Friday 13 June 2014

Managing Great Expectations

Gradually the sky clouded over yesterday and the afternoon session proved far more productive than it had the two previous days under the bright sun. We lunched again at Snake Pit, Olivier D skipped out of his boat whooping with joy, he had had a remarkable morning wading the mid river bar in Snake Pit and Bomber Ally landing 14 salmon including a wonderfully deep cock fish of 13lbs.

The fly of the week - a Percy Special tied by Ian S
Across the whole river it was another remarkable day; at Middle Camp we landed 154 salmon. Pana had 126 with Michael C landing an 18lber in the Camp Pool. Over at Kitza Arthur J also had an 18lber, from Beaver Pit and the team there put a further 58 in the book.

We have a nice cloudy morning today, the team at Middle Camp set off early to make the most of their last 24 hours here in salmon heaven. I suspect some might get onto the departing helicopter tomorrow in their waders. The forecast indicates rain this evening, but I suspect not a great deal, and into next week it looks like it should remain reasonably cool.

Olivier with his 13lber from Snake Pit
We have been recording some extraordinary numbers of salmon in the past few weeks and inevitably the expectations of each new group are high – very high. We chatted again last night over drinks on the veranda about the consistency of some fishers’ scores and why that should be. How experience counts, how some fishers have a six sense, and above all how some fish unnervingly well in all conditions. Hugo M and Ian S stand out for me this week, each fishes a different style, Hugo with a single handed and Ian with a 15’ double handed. Ian wades boldly, but Hugo is an extraordinary wader – he took on Eagle Rock this week, in quite high water, and lived to tell the tale. But what sets them apart is not just that they cast long, but each cast lands straight and the fly fishes immediately. Combined with an innate sixth sense as to where in the pool to concentrate their efforts they top the leader board almost every day.

Rob McK - a study in concentration
What has been also notable this week is the lack of competition and indeed the congratulations for those who have done well. Everyone has had a less productive session or two and rather than blame the beat or the guide there has been a shrug of the shoulders and the odd mutter about ‘not having fished well’. The Varzuga is unique in that takes the luck out of fishing, it is not the salmon lottery that it can be elsewhere; it really is not a numbers game - you have to consider Varzuga a salmon river where you can, if you want to, improve your skills and be rewarded as you do so.

Middle Camp
Next week we have 26 fishers in three camps, Pana, Kitza and Middle – all have fished the river before and we look forward to seeing them in Murmansk tomorrow. We should be onto true summer fishing conditions, floating lines and small flies, and a chance to try fishing Bombers and skated flies. However many salmon we land next week I know it will be great fun and highly rewarding fishing as we approach mid-summers night on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

I go to Murmansk tomorrow to meet the new arrivals, so I will update you on Sunday morning.

Christopher Robinson

Thursday 12 June 2014

Sun and Salmon

Another really bright day yesterday, we had some puffy clouds in the afternoon for a few hours to give us the odd bit of duller light, but overall our guests fished under a harsh, glaring sun. Not ideal for fishing, but after Monday morning’s return to almost winter conditions no-one was too fussed.

Today has dawned very bright too – not a cloud to be seen – sunscreen was slapped on after breakfast and, the team undaunted by the conditions were in the boats and out of camp before nine (great to have such a keen group here).

Doug U in action below Clarke's
To date the myriad of small streams and springs that feed the Varzuga from the tundra bogs and taiga forests in this huge watershed have kept the river water temperature pretty stable. Slowly they are reducing their flow and their influence as summer approaches. Yesterday we started to notice the change, the water level dropped 3" and under the sun the water temperature rose during the day from 11⁰C to 16⁰C by close of play. Changing conditions; and that probably accounted for our slightly reduced catch.

Arriving at Snake Pit for lunch
All things are relative on Varzuga and the team were delighted with their score of 104 salmon here at Middle Camp. After a tough day for some reason on Tuesday Rodolphe C landed 16, doing notably well in Birthday which continues to fish well, better than Party Pool at the moment. Gregoire de S had an excellent morning but then lost five in the afternoon – not content with a blank session he asked for a late dinner and fished around the Island, landing three grilse to earn Donna’s delicious Tai Prawn Curry.

Olivier and Donna at lunch
Pana continues to excel and the eight rods landed 141 salmon for the day, the largest, at 15lbs, taken by Charlie T on the float trip. Kitza too is proving remarkably consistent even under these bright skys and they put a further 68 in the book yesterday, their largest also weighed 15lbs and fell to Arthur Jardine.

