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:
(Scroll down for a Kola map with some river maps under it)
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.
Please check through our web-page (to be re-made this spring)
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.