Friday 27 June 2014

Farewell to a Small Island in the Middle of Nowhere

The fishing has been excellent all week, and despite the gale for two days, very consistent. In the first four days the scores for salmon landed were 66, 63, 74 and 70 – and virtually all our ten guests have exceeded their personal best for a day’s salmon fishing. Everyone has made the most of the fishing here, all are experienced enough to realize just how good it is. Terry and I have much enjoyed watching them and helping them (I hope!) experiment with Bombers, small skaters and hitched Sunrays.

Yesterday morning was pretty chilly and it did not feel really ‘fishy’, however by lunchtime the weather had softened and we had a tremendous afternoon, with all the beats, top to bottom, fishing well – and with the added bonus of a run of fresh grilse splashing through.

Simon R repeating his lunch time trick of catching a salmon in front of us all, with Gordon B
We had our best day since 12 June and recorded 103 salmon in the book to take us over 400 for the week so far. With one day to go the total for Middle Camp this year stands at 4,814 salmon to 67 rods, beating the previous record set in 2012. We leave tomorrow and this will be the last blog post from here. Next week we will post a summary of what has been one of our best salmon fishing seasons on the quite remarkable Varzuga.

Midnight last night on Party Pool
It is not just the wonderful salmon fishing that has captivated our guests this year. We fish in a pristine wilderness in the middle of nowhere; yesterday we saw Fish Eagles, a Merlin, Waxwings and even a Little Gull (rare up here). Steen P has now recorded 48 species of birds over his years here. Last week Freddie P and I sat in the sun on the Slabs up in Yovas canyon – we drank in the silence, the fresh air, the river running by our feet. We agreed that it was a privilege to be there.

Arina, Jenna and Sonya with Zlarta
There is a great team of local Russian friends here, some behind the scenes, who make it all work. Vova on the generator, fire wood, the banya and other camp tasks. Luda, always in the kitchen, dawn to dusk. Jenna, and her daughter Arina, cleaning, washing up, making beds and running the laundry. Sonya, of course, skipping along the duck boards, collecting flowers and playing with the dogs. Zlarta, our bear dog and her two well grown pups who welcome us home in the evenings. And the guides, Misha (the camp boss), Anton, Danya, Vova, Ivan and Sasha (who we reckon has netted over 1,000 salmon in 6 weeks).

A huge thank you to them all.

Tomorrow we will drag ourselves onto the helicopter, reluctantly homeward bound to reality outside this small island in the middle of nowhere.

More next year!

Christopher Robinson

Thursday 26 June 2014

Trials and Tribulations

Of the 67 guests we have had fishing with us this year at Middle Camp only seven have not fished Varzuga before. With so many fishers returning year after year as they get to know the river and its challenges inevitably they get bolder in their fishing and particularly in their wading. The slightly higher water this season has caught quite a few out. I have not reported on the Varzuga International Swimming Championships on this year’s blog as we have had so many entrants it is difficult to keep up with the scores. What I can report is that the gold medal will go to two guests from Belgium who worried their trusty guide by going for the Synchronized Swimming competition and floated gracefully past as a pair.

Yesterday's mystery entrant in the swimming competition
We had lunch at Snake Pit and Donna brought up two roast chickens with all the trimmings to reward the mornings hard work. We relaxed for a few minutes and tried out various rods and lines with Terry talking us through the various set ups and their merits. Inevitably Simon R hooked a fish in front of the gallery which was duly netted by Bent H.

Simon R and the lunch time gallery
Just when Terry and I thought we would get through the season without a boat breakdown the starter motor on Skylark, our big boat, decided to fail up at Clarke’s – so we lashed her to my new Alumacraft and recovered her to our island camp to await Glenn’s attention next May. As always we have spare boats and engines here, but we are sad that faithful Skylark (launched in 1994) did not make it through to the end this year.

Recovering Skylark down Simmons
Up on the top beats Finn the Fish was finally out fished by his fishing partner Steen P, the score was eight to Steen and seven to Finn; all 15 salmon were taken from Scott’s which is fishing like a dream at the moment . Not to be out done Finn went out after dinner to level the day at 8:8.
Overall it was another really good day’s fishing, the total of 70 salmon was pretty evenly spread with Simon R into double figures with 10. We had hoped for a good evening after dinner, but the cloud cover vanished and under the chilly, clear sky we only managed three from Generator so we called it quits early to get a good night’s sleep and be fresh for the last two days.

Bear Pool at a perfect height yesterday
The weather remains settled in from the North, not so windy today and with a mixture of sunshine and clouds; but still quite chilly, it is 10:00 here now and the air temperature is only 6⁰C – not a mosquito in sight!

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Perseverance Pays

I mentioned the strong North wind in the blog yesterday. It was a real blow, Steen P has fished here for 17 years and had not seen anything quite as strong before. It whipped the door on the laundry room clean from its hinges and broke large silver birch trees on the banks of Generator. It was going to be a challenging day even for the most competent of casters.

Storm damage
It was not warm either, so we gave our guests the option of lunch back at camp. I thought that those right at the top, on Scott’s and in Yovas, might vote for that and make the run back down the rapids to hunker down in the Lodge by the fire. But they decided that fishing up there was such a wonderful chance, it was mad to waste the opportunity, even in a gale. Those fishing the closer beats did come in for lunch – late – which surprised me; Donna filled them full of carbs in the form of her ‘cold day’ fare of pizza and stuffed baked potatoes and they were off again in no time.

I confess that we had expected a few to have a snooze by the fire in the afternoon and wait for the wind to drop. We underestimated them.

Despite the gale, and a water temperature that was down to 9⁰C, Gordon B and David B stuck to their Bombers and had 12 salmon between them. After dinner they asked me if they could try hitched Sunrays in Party, so we took the big boat down to fish the pool, dropping down off the anchor. It was not easy as the wind was so strong casting was really difficult and the gusts threw the boat so much that the anchor kept slipping. We rose three salmon to great surface takes, lost one that seemed to take the Sunray on the way down after coming at it like a Polaris missile, and after 45 minutes returned to the warmth and Michael H’s generously administered whisky.

Gordon B 'Sunraying' from the big boat last night in the normally calm Party Pool
Simon R had another good day with 11 salmon landed and Finn S (known as Finn the Fish) was top again with 14. We celebrated the teams remarkable achievement of 74 salmon landed in pretty atrocious conditions. Perseverance did indeed pay off.

Perseverance and enthusiasm  
Slowly the wind is dropping, but it remains strong still and I suspect this gale will not blow itself out until this evening. Our water temperature is down to 8⁰C this morning and the river down 2". Most are back on intermediate tips with the hope that for the last two days of the week they can go back to full floaters.

More tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday 24 June 2014


The Middle Camp on Varzuga lies on an island called Pond Ostrov. Our main home pool, on the East side of the island, is called Generator (years ago, when we had a tented camp, our generator used to be on top of the bank overlooking the river). If you made a reconnaissance of the 12 kms of river we fish here you would probably overlook the pool, certainly it would not be top of your list. Generator is a long, even draw, quite shallow and 1 km long; in high water all of it fishes well, in low water some sections are less productive, but having an even flow and a mass of underwater rocks and boulders it is highly productive.

Generator under the midnight sun
We tend to keep Generator out of the beat rotation system and it is fished mainly ‘out of office hours’ by those keen enough to have a cast or two before breakfast or in the evening. Generator flows South and the evening the light on it can be extraordinary as the Arctic sun sets to the North and the pines high on the banks are illuminated by a rosy glow.

This year at Middle Camp we have caught, so far, 4,567 salmon to 67 rods in just six weeks, of which 786 have come from Generator (for those looking to question the figure this does not include East Generator!). Many of those salmon have been caught by fishers experimenting in the evening with skaters, Bombers or odd flies that have lain in their fly box for years out of lack of confidence to use them elsewhere where salmon might be scarce.

At the weekend our real generator started to play up - badly so. Anton and the guides went down to the village to collect the spare that has waited for a few years in the store just in case we had a crisis. It weighs half a tonne; how they got it into the boat, let alone up the river in the 15’ boat is quite beyond me, but they did. To shift it from the bank onto site took the usual clever use of Tundra Technology - rope, planks, canter-levers and the ever present Russian strength.

It was a surreal sight – a half ton generator being manhandled up the bank, with one of our guests playing a salmon in the background in Generator Pool.

Tundra Technology and Russian strength
Yesterday we landed 63 salmon, with Simon R banking 15 of them including another 16lber as well. Clarkes, which has been a bit quieter than usual suddenly was full of fish and all beats continued to fish well; in the morning more pods of grilse splashed through. The water height and temperature is spot on at the moment, the only blot on the landscape is the strong North wind we have this morning, downstream thank goodness, but it is quite chilly so we are bringing the guests into camp to warm them up at lunch time.

Despite the North wind Gordon B came into breakfast with a huge smile having landed two salmon in Generator and lost a really good fish that took him well into the backing before doing an aerial cartwheel which threw the hook.

Fishing Snake Pit yesterday
This North wind seems set in for today and tomorrow - so I am off to get in more fire wood from the store and the banya is being lit.

More tomorrow

Christopher Robinson

Monday 23 June 2014

The Bacon and Egg Smile

I took up my habitual position this morning on the Lodge veranda with a cup of strong coffee, to ‘sniff the air’ as my father would have said, and to assess the weather and fishing conditions for the day. The smell of bacon and eggs wafted out of the kitchen. Around the corner, on the path to Generator Pool, appeared Paul R and Gordon B both with smiles so wide you could see them at 100 yards.

Terry Mallin, our Camp Manager releasing a salmon for James D from Bear Pool
Paul had taken his first salmon on a Green Machine, a really small Green Machine on a size 12 hook and tied by himself. Gordon had continued his success with a Bomber and had landed two. Coming into breakfast with a fish or two under the belt sets you up well for the day and their smiles and the skip in their step said it all.

Simon R with a deep fish of 15/16lbs from Blue Rock on a Sunray
Sunday was our first still, warm day for several weeks, all day the odd dark cloud hung over us in windless conditions threatening rain which came only briefly in the evening. Although the fishing was good it was a touch patchy and the team had to work hard for their 66 salmon. Finn S led the way with an excellent score of 18, seven of which he caught from Generator in the evening when the air felt a bit more fresh and clean.

Gordon B and David B spent most of the day trying out Bombers, rising numerous fish and landing 12 between them. Simon R landed nine from the Yovas section including ‘salmon of the day’ on a Sunray from the tail of Blue Rock which we estimated at 15lbs – 16lbs.

Sonya's Birthday Wish
In the evening we celebrated young Sonya’s eighth birthday with candles and her presents and card sent out from England. Sonya has spent the last four seasons here at Middle Camp with her grandmother Luda who cooks for the Russian team. Sonya’s self-appointed camp task is doing the flowers for the dining table; she spends hours collecting wild flowers and making her arrangements. A really charming touch to our life in this beautiful, remote, wilderness camp.

Today has dawned fresher, a good breeze from the North (downstream to help the casting), our water level is steady and the water temperature 11⁰C, just about perfect conditions.

Christopher Robinson

Sunday 22 June 2014

The Varzuga Mobile Bar Service

Friday was equally as cold and windy as Thursday, by no means easy conditions for our fishers but it did not stop them trying out new techniques. Ollie L was determined to catch a salmon on a skated Sunray Shadow so I took him up to the steamy water of Madonna’s were we put a couple of half hitches around the head of a medium sized Sunray to make it skate on the surface and soon had a wonderfully aggressive take from a fresh 6lber.

Donna and her Mobile Bar Service delivering to Ollie who is playing his 12th salmon of the day
To learn more about the method we dropped down to the glassy glide of Peartiha where you need to cast square, develop a nice belly in the line and create a fast swing for the Sunray across the tail of the pool. Two more explosive surfaces takes later and Ollie was a new convert to the Sunray Club.

A mixed brace for the kitchen

Ollie and Freddie voted to stay out late to make the most of the fishing. At 7:30 p.m. Donna, not content with just the Varzuga Dial a Pizza Service, decided to deliver drinks to the river and was duly dropped off at Party Pool with suitable refreshments for our hard working fishers.

We put 50 salmon in the book for the day to give the team a total 0f 404 for the week – pretty darn good we all agreed at dinner, and together with lots of banter, jokes and fun it was a truly memorable week.

Up river at Pana it was really chilly, never above 6⁰C, and windy too. They added 24 more salmon to end up with an excellent score of 330. Kitza too had a storming week and our Spanish friends recorded 406 for the week with 3 of over 20lbs.
Mid-Summer's Night on Varzuga
I was back in camp by 5 p.m. and the new team were soon on the river. By dinner many were off the mark, notably Henry G who is on his fourth visit to the river and finally managed to land a salmon on the evening of arrival. A few went out before breakfast and we were 25 in the book before commencing operations properly at 9 this morning.

Could be a good weeks salmon fishing me’ thinks.

Christopher Robinson