Sun and salmon
On any other river we would be praying for some cloud cover, however we have a huge head of salmon here and although the fishing might be tougher than it was at the beginning of the week it is still more than excellent. Raphael C put it well at dinner last night, "What a privilege to be able to enjoy both sun and salmon".

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Master Class

Yesterday I mentioned just how wonderful were the fishing conditions on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday proved trickier. We had bright, bright sun all day and in the afternoon, with the sun heading around to the North West and lowering a bit, it was straight into the eyes of the salmon.

That said, at Middle we landed 145 salmon for the day, Hugo M was top of the board with 35 fish, and the team were rightly pleased with a well-earned result. Jean V, here on his first ever fishing trip, kindly poured me one of his famous gin and tonics and we sat on the veranda in the evening sun discussing the day. An inquisitive learner Jean wanted to understand just what made the difference and why the scores between the rods varied so widely. Even with only three days fishing under his belt he had quickly understood that all the beats are loaded with salmon at the moment and that it was the way people fished that made the difference.

Terry annd Raphael C in Madonna's
The Varzuga really is the place to learn fishing, Terry is a wonderful instructor and I guess I can add some help as well after one or two years up here. And there is also a vast pool of experience amongst the team to glean nuggets of advice from. It is really rewarding for Terry and I to have fishers like Jean who do not blame the guide, their kit, the weather or the beat rotation but who simply want to improve their fishing skills.

Even the best ask for advice, I guess that is why they are the best. Hugo M is by nature a single handed rod fisherman, he his always top rod and is vastly experienced. Yesterday he took out his new, light #7 double handed rod and fished well enough but was frustrated with his casting. He asked Terry to watch him after lunch and quickly Terry had pointed out a minor fault in technique that Hugo soon corrected.

Pana had another excellent day, inevitably less productive under the sun, however 122 salmon was not in any way a disappointment. They are still fishing right down to Ponzoi and should be able to do so for quite a few days yet.

Over at Kitza Richard G and his team had another excellent day landing 60 salmon with Charles W accounting for 15 of them. Benefiting from the lakes upstream the water temperature at Kitza remains stable at 12⁰C; the height has dropped some 6" this week and last night the guides marked the route through the shallows at Tricalore. We should be able to get the jet boats to all beats on all three camps into the beginning of next week at least; a day or two of rain would be handy and would probably see the current water height maintained until late June.

Dominique M with a 10lber from Robinson's Folly
It is another bright day today, a little more hazy than yesterday – but with few mosquitoes, the wild flowers coming out and the river full of salmon no one is complaining.

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Recognizing Good Fortune

Sometimes, but only sometimes, does a dedicated salmon fisher find him or herself presented with totally perfect conditions. When it happens some recognize it, others do not. We are lucky this week to have 27 fishers with years of experience, many of those years here on Varzuga, who recognize the current conditions are as good as they possibly could be.
Dominique M with one from Pasha's Rest
The water height is about one foot above summer level and dropping slowly. Summer level is a somewhat subjective judgement so I can best describe the current water height for you as being over the grass edges by a foot or so. The water temperature is ideal and steady too, between 11⁰C and 15⁰C, this morning we have started with 11⁰C. The winds have been light and the weather kind to us albeit on the cool side.

Combined with the perfect river height, and the stable temperatures and weather conditions, we have had a really strong run of spring salmon this year, and now the grilse have arrived in big numbers too. It just does not get any better than this and the three groups, realizing that Nature has gifted them a unique chance, are making the most of it.
Gregoire de S in action with the single handed rod in Simmons
Currently an intermediate tip is the best bet, it is still a tad too high to do well throughout the river with a floater.  Flies in the size 6 to 8 range are doing well, or a 1” tube. Colours tend to be combinations of red, orange and black. Personally I do not think the colour is that important, fishing the fly well is the key to success.
If you are coming out on 14 June I would recommend you bring a floating line with a selection of tips, most likely you will use a floating or intermediate tip. Bring good selection of flies; no doubt conditions will have changed by then, most likely it will be warmer and we can try more fishing right on the surface.
The colours of choice
The teams fished hard yesterday, and with remarkable results. Kitza landed 80 salmon; Sasha’s Pool fished really well in the afternoon as another big run of fresh salmon came steaming through from The White Sea.

Here at Middle Camp we had 168 salmon and grilse, all the beats are in perfect order at this height and the only real problem is knowing where to start!

Ian S with another from Pasha's Rest

Pana had a bonanza with 184 landed by Charlie T and the team of 8. Paddy V led the score board with 30. We are now just over 800 salmon to 27 rods in two days. For me the statistics matter much less than watching everyone making the most of our very good fortune to be on the remarkable Varzuga this week. 

Christopher Robinson

Monday 9 June 2014

Summer postponed

Yesterday I thought that today’s blog would be about summer salmon fishing - surface flies and all that. This morning it is 3⁰C, windy and grey; we lit the fire early and pre-breakfast coffee and the usual discussion on daily tactics took place close to the warmth, not as yesterday on the sunny veranda.
Tactics by the fire
Although the summer fishing blog has been shelved for a few days the water temperature yesterday was 15⁰C and a few rods tried fishing flies right on the surface with encouraging results. Overnight the water temperature has dropped back to 12⁰C and with the cold air and a chilly feel to the day almost everyone has opted for intermediate tips and a fly that will get down a bit.

We had an excellent day at Middle, Jean V is our new rod this week and Terry soon had him casting well, he lost three salmon almost at the net before landing his first. A cause for celebration last night, not that we needed any excuse as we landed 143 fish for the day which in itself was reason enough to raise a glass or two.

Jean V and Terry with Jean's first salmon
Hugo M and Gregoire de S are dedicated fishers of a single handed rod and yet again showed us that you need not be intimidated by a large river. They landed 32 between them, all on single handed rods. Top scorers for the day were Doug U and Ian S who had 49 between them by dinner, with Clarkes Corner yielding the lions share. Getting to the 50 milestone became important so after dinner we took the boat down to Party Pool where I have to admit we struggled a bit to get that last salmon as the air temperature at that point had started to drop like a stone. Doug finally picked one up right on the tail of the pool and we motored home a happy and content team.

The 50th fish for Ian and Doug
Over at Kitza Richard G and his group of seven had a cracking day with exactly 70 salmon on the bank, Ian B had his best day ever with 19. Tom reported the water temperature at 11⁰C and intermediate tips are the setup of choice at the moment on Kitza.

Pana exceeded all expectations; Charlie T and the team of eight had a bonanza landing 141. The salmon are now spread right through this long section of river and on the float trip David C and Paddy V caught 26. The salmon are continuing to pour through here at Middle Camp and prospects for Pana, some 60 miles above us, continue to look encouraging.

Christopher Robinson

Sunday 8 June 2014

Half Way

Last week the whole river really settled into wonderful fishing conditions. The water height was perfect, the water temperature varied between 10⁰C and 15⁰C, and the run of fresh salmon steadily built up. It was perhaps a touch bright - and Murmansk airport yesterday was full of well-tanned fishermen’s faces with ‘panda eyes’ – but it was a joy to enjoy both the good weather and phenomenal fishing.

I need only say that we landed just shy of 2,100 fresh, silver salmon to 39 rods in six days. With our fishing curtailed to six weeks by the late snow melt we are now half way through our season and with over 5,100 salmon landed so far and the run still coming in we seem set for a very good result.
Bill Drury with a real cracker on Friday
All camps fished exceptionally well last week; the fish arrived into Pana in force on 1 June and the eight rods there had 332 for the week. The run got stronger as the week progressed and their last day accounted for 87 fish. I dropped the incoming party off there yesterday afternoon and the anticipation of the fishing was self-evident as they landed and walked (very fast!) to look at Camp Pool and rig up their kit.

Over at Kitza, between several legendry Kitza ‘birthday parties’, they landed 407 with one extraordinary day of 92 salmon. Julian P reported the water level getting better by the day and possibly the best yet to come; we had to drag the team onto the departing helicopter.

Lower Camp yesterday
Middle Camp, of course, did well and at dinner on Friday night they were at 993 salmon landed. John C, who likes neat statistics, took upon himself the arduous job of rounding up the number and by 1 a.m. had landed seven to make it exactly 1,000 to 12 rods.

So often fishing courses or casting instruction take place on rivers at a time of year, or on beats, where there is precious little chance of actually catching any salmon and putting the theory into practice. For the third year Eoin Fairgrieve joined Bill Drury at the Lower Camp on a week designed to provide the finest instruction on the finest salmon river. Besides learning a great deal and taking their casting skills to a new level the 11 rods landed 319 salmon - that really is putting it into practice!
Lower Camp guests and staff on Friday evening
The new teams arrived in really warm weather yesterday, 22⁰C here at Middle Camp, luckily today has started much cooler and overcast, good fishing conditions, and it looks as if we should maintain this weather pattern for a few days. With the Lower camp now closed we have 27 fishermen in three camps, Kitza, Pana and Middle; of those 27 only three have not fished here before, and with the river in perfect order we ought to be set for another excellent week.

Christopher Robinson