Saturday 17 May 2014

Open for business

We went over to Kitza this morning to top the camp up with supplies, see the team there and to check over the outboard engines. There remains quite a bit of snow in camp where the sun has not reached it, but that is disappearing fast as it is here in Lower camp. Over the last week there has been a noticeable melt. The ‘lawn’ here is now quite muddy in places.

Kitza Camp yesterday
Kitza river was looking good, not too high at the moment, the odd bit of ice coming down but that is clearing quickly. It looked very fishable and just about right. Likewise here on Varzuga the river has really settled down, much clearer now although the small feeder streams are still running well in the relative warmth of the afternoon.
Kitza River
We have not had a chance to fish in the last few days, however this evening after we had all done in camp Bill Drury went down Heli Pool for an hour or so and landed ‘quite a few’. He was using a fast sink tip, a Yellow and Black fly on a 1½" aluminium tube and dressed quite long, about 2 inches.

Bill in Heli Pool
 A short blog again as we leave early this morning for Murmansk to meet the clients. The good news is that Varzuga river is ready for business, and all the team here are looking forward to seeing their new guests. The river looks in fine fettle.

One of Bill's today - a true spring salmon
I return to UK today and Charlie will be here to keep up the reports. More news from him on Sunday.

Christopher Robinson

Friday 16 May 2014

Middle Varzuga

A brief blog this morning as we are leaving here at 8 a.m. with kit and supplies for Kitza. After the disgusting weather yesterday it dawned cold, bright and sunny. A wonderful day and although not warm by any means the sun started its work on the snow and by the afternoon the little streams that feed the river off the Tundra were running really well. The river was a bit dirty as a result and has come up a few inches, but it is still not that full given the time of year.

Middle Camp yesterday
I boated up to Middle camp with Terry the Manger and Donna our most experienced (ever) cook, and of course Glenn with his boxes of tricks to fix anything. We found Big Misha and the all the usual faces to greet us, Luda had arrived too with young Sonya and suddenly the team were re-united and getting on with opening up the camp.
Veranda extension
Misha proudly showed me the extension to the main lodge veranda that I had requested last year, guests can now sit in the evening sunshine enjoying a cold drink. We got the boats in the water, Glenn mended a couple of engines that had got a bit beaten up in the low water last year, sorted out the camp kit and returned late in the day back to Lower Camp. Tomorrow we’ll go up again and leave Terry and Donna there ready for the first guests on Saturday.

Generator Pool
Terry and I had a good look at the river up to Blue Rock. There is much less ice on the banks this year and none of the huge ice walls of 2013. It all look very fishable, Generator bank is clear of big ice, there are a few slabs in some places, but nothing to prevent access. Sadly time prevented a cast or two!

I’ll put some pictures up after our visit to Kitza tomorrow and will let you know how the camp is. In the meantime, if you are leaving tomorrow to join us all here on Saturday – there is quite a lot of snow left and warmer weather could bring a higher river. It has been pretty cold, so come prepared (but expect change! If we say it is cold, you can guarantee that on a Saturday the weather system will change).

I’ll update you tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Thursday 15 May 2014

Normal Service Resumed

To be honest, we kicked our heels a bit yesterday and hung about camp. There is only so much ice coming past that you want to photograph. The weather until late evening was awful, a strong wind driving in sleet and snow all day. We had two long power cuts which damped the spirits a bit too. After nine days couped up in camp there is an understandable cabin fever setting in.

Ice coming past yesterday
We got another smaller boat into the water, then the ice cleared a bit and Feodor decided it was time to put his big boat in with last year’s brand new 90 HP on it. After that the weather closed in and other than cleaning the dining table for the 10th time there was not a lot to be done. A lot of Jenga was played, we celebrated Glenn’s birthday and chose Every Day is Like Sunday by Morrisey as our cabin fever song.

Launching a boat yesterday
While we remained in limbo the river was cleaning out well and by late evening the sky cleared and we had a glorious sunset to admire. It is bright and chilly this morning, we had a hard frost and first thing Terry put the heli camera up to get a picture for the blog. Shortly we are putting in our second big boat and will take Donna and Terry up to Middle camp to start the prep work there. Feodor has already left in his boat to move Big Misha and the guide team up.

Kari on guard
The river is not too high at the moment, indeed a bit lower than I thought it might be – just up to the edge of the withy bushes here at Lower. But there is a good push of water coming through and the ice is pretty much gone, just the odd bit coming down and in a couple of days we should be rid of it.

Kari has resumed his normal position in the sun on the steps to the office, guarding the kit to go to Pana next week, the rest of the boats are being launched and there is a welcome feel of activity here. Phew!

Heli Pool this morning - note the clear, tea coloured water
I hope to get some pictures of Middle today and we will have them up tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Boats and Wagtails

The river maintained its slow rise yesterday, the ice continued to break up and we hauled the first boat into the water. A joyous moment for all, finally we felt we were able to do what we came here for, to get on the river.

Launching the first boat of 2014
This morning we have filthy weather – heavy, driving, up-stream sleet and snow – but the good news is that we watch a constant stream of ice as the river clears itself of winter.  The bad news is that it has made our internet connection terrible and I cannot upload pictures at the moment - as soon as I can I will add them in.

Feodor has made a couple of runs in his boat up to the village, not easy with the ice coming down and the rest of us will wait most of today before getting on the water, maybe until tomorrow morning. In any event tomorrow we will finally be fully mobile on the river and with our helicopter, tasked to be here at midday tomorrow, we will soon be over at Kitza and boating up to Middle Camp.
Watching the ice go
It remains remarkable to me how the birds know how to time things. Every year I watch for the arrival of the Pied Wagtails. They arrive, to the day, on the ice break. We have a hatch of large stone flies on the Varzuga just as the ice goes. They sit on the icebergs and in a big hatch the ice looks sooty with the quantities of them, almost like dirty old snow beside a road at home. Some years, if it is warm and the office window is open, they sit on the paper tray of the printer, I guess attracted by the white paper, and my printed lists of supply requests often have squashed stone flies on them. If we are missing tomato juice, it is a stone fly to blame.

Last night, just as the main break was kicking in, the first Wagtail arrived, looking cold, damp and hungry it scurried about on the duck boards looking for stone flies. I managed a poor photograph of it in the gloomy light, but I will be putting  it on the blog – Wagtails mean we’ll be fishing properly in a day or so.

The first Wagtail
On the subject of fishing – we have one rod remaining to join us on our second year of fishing the legendry Vosso in Norway, on the exclusive Bolstad beat. The dates are for five days fishing 7 – 11 July. This is a rare chance to fish this river, renowned as having the heaviest average weight of salmon anywhere. For more information on the week, and to learn more about the remarkable restoration of the run of salmon to this mighty river, please contact Charlie White at the office

Meanwhile, up here it is looking good for our first guests – the river is not that high at the moment as we have not had a huge flood but with this sleet and snow today it must come up more. So, the advice remains to expect a high, cold river and true spring salmon fishing.
Lower Camp this morning
More tomorrow and as soon as I can get the photos to download I will put them up.

Christopher Robinson

P.S. Terry has just flown the camera under his remote helicopter, not risking going over the river in the wind, so not the best shot but it will give you an idea of the river and camp today.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

The Break Starts

Slowly and steadily the river has been rising for a couple of days now but without any really warm weather or heavy rain it has been a painfully slow process this year and enormously frustrating as we wait here in Camp to be able to get going.

At eleven last night the massive ice field at the village detached itself and came past us, to the sound of whoops of joy from Maryke and Bill who were on watch. For several minutes all we could see was a white river of ice moving sedately to the White Sea. The river is up about 10" overnight and today we expect to see a great deal more ice coming through. Feodor, our Head Guide, thinks that he might be able to put one of our smaller boats in the river this evening, a sure sign that fairly soon normal Varzuga service will be resumed.

Bill and Glenn
With damp weather forecast, and Glenn’s workshop full of engines ready to be mounted on boats, we adapted the veranda as a temporary, dry work area. Glenn and Bill managed to get a couple of our oldest engines up and running as spares if needed. The girls went up to the village again for more supplies, and in order to give us a good head start when our guests arrive this weekend have been preparing masses of food for the camp freezers - the Crepes Suzette look very good!

Maryke and Donna making crepes for the freezer
At Kitza and Middle Camp we have the same Russian staff this year, all local people and with years of experience - they know exactly what to do once we get into camp and they will work around the clock to be ready for Saturday evening. Although Terry Mallin at Middle is new to the river, he has Donna, in her eighth year on Varzuga, with him and he has had 10 days here learning the ropes. It is a really solid team this year, and they are itching to get going.

Off on a Varzuga Shopping Trip

Next week’s fishing is going to be ‘the first week’, great news for Lower Camp as this is normally the most prolific week of the season. I would expect the water to be colder than usual and perhaps a bit higher, particularly on Kitza. That said the height is going to depend on air temperatures and rainfall; we have plenty of snow in the watershed still and a quick melt will bring a high river.

It is definitely worth being prepared with a reasonable range of sinking tips and some heavy flies – a standard choice would be a Willie Gunn or Ally’s Shrimp on a 1" or 1½" brass tube. A pair of fleece trousers or similar to keep you warm when wading would be wise to pack.

I’ll keep you posted on developments from here, Terry has his remote controlled helicopter on standby and we’ll try and get an aerial photo or two of the river once the wind drops and we can launch it.

Christopher Robinson

Monday 12 May 2014

Watching Rocks

A damp, soft day yesterday with some rain for a few hours in the evening, but not the really heavy rain that we had hoped for. The river has risen a touch overnight and slowly, slowly things are changing. Each one of us seems to have a marker, a rock or a stick, which we watch for signs of something happening. My two little rocks that I adopted as my first markers, simply because I could see them from the desk in the office, are covered this morning. It did not freeze overnight and the forecast is still in our favour, but my-oh-my this river is being frustratingly stubborn this year.

Terry and Bill - still clearing snow

Thankfully it did not freeze overnight and early this morning we have a hazy sun trying to do its business and an air temperature of 4⁰C to build on – and lots of damp, slushy snow to plod through and sink in while we potter distractedly about camp, constantly looking at our river height markers.

Bill and Terry have ploughed on with camp tasks, clearing the snow off the containers so that we can build a low roof over them to keep them serviceable well into the future. They date back to 1994 and 1995; we shipped the first boats and engines out here from USA in them, then lowered them into place slung under the helicopter. One is Glenn’s workshop with all the outboard engine kit in (he has over 30 outboards to keep running) the other container houses all our domestic stores.

The carpentry team

After doing a great carpentry job with Bill, building a stand for our new drinks fridges, Terry flew the remote controlled helicopter in the afternoon to get some video footage and photos of the camp and Heli Pool. You can see a few ice bergs on the bank, left by the ‘almost break’ of mid April. The snow in camp now has that dark look of melting slush over a pack of harder ice.

Lower Camp and Heli Pool yesterday
Our real helicopter remains in Murmansk, on standby to come here as just as soon as the ice breaks and we can get on to set up Middle and Kitza for next week. While we tinker with smaller tasks here at Lower Camp actually we are all getting ready to move very quickly once the break starts. Our Kitza staff, Tom - of course! - and Kate who missed last year but who has bags of experience up here cooking at Pana, will now come out with our guests rather than the week before. So we will have to set up for them and make sure they can arrive to an up running camp. The girls here are cooking the Kitza first meals which we will take over to Luba at Kitza and she will have ready for them when they arrive, and we have a gravad-lax and other goodies on the go for them too.

Meanwhile we get on around camp with our preparations, but with a sort nervous twitch that at home might cause concern amongst our friends, as we look hopefully at our individual rock markers for more signs of change.

Oblivious to human concerns
Off to look at my rock again while, oblivious to our concerns, the camp cat sleeps in the lunch cooler bag.

Christopher Robinson

Sunday 11 May 2014

Warming Up

For the first time for several weeks it did not freeze last night. Today at breakfast the air temperature was 4⁰C and a damp fog hangs over the camp. There are a few puddles forming around the duck boards and it is definitely welly boot time for work about camp. We had an hour or so of slushy, wet snow fall yesterday and the forecast remains for rain later today – just how much we get is yet to be seen, but we really need a good few hours of heavy rain to kick things off.

The river at the village
Looking at the river right in front of camp it is very easy to forget just what the situation is a mile or so upstream. At the village and from there up-stream the river remains frozen over, with only the odd clear area where the faster water of the rapids has cleared the ice. The good news is that walking across the ice from one side of the village to the other is now offically banned, a sure sign that the break will come soon. When it starts to move it will be an awe-inspiring sight. Today we will make sure that personal valuables are in grab bags and that precious electrical and other items are placed high on the storage shelves. The boats will remain tied up on their sides well back from the river. The risk of an ice blockage and flood, although slim, is always present.

Bill and Terry testing the helicopter
Terry mounted a Go-Pro camera on his remote control helicopter and tried the first flight in Russian airspace yesterday, it is a remarkable bit of kit and he is pretty skilled at flying it. We experimented with some shots of camp, today he might be bold enough to try it high over the river to get some photos of Heli Pool, but we will have to wait for the fog to clear.

Heli with the Go-Pro
It seems very strange not to have Alan J and Michael H and all the ‘Slipper Gang’ here with us on this first week in Lower Camp. But rather than kicking our heels we have quite a list of jobs that need doing and we will take the unwanted free time to get them done. Bill and Terry have assigned themselves some carpentry tasks today – I’ll let you know how they have got on tomorrow.

The main lodge yesterday
Christopher Robinson