Friday 18 May 2012

The river starts to settle down

The warm weather continued through yesterday and last night was particularly mild, at breakfast this morning we had all the doors of the dining room open and the air temperature was 15⁰C as we started on our scrambled eggs and bacon.
I went up by boat to Middle Camp last night and was again struck by the extraordinary amount of water running down the small streams into the river. The river is quite dirty, especially below the Middle Camp Island and I’m sure that is what is making the fishing so tricky at the Lower Camp.

Water running off the tundra yesterday
Up at Middle they had a good day with 96 salmon landed to the eight rods. They were very cheerful and Jemima produced a fabulous dinner finished off with Crepes Suzettes flambĂ© with the Grand Marnier she had asked me to find in Murmansk. Julian T continues to lead the score, I’m not sure quite how he does it, all our guests are fishing pretty much with the same flies and lines (a fast’ish sinking tip, short leader and a reasonably heavy large, bright fly). The general agreement over dinner was that ‘he presents the fly beautifully on each cast’ – I reflected on this coming back down the river and thought how nice it was to have a team of fishers who recognized that sometimes fishing is not just luck and that skill does play a part and that Julian deserved credit.

Freddie P and Misha at Middle Camp with a fit spring salmon
At Lower we had another difficult day, albeit we got into double figures with 10 salmon landed, David K-W getting the second hat-trick. Never, in all our time here, have I thought that just three salmon in the day to one rod would be a Varzuga Celebration. Jesse too had a go in a few places with no result – it has been really tough, unusually so in this unprecedented high water. We are seeing fish, and with the water temperature around 3⁰C to 4⁰C we ought to be catching them, but is just not happening. That said the river is now settling down and catches will increase each day.

Charlie and I took the decision that, for the first time for 21 years, we should fully refund the cost of the fishing to our 10 guests here at Lower camp - such is the nature of the huge spring flood we have had, coupled with the first two days being almost unfishable due to ice. Some of the team here, and I am thinking of Alan and Michael, have fished with me on this week since the early 1990's - never have we seen quite the size of river we had yesterday.

David K-W with one of his three from Moskoi Rapid
We have a wonderful, warm day here now, the streams are still running but much less so than yesterday and there is an air of optimism about the guides for the coming week. The water height is steady this afternoon - good news given the warm weather.

We leave for Murmansk early tomorrow, if we can we will update you this evening or early tomorrow. I suspect that on Sunday our new guests will have a a great start to their week and will wonder why we struggled.

Christopher Robinson

Thursday 17 May 2012

A big river

I thought that I may have made myself a hostage to fortune and I’m afraid I was right. We had a difficult day yesterday.

We had a gloriously warm day, really pleasant for this time of year, normally this would have been welcomed but it was this last thing we needed. With the air temperature up to 19⁰C by mid-afternoon the considerable amount of snow still left was melting fast. The little streams on the banks that we have hardly ever noticed in the past were roaring down and the river just continued to rise and it was pretty dirty.

9 May at Lower Camp - lots of snow
Middle landed 25 salmon for the day which was well down on the previous day of 70. At Lower we had to resign ourselves to fate – great credit to our guests, guides and Jesse who all stuck at it. It was indeed lovely weather to be out fishing in but there was little chance of the salmon responding.

A mild frost last night and warm again today – but the melt seems less, the river is steady, almost exactly the same height as this time yesterday and the old hands here feel that the worst is over. I saw Valentine last night, I’m sure that some Varzuga blog readers will recall him (our old friend with the accordion). Valentine knows the river better than most and he reckoned the worst was over – probably the highest river since 1995, and possibly higher than that.

Lower Camp today
With a river that seems to be settling down at last Middle Camp were into fish this morning and I hear were probably going to make a decent score today. It is still not easy on the Lower river and we are finding it difficult to catch fish, frustratingly a few are beginning to show, but they just will not take in the dirty water.

My guts tell me that the river will now drop, and I guess that next week could be excellent; it will still be high and probably cold, so be prepared for Spring fishing. With a modicum of good fortune I’ll be able to report a real improvement tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Middle Varzuga kicks off to a good start

If you will forgive the soccer analogy it was a game of two halves yesterday. Middle went out with some enthusiasm after a confidence building day on the training ground on Monday; here at Lower our team morale was somewhat dented by the high and still rising water which started the day stubbornly stuck at 0.5⁰C.
Bear Pool yesterday
Up at Middle Simon P and Julian T won the toss and started on Clarkes Corner, the wonderful pool at the base of Yovas rapids, a classic resting spot for salmon in high cold water. They made the most of it ending the day with a score of 35 salmon between them of which six were around 15lbs.

Team coach, Hugh, reported this morning that they finished with 70 salmon to eight rods at Middle with an encouraging number over 10lbs. Fast sinking tips, short leaders and large flies of around 2”, particularly a heavy’ish yellow bodied Willie Gunn, doing most of the damage.

The Lower Camp kitchen team
I cannot I’m afraid report such a healthy score for Lower – Jesse had great hopes that his team might out-fish Middle, but it just was not to be. The water was still a touch murky with the ice, albeit much less of it, knocking dirt off the banks. Brian Anderson was our hero of the day with a hat-trick, three nice fish from the upper part of Green Bank.

Heli Pool this morning
The river rose all yesterday and, after a mild night, this morning it is up another 4” or so. The good news is that the water temperature has not dropped and remains 2⁰C. So it is still all to play for and the Lower team left promptly in the boats at 09.00 to see if we can do better today.

Another Sports Report tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Nearly there

I thought that we really might get fully under way on the fishing front yesterday, however the river is proving amazingly stubborn this year. With a cold Spring we have not had the usual big clear out of ice and very gradually and slowly the river rises, releasing more ice and snow off the banks. The frustration is that we know the salmon are here, hunkered down just off the main current.

Graham M fishing Duck Pool
At Middle Varzuga they had a respectable, if not an epic day, with 21 salmon to eight rods. I boated up there last night to find four of them still fishing Generator Pool at 8 p.m. Julian T had used his previous Varzuga experience to work out that conditions were improving and he had six fish late in the day which raised the camp spirits considerably.

At the Lower Camp it was, I fear, a bit of a struggle. The weather was much better, quite mild in the afternoon, but the salmon had their heads down and we managed to land two sea trout before calling it quits and retiring for another of Maryke’s delicious dinners.

Kitza, First Island from the air yesterday
Normally we get this blog posted first thing in the morning – I’m a bit late today as I got diverted earlier on to go up to the village to bring a repaired boat, engine and some stores back down river to the Lower Camp.

I returned to the good news that Middle Camp had landed 40 salmon this morning, I think with Simon P and Julian T leading the way with nearly half the catch from Clarkes. Brian A had two fish from Green Bank, right outside camp here at Lower Varzuga just before lunch and this afternoon everyone is back on the river with renewed enthusiasm hoping the Varzuga is now going to ‘switch on’ – I have probably made myself a hostage to fortune!

Kitza Home Pool
Really mild today, the air temperature is around 10⁰C and the water is up to 2⁰C. Good fishing conditions, we just need the river to settle down a touch more and I think we could be seeing some really interesting fishing.

I went over to Kitza with Tom and Donna yesterday - the river was loooking really good. I'll hear from Tom this evening no doubt, they have quite a bit to do over there but I'm sure Tom will find a moment or two to cast a line. I'll let you know when I have news.

Christopher Robinson

Monday 14 May 2012

What a difference a day makes

A clichĂ© I know but ‘what a difference 24 hours makes’. Yesterday morning was pretty miserable, we woke to a strong north wind and the snow of Saturday continued, the river was still rising and there was enough ice coming down to put us off boating.

Ice coming past Lower Varzuga yesterday
We had a TV crew here to film the opening of the season and the best we could do was to film fly tying in the warmth of the lodge and some casting practice on the ‘lawn’ – not exactly what we had planned but there really was nothing much to do other than sit it out and waiting for an improvement.

Joe L tying in preparation for better weather
In the afternoon a few intrepid fishers took to the river, Brian Anderson had a lovely fresh 8lber from Duck here in Lower Camp and in the evening Hugh at Middle reported that they had had a couple of fish off the island. Hugh and head guide, Misha, seemed enthusiastic about the prospects; despite the cold water temperature (0.5⁰C) they had seen fish running through Generator Pool and they had established that Clarkes, Beach, Snake Pit, Fortress, East Generator, Birthday and Party Pools were all well clear of ice on the banks.

Ready for action this morning
We had a sharp frost last night and this morning was crisp, clear and bright. The river has steadied off and there was quite a rush to get breakfast out of the way and the fishing started.  I look forward to bringing you news of the first full day of fishing tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Sunday 13 May 2012

The shopping trip to Murmansk went well and amongst much else I found great new Magi-mixes for the girls in our four camps– on return I got a massive thank you hug from Maryke when I delivered it to the kitchen. I am not sure that type of simple generosity works outside the remoteness of Varzuga – I think the girls really want handbags or shoes!

Arriving at the Middle Camp
We had a speedy turnaround at Murmansk airport and were in the camps by 3.30 p.m. – however the weather was really foul – heavy snow and driving wind all day. At Lower we hunkered down in the new, warm lodge and enjoyed dinner; at Middle they had a brief foray to try fishing but soon retired to the comfort of the log fire, content to sit the weather out and wait for better conditions.

Even Kari elected to get under cover
The river has risen considerably over the last 48 hours and is up almost two feet. The rise in water is shifting more ice off the banks and this morning ice flows continue to come past us, it is also still snowing hard and blowing a gale from the north, so I suspect we will wait out the morning and look for an improvement in both weather and river conditions.

Glenn still at work despite the weather
It is great to have our guests in camp, albeit in poor weather, but frustrating that the river is being so stubborn to clear out the ice this year. Bizarrely the first Pied Wagtail appeared on the lodge balcony this morning, always a good sign as they normally arrive with good weather to feast on the first large hatches of stone flies from the river, we just hope that it knows more about the weather than we do!

Our first dinner of the season
Looking forward to getting you some fishing photos when we can. In the meantime we are staying warm and the fly tying bench is occupied in anticipation of better things to come.

Christopher Robinson