Friday 13 May 2011

Setting up...

The set up week here has been full of surprises, some good some not so good. Kit that we carefully put away last year has been dug out and inspected, the ‘last winter many mices’ have had a field day in the main store container - they must have been hungry as they have had a good go at anything with electric cables.


A huge re-supply of engine spare parts has arrived from the USA via St Petersburg. Boats and engines are launched and tested, a continual trickle of guides go to Keith in his workshop container with bits to be mended or replaced. After 14 years up here there is little that Keith has not fixed or made – last week Jemima (Middle cook) sprained her ankle badly but Keith soon had her up and running on home-made crutches.

Eagle Rock

I went up to Middle to spend some time looking at the camp, and more importantly to look at the whole beat. The river has dropped a few more inches and where the spring flood has left ice, there is room to get along the banks. Much of the beat is ice free; Birthday, Generator and Bear look excellent. Above the camp Eagle Rock, Snake Pit, Fortress and Beach are fishable. Clarkes has quite a bit of ice on the bank in the top half, the lower half is clear. Pasha’s and Scott’s also looked good.

Snake Pit

While Hugh and I looked at the river, Tiffy fished Generator and lost three in succession, all at her feet – using a 14’ rod, floating line with a sinking tip, short leader and a smallish black fly (about 1” overall) with a tungsten cone head.

 Really looking forward to greeting our first guests tomorrow, the fish are here – now we need keen rods on the river!

Christopher Robinson

Thursday 12 May 2011

Visited Middle Camp

Snow flurries first thing yesterday morning and a decent frost overnight. A typical early May day on Varzuga, a mixed bag of weather and at times large snowflakes drifting over us on the wind, illuminated by bright sunshine – quite surreal.

During, these first few weeks we watch for Nature's signs of spring – last year one pied wagtail arrived, it was quite warm, the next day we saw four; shortly afterwards the ravens who nest opposite camp arrived along with the Middle Camp fish eagles. Yesterday I saw not even the one pied wagtail that was here on Tuesday, nor any of the saw billed ducks that will soon been feasting on the smolt run.

The lemmings are emerging from underneath the duck boards and the mice we turfed out of our storage container (they ate and nested in all the nice napkins I left last year!) are now eating the grass seed that has been scattered over our lawn damaged by the building work.

Loading up supplies for Middle Camp
We flew the first load up of supplies up to Middle this afternoon. The camp is just as we left it last year and looks good. While we were there Tiffy popped down to Generator and in 20 minutes landed one and lost two with quite a few other ‘pulls’. I was not able to take a run up river beyond the island, but the bank at Generator is clear of ice and very fishable. Later this week we’ll have time to take a look further upstream.

Generator bank, clear of ice

We have the same team of guides at Middle this year, Misha, Sasha, Sergi, Volva and the brothers Anton and Artum. Hugh Coulson is our camp manager and Jemima Palmer-Tomkinson the cook.

Middle camp from the air yesterday
On the fishing front it looks pretty good. Jesse and Feodor went down to Bear Island here at Lower Camp where they had ‘quite a few’ between them, Feodor lost a huge fish after 20 minutes, the biggest he’d ever hooked. A normal sink tip with a short leader and reasonably heavy fly seems to work well – that is what Tiffy is using. If you cast well a heavier sinking tip might be an advantage, in the cold water the fish are sitting just off the current and reasonably deep. Successful flies are 1” or bigger well dressed tubes of any colour. Jessie likes bright, I like black! - we agree to disagree.

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Work starts

Work started in earnest today to tidy up the Lower camp. Two new guest houses have been built; I saw them being started in August, the building work stopped for winter and now that the snow has just about gone there is the usual rush to tidy up.

I’ll get some photos for you of the new accommodation as soon as I can. It overlooks the river and has en-suite bathrooms with showers, all now with mains electricity and water from two bole holes rather than pumped out of the river. This must be the most comfortable fishing camp on the Kola.

The view from the new accommodation
I went up to the village in the morning to start topping up the camps with all the supplies needed for the season. Marina runs the huge village warehouse which is now full of the fishing season’s supplies and those needed by the village over the summer. Marina is a wonderful store person as she knows where everything is but prefers to store things than give them out. Watching us leave with a car load I thought Marina looked like a fretful mother very reluctantly watching her precious five year old go to school for the first time.

Anna, Marina and Misha in the warehouse
A cold downstream wind yesterday, the odd snow flurry but mostly bright. The river rose 1” overnight, was steady all day and is still 3⁰C. No fishing yesterday sadly, as a bit busy getting things sorted out for the camps.

For those interested in the drive up here. It is 2,351 miles from Hungerford (plus the UK to Demark ferry). Driving time at the wheel - 45 hours 20 minutes. The Scandinavian roads are great - no pot holes, road works or mad drivers (a pleasure compared to our crowded island) until you get to Russia when the roads can be ‘less good’, but that is the challenge of a decent journey.

The road from Kirkenes to Murmansk
Tomorrow we move Hugh and Jemima up to Middle Camp so I’ll have a chance to see the river there. Will try and get a photo of the river.

Christopher Robinson

P.S. Wednesday morning – snowing and cold. Don’t forget hat, gloves and warm undergarments. Water temperature still 3⁰C. But, in the snow, the first real sign of spring - a pied wagtail has arrived and sits on the roof of the office looking for stone flies.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Arrival - River Clear

Welcome back! Another fascinating season on the Varzuga is about to begin, we’ll try and post a blog every day for the next two months.

I first saw and fished the Varzuga in June 1991 and to celebrate 20 years of fishing this stunning river, I decided to drive up here this year. There were a few Doubting Thomas’s who thought this a mad idea when relatively easy flights exist. Never people to turn down a challenge, Tiffy and I left Wiltshire on Sunday 1st May in faithful 'Tommy the Toyota' and reached Murmansk on Friday 6th May. Jenna (Lower camp cook and logistics guru) joined us for two days' scurrying about Murmansk obtaining the last supplies needed.

On Sunday evening we picked up Hugh and Jemima (Middle Camp) Jesse (Lower) and Keith (14 years as our mechanic, friend and repairer of anything) and drove South along the frozen White Sea coast to the village, arriving midday yesterday.

The new roadside memorial to Sviat
We stopped to say a prayer at the site where Sviat tragically died last August. A sad moment for us all. Tiff and I scattered the first of the rose petals from home this spring.

Huge hugs awaited us as we arrived by the river to unload. Misha, Feodor and Losha were there with the boats to greet us after the 10 month break.

Unloading 'Tommy'
The river broke steadily over a number of days in late April and early May. It is now running a touch lower than I would expect – but not unusually low - and is 3⁰C which is perfect this time of year. Misha says the river is rising at the moment as the mild air melts the ice on the lakes. There are some ice walls on the banks but, with only a few exceptions, the best beats at Lower Camp are fishable – and they look really good at this height. The next few weeks look promising.

Perfect water height
Tiffy had a chance to fish before supper and very quickly secured the first bright salmon of the season.

The first spring salmon
Today we get a chance to really assess the amazing new accommodation here at the Lower Camp and to look at the river in more detail. I hope to see Middle Camp on Wednesday - I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you are coming to join us on 14 May – it looks pretty fishy to me!

In slight haste after a busy arrival day – more tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson