Saturday 10 May 2014


Normally Sasha and I would have driven back to Murmansk yesterday; to top up on any last supplies and kit needed, then to meet our first guests this morning. It is a huge frustration for all of us here, and of course the fishers at home, that we remain locked in ice and snow.

9 May 2013
I recalled the scene last year and dug out the photo I took of Kari enjoying the spring sunshine on 9 May. The river was clear, a perfect height, and we were really looking forward to seeing our first guests. Yes – we had sunshine yesterday, but with a bitterly cold wind - and although you could feel the sun if you found shelter in the wind you had to really muffle up.
9 May 2014
 It was Victory Day, celebrating as I mentioned last year an important day in the Russia view of the world, the Soviet defeat of Fascism with the cost of 20 million lives. A big National Holiday and once we had finished our tasks here in camp the girls walked up to a party in the village. Their ordered walk on departure, stamping careful steps along the river bank around the softer and slightly treacherous ice berg fields, was in contrast to the return which might be described as somewhat disorderly. In any event all returned safely if not exactly gracefully – the Russian hospitality here is wonderfully generous.

True spring salmon fishing

I took the chance for my first cast this year, the water was up an inch or two and had started to get some colour in it with grass and sediment kicked up by the chunks of ice coming down. That looked encouraging from the melt point of view, but the fish seemed to be off – but I guess that is all relative such is the quality of the fishing here, and in 20 minutes I had my first springer and was glad to be out of the 1⁰C water. So, above is the first photo in five years of yours truly with a salmon.
Photo from my office window this morning
It is a touch milder this morning, I’m typing this in the office, with its view over the river, and can see an encouraging, steady stream of drips from the snow on the roof. The forecast continues to predict warmer weather tomorrow and rain which, I hope, should start the proper melt.
Christopher Robinson

Friday 9 May 2014

Testing The River

It was a warmer day yesterday; the air temperature was up to 4⁰C by mid-afternoon and the snow had that distinctly soft, mushy feel to it.

In the morning we finished off some more camp tasks and after lunch Glenn reckoned we should all help complete the digging out the snow in front of the containers now that it was easier to deal with. A sound idea I thought.

Terry 'testing the Varzuga'
Feodor, Bill and Terry announced that it was highly important that they ‘test’ the river so that an accurate report could be sent back to UK to reassure all that there were indeed salmon here in the Varzuga.

In these delicate situations it is best to try and keep all parties happy. So I went down to photograph our intrepid team ‘testing’ the Varzuga, and then hurried back, rather later than I should have, to help Glenn clear the snow.

The river is incredibly low and shallow, all the melt is still frozen, but despite the water temperature of 1⁰C Feodor recommended only an intermediate tip and not too heavy a fly.


Feodor with one of his two spring salmon
Feodor led the way, quickly landing a couple of bright, silver spring salmon. Bill soon had one as well, uncoventionaly beached on a hung up ice berg mid-river - in these circumstances 'needs must'. Terry had a few touches but nothing held on, so he put on 3" Monkey style fly and had a salmon try for it twice on the surface on the same swing – just why that fish, with the water temperature at 1⁰C, came to the surface so aggressively beats me. (For the non-believers we have it on HD Video). He changed back to a Willie Gunn and swiftly landed his first Varzuga salmon.

'Needs Must' in these conditions!
We only have about 300 yards of fishable water at the moment, for those who know it - from Sharks Tooth Rock down to the two huge rocks where we park the boats in the lower water of June. And it is quite a dodgy scramble over the ice bergs to get at the river. Once in the river a sharp eye upstream is needed to watch out for the odd, large bits of ice that silently bear down on the unwary. I’m pleased to say that we have a gravad-lax on the go.

The smile says it all.
Despite the water conditions just now, with such a late snow melt it is likely that those coming on 17 May will find higher and colder water than they might have experienced in the past. I suggest you make sure you have medium and/or fast sinking tips and a handful of heavier flies if needed – say fully dressed 1" brass tubes.

Oh – I forgot to say – we can now fully open the container doors. Thank you Glenn.

