Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Varzuga 2015 review

The 2015 season on the Varzuga will go down as a highly successful one but not one that can compete with the bonanzas of 2014 or 2012.  You cannot have bonanzas without having ‘normal’ seasons and that was demonstrated this year.

That we landed over 5,200 salmon in our short season and averaged over 28 fish per rod per week in a ‘normal’ year is perhaps the best indicator of how high our expectations of this river have become.

A fish from the first week of the season
In an era when up to date information is constantly available, it is ironic that we do not really know what to expect from the river until Christopher Robinson and the advance party actually get there and have a look at it for themselves.  Pictures and descriptions from our Russian friends are all very well but rather like Eskimos and snow, there are so many descriptions of ice and what it means to the chances of the river being clear for us to fish, that we still rely on boots on the ground before knowing what we have in store.

The river breaking at the village
The river started to break up a few days later than normal in early May and justified our Russian partners diktat that the season must not start earlier than May 10th. It proved a fairly straight forward break and left behind a cold, high and dirty river which is not always ideal but actually set the season up beautifully.

An early season fish
Lower Varzuga took a day or so to really get going but after that we found ourselves in the unusual situation where the numbers of fish landed from the Lower Camp were greater than that of Middle Varzuga.  It is hard to know why that was, but a feature of the season was to be high water across all of the camps and it is possible that the classic holding pools that makes Middle so productive were too high to really kick in.

The perfect springer 
The first week saw 15 rods across the two camps land 577 salmon, a good start and we knew that the spring salmon run was well underway.

One of the more common questions from rods who are new to the Varzuga tends to be “Is this normal for the river at this time of the year?” – referring to height, temperature and sometimes productivity. The straight forward answer is that every year is very different and that there is no ‘normal’ and you simply have to adapt to what is in front of you – never more was this so than this season.

Adapting is key...
Whilst we know that the temperatures will warm up and the river will drop over the season, this year we had rain in biblical quantities and the water height remained stubbornly high pretty much all year.  This was wonderful in terms of boating the river and we never once had a problem accessing all the beats but it did contribute to some tougher wading, and it spread the fish out more; we had to work harder and a lot of rods commented that they found the fishing more rewarding.

One from the Indel
The weeks two, three and four of the season are when all of the camps are up and running and it is as busy as the Varzuga ever gets.  During this period, 3,512 fresh as paint spring salmon were landed to 108 rods.  It is worth pointing out that this figure is purely the number of fish we got to the net and this year, more than ever, we seemed to lose many, many more.

Pana camp 
The high and cold water may have led them to taking short, perhaps we just were more conscious of it or perhaps that is actually what we always do, but it was something we discussed almost every evening as it was hard to make sense of.  It did mean that action was fast and furious even if it meant that the air was bluer than we might always expect it to be!

Eoin Fairgrieve on a rare break from his tuition
Our mid-summer weeks in Kitza, Pana and Middle are very sought after and again, lots of familiar faces filled the camps until the season end. The river is at its most beautiful then with extraordinary colours and skies that seem impossible to imagine in the slightly bleaker, early weeks.  Less fish are normally landed per rod in these weeks but the numbers are all hugely relative and the chance to fish floating lines in stunning, pristine wilderness surroundings is just not really on offer in many places these days, so the rods tend to be jealously guarded.

Father and son hook up
Having said that, this year’s rain and cooler weather meant that right into July we were fishing intermediate tips which was again very unusual, but ensured all of our rods had masses of fishing room and that they could reach all the beats until the very last day.

Paul R and "that" hat
On reviewing the above it is clear that the theme is one of the season being unusual from a water height and fishing perspective – but even with unusual conditions the season was a reminder that no matter what,  the Varzuga remains an extraordinary salmon river.

Douglas proving that age is no barrier
Thank you as ever to all of our clients who fished with us and to our Russian partners who make it all work so well – it is a very special destination and we look forward to celebrating our 25th anniversary on the river next year.

Please do contact us should you wish to experience the Varzuga for yourself.

Charlie White

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Last Boat In

Another season here on Varzuga has flown by. It seems only yesterday that we opened up the camps, kicked the mice out of their winter quarters and prepared for our first guests. It is just seven very short weeks fishing on this remarkable river.

Middle Camp on 14 May
Fishers back at home find it difficult to believe when I say we are closing Middle camp tomorrow - until the 14th of May next year. Lower Camp will stay open for tourists and we will fish there for the autumn run of salmon for a week or two. But other than that, all the camps, Pana, Kitza and Middle (Pond Ostrov) are now closed. The boats and engines are secured out of the way of any spring flood, the doors of the log cabins will be padlocked tomorrow and the guards are now here for their long, lonely winter.
Terry and Donna on the last lunch run
Charlie will summarize the season next week, in the meantime a brief glance at the figures shows that we have landed 5,190 salmon so far - and with eight keen fishers out there on our last day, plus Finn the Fish, we should get over the 5,200 mark. It has not been a bonanza year like the vintages of 2012 and 2014, but better than 2010. It is quite a lot of salmon landed. 

