Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A Vintage Year

2014 proved to be our best year on the Varzuga since we first arrived there in 1991. 8,916 salmon to 174 rods was a remarkable result over a shortened six week season, shortened as a result of having to cancel the first weeks at Middle and Lower camp due to ice. Apart from one very hot spell right at the beginning of the season (which was bad timing for us) the weather was on our side this year. Overall it remained cool and settled, adding to our good fortune and our guests enjoyed both excellent conditions and a really strong run of salmon and grilse.

Christopher Robinson and the advance party arrived at Varzuga on 5 May but found that the river was still frozen. With the forecast remaining cold, it was immediately clear that the first week of fishing at Lower and Middle camps could not go ahead. By the time we started on 17 May, the river was perfectly clear and an excellent height but then the weather changed and three days of unseasonably hot weather led to an unusually fast snow melt and a high river.

The first three days at Lower camp and Kitza were tricky in the high water but the river settled in towards the end of the first week and although Lower and Kitza had below average catches the Middle Camp started strongly with 866 salmon landed to 12 rods. Pana opened a week later on 24 May and in the high water up there the team also experienced tougher than usual conditions. Lower down the river the bonanza really kicked in from about 22 May onwards and over the week of 24 – 31 May the 32 rods in the three camps landed 2,070 fresh spring salmon. It was particularly rewarding for us to see some excellent fish caught by the increasing numbers of lady fishers in our groups.

Once we were through the hiccup caused by the hot spell and fast snow melt, the season soon developed the regular pattern; slowly dropping and warming water. For the third year at the Lower Camp, we held our instructional week with Bill Drury and Eoin Fairgrieve and again it proved a great success. The 11 rods had two of the finest casting and fishing instructors at their side plus plenty of fresh salmon running the river to reward their improving skills; they landed 319!

The mid-season weeks, which offer true summer fishing are much sought after, so much so that between 7 and 21 June we had 52 rods fishing in three camps but only three of those rods had not fished the Varzuga before. With rain on 16 and 17 June to top the river up we had perfect conditions right into late June. There were some remarkable scores, notably Pana recorded its record week with a staggering 876 salmon to eight rods.

Kitza, with the lake system upstream to keep the water height and temperature steady, fished wonderfully until we finished there on 21 June. The last three weeks were very consistent with catches of 407, 391 and 413. As always Kitza had a number of fish in the 20lb range with three of that size landed in the last week.
Middle Camp also continued to fish consistently right to the end and to give some sense of that it is worth pointing out that in our final week of the season we landed 485 fish to 10 rods. There simply is nowhere else that this is possible and is one of the reasons why we continue to only offer such a short season – we wish to focus on the best of the very best.
It was a truly vintage season and for us it was very rewarding to see so many returning guests making the most of it and really appreciating just what an amazing salmon river the Varzuga is. A big thank you to our many Russian friends from Varzuga and the local area who make it all happen and of course to our Roxtons staff both on the river and in the office.
Next year we will start fishing on 16 May, and we look forward to opening up the blog shortly before that. If you would like to join us next year on the Varzuga do please contact me.

Charlie White

P.S. We have a couple of rods available to join weeks hosted by myself and Christopher Robinson this coming September on Varzuga. Whilst it will be our fourth year doing these weeks, they are still exploratory and must be approached with an open mind but for seriously good value Autumn fishing they are hard to beat.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Farewell to a Small Island in the Middle of Nowhere

The fishing has been excellent all week, and despite the gale for two days, very consistent. In the first four days the scores for salmon landed were 66, 63, 74 and 70 – and virtually all our ten guests have exceeded their personal best for a day’s salmon fishing. Everyone has made the most of the fishing here, all are experienced enough to realize just how good it is. Terry and I have much enjoyed watching them and helping them (I hope!) experiment with Bombers, small skaters and hitched Sunrays.

Yesterday morning was pretty chilly and it did not feel really ‘fishy’, however by lunchtime the weather had softened and we had a tremendous afternoon, with all the beats, top to bottom, fishing well – and with the added bonus of a run of fresh grilse splashing through.

Simon R repeating his lunch time trick of catching a salmon in front of us all, with Gordon B
We had our best day since 12 June and recorded 103 salmon in the book to take us over 400 for the week so far. With one day to go the total for Middle Camp this year stands at 4,814 salmon to 67 rods, beating the previous record set in 2012. We leave tomorrow and this will be the last blog post from here. Next week we will post a summary of what has been one of our best salmon fishing seasons on the quite remarkable Varzuga.

Midnight last night on Party Pool
It is not just the wonderful salmon fishing that has captivated our guests this year. We fish in a pristine wilderness in the middle of nowhere; yesterday we saw Fish Eagles, a Merlin, Waxwings and even a Little Gull (rare up here). Steen P has now recorded 48 species of birds over his years here. Last week Freddie P and I sat in the sun on the Slabs up in Yovas canyon – we drank in the silence, the fresh air, the river running by our feet. We agreed that it was a privilege to be there.

Arina, Jenna and Sonya with Zlarta
There is a great team of local Russian friends here, some behind the scenes, who make it all work. Vova on the generator, fire wood, the banya and other camp tasks. Luda, always in the kitchen, dawn to dusk. Jenna, and her daughter Arina, cleaning, washing up, making beds and running the laundry. Sonya, of course, skipping along the duck boards, collecting flowers and playing with the dogs. Zlarta, our bear dog and her two well grown pups who welcome us home in the evenings. And the guides, Misha (the camp boss), Anton, Danya, Vova, Ivan and Sasha (who we reckon has netted over 1,000 salmon in 6 weeks).

A huge thank you to them all.

Tomorrow we will drag ourselves onto the helicopter, reluctantly homeward bound to reality outside this small island in the middle of nowhere.

More next year!

Christopher Robinson

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Trials and Tribulations

Of the 67 guests we have had fishing with us this year at Middle Camp only seven have not fished Varzuga before. With so many fishers returning year after year as they get to know the river and its challenges inevitably they get bolder in their fishing and particularly in their wading. The slightly higher water this season has caught quite a few out. I have not reported on the Varzuga International Swimming Championships on this year’s blog as we have had so many entrants it is difficult to keep up with the scores. What I can report is that the gold medal will go to two guests from Belgium who worried their trusty guide by going for the Synchronized Swimming competition and floated gracefully past as a pair.

Yesterday's mystery entrant in the swimming competition
We had lunch at Snake Pit and Donna brought up two roast chickens with all the trimmings to reward the mornings hard work. We relaxed for a few minutes and tried out various rods and lines with Terry talking us through the various set ups and their merits. Inevitably Simon R hooked a fish in front of the gallery which was duly netted by Bent H.

Simon R and the lunch time gallery
Just when Terry and I thought we would get through the season without a boat breakdown the starter motor on Skylark, our big boat, decided to fail up at Clarke’s – so we lashed her to my new Alumacraft and recovered her to our island camp to await Glenn’s attention next May. As always we have spare boats and engines here, but we are sad that faithful Skylark (launched in 1994) did not make it through to the end this year.

Recovering Skylark down Simmons
Up on the top beats Finn the Fish was finally out fished by his fishing partner Steen P, the score was eight to Steen and seven to Finn; all 15 salmon were taken from Scott’s which is fishing like a dream at the moment . Not to be out done Finn went out after dinner to level the day at 8:8.
Overall it was another really good day’s fishing, the total of 70 salmon was pretty evenly spread with Simon R into double figures with 10. We had hoped for a good evening after dinner, but the cloud cover vanished and under the chilly, clear sky we only managed three from Generator so we called it quits early to get a good night’s sleep and be fresh for the last two days.

Bear Pool at a perfect height yesterday
The weather remains settled in from the North, not so windy today and with a mixture of sunshine and clouds; but still quite chilly, it is 10:00 here now and the air temperature is only 6⁰C – not a mosquito in sight!

Christopher Robinson