Thursday, 1 July 2010

See you next year

Our Varzuga season is short and sharp, starting as soon as the snow melt clears the river ice in early May and finishing in late June or early July. Always intense and exciting it seems over in a flash, hard to think that our first post on this Blog was just eight weeks ago.

We started with unusually warm weather in May, our reserves of snow vanished early and there was a degree of concern over water levels later in the season. As so often is the case, nature balanced out the result; early June brought enough rain to hold the water levels up nicely. In fact, we ended with water levels a touch above average.

We landed just under 4,000 salmon to 144 rods, not a vintage year by Varzuga standards (an average year would have produced around 5,500 salmon) but an extraordinary result compared to any other salmon river.

There were many highlights for us, too many to mention here, but to pick a couple - Sir Gordon Linacre caught the biggest salmon of the season at 25lbs from Pana, at the youthful age of 89! Secondly, the wonderful smiles and grins from over 20 guests who landed their first Atlantic salmon. Guests new to the river could not believe how good it is, older hands had to try harder this year and realized just how good it can be.

Thank you to all who joined us this year, we really enjoyed seeing you on the river and look forward to seeing you all again next year, and we also hope we will welcome new guests who have been watching this Blog.

And of course, a big thank you to Mikhailovich Kaliuzhin and all our friends and supporters from the village of Varzuga who work on the programme and make it happen.

We will open the blog again next May when we commence our 20th season on the Varzuga. Until then farewell and good fishing.

Christopher Robinson and Charlie White

Friday, 25 June 2010

The last cast

We got away to a good start, Bob C had caught a salmon and lost one before breakfast on his morning outing. A warm and calm day, really bright in the afternoon again - lunch at Snake Pit was the first time we have had to under-take mosquito defences.
Post lunch
As the water drops so the higher beats and those up the Yovas Canyon are fishing better. It is glorious water to fish at this time of year, not the easiest wading, but no doubt the best looking and most interesting fishing on the river.
Ueli Z with a fish from the top beat
Simmonds fished really well again, Mark M had a 15lber out of a total of eight from that beat today. We finished the day with 23 salmon landed and closed the week content that we had fished well and enjoyed this extraordinary river.

We said goodbye to some of the staff tonight, some to return home to the village, others to fly with us tomorrow. It is always hard to leave Varzuga, and for those who are here for several months even more so.

A huge thank you to all those who have helped up here this year, and of course to those who have fished with us.

We will post a blog, early next week, with a brief synopsis of the season. In the meantime I prepare to leave the river having worked, as always on Varzuga, with a wonderful team – thank you all so much.

Christopher Robinson

Sometimes She Sleep

The early bright sky quickly clouded over during breakfast yesterday and we had perfect conditions in the morning. Bob C had again given us encouragement with two salmon before his scrambled eggs and toast and the boats roared away at 9 a.m. prompt.

Tudor lands his fifth salmon of the morning

Tudor D and Mark M led the way with eight between them from Simmonds by lunch time; Mark had lost his last Wilkinson’s Shrimp so joined the Green Highlander brigade. Tudor, I’m afraid, lowered the tone in fly selection by going the Ally Shrimp route – not pretty but I guess effective.

A bright afteroon at Middle Camp

At lunch time it looked like we were heading for our best day of the week. What happened in the afternoon is a bit of a mystery, it was very bright, but other than that the weather seemed settled. Someone had turned off a switch, and we really struggled until the sun dipped down in the evening.

The triumph of the afternoon went to Roma, now 17 and in his fourth season helping out here at Middle. He took his newly acquired fly fishing kit up to Bear and extracted a nice grilse on the fourth cast!

Roma (right) and Anton with the afternoon triumph

We finished on respectable 25 for the day. I went for a chat with Vova, “The river died on us”, I said.

A long pause. “Varzuga river never die” replied Vova, “Sometimes she sleep”.

Christopher Robinson

P.S. This season Espen Myhre at Guideline supplied us with four Guideline ACT rods with reels and the Guideline shooting head system for our clients to use. They have been a great success, easy to use and they really cover the water well – many thanks Espen!

Guideline ACT rod, ReelMaster LA and shooting head

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bigger Fish

Another windy day with a good blow downstream from the North, Bob C started us off well with two before breakfast, one a lovely fresh fish of around 10lbs. By lunch time it was clear that the pods of grilse had been joined by a run of bigger salmon, Tudor D was chuffed to have had two of 14 – 15lbs from Fortress.

Green Bank in the Yovas Cannyon at Middle camp

We ended the day here at Middle camp with 23 fish to nine rods of which nine were fresh salmon in the 8lb – 15lb bracket. There was a degree of fly experimentation throughout the day with the Green Highlander now favourite closely followed by P F-A’s Mediator. Smaller sizes being the best in the warm water which remains at 16°C.

Fishing Generator at midnight

The fishing at Pana remains consistent and they too had 23 salmon to their team of eight.

Snake Pit

Today is bright again after a cold, clear night, with a light breeze to keep any mosquitoes away. The scenery here is stunning with the translucent greens of the silver birch contrasting with the vivid blue of the water and sky. The wild flowers are at their peak and fish eagles soar overhead. Sadly it dawns on us that we only have two more days here before we return to reality - all the boats left camp promptly this morning to make the most of it.

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Varzuga International Swimming Championships

A sunny day yesterday with a perfect downstream breeze, although too bright and not ideal conditions we all enjoyed soaking up the wonderful scenery on Mid Summers day.

Ueli Z with a nice salmon from Fortress

Bob C led the way at Middle with five fish, and again came into breakfast this morning with two on the bank and one lost from Generator - which had also fished well last night once the sun went down. Small Shrimp patterns continue to be favourite on floating lines.

Up at Pana Guy Rasch had seven out of 19 salmon landed, I hear he has been top rod two days running.

Luke C-M drying out after Duck Diving practice

With the water quite warm at 16°C and the fish holding well out in the river our fishers have been bolder at wading these last couple of weeks. Last week Charlie’s team from Belgium set some swimming records here at Middle, rumour has it they were practicing for the Synchronized Swimming competition. We are catching up, Mark M from Team Wales caught the judges eye with a 40 yard graceful back stroke down Blue Rock, Luke C-M tried Duck Diving and Piers F-A continues to impress for the ‘Wading like a Baby Giraffe’ award. The Swiss and Irish teams have been practicing in the shallow end but to date we have not seen their full potential.

This morning I found, deep in Tiffy P’s fly box, a very rare commodity – the last Wilkinson’s Shrimp on the Kola (shown below) tied for me last year by Peter Nightingale on an experimental aluminium tube.

I got some stick I must admit for Tiffy had suggested she start with this fly three days ago. A suggestion I dismissed out of hand in favour of a Dee Sheep. I am now eating very humble pie – I have been sacked as Tiffy’s guide and confined to camp, the Wilkinson Shrimp has been taken on an outing to Madonna’s. Tiffy has recruited two new guides for this mission, Anton and Dave, to land the many fish she will no doubt catch.

More tomorrow

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Mind Games

A breezy day yesterday, enough wind to keep any mosquitoes off but not enough to trouble the casting, a good light too with a high overcast sky and sunny at times. Good weather in which to enjoy the river.

The water height is holding up well, after all our concerns in early May about ‘a low water’ year mother nature has again evened things out and we are still getting the big boat here at Middle right through to Scott’s some 10 kms above Camp. Up at Pana, Head Guide Dima, a wonderful boatman, simply said ‘many rocks’ which is code for ‘I can get down to Ponzoi but I’ll take that Beat on myself’.

Tiffy P into a good salmon at Simmons

They had 23 at Pana yesterday, the best fish a fresh 14lber caught by Charlie McV in Choppy. Here at Middle, Mark M led the way for the second day running with seven fish. His magic fly is a shrimp pattern which Ash M reliably reports to be a Wilkinson’s Shrimp. No one else has anything like it and Mark is a bit cagey about how many he has in his fly box. They would certainly command a premium if placed on the market just now.

Anton, Tiffy and Donna running lunch up river

We had reasonable numbers of fish splashing through here yesterday but finding taking fish was less easy - unless you had a Wilkinson’s Shrimp. After lunch I put a confident Dave, who knows the water well, into the tail of Snake Pit where grilse constantly showed all afternoon. I picked him up at 6 p.m. – “I’ve had my arse whipped” he said in his mid-western drawl, “those fish are playing mind games”.

Ash came back in with four fish under his belt including two in double figures – he had found an Apache Shrimp in box which seemed to work.

Bob C went out before breakfast this morning and landed three in Generator – encouraging news for those tucking into Donna’s scrambled eggs – but we are not sure what fly he was using. Rumour has it that it was a ‘shrimpy thingy’.

Bob C at Madonna's

Off to dig around in the depths of my fly box (for the umpteenth time) – I used to have a Foxford Shrimp – somewhere........

Christopher Robinson

Monday, 21 June 2010

Settling In

The enthusiasm in camp is always infectious on the first day, yesterday dampened only a bit by a gale blowing directly upstream. Luckily it was a warm wind and conditions were pleasant if not blustery. The blow was sufficiently strong to make fishing Birthday and Party impossible so we concentrated up stream, particularly in the Yovas Rapids canyon where we found some shelter.

Peter and James D setting off for the first day

Mark M led the way landing five salmon for the day but losing six; lost fish seemed to be the theme and with the water temperature up to 15°C and pods of fresh grilse moving through quickly we found them nipping the fly or taking short. We ended up with tired shoulders, 17 salmon banked and as many lost. The end of the day banya was most welcome! Today we will try smaller flies and see if that helps.
Lunch at Snake Pit

On Pana Aaron reported a ‘howling wind’ which challenged most rods and they had 19 for the day. They were able to get right down to Ponzoi, at the moment all beats in both camps are fully accessible to the boats.

Piers F-A into a salmon at Beach

Today the wind has dropped, it is still from the South and gusty but a great deal easier to deal with. Some single handed rods are coming out and we might be able to try some skated flies.

Overall a good start, the first day of the week with 18 rods on the river and only one failed to make the scoreboard - not many salmon rivers I know can do that in a gale.

More tomorrow

Christopher Robinson

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Back in Fishing Paradise

Two weeks back in UK just flew past and yesterday I returned to the Middle Camp with an enthusiastic and experienced party of 10 rods. The camp looks amazing, the meadow is now a blaze of blue and yellow flowers and at midnight the summer light on the river reminded us all how lucky we were to be back up here on the Varzuga.

We fished briefly last night landing a couple of salmon in Bear and one in Generator. The water height is still fine at Middle and we should be boating to all beats for the next few days.

Middle Camp last night

I dropped off the Pana team of eight, all bar one of whom know the river really well and they were soon on the river landing nine salmon last night. They may struggle to get a boat right through to the very lowest beat later this week so I hear they are going to fish down stream fairly hard for the next day or two.

The water temperature was 12°C this morning, a warmish day with a strong Southerly wind (upstream), so not the easiest wind for the first day.

A happy Tim P last week

Charlie returned home yesterday with three happy and content teams from Middle, Pana and Kitza; the guides here at Middle had thoroughly enjoyed having a mix of experienced and new rods last week and were chuffed that all six new comers to salmon fishing did so well – we hope to see you all back next year!

Christopher Robinson

Friday, 18 June 2010

A beautiful day but tougher fishing

Yesterday was a magical day to be on the river and when having a picnic at Snake Pit, sun shining and a light breeze, it was hard to think of somewhere better to be.

Gregoire De S playing a fish on Green Bank

However, it didn’t help the fishing much and it was a tougher day across all of the camps. Here at Middle we took 21 for the day with Hans K having a great morning on Fortress landing 4 fish.

At Kitza they had 22 fish and the star performer was Peter D with 8 fish, 6 of them from Old Dam where he had his big fish earlier in the week.

We have been seeing ospreys all week

Up river at Pana they had 37 with Charlie T and Ashton C combining to land the majority of the day’s total.

A quick tally shows me that we have so far caught around 3,500 salmon this season which is pretty amazing but perhaps the most amazing thing is that it will not go down as a vintage year for numbers on the river. We have had years with more fish but we have certainly had bigger salmon this season than in the past and I can’t remember another year when so many people have landed their first salmon. It is also hard to remember a year that has been more fun.

Kitza Camp in the sun

As ever, the last day seems to have crept up on us and tomorrow I will fly home for the final time this season and Christopher will be running things for the last week. Endless thank yous go to all of the camp staff and our Russian friends and partners; we are very lucky to be able to come here each year.

Charlie White

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Did you hear it?

After 3 days of effort, enthusiasm, Gallic curses, lost fish and a lot of laughs, Joseph C beached his first fish yesterday morning and then proved it wasn’t a fluke by landing another one in the afternoon. The celebrations were long and loud and his valedictory speech was Oscar worthy.

Not the biggest but much deserved

That is 6 rods this week at Middle who have landed their first salmon as well as at least one I know of at Kitza – where else in the world of Atlantic salmon fishing is that possible?

Our conquering hero waves to his press

We ended the day with 27 on the bank with Tim P as top rod with 4 fish. It was a pretty awful day weather wise but everyone was wreathed in smiles when they came back in and all of the rods headed to the banya to ease aching muscles and warm up.

Jean Christophe fighting a fish on East Generator

The day at the top of Kitza was a great success with all rods enjoying the stunning scenery that is up there. They had 31 for the day whilst at Pana the 8 rods had 53 for their day.

Today is a much nicer day on the weather front but it is very bright. The fish might have their heads down so we are going to try some bigger flies through the deep pots in the rapids and will leave the skaters until this evening.

Charlie White

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Skated flies prove their worth

Yesterday was a slightly tougher day, possibly as a result of bright sunshine throughout. Those who experimented did better as it was not really a day for tried and tested tactics.

Doug U and Ron S decided that Sunrays and skated mini Pot Bellied Pigs would be a fun way to spend the day and they were rewarded with 3 fish apiece. One on Upper Birthday came clean out of the water to take Doug’s fly which it duly did on the way down. On Clarks in the morning, Ron had a fish attack the Sunray 4 times before deciding enough was enough – a very exciting way to fish and a great way of finding fish.

Doug U with one from Birthday

We finished the day 22 fish with twice as many lost. Bill P was the top scorer on 5 but the Belgian Olympic swimming trials were the main talking point as I think we are averaging around 8 swims a day – there are not many spare canisters left!

Gregoire De S trialling for London 2012

Kitza took 16 for their day and they are leaving camp early this morning to get as far up river as possible in order to try some different water and to also fish in what is amazing surroundings. With the picnic packed and Tom carrying the wine, it should be a great day.

Vova enjoyed his lunch

Pana had 43 with fish being caught on the float trip, which is up river and also down as far as Northumberland Avenue so all beats are producing good fishing.

Today is more overcast and the river dropped an inch last night so it looks like a better day for fishing, let’s hope someone told the fish...

Charlie White

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Close to 100 fish for the day

We had a good day yesterday and landed very nearly 100 fish for the day across the camps.

Arctic tern

Kitza had 30 to their rods and the highlight was undoubtedly Peter Dickson’s 18lbs fish from the Old Dam. A real cracker and straight in off the tide. Randall H has now landed 8 fish in his two days fishing which given that he has never fished for salmon before is some effort.

Pana had 41 again with Lord T utilising his unrivalled knowledge of the river to take 10 fish to his own rod.

Plenty of stoneflies for the wagtails

Here at Middle we had 23 and the prize for the top rod for the day goes to Gregoire De S who had 8 fish from East Generator and Fortress. Jean Christophe landed his first salmon and took some wonderful photos of the birdlife on the river, on which he is an expert.


Joseph C continues to impress us all with his determination to master the art of casting and suffered the agony of losing 3 fish yesterday – not long now and there is every chance that you will hear the celebration wherever you happen to be.

Jean Christophe with his first salmon

Jean Christophe with FFG - first fish grin

We caught fish yesterday on floating lines, sink tips, big flies, small flies and a skater so it is difficult to give definite advice but the one sure thing with this place is that if you are on the river you have a chance.

Charlie White

Monday, 14 June 2010

More firsts

Well I am not building an igloo but I won’t be sunbathing for a bit either. It is cold but dry today and the wind has a bite to it – not quite what we would expect in mid June. The rain of yesterday morning pushed the river up a couple of inches but it appears to have stopped rising now and hopefully we are fishing a falling river once more.

Yesterday Eric C and Frederick M landed their first ever salmon and Joseph C cast his first fly. He did not connect but with his epic enthusiasm it would be verging on mean of the fish if they don’t reward him soon.