One can never have too many rods
And now peace returns to the river - for 10 months – no more fishing - the salmon are left to complete their life cycle.

Up here you get a ear for helicopters and boats – I’m as deaf as a post as my family will readily tell you – but I can hear a helicopter from miles away and can tell, by the sound, which boat is coming in. I was lucky last night to catch a photo of our last boat coming in (Gordon S had had a lean day so Terry took him out after dinner and they avoided a blank). It was nearly midnight and a huge, full moon was rising from the South, contrasting against the midnight sun lighting up the stand of fir trees opposite us. Quite surreal. I guess one of the reasons this river gets under your skin.  

Sonya selecting wild flowers for her dining room arrangements

As always a huge thank you to all our Russian friends on Varzuga. Here at Middle Camp, Big Misha, Vova, Anton, Danya, Ivan, Sasha, Uncle Vova, Luda, Genna, Natasha, Arina and young Sonya.

The last boat coming home
I hope you might join us for our 25th year on Varzuga in 2016, either here on this magic river, or just via the blog.

Farewell until next year.
Christopher Robinson

Thursday, 2 July 2015


With the water now dropping towards summer height we are having to sharpen our concentration when driving the jet boats. A week ago the river was high, those of you who know Generator Pool will understand the height when I say that the pyramid rock at the top of the pool was fully under water.

Middle Camp 'phone rock
 For me this was slightly alarming, the rock is such an obvious marker as to the route through the shallows and without it showing it was easy to become disorientated. Now, a week later, the rock is out of the water by over a foot and with shallow, ripple’ly water it is much easier to read the route, albeit skimming through the skinny sections on the plane might temporally concern those guests not used to the drill.

Ivan and Michael H in action
Rocks in camp play a part in our lives too. We get mobile phone reception, only just, from the huge mast in Varzuga village 15 kms down river from here. Having a decent conversation involves balancing on a rock. The best place is just behind the banya – in fine weather this is sort of OK, if it is pouring with rain or if it is a still, mosquito’y evening the call can be short. After a few weeks here you get quite good at balancing on a rock, mobile in one hand and swatting flies with the other. Taking notes can be challenging.

Middle Camp Tundra Art
A couple of years ago I started my Middle Camp rock collection. Each day I try and find a rock or two to place on the sloping, wooden surrounds of the log cabins. Most of the guides think I am daft; however Big Misha seems to understand my concept of Tundra Art and will nod in approval if I find a particularly interesting rock. I normally take a few home to Wiltshire to place strategically in the garden or in the house. Last year I took a whopper home, a beautiful smooth rock, shaped by centuries of river water and ice. It weighed 5kg – (Finnair – my apologies!). This year Tiffinie has banned me from bringing rocks home, and I understand from overheard idle gossip in the kitchen that she has put Donna on full alert to make sure I do not smuggle any rocks home at the last minute.
Steen P and one of his four salmon yesterday
Enough of rocks – onto the fishing. The weather pattern repeated itself yesterday with a good fishing morning and then a bright, sun filled afternoon. We had a long, lazy lunch at Snake Pit and Anton amused us playing with the big boat and firing a vast spay of water across the river from the jet engine. We ended the day with a further 14 salmon landed to take us to exactly 100 for the week so far. This morning Gordon B could not repeat his normal feat of a salmon before breakfast, but his fishing partner Paul R landed good one of about 9lbs before the bacon and eggs.

Anton amusing us at lunch
Two more days to go – I’m off to Yovas where the rock selection is the best (and the fishing is not too bad either!).

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Finn The Fish

Some say he eats lemmings for breakfast, others say that he can survive on river water alone – who knows? – all we know is that we call him Finn the Fish.
Finn the Fish
He set the bar pretty high yesterday; one salmon before breakfast, then six in the morning – and he allowed himself a Diet Coke at lunch to celebrate.

Michael H at Scotts
The weather repeated the pattern of the past few days and, after a dull start, by mid-morning it was bright and clear; in the afternoon the sun beat down on the river and it became pretty quiet and sleepy. A few rods changed tactics in the afternoon swapping floating lines for intermediate tips and smallish brass tubes and Michael H and Gordon S found that worked for them up at Scotts.

Fortress yesterday

Between the team we managed 14 salmon to take us to 86 at the mid-week point. Finn the Fish is comfortably ahead on the score sheet, as indeed he was last year (by ‘comfortably ahead’ I mean double that of any other rod). We do not know quite how he does it, he seems not to fish that much out of office hours but when he does fish the salmon just give themselves up.

Gordon S and Ivan
We have a much cooler morning today, it is 7⁰C and quite chilly in the breeze, certainly not mosquito weather. Gordon B repeated his daily routine of a salmon before breakfast from Generator, Paul R filmed a bear swimming the river and we watched the video over eggs and bacon.

I’m off to watch Finn the Fish today – I feel I can learn something.

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Counting Waders

We are lucky this far north to have 24 hours day light for most of the season. In early and mid May, when the sun dips down towards the horizon in the evening, it can get quite cold after dinner and the fishing can go off. However from early June, when we can expect warmer nights, we can have some of the most productive fishing in the evenings and early morning.

One fisher out
At Middle Camp the veranda of the main lodge looks out over the 6 guest log cabins, each accommodating two fishers in single rooms with a bathroom. My routine in the morning is to start fairly early, grab a large mug of coffee and from the veranda I can count the waders hanging up outside the bedrooms. In the evening too we can see, by the gaps in the waders, who is still out fishing.
Looking South at midnight
The team this week is pretty keen and this morning there were three pairs of waders missing. Finn, Paul and Gordon came back in for breakfast with five salmon landed between them in Generator – a good start to the day. I mentioned yesterday that I thought it felt ‘dour’; and so it turned out to be. The grey morning soon transformed into a really bright, almost painfully glare’ish day. Sunscreen was applied at lunch and in the afternoon we persevered knowing that it was not going to be an epic fishing day.

Looking North at midnight
After dinner I took Stewart and Dominic out in the big boat to fish Generator, both with single handed rods, Stewart fishing a Bomber, Dominic a small skater. Just before midnight a rain shower came through and the most extraordinary rainbow appeared over us. To the North was a setting sun, glowing bright red, to the South a rainbow arch, the like of which I have never seen before, right over us. Magic stuff and the fact that we did not land a salmon became unimportant.

Gordon B with a good salmon from Yovas
We had 18 salmon yesterday, well down on the day before, and I think part of that was due to the heavy rain we had on Sunday night. The river rose an inch or so and it just did not feel settled to me. We have had a much better start to today so let’s hope for a productive day – it feels better to me.

I’ll give you an update on the wader count tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson


Monday, 29 June 2015

Sartorial Elegance

As any fisher girl (or man - Ed) will tell you – it is not easy to look elegant in waders. Why do they not make decent, tailored waders? And what about the colour choice? "Yes ‘mam, we have a wide choice of colours – from light grey to dark grey."
Dressed to fish the Varzuga
I can always trust on Paul R and Michael H to set the tone here – if there were a choice of colours in waders they could cut even more of a dash. As it is they do pretty well. Paul this morning in a fetching pink shirt and The Hat. Michael in a bright checked shirt and his newly ordered tweed cap.

Do the salmon notice? – Maybe. We had a much better day, the best since 18 June and put a further 36 salmon in the book yesterday to add to the 18 of the first evening. The results were really evenly spread, everyone did pretty well. Smaller flies and floating lines were working well, but a few guests stayed with the safe option on an intermediate tip.

Michael H and the new tweed hat
Paul and Gordon B came into breakfast this morning after their customary hour on the river before Donna’s scrambled eggs with a salmon each and the chatter over the breakfast table was about trying surface fishing today. It is quite still today, warm’ish, and it feels a bit dour to me. We had really heavy rain for a few hours last night and the river has not dropped – I could do with a few more inches off it yet.

Party Pool and a Kola sky
Last week at Middle the team of 10 rods landed 119 salmon – great fishing in most places but not epic by Middle Camp standards. We had one really odd day, as did Pana. On 25 June we only landed eight, and up at Pana the team of six only had four salmon. The Pana team really do know what they are doing, Guy R, the team leader has only missed one year in the last 24. So it was not ‘operator error’ and I have no idea why the fish were so off that day. Pana finished with 123 for the week. Guy and the team mentioned that although the numbers of salmon compared to the record year of 2014 were down a bit there were many more large fish - something we are seeing too here at Middle Camp.

Benjamin G-B and a chunky Pana slamon
Kitza too had an unusual week – normally it fishes really well in late June being a later river than Varzuga. They recorded 69 for the eight rods – something to celebrate elsewhere but not up to our usual standards here; however it is the most delightful river to fish, probably the prettiest on the Kola and the team seemed content and happy with their week when I saw them on Saturday at Murmansk.

The salmon do seem to have responded to the brightly dressed team here this week. Let’s hope it continues in the same vein.

Christopher Robinson

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Changing to Floating Lines

We got back from Murmansk with the new team in reasonable time yesterday and there was the usual flurry of activity, waders were unpacked and rods put up. Terry and I offered our advice as fly box after fly box was presented on the tables we use for tackling up. The river has continued its steady drop and everyone was keen to use a floating line if possible and I feel it has now got to the height at which we can have some confidence with smaller flies.

Paul R at Bear last night
Paul R got the group swiftly off the mark with a grilse from Bear Pool, followed by new-comer Stewart M who caught three salmon in Generator. Gordon S fished down Bear after Paul and had a further three; there was quite a lot of activity in all the home pools and by the time we called it a day there were 18 salmon in the book. An encouraging start and each one of our nine rods had caught a salmon in the ‘bonus evening’ before we start our six days fishing this morning.

The Pana Team last week
The river has dropped over a foot in the past week, and although not quite down to summer level it is slowly getting there. It is easy to fall into the trap of not adjusting the tactics we use or pools we fish if we are not alert to the fact that the river is constantly changing - even though we may not notice it day to day. We have been keen to start fishing a couple of key pools from the centre of the river on the gravel bars, Bomber Ally and Robinsons Folly; but to date the water has just been too high. Terry and Ivan went up river yesterday afternoon to have a look and it does now seem that we should be able to start fishing those pools in the next day or so.

Tom R on Pana last week
Tomorrow, once I have had a chance to go through the record books I’ll summarize last week. In the meantime we have a much cooler day, about 10⁰C, grey and it feels damp. With the river just coming right the last thing I need is rain so let’s hope that it stays away. After the success of the first evening both Paul R and Gordon B had a salmon each before breakfast – on floating lines and smallish flies - and at 9 a.m. on the dot the boats set off. I’ll join them for lunch at Snake Pit and look forward to updating the blog tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Friday, 26 June 2015

When Lunch Becomes Important

I’m not quite sure what happened yesterday – the river just seemed to be very quiet. The weather was fine, we had quite a strong south wind all morning which made the lower beats at Middle Camp tricky to fish but apart from that it was wonderful Kola day. A blue sky and quite bright with puffy clouds; the margins of the Varzuga are now turning bright green as the water level drops and the river is beginning to look at its best.

Archie R taking a relaxed approach
The team here at Middle Camp fished hard for nine salmon, two of which were really chunky cock salmon of between 12lbs and 14lbs landed by Lars B and James F. Undaunted Freddie, Ollie, Archie and Lars set off after dinner, once the sun had dropped down, to try Bear and Generator and they finished about one thirty last night. At breakfast this morning they reported only the odd pull from a lethargic salmon or two. Not one of our greatest days at Middle Camp.

Hugh S
Kitza too did not hit the jackpot and managed to put 11 salmon in the fishing records. Ahead of Middle for the day, which I would expect at this time of the season, but the numbers of fresh salmon coming in this year seem to be well down. On Kitza the last poor run was in 2009 and this week may echo that.

Archie, Ollie and Freddie setting off after dinner - note Archie's hat which we call the Ascot Hat
Pana had a tough day as well with only 4 landed by the afternoon – they were going out after dinner once the bright sun was off the river and I’ll hear this evening how they got on.

When the fishing gets tougher Donna knows she has to pull out every stop on the cooking front – it is always excellent I know, but there are times to go the extra mile or two. We loaded the boat full of food and drinks and she produced a delicious poached fresh salmon on the bank for us with salad and all the trimmings.

Donna setting up lunch on the river bank
Today is another Kola day – a high sky, quiet bright again but with enough cloud about to feel confident in the fishing, we have a stiff wind from the SW which might be troublesome on some beats – but not a mosquito in sight! I’m not sure that the numbers of salmon landed will pick up enormously – but here is hoping for a few more than yesterday. The water temperature is up to 16⁰C and the level has dropped a good deal this week. I suspect we will make the change to mostly floating lines next week.
Tomorrow we go to Murmansk and back to reality outside this wonderful wilderness. I look forward to updating you on Sunday.

Christopher Robinson

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Breakfast in Waders

Each week amongst our guests there will be one or two irrepressible enthusiasts who, whatever the fishing conditions or results, will remain ever optimistic. Last week it was Ian S and Chris M, the latter broke the record and was tackled up and in his waders exactly 15 minutes after the helicopter planted its wheels on our pad.

James D with one of his 5 salmon yesterday
This week we have Freddie P and James D. Varzuga blog readers might recall that last year, through this blog, I warned Mrs P back in England that she would need a strong pair of garden shears to cut Freddie out of his waders when he arrived home. Our salmon numbers are down this year, inevitably so after the