Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Varzuga 2015 review

The 2015 season on the Varzuga will go down as a highly successful one but not one that can compete with the bonanzas of 2014 or 2012.  You cannot have bonanzas without having ‘normal’ seasons and that was demonstrated this year.

That we landed over 5,200 salmon in our short season and averaged over 28 fish per rod per week in a ‘normal’ year is perhaps the best indicator of how high our expectations of this river have become.

A fish from the first week of the season
In an era when up to date information is constantly available, it is ironic that we do not really know what to expect from the river until Christopher Robinson and the advance party actually get there and have a look at it for themselves.  Pictures and descriptions from our Russian friends are all very well but rather like Eskimos and snow, there are so many descriptions of ice and what it means to the chances of the river being clear for us to fish, that we still rely on boots on the ground before knowing what we have in store.

The river breaking at the village
The river started to break up a few days later than normal in early May and justified our Russian partners diktat that the season must not start earlier than May 10th. It proved a fairly straight forward break and left behind a cold, high and dirty river which is not always ideal but actually set the season up beautifully.

An early season fish
Lower Varzuga took a day or so to really get going but after that we found ourselves in the unusual situation where the numbers of fish landed from the Lower Camp were greater than that of Middle Varzuga.  It is hard to know why that was, but a feature of the season was to be high water across all of the camps and it is possible that the classic holding pools that makes Middle so productive were too high to really kick in.

The perfect springer 
The first week saw 15 rods across the two camps land 577 salmon, a good start and we knew that the spring salmon run was well underway.

One of the more common questions from rods who are new to the Varzuga tends to be “Is this normal for the river at this time of the year?” – referring to height, temperature and sometimes productivity. The straight forward answer is that every year is very different and that there is no ‘normal’ and you simply have to adapt to what is in front of you – never more was this so than this season.

Adapting is key...
Whilst we know that the temperatures will warm up and the river will drop over the season, this year we had rain in biblical quantities and the water height remained stubbornly high pretty much all year.  This was wonderful in terms of boating the river and we never once had a problem accessing all the beats but it did contribute to some tougher wading, and it spread the fish out more; we had to work harder and a lot of rods commented that they found the fishing more rewarding.

One from the Indel
The weeks two, three and four of the season are when all of the camps are up and running and it is as busy as the Varzuga ever gets.  During this period, 3,512 fresh as paint spring salmon were landed to 108 rods.  It is worth pointing out that this figure is purely the number of fish we got to the net and this year, more than ever, we seemed to lose many, many more.

Pana camp 
The high and cold water may have led them to taking short, perhaps we just were more conscious of it or perhaps that is actually what we always do, but it was something we discussed almost every evening as it was hard to make sense of.  It did mean that action was fast and furious even if it meant that the air was bluer than we might always expect it to be!

Eoin Fairgrieve on a rare break from his tuition
Our mid-summer weeks in Kitza, Pana and Middle are very sought after and again, lots of familiar faces filled the camps until the season end. The river is at its most beautiful then with extraordinary colours and skies that seem impossible to imagine in the slightly bleaker, early weeks.  Less fish are normally landed per rod in these weeks but the numbers are all hugely relative and the chance to fish floating lines in stunning, pristine wilderness surroundings is just not really on offer in many places these days, so the rods tend to be jealously guarded.

Father and son hook up
Having said that, this year’s rain and cooler weather meant that right into July we were fishing intermediate tips which was again very unusual, but ensured all of our rods had masses of fishing room and that they could reach all the beats until the very last day.

Paul R and "that" hat
On reviewing the above it is clear that the theme is one of the season being unusual from a water height and fishing perspective – but even with unusual conditions the season was a reminder that no matter what,  the Varzuga remains an extraordinary salmon river.

Douglas proving that age is no barrier
Thank you as ever to all of our clients who fished with us and to our Russian partners who make it all work so well – it is a very special destination and we look forward to celebrating our 25th anniversary on the river next year.

Please do contact us should you wish to experience the Varzuga for yourself.

Charlie White

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Last Boat In

Another season here on Varzuga has flown by. It seems only yesterday that we opened up the camps, kicked the mice out of their winter quarters and prepared for our first guests. It is just seven very short weeks fishing on this remarkable river.

