Friday 10 May 2013

Wish you were here!

We had a wonderfully peaceful yet productive yesterday; being Victory Day meant that most of our Russian friends were in the village, so no helicopters coming in and out ferrying supplies, no jet boats running to and fro from the village - we turned off the insistent crackle of the HF radio in the kitchen and just enjoyed a quiet day getting the last bits in order.

Kari enjoying a quiet day
A ‘productive calm’ we called it at lunch – it may sound all a bit too chilled but the set up here is pretty frenetic and moments like this are welcomed. We have finally got the supplies sorted out, the flooded office and containers have been cleaned and re-occupied, and a lot else besides, so we decided to knock off at 4 p.m. and I then took Jamie in a boat to do another recce of the beats at Lower Camp.

Glenn back in his container workshop
Hugh from Middle came along for the ride as he had not seen the water below here. I asked them to bring their rods and we stopped at The Beach below Morskoy Rapids, the last rapid on the river, and they had a go for thirty minutes or so. A big run of fish came through and with the water temperature nudging 6⁰C we saw numerous fresh salmon showing. Let’s just say that they did OK and we sat on the side of the boat and wished that we had our guests here.
Wish you were here
The water level remains steady; last night we had another really hard frost and the puddles in camp had a good ice covering on them by 11 p.m. At dawn this morning the water temperature was down to 3⁰C. A floating or intermediate line with a slow or medium sinking tip will work well. Flies of 1” to 2”, the colours of choice here always being red and orange, black works well too and there are others who swear by a Green Highlander. In any event, the spring salmon are here in good numbers and they tend to be less picky than their summer cousins regarding flies.

Green Bank last night
Today I go to Murmansk to collect some supplies and to meet our first guests on Saturday. I will not post a blog on Saturday morning and normal service will be resumed on Sunday when I hope to have some photos of big smiles and silver salmon.

All here are much looking forward to getting the season under way – just wish you’d been here yesterday!

Christopher Robinson

Thursday 9 May 2013

Victory Day

An important National holiday in Russia today, Victory Day, celebrating the defeat of Fascism albeit with huge sacrifice. Sasha said last night “A day of celebration with a tear in the eye”. Most of the Russian team will be in the village today so we will have a chance to tidy up, take stock and have a bit of a breather after three very full on days.

Moving the last of the boats to the river
Nothing seems easy up here sometimes; we lost the mobile connection to Lower Camp for 24 hours and had to post the blog with our back up satellite system. The best place for the tiny portable satellite dish was on an ice berg with yours truly kneeing in the mud fiddling with a lap top in a light drizzle. Much mirth amongst the rest of the team!

Blogging Varzuga style
In Lower Camp we continue the drying out process of the ‘office’ and the containers and sorting the last of the kit to go out to the other camps. The main lodge and guest rooms are fully functional and better than ever; today we can re-occupy the office, get the floor back down and I think that by the end of the day we will be pretty much set up for the season.

Sasha, Tiffy and Maryke sorting medical supplies
Hugh and Jemima took a boat and more kit (including the long overdue new dining room chairs!) up river to Middle Camp yesterday and returned late in the evening really pleased with the camp. Jemima was thrilled to find 2 brand new large fridges, until it was explained that the bear that Hugh had photographed so close to camp in our last week of last season had apparently broken into the kitchen after we had left and demolished the old fridges. I guess that’s one way of persuading the boss to provide new kit – I’d love to see the insurance claim form. 

The photo you really logged in to see - Heli Pool this morning at perfect spring height
Enough of the admin stuff, and on to the reason you are reading this - fishing. The water height is steady; there is a large ice wall camped on top of our normal river height reference point known as Keith’s Nail so I can only explain it by saying that the river is on the edge of the Withy bushes in Heli Pool and not right up into them. Just about perfect really. The water temperature this morning is 4⁰C - we had a hard frost last night and the puddles are well frozen over. After supper yesterday, Hugh and Jamie popped down to Heli Pool and had a fish each before the air temperature dropped below freezing. Floating or intermediate lines with a medium sinking tip are the current recommendation.

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Supplies and Stuff

A warm bright morning, turning to heavy rain this afternoon, topped off by a chilly evening and brilliant sunset. We spent the day continuing the season preparations. Hugh, Sasha and I went up to Middle Camp to find Misha and his team hard at work on the cabins and camp.

Ice Walls
Thankfully the flood only reached just over the level of the floors in the main lodge and cabins; so no serious damage done and things are drying out well. The ice bergs parked themselves on the edge of the Island, luckily not in camp, but leaving some very impressive ice walls in places – the good news is that Generator looked perfect, we were itching to give it a cast or two but time did not permit. Honest!

Generator clear of ice
On the way up we witnessed the arrival of the pair of Fish Eagles that nest near the Island; mobbed by a pair of Ravens they swooped along the river seeming delighted to be back in their summer quarters. On return to camp this evening the first Pied Wagtail had arrived. The first big stone fly hatch happened this morning – just how these little birds time their arrival to the day defeats me. No Arctic Terns yet, they are due any day to feast on the smolt run having completed their annual 17,000 km round trip to Antarctica.
Hugh and Jamie drying out electrical kit
The river was a touch up today and is now at 4⁰C - Feodor the Head Guide at Lower Camp went out for a couple of hours and had 5 springers and lost a couple.  He had a great day as he then boated home with a shiny new 90HP jet out board that Glenn had fitted for him. A very happy man!

Sunset last night
As I type this up at breakfast time Jamie has just walked in with two cracking silver 8lbers from Heli Pool caught on fast sinking tip and large bright fly, we kept one fish to go into gravadlax for next weeks guests. The water is up 12.5 cm (5”) overnight and steady at 4⁰C.

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Welcome To Varzuga 2013

Welcome back to the Varzuga blog! Another fishing season beckons on this extraordinary river.

The great news is that we arrived yesterday to find the Varzuga at a perfect spring height. Our concern, as we rattled south from Murmansk to the village, was what damage we would find following a huge flood on 30 April.  We had been alerted that the river ice had created a massive dam below the village, the water had backed up fast and it had flooded both our Lower and Middle camps. The spring melt carries with it huge ice bergs and while water damage is bad enough, ice berg damage can be “Maybe a little bit catastrophic” as Ura over at Kitza would say.

Water flowing through Lower Camp
Eighteen houses in the village were severely damaged by ice, but miraculously both camps have escaped with only water damage. Our Russian partners have done an amazing job in sorting things out and while we have some drying out to do we will be in fine shape when the first guests arrive this Saturday.

It is standard practice to store as much of our important kit as possible above ‘flood level’ and this paid huge dividends this year. Our biggest problem has been the kit stored in the containers; they floated off their mountings, then filled with water and settled back down at crazy angles. We spent yesterday sorting out a jumble of wet, muddy equipment and jacking the containers back up to a tolerably level state.

Moving kit into camp
By the evening we called a halt and Hugh (Middle Fishing Manager for the third year) and Jamie (Lower Fishing Manager for the first time) spent a well earned hour ‘checking that the salmon are here’. They are! The water temperature is 3⁰C and the clarity clear – perfect for this time of year.

A real cracker to start the season

Today we plan to boat up to Middle Camp where Misha and his team have been repairing minor damage. We will try and get some photos for you as I know that the Middle Camp fishers will be keen to see them.

It is wonderful to be back here on this magic river and a great relief to find things less of a problem than we might have expected. Lucky? – Yes. But a massive Thank You to our Russian friends and partners who have worked around the clock to sort out two damp and muddy camps in just a few days.

More news tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson