Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Quite simply a phenomenal season

The 2012 season on the Varzuga will go down as one of our very best in the 21 years that we have been running the programme. More fish than ever before, a bigger average size of fish and salmon throughout the season that were in immaculate condition led to some epic fights.

It did not start as we would hope. Our main aim is to have rods on the river about 5-7 days after the ice has broken and whilst this year the ice break was 4-5 days later than we would hope, the portents were good as our first clients flew into Murmansk. We expected a tough couple of days but then were very confident that the main run of fish would reach the beats and the fishing would improve exponentially.

This is exactly what happened at Middle Varzuga and the 8 rods there landed 329 salmon for their week with the latter half of the week fishing better than the first. Unfortunately at Lower Varzuga, the rods suffered from an unusually quick melt of the snow which coloured up the water and the fishing was exceptionally difficult. We decided to refund these rods their fishing package as we have always said that if we cancel the first week then you will get your money back. It seemed fair as even though the river was essentially clear of ice, the conditions had made the Lower camp unfishable for 4 days.


From that moment on, the season was a stellar success. We broke every Atlantic Salmon record that has been set and we know this because most of the records were originally set on the Varzuga. One of our clients landed 67 salmon in a day which is the most that has ever been recorded, two separate teams of 12 rods landed over 1,300 fish in their week, 8 out of 12 rods in one camp landed 100 salmon or more to their own rod for a week and we had endless people landing their first salmon, their first Russian salmon, the first time they had landed more than 10 in a day and so it went on.

The bare statistics make for extraordinary reading. In our short 6 week season, we landed over 8,500 salmon which meant that the seasonal average was over 50 fish per rod per week – these are numbers of salmon that are simply not found on any other river in the world. As ever, averages are just that. Some people will have landed a lot more than 50 fish in their week, some will have landed less. Skill, time on the river and sometimes just the fishing gods mean that there will always be some disparity in the numbers but it does show what the river is capable of.

Much is made of the numbers and it is difficult to get away from them when people are landing so many fish but the reality is that 99% of the clients remember the numbers as being about the 6th most important part of their trip. Fun, hope, expectation, time spent with friends in extraordinarily wild and beautiful surroundings are what really stand out. Combine that with the chance to really practise salmon fishing as opposed to a casting holiday and it is easier to understand why the Varzuga is such an alluring prospect.

Until you have been there it is impossible to imagine how much fun a week can be on the Varzuga and one of the great joys of the job is seeing the huge smiles that are flashed around the camps every evening as people recall their day. I must thank all of our staff and our Russian partners who all work very hard to ensure that every rod enjoys themselves to the full.


As is our policy, all of the rods who fished with us this year will be offered the first right of refusal to their rods for next season but if you would like to join us please contact me to register your interest.

Charlie White

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Last Day

It was still a bit chilly yesterday, a light northerly wind and the odd shower, but that did not deter our team at Middle Camp who put 40 salmon in the book; James F struck gold up at Pashas where he landed nine in an hour and a half before generously handing the rod over to his guide Sasha. A really great team this week – and for us here so rewarding to see new guests trying salmon fishing – some young some a tad older but all soaking up the Varzuga experience.

A great photo by Hugh last night
Talking of gold, our young dog Zlata (gold in Russian) is finally learning her trade as a camp guard dog and last night, for the first time, started to bark and move off a large bear that came close to camp. About five of our guests had a good view of him from 25 yards or so before Zlata suddenly kicked into her role and after ten minutes or so had seen him off the island.

 Up at Pana the water rose all day after Thursday’s rain and their catch was down to just under 40, however they should be on about 300 salmon for the eight rods this week. Kitza had another good day with about 45 landed and I guess they will finish with over 300 salmon for the week – a great result.

Farewell from Varzuga
This morning we leave early for Murmansk and home. It is always a wrench to leave both the Varzuga river I have known for many years and of course our Russian friends who are so much part of it and who truly care for it. What a wonderful fishing season we have had on Varzuga, one of the best.

Until next May.... dosvidaniya.

Christopher Robinson





Friday, 22 June 2012

Camp Life

There is a wonderful team of local Russians here at Middle Camp whose work, often in the background, goes un-noticed. Luda comes every year to run the kitchen and her grand-daughter, Sonya, keeps us all amused playing with the new camp dog Zlata who, being only seven months old, has taken to stealing socks from the laundry room - much to the annoyance of Julia and Julia whose roles are to keep the camp tidy and clean. This week Luda has been known as Doctor Luda as she has tended to three minor injuries and there is a queue at the kitchen table in the morning as cuts and wounds are dressed.

Luda tending to one of her patients, David B
Iliya, Luda’s grandson, runs the generator overseen by Sergei, in the evenings after supper the guides do an hour or so camp work; the latest task is to finish a new wood shed to keep the fire wood dry over winter. A great deal goes on in the village as well to support all the camps, from supplying the tons of fuel we need to keep the generators and out-board engines going through to ordering and dispatching the supplies we ask for from Marina in the Varzuga store.

Zlata with sock
As always it has been a pleasure to work with our Russian friends and partners this season and we are really grateful to them for all the assistance and hard work that goes into making the fishing programme such a success.

We had one of the coolest days for a couple of weeks yesterday and the air temperature struggled to get higher than 10⁰C. It was damp too with drizzle and rain from the North and, with a rising river, the fish were off the take a bit. That said we had a pretty reasonable day at Middle Camp landing 41 salmon with David S leading the way again with eight to his rod.

Sonya
Kitza had another excellent day and the Spanish team landed 53 with the fish well spread throughout the river from Sasha’s below camp right up to Rackmanns at the top. The Pana count for the eight rods up there dipped a bit and they recorded 49, encouragingly the fresh salmon are still running right through to Pana and they had several bright, fresh salmon yesterday.

David and Anthony ready to go fishing this morning
Tomorrow we leave for Murmansk and home – it hardly seems possible that only six weeks ago we were digging our way in through the spring ice and snow – it has all gone far too quickly.

We will post a quick blog tomorrow before we leave and next week Charlie will post a roundup of the season.

Christopher Robinson

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Mid Week

With a group at Middle Camp most of whom are new to the water here, and with some guests in the early stages of their salmon fishing careers, it takes a day or two to settle everyone into the fishing. It is always very rewarding for us to have guests who take advantage of the remarkable fishing here and who use the time with us to experiment, learn and improve their skills.


Hugh S with a bar of silver
We had an excellent day yesterday even though it did not feel particularly fishy and was still and muggy – however it was great to see the younger members of the team really getting into their stride with Jamie G landing five salmon in the day, Hugh S three and James D with a great score of 10. David S also had another good day with 10 on his score card from the Yovas Rapids beat. The total for the twelve rods was our best for the week so far at 52. With little breeze we had some mosquitoes about so lunch was on the boats, anchored together as a floating pontoon.

Lunch 'on the river'
The fishing was good at Kitza too and Tom radioed in this morning to say that they had landed 55 with a few from Sasha’s but most coming from the higher beats. Head guide, Ura, had taken advantage of the water height (which remains good for boating) and had pushed even further upstream than normal as far as Rackmanns where Emilio RG landed 7.


James D and Sasha in the newly named Bomber Ally by Snake Pit
Up river from here the group at Pana landed 59 yesterday with the fish pretty evenly spread amongst the team. We had heavy rain last night and this morning the water was up 2” at Pana and I guess we will get a small rise here later today. It is a lot cooler today with a chilly downstream breeze from the North and with a grey, overcast sky it does not feel at all like mid-summer.

A record day for James D 

I hope the weather warms up as we are planning a mid-summers night drinks party on the gravel bar, mid-river, at the suitably named Party Pool.

More tomorrow....

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Back to Summer Height

After the heavy rain last week the river rose steadily peaking on Saturday. Since then it has dropped in slowly and we are almost back to summer height. As the Varzuga drops so we are adjusting our tactics to suit the changing conditions. On Sunday there was just a sufficient weight of water to suggest that an intermediate tip and larger fly would be best, by yesterday afternoon our guests were using longer leaders and smaller flies on floating lines.

Peter and James D setting of with Sasha
Last night after dinner we experimented in Party Pool, fishing small copper tubes very slowly through the draw at the end of the pool. James F and James D were well rewarded with four good salmon all of which took the fly so softly we thought they were parr or grayling until the line fully tightened and they exploded into a strong fight.

One of David S's nine salmon yesterday
At Middle Camp we landed 42 fish, David S had his best ever day with nine to his credit. Jamie G who had never caught a salmon until 24 hours ago proved that his first two were not just luck, he is really getting the hang of it and put three in the book yesterday. At Pana they are still able to boat down as far as Ponzoi, they landed 60 to the eight rods with the salmon well spread out through all the beats. Our Spanish guests at Kitza had a cracking day catching 49 salmon with Emillio RG landing 13 for his best ever day the day.

David S and Anton
It remains calm and overcast and to the South we can just see banks of sea mist over the White Sea coast, quite good fishing conditions. With the water now lower we are back into our Summer routine and 2 pairs of rods, Anthony, James F, David S and John have gone up Yovas rapids for the whole day where Anton and Sergei will barbeque a fresh salmon for lunch.

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Boating

Only four out of the 12 rods here have fished at Middle Camp before and after their first day settling in they set off with enthusiasm yesterday to explore more of the masses of river available to them. The water height remains perfect for getting the jet boats about so Sergei took Hugh and Jamie up Yovas rapids to see if Jamie G could get his first salmon.

A very happy Jamie G with his first salmon
Sure enough Jamie landed two in the morning, from Dunkery Run and Deeside, and Hugh put up the Union Flag on the boat in celebration. In fact the celebrations ran well into last night and breakfast this morning was rather later and quieter than normal!

Hugh S ran up the Union Flag
I try, every evening after dinner, to take a boat out with a couple of guests for an hour or so; it has become a bit of a routine and one I much enjoy. Generally I take one of our larger boats, 19 feet and with a wide, flat plywood floor. A very stable and comfortable platform to fish from and with the advantage that no waders are required; the guests simply grab their rods and a jacket and jump in.

From the boat last night, James F hooked up as Hugh S looks on
It is a wonderful way to spend an evening hour, the light can be extraordinary – more so as we approach mid-summer – it is totally peaceful and quiet and the casting easier without the hassle of wading. It took five minutes to the top of Generator where some fish were splashing through and in the hour James F had two really good fish to the net to take his tally for the day to five.

We always have the option to put a guest into a boat to fish, some prefer to wade while others, particularly those of more advanced years, like a combination of wading in the easier places and fishing from a boat if tired or where the wading is more tricky. I also like to take beginners in the boat to settle them into fishing for salmon – the casting is much easier, they can see what the line and fly is doing and can really concentrate on learning how to fish the fly in a salmon tempting swing.

A good fish for James F
Pana reported 68 salmon landed on Sunday and 63 yesterday and on Kitza our Spanish team had 36 yesterday before celebrating their win over Croatia.

We had some rain last night and this morning is rather mournful with a low, damp mist. The rods have gone out, some with sore heads, particularly the younger members of the party who quite predictably ended up around the kitchen table last night with the younger Russian guides. Great to see the bonding going on - I suspect it will be an early night for some this evening!

Christopher Robinson


Monday, 18 June 2012

Learning


We had a really bright, warm day yesterday, the wind was just enough to keep any mosquitoes away but annoyingly just strong enough to make the casting less easy on the more exposed pools. The water temperature rose a smidgen to 19⁰C which is warm enough to make the salmon a bit dour.

Lunch on the rocks yesterday
Pana reported around 60 fish landed yesterday, I will try and get a fuller report from them tonight, the radio reception being poor at the moment. Our Spanish friends got off to a keen start at Kitza and when I spoke to Tom last night at 19:45 they were still on the river and our cook, Donna, was fretting about the souffl├ęs she always does as a starter for dinner on Sunday. Tom reckoned that they would have about 30 salmon in the book for their first day.