Middle Camp on 14 May
Fishers back at home find it difficult to believe when I say we are closing Middle camp tomorrow - until the 14th of May next year. Lower Camp will stay open for tourists and we will fish there for the autumn run of salmon for a week or two. But other than that, all the camps, Pana, Kitza and Middle (Pond Ostrov) are now closed. The boats and engines are secured out of the way of any spring flood, the doors of the log cabins will be padlocked tomorrow and the guards are now here for their long, lonely winter.
Terry and Donna on the last lunch run
Charlie will summarize the season next week, in the meantime a brief glance at the figures shows that we have landed 5,190 salmon so far - and with eight keen fishers out there on our last day, plus Finn the Fish, we should get over the 5,200 mark. It has not been a bonanza year like the vintages of 2012 and 2014, but better than 2010. It is quite a lot of salmon landed. 

One can never have too many rods
And now peace returns to the river - for 10 months – no more fishing - the salmon are left to complete their life cycle.

Up here you get a ear for helicopters and boats – I’m as deaf as a post as my family will readily tell you – but I can hear a helicopter from miles away and can tell, by the sound, which boat is coming in. I was lucky last night to catch a photo of our last boat coming in (Gordon S had had a lean day so Terry took him out after dinner and they avoided a blank). It was nearly midnight and a huge, full moon was rising from the South, contrasting against the midnight sun lighting up the stand of fir trees opposite us. Quite surreal. I guess one of the reasons this river gets under your skin.  

Sonya selecting wild flowers for her dining room arrangements

As always a huge thank you to all our Russian friends on Varzuga. Here at Middle Camp, Big Misha, Vova, Anton, Danya, Ivan, Sasha, Uncle Vova, Luda, Genna, Natasha, Arina and young Sonya.

The last boat coming home
I hope you might join us for our 25th year on Varzuga in 2016, either here on this magic river, or just via the blog.

Farewell until next year.
Christopher Robinson

Thursday, 2 July 2015


With the water now dropping towards summer height we are having to sharpen our concentration when driving the jet boats. A week ago the river was high, those of you who know Generator Pool will understand the height when I say that the pyramid rock at the top of the pool was fully under water.

Middle Camp 'phone rock
 For me this was slightly alarming, the rock is such an obvious marker as to the route through the shallows and without it showing it was easy to become disorientated. Now, a week later, the rock is out of the water by over a foot and with shallow, ripple’ly water it is much easier to read the route, albeit skimming through the skinny sections on the plane might temporally concern those guests not used to the drill.

Ivan and Michael H in action
Rocks in camp play a part in our lives too. We get mobile phone reception, only just, from the huge mast in Varzuga village 15 kms down river from here. Having a decent conversation involves balancing on a rock. The best place is just behind the banya – in fine weather this is sort of OK, if it is pouring with rain or if it is a still, mosquito’y evening the call can be short. After a few weeks here you get quite good at balancing on a rock, mobile in one hand and swatting flies with the other. Taking notes can be challenging.

Middle Camp Tundra Art
A couple of years ago I started my Middle Camp rock collection. Each day I try and find a rock or two to place on the sloping, wooden surrounds of the log cabins. Most of the guides think I am daft; however Big Misha seems to understand my concept of Tundra Art and will nod in approval if I find a particularly interesting rock. I normally take a few home to Wiltshire to place strategically in the garden or in the house. Last year I took a whopper home, a beautiful smooth rock, shaped by centuries of river water and ice. It weighed 5kg – (Finnair – my apologies!). This year Tiffinie has banned me from bringing rocks home, and I understand from overheard idle gossip in the kitchen that she has put Donna on full alert to make sure I do not smuggle any rocks home at the last minute.
Steen P and one of his four salmon yesterday
Enough of rocks – onto the fishing. The weather pattern repeated itself yesterday with a good fishing morning and then a bright, sun filled afternoon. We had a long, lazy lunch at Snake Pit and Anton amused us playing with the big boat and firing a vast spay of water across the river from the jet engine. We ended the day with a further 14 salmon landed to take us to exactly 100 for the week so far. This morning Gordon B could not repeat his normal feat of a salmon before breakfast, but his fishing partner Paul R landed good one of about 9lbs before the bacon and eggs.

Anton amusing us at lunch
Two more days to go – I’m off to Yovas where the rock selection is the best (and the fishing is not too bad either!).

Christopher Robinson