed with stricter conservation measures than these. I think the American pioneers that started the western oriented sportfishing industry here in the late 80's made a good job in showing the Russian athorities the merits of catch&release and rules on hooks etc. The locals can buy catch&kill tags for public sections on some rivers (mainly those that are close to major settlements) and these are not that cheap and give the right to kill one fish per licence. The biological angling pressure is a fraction of what you would find on Norwegian or Scottish rivers.
What would be recommended tackle systems (rod lengths, line weights, floating/sinking lines etc) for the rivers you are familiar with?
This is no easy question to answer in one sweep as the rivers and the seasons differs so much. I think the most widely used rig om the North coast, the Ponoi, and the Umba would be a SAGE 15'1" with a windcutter tips, backed up with a 12,5' - 14' lighter rod for floating line. Lots of fish are taken on single handed rigs, too.
Already from the 2nd-3d week of June I do most of my fishing up north with a #11 light hardy sinktip head, added with some Airflo polytips for depth, when needed.
Once in the various camps, do anglers "walk & wade" or travel by boat with the guides?
This differs a lot to. On Umba it all is about boats, whereas the Ponoi is boats combined with a few helicopter flyouts to more distant reaches. With us on the Rynda, Kharlovka and E. LItza it all is about helicopters. You are flown out in the morning and start at the top of your "beat". According to agility and the mood of your team of two rods and a guide you might cover anthything from 1/2 to 3-4 miles in to course of the day, before the chopper picks you up again. To me this is ultimate freedom with rivers to roam and no boundary borders to feel restricted by.
Are the fishing days restricted in any way (no angling after 7 pm etc)?
With us you can fish around the clock, assuming that a few simple rules are respected. "Out of hours" the Home Pools (The Kharlovka one was described by Tarquin Millington-Drake at Frontiers as "the finest in the World") always are free to fish. If you want to walk further security calls for an arrangement with your guide to join up. For a modest extra fee they are happy to help. The normal drill is that one only fishes the beat that is on the next days rota - unless an agreement has been met with the others.
Can you describe something of the accommodations and services?
Again a complex question. Places like Umba and Yokanga boast wooden lodges where you for better or worse all are tucked in under one roof. Ponoi has a wall tented camp whereas we use single or double wooden cabins that have electrical light and heating. A large club-dining area is linked to a fully equiped restaurant kitchen. Separate houses host saunas, showers, and flush toilets.
Food is excellent and we have given the frustrating system of bar tabs up and supply all the booze and wine as an all inclusive.
Which flies have you found to be most successful?
The key fly for the Kola northern coast is Ray Brooks' Sunray Shadow in variants. (A long 5-7" black wing over a few strands of shorter bucktail tied on a 2-3" plastic tube). This simple pattern brings more aggression out of these large salmons than anything else. In the earliest season a more colorful fly might be needed in the very cold water. The "Animal Garden" is my favorite (2" brass tube covered by Royal Blue metallic tinsel. Yellow bucktail wing with plenty of red and gold flash in it.)
Later on in June Bombers and skated Muddlers work well and in July one might be down to #6-10 doubles of Silver Stoat, Green Highlander and Silver rat types. Presentation and size overrules patterns to a large extent.
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