Wonderful light at mid-night
At Middle we landed 34 with Anthony C leading the way with seven fish. Hugh S continued his good run and by the evening had landed three salmon having only caught one before he came here. Jamie G came very close to landing his first salmon unfortunately losing three during the day, after supper I went out in the boat with him to see if the next fish would hold on. Sadly it was a quiet evening for him, but we enjoyed the peace of fishing under the wonderful midnight light and returned late to camp sure that today would bring success.

Jamie G and Hugh this morning
After breakfast Hugh held a brief refresher casting session by the boats and our novice fishers headed off with their guide Sergey full of confidence. A number of people raise an eyebrow about novice fishermen and ladies coming to such an amazing river as the Varzuga, however I can think of no better place to start your fishing career. Casting can be taught on any river, but you can only really learn about fishing if you are catching fish. On Varzuga there is every chance of that happening, mistakes can be made and lessons learnt in the pretty certain knowledge that you will have a chance of another take from a salmon and the opportunity to get it right next time. Where else does that happen?

Anticipation
Cloudy today, a nice breeze and a chance of rain, a much better day for fishing and I will let you know how we get on tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The New Week

It is always a sense of relief to have all the in-coming guests into camp on Saturday evening in time to relax, enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine, assemble the rods, have dinner, and for those keen enough, a chance of an hour or two down the home pool under the constant day light.

A happy group last night after Hugh S caught his first Russian salmon
The transition through Murmansk airport gets easier each year. All the major operators share our Kola Charter from Helsinki, we all know each other well and there is a refreshing degree of co-operation and banter as we meet our respective guests and make sure the luggage goes to the correct helicopter.

At Middle Camp after dinner Hugh S caught the second salmon of his life from Generator and James F had one from Bear on his single handed rod. We have some less experienced fishers this week, all really enthusiastic to make the most of the river, so this morning Hugh has taken them off to Generator Pool to refresh the casting skills and settle into six days fishing on the amazing Varzuga.

Some of our guests wish to remain anonymous
The river has stopped rising and it should now continue its steady drop throughout this week. We had a blisteringly hot day yesterday and the water temperature climbed to 18⁰C, a touch too high to be perfect however the forecast looks like cloudy weather most of the week so hopefully it will go no higher.

Radio reception was poor this morning, if the other camps have an issue they can call in on their satellite phones, otherwise we rely on the HF radios, all can listen in and there is a good degree of fishing chatter. Both Pana and Kitza reported salmon caught last night but the detail was hard to hear.

David and John setting off this morning
Last week was an exceptional weeks fishing, marred only by the rain on 13 June which although welcomed put the salmons heads down a bit as the river rose through the latter half of the week. All camps recorded above average catches with Kitza at 276 salmon for eight rods, Pana just under 700 for eight rods and here at Middle a great score of 540 for 11 rods. All commented on the size of fish this season, their aggressive takes and fighting strength.

The Pana camp from the helicopter yesterday
The new teams will settle in today and I will let you know how they have got on tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Saturday - Murmansk Day

I’m off to Murmansk first thing today as we change over teams on Saturday – so here is a quick round up of yesterday’s news.

Tim P hooked up in Simmonds
A really bright day yesterday with the air temperature up to 25⁰C; to make things more tricky there was a strong, albeit warm, upstream wind that made elegant, long casts somewhat rare. Compounding the issue was a river that continued to rise. I was sure yesterday morning that it would level out but I was wrong, we recorded a rise here at Middle Camp of another 5”. Pana this evening reported that it had dropped off a touch with them, so I would hope that by the time the next team start fishing in earnest on Sunday morning it will have settled down here.

Costa del Varzuga
Even so we had a very productive and happy day landing 55 salmon, Dominique M being the only one to fish late in order to land a couple more fish to round off his week with 40 salmon to his rod.

Ian S with his 100th salmon of the week
Pana had a quieter time and the team up there had a pretty relaxed day and, in shortened hours, had around 70 fish. Tom at Kitza reported around 30 salmon landed. I’ll get the full news tomorrow evening and will do a roundup of this past week.

Farewell from a wonderful group to have here at Middle Camp
It looks pretty good to me for the next week, a good water height and plenty of fish running.

More news tomorrow when we have the new groups in camp.

Christopher Robinson


Friday, 15 June 2012

Still rising

Such is the nature of the Varzuga watershed, consisting solely of virgin tundra and bog, that even heavy rain takes a day or so to percolate through to the river. We must have had more rain than we thought on the 12th and 13th June as yesterday the many small streams that feed the river were noticeably full and noisy and the river continued its slow rise.

David KW with one from the boat
At Pana (80 km upstream from us here at Middle Camp) our manager, Mungo, reported the river to be well up, 9” over two days and getting a boat down to the holy grail of Ponzoi should be possible for a few more days. At Middle, where the river is wider, the total rise of water height is 6 ½” (17 cm), causing us to adjust the beats to make the most of the changed conditions.

Lunch opposite Clarkes yesterday
Despite the rise, the water remains crystal clear and the temperature steady at 14⁰C. Full
floating lines or a floater with an intermediate tip are working well and bright flies with
yellow, red and orange remain the favourites.

Pana landed 98 salmon yesterday, the catch pretty evenly spread amongst the eight rods and all of the
beats up there are fishing exceptionally well. Over at Kitza the catch was a little off
yesterday and they put 34 fish in the book before going down to the White Sea for a stroll
on the beach at midnight. That might sound bizarre to you back home – but it really is an
extraodinarily spiritual experience, the light is quite magical and it is something that lives in
people's minds when they reflect on their trip here.

The White Sea beach at mid-night
At Middle Camp we landed 78 fish with Ian S reaching a remarkable land mark for a salmon fisher landing 100 salmon in five days fishing.

The rods have just set off for their last full day on the river, this week seems to have flown
by, tonight we’ll have a barbeque by the river and the usual farewell party before
reluctantly boarding the helicopter back to Murmansk on Saturday morning.

Fishing a skated fly at Party Pool
We look set fair for next week – the rise in water has come at a perfect time and the river looks in excellent shape.

Christopher Robinson

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Mediator

The rain of Tuesday night continued most of yesterday, accompanied by an upstream gale in the morning. Pretty foul conditions and here at Middle Camp we kept the generator on all day in case anyone took an involuntary swim and needed a warming shower, we lit the fire and brought everyone back into the lodge for lunch.

Fishing in the mid-night sun
The river rose slowly throughout the day, on the radio last night the camps reported the casting into the wind tricky and the fish fickle. The score sheets were down a bit with Kitza recording 45 salmon with the biggest of the day at 14lbs to Ed B. The river had risen by 3½” triggering a landslide at Clay View which coloured up the water for the lower beat so Tom moved the whole team up-river. This morning the water had cleared and they will be able to put a couple of rods below camp into the ever productive Sasha’s Pool.

A 14lber for Ian S
Up at Pana the team of eight rods had 102 fish for the day taking them past an extraordinary milestone of 8,000 salmon landed and released in 21 years of fishing here. The river up there has risen 4” in the past 36 hours and all the lower pools remain accessible.

At Middle the fish were a bit dour, but I guess that statement needs to be put into a wider context – we finished with 78 salmon for 11 rods, not exactly a disaster in salmon fishing terms. Everyone one had three fish or more for the day, again Ian S, Richard L and Dominique C leading the way with double figure scores.


There was no doubt that the fish had their heads down a bit, after dinner the weather calmed so Ian S, Hugh and I took the boat down to Party Pool to experiment. Ian fished his trusty fly, The Mediator, on a very short slow sinking tip while Hugh and I took turns with either a Bomber or skated Sunray Shadow. In an hour and a half Ian landed four (one a cracker of 14lbs) and lost one; while not a single fish showed to the surface flies.

1,111 salmon caught and released so far this week
The river should settle down today, it is up 4” at Middle which gives us a bit more lee way for the jet boats, the weather is cooler and brighter and there is a light breeze. Everyone has been digging around in their fly boxes for Mediators and Hugh has been busy at the fly tying bench. We’ll see what happens today, so far this week 27 rods on the Varzuga and Kitza have landed exactly 1,111 salmon in four days. Not too bad!

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Mid Week

At Kitza Tom reported seeing more fish yesterday than he had on previous days and the group of eight rods recorded 58 salmon landed, Richard G was top rod with 12 fish on his card. Tom reckoned that most of the salmon were in the 8lb – 12lb range and straight in from the sea. The water level on Kitza has dropped more slowly than the Varzuga and all beats remain accessible by boat for the moment.

Dominique C and Volva
The eight rods on Pana had another bumper day with 139 salmon landed. They are still able to get a boat down to Ponzoi but this option could denied to us in the next few days if we do not get significant rain. It should not matter too much as the most productive beat remains the tail of Lagoon to just below White Rock, so there is masses of room still available if Ponzoi has to be taken out of the rota.
A bear crossing the river yesterday
The run of salmon continues here at Middle Camp, yesterday we saw numerous pods of silver fish splashing through and our team of 11 landed 126 salmon, the largest of 14 lbs falling to David KW. Ian S is acknowledged by all to be our expert and he is now on 76 salmon for three days fishing – a remarkable effort and most of them caught in “office hours”. Four of our Belgium friends went up Yovas rapids and had a fantastic day up there, Rodolphe C and Dominique C leading the way with 32 fish between them.

With three wonderful days of fishing under their belts the team are beginning to experiment, something Hugh and I are encouraging, more single handed rods are being put up, the Bombers and Skaters are coming out and I’m sure that we will have more converts to surface fishing this week.

Mother and 3 cubs seen at Middle Camp on 31 May
Those of us who stayed on the lower beats yesterday got together for one of Jemima’s famous roast chicken picnics at Peartiha. Half way through lunch a bear swam the river right in front of us, a wonderful sight. At Kitza the rods were surprised to see an elk charging across the river with a young bear in hot pursuit.

It rained heavily all night and the river is up an inch this morning. A welcome rise, not so much from a fishing point of view but it does help from a boating perspective. In any event the river is a good deal higher than this time last year and is about as perfect a height as one could wish for.


Perfect height at Snake |Pit
 The water remains at 15⁰C – very much a floating line temperature, the flies of choice at the moment are Flame Thrower, Mediator and Red Francis on a ½” tube or #8 to #10.

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Yovas

Yovas Rapids are at the head of the Middle Camp’s beat, 2½ miles of white water and wonderful ‘lay-bys’ for the running salmon to rest in on their haul up the steepest section of this long river. Early in the season the fish pause at Clarkes right at the bottom of the rapids, making Clarkes probably the most sought after spot on the beat rotation. Now, with the water temperature above 10⁰C, they tend to run through Clarkes pausing in the myriad of perfect pools throughout Yovas.

Lunch at Yovas
 The jet boat ride up the rapids gives the day a feeling of expedition, you pull into the bank, the engine is cut, and suddenly you realise you are genuinely in the middle of nowhere, just a mile or so south of the Arctic Circle, in the most beautiful place on the Varzuga with more fantastic fly fishing water than you can possibly cover in the day. Truly fishing heaven.

Graham B and Anton with another silver salmon from Yovas
I ran my boat up Yovas to meet Graham B, David KW and Ian S for lunch, a fresh salmon barbequed by Sasha; we relaxed on the bank and soaked in the silence of the wilderness. In the afternoon Anton guided Graham down the bank while I took David in my boat. I made a couple of indifferent decisions about where to fish and by mid-afternoon, much to Anton’s delight, Graham was well ahead on the score board. Eventually we got it right, just above The Slabs, and in an hour of mayhem David landed four, lost four and had numerous aggressive and splashy takes.

We sat in the boat quietly contemplating the day, David said “I wonder if people realize that it is a privilege to fish Yovas”.

A very happy Sebastien R
At Middle Camp we ended the day with 103 salmon in the book, Kitza reported 55 with Joshua C landing 15. Pana had a cracking day with 136, one guest fished late to get to a remarkable score of 50. It was a bright day and the water temperature rose to 15⁰C; floating lines are now the best choice and flies of 1” or less are working well.

More tomorrow from the wonderful Varzuga.

Christopher Robinson