Thursday, 6 July 2017

2017 season review

2017 will go down as the most extraordinary year that any of us have seen on the Varzuga and to a wider extent on the whole of the Kola Peninsula.

Our advance team "on the river" on May 6th
Over the past few years the trend of the ice break date had been very much veering towards the season starting earlier and after 2016 there were a few calls to start the season in the first week of May and perhaps think of dropping the last week of June – this is not a conversation we expect to have again soon.

River ice beginning to break
Our advance team of staff got to the river on May 6th and the very first call back to the office was bad news.  The river was totally frozen over, to the point where the locals were still using it like a road for the trucks and skidoos.  We have cancelled the first week of the season before and whilst it is never something any of us like to do, we had experience of it as had the clients we needed to ring.

Snow at Kitza
On May 6th, it was very clear that there was only one option in cancelling the first week but none of us could imagine that winter would cling on and we would need to cancel the second week.  Almost unbelievably and for the first time in our 26 year history, sadly we had to do just that.

Igloo building was the most productive thing to do for a while
It was simply staggeringly cold and even though we were very reluctant to cancel the week it was a very good job that we did.  The river did start to clear during the second week but it was only really when our first clients got there on May 27th did the river look fully fishable.

Snow storm on our first morning of fishing
Even then, winter had us in its grip.  Our first fishing day started with an epic snow storm which lasted until lunchtime and the reality is that this set the tone of the first two weeks of fishing – very high and cold water, very cold fishing conditions and a sense that all of us simply wanted to see summer and break out the floating lines.

At last, what we came for
Of course we caught fish – this is the Varzuga after all.  In the first week the 4 camps landed 539 fish between 37 rods – not fantastic but given that we were in flood condition, it was extraordinary that we caught that many at all.  Sadly the fish were not as spread out as we would have liked and Middle Varzuga accounted for the majority of them.

All of the fish were in great condition
The stand out feature of the opening week and that of the season was that we hardly caught a small fish at all.  The Varzuga is predominantly a grilse fishery and  we would expect quite a few 5-6lbs fish but we were catching fish over 8lbs practically the entire time and landing a fish of 12-14lbs was not only unremarkable, it became usual.

A nice fish from Middle Varzuga
Whether this accounted for what happened as the season went on we cannot say but the upshot was that we ended up landing very few small fish and the big “push” of the smaller, summer grilse that we normally start to see in the first week or so of June never arrived.

With the river so high we fished from boats more than normal
The weather Gods simply never gave us a break all year and every time we thought the river was fining down and becoming readable, we would get another dump of rain, snow or hail – it was quite extraordinary.  This not only put the fish off but it put the fishermen off as well as the reality is that when the river is that high, it becomes very difficult to find places to wade and the taking spots for the fish are few and far between.

A good one from Kitza
It is testament to the staff, the locals, the lodges and the all round experience of the trip that in a year where everything seemed to conspire against us, we saw endless smiling faces, had some of the best fun we possibly could have done and had so many people say “see you next year”.  It really is a phenomenal place to fish and we are very lucky to be able to go there year after year.

Food of the highest standard
We landed just under 2,000 fish in our shortened one month programme to 140 rods which gives us the lowest average catch per rod of our whole history on the river but that has to be set against the coldest winter for 100 years and simply terrible fishing conditions throughout the whole season.

Increased comfort in the lodges - all rods have single rooms
I believe that more than ever, a result of around 14 fish per rod per week in a year like this reinforces what an amazing resource the Varzuga is and we look forward to fishing it in more “normal” conditions next year.
A rounded experience with fishing, wildlife and fun
Thank you to all of our clients who came this season and who all, without exception, gave it their all and were determined to enjoy everything that the river and the whole week has to offer.

The sun sets on another season
A final thank you to all of our staff and particularly to our Russian partners without whom none of this would be possible.

Charlie White

Friday, 30 June 2017

Mixed day

Firstly it seems there is an issue with the BGan or the operator/instructor. Either way we are unable to receive images from middle camp. Luckily everything else seems to be running very smoothly. I was talking to Toby late last night about the all important close down notes. What a contrast from last year. Toby reports that all the new engines are in very good condition and no chips or dings. "The big boat needs a starter motor" is about all he needs to note down.

Yesterday morning turned bitterly cold and consequently the morning's fishing was slower. Around lunch time the sun came out and the clouds cleared entirely. This time last year I was where Toby is now praying for overcast conditions to cool the water temperatures. None the less the warmer weather had a good effect and the team managed to land 19 fish. Without exception all the rods took to the Generator pool after supper and Dominic M managed to entice 2 more to the bank.

The other thing that is astounding is the mosquitoes have arrived. As Toby said "seven weeks in the Russian tundra and they only show up on the very last day." That is pretty good going although I think I would happily swap 2-3 weeks of mosquitoes for the 2 weeks watching a frozen river at the start.

This morning there is a little cloud but mainly blue sky and warm. Stewart S had an early start this morning with the intention to catch his first fish on the hitch. He achieved this with ease so big congratulations. Once hooked on the hitch it's very hard to go back.

I guess this is my last report until the season round up. It has been a strange and wonderful, interesting and emotional, challenging and enjoyable year. You cant just go back to Russia with a thought, the only way to relive that moment is to go back there every year and experience it. It does not matter how many people ask me about my trip, no one who has not experienced that amazing environment can truly understand the draw and the appeal.

Jack Selby

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Short takers

Yesterday the weather never really changed. There was heavy rain forecast but this may have remained inland of Middle camp as they enjoyed overcast and light showers only. However either rain in the tundra or Tuesday's rain meant the river was up about 4-5 inches. This did not hamper fishing particularly although might have had something to do with the short taking. The team landed 25 fish.

Paul R and Gordon B were up river and Paul estimated he had hold of or offers from 30 fish for the day and only landed 7. He lost quite a few and had quite a few tugs and then nothing. Whether this was down to fish running hard on the rising river or maybe a bit of cooler water coming in making them less aggressive we can only speculate.

Dominic M had another lovely day landing 7, 6 of which were landed from Peartiha. He told Toby that he had caught more by the end of Tuesday than any other week he has fished. I'm very pleased for him indeed.

Last night Paul R decided that enough was enough. Inspired by the Bear and at one with nature and the animals he stalked and caught a fish with his bare (Bear) hands. Quite why it let him do this I'm not sure but he was jolly pleased. I've not heard what the Salmon thought of the whole thing.

Toby is in the process of sending me images so I will update when they arrive.

Jack Selby