Frederick making sure he got to know his first fish

Frederick M had the good sense to leave his fish until the last minute so that everyone was going past him in their boats as he played the fish – big grins all round.

A rather more formal introducion

Kitza had 28 for their first day to the 7 rods and Pana had 41 to their 8. We have been using a combination of sink tips and straight floaters; neither one seems to particularly outfish the other but Doug U did have a fish on a skated fly yesterday so we will try a few more of those today.

Despite being overcast, the river looks beautiful at the moment with wild flowers lining the banks and the areas around camp. The Arctic Terns are here in force and there are Waxwings everywhere, flying around and chasing the insects on the river as we fish. Yesterday Doug U and Ron S saw a White Tailed Eagle so all we need now is to see a bear – I will go down to the woods and see what I can find....

Charlie White

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The new week brings new weather

As in most remote places, if you don’t like the weather as it is then just wait 5 minutes and it will probably change. That has been the case this morning as we woke to heavy rain and strong winds.
James W with 1 of his 17 fish from last week - not bad for someone who has never been salmon fishing before

The breakfast table was full of dark thoughts as to how cold everyone would be but by the time all the rods got to the boats to go to their beats, it was much warmer and had stopped raining entirely. It is now quite mild but the wind remains.

Last night saw Arnaud L land his first salmon and I would like to show you a picture but in the excitement of landing it he took a bit of a swim and his camera is now on the radiator...

Nick M with one of the 307 fish landed at Middle last week

Bill P took 2 fish out of Generator this morning and the team have set off with high hopes. I know from the radio that fish were caught at Kitza last night and this morning at Pana so the week is off to a good start.

Garth with his biggest fish of the season so far....

I have now got access to Garth’s camera and I thought a few pictures of the fishing here last week would be fun to see. More tomorrow when I will be either sunbathing or building an igloo.

Charlie White

Saturday, 12 June 2010

A quick update

After a moderately sensible leaving party at Lower, I flew with our Kitza and Lower clients to Murmansk today where we were met by our second helicopter which brought in our guests from Middle and Pana.

Murmansk on Saturday is always amusing with everyone keen to know how everyone else got on and swapping stories whilst meandering through the never less than interesting systems that they have in the airport.

James S with another fresh one from Wires

It is normally pretty busy up there but I did manage to speak to Sir Gordon L who yesterday landed a 25lbs fish from Pana which finished his week off in fine style.

We all got to camp by about 5pm to be greeted by warm sunshine but with quite a stiff upstream breeze. A few rods have raced to the river and I know that one of our Belgian guests has already landed his first Atlantic salmon so I hope it is a positive portent of things to come this week.

Jessie on his last run back to Camp - hope to see him again next year

Middle camp is looking stunning at the moment and I am looking forward to spending a week up here, and reporting some good fish being landed.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Last day at Lower

The final day of our fishing here at Lower Camp is upon us which seems almost impossible to believe. Kitza, Pana and Middle Camp will fish on, but sadly we will hang up our rods here this evening. We have had a great season at Lower with lots of fish, fond memories, laughs and the odd hangover – exactly what a season on the Varzuga should be.

Rob W with one of his four fish from yesterday

Just reward for his success

Tonight we will get the boats out of the water and store them and their engines in our containers in order to protect them from the Arctic winter, before raising a glass or two to celebrate friendships made and memories shared.

Pasha and Feoder, top guides and top lads

Yesterday was a better day across all the camps with Rob W and Mike T leading the way with 4 apiece from Lower, at Pana they had 23 fish with Jack M taking two fish out of the camp pool on a skater after dinner. Kitza had 13 and lost quite a few, Middle reported consitent fishing with another 50 fish to the 12 rods.

Mike T with one from Green Bank

The weather is all over the place at the moment but this morning it is bright sunshine and it is really quite warm – a good day for fishing right on the surface, the guides all took monofilament leader with them this morning (rather than fluorocarbon leader - mono fishes skated flies much more effectively as fluorocarbon tends to sink).

Tomorrow we head back to Murmansk for changeover day, next week I will be based at Middle camp where I look forward to meeting up with the great team of clients and old friends that I know are coming out.

Charlie White