Christopher Robinson

Thursday 8 May 2014

Setting Up

By tradition the journey for our team into Varzuga from Murmansk starts at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night with a glass of Russian champagne, served I fear in a plastic pic-nic mug. Always a great re-union and made more memorable by the surreal, chilly, windy car-park setting. Tiffy and I came out on 1st May to complete the supply lists and load up the lorry bound for the village, and thence out to the airport for the above ceremony.

We normally stop for a few hours sleep at Umba and then head on down the road to Varzuga village. With the river still frozen this year, and after a long journey, we used the skidoos to ferry all the bags and kit in and stretched our legs over the crisp snow down the river bank to camp under a bitter but bright sky.

Maryke and Glenn and their containers
There was more snow on the ground than I expected, and after the warm spell of mid April much of it is now rock hard and semi-ice rather than snow. Getting into our containers is always a top priority and a certain amount of digging and cursing was required.

On Tuesday we moved the rest of the stores down from the village to camp, again on sledges behind skidoos. Tiffy, Donna and Maryke then set about dividing a season’s worth of supplies between the four camps while Bill and Terry sorted out the boxes of new waders, boots and jackets for the guides, kindly supplied by Colin Thomas at Airflo.
Dividing up the stores
By last night all was pretty well boxed up, labelled and ready for dispatch and a well deserved party was had; all seem a bit slower this morning and I suspect it is self-help for breakfast.
Donna and Tiffy off to the village
Yesterday was grey and cold, the air temperature hardly got to 0⁰C and apart from the odd bit of ice breaking off there was no change in the river to report. A good day to be inside doing ‘admin’. Without any sun the drips from the melting snow off the roof were almost non-existent. The only hint of things to come were the two ravens who nest opposite here at Lower Camp, they arrived in the morning and flew up and down the river croaking in that unmistakable way so reminiscent of wild places. Good to see them again, as always they arrive almost to the day every year whatever the conditions. Below is a photo taken this morning of the rapids right outside the office, ice stuck everywhere in the shrunken river.

Sobocci Rapids this morning
The forecast continues to predict an end to this freeze at the weekend. I’ll update you tomorrow and, with much work done, I suspect Bill and Terry will get a chance to fish in the limited clear water we have.

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to the Varzuga blog!  I know that during May and June many of you, wherever you fish, watch our daily reports of goings on and, of course, the fishing on Varzuga.  Charlie and I will keep you as informed as best we can.  The photo quality will never be quite as good as we would want; to get the blog posted we have to compress and squeeze the photos down a somewhat tenuous modem link through the Varzuga mobile mast.  However we both hope the next 45 days or so of posts will give you a taste of the remarkable fishing on the river and life in camp.

Greeting old friends
We arrived yesterday at the village at midday to find three Russian Managers waiting for us, Big Misha from Middle, Feodor from Lower and Ura who had come over from Kitza. There were lots of greetings and hugs, then we discussed the river and the news was not good. The cold snap we are experiencing up here has stopped the ice melt in its tracks.

Bill Drury and I rather suspected it might be bad news.  On our overnight journey from Murmansk the air temperature was -6⁰C at Umba at dawn and by midday when we arrived at Varzuga it had just managed 0⁰C.

The river at the village
The forecast looks much warmer from Friday/Saturday onwards and just a day or two of warmer temperatures will have the river ice cleared out pretty quickly.  I’ll keep you posted on the weather and river conditions each day, and no doubt some updates on camp life.

Lower Camp yesterday
We all looked at the river and it was clear to see that the warm spell in mid-April, that seemed to herald the start of the melt, had been turned on its heels by a bitterly cold last few days of April and early May. In the few places where the river is clear, and Sabocci Rapids right in front of me now are clear, the river has dropped back to June levels leaving a few icebergs from the ‘almost’ ice break stranded 3 feet up on the bank.

We talked to Charlie back in the office, looked at the forecast for the umpteenth time and the unanimous agreement was that, with massive regret, the first week of fishing would have to be cancelled.  A huge disappointment for next week’s fishers, who are entitled to a full refund, and of course for our team here, both local and all of us from abroad.

Sharks Tooth Rock - upper center of the picture - and ice bergs from the 'almost' melt
More tomorrow from a very enthusiastic but highly frustrated team.

Christopher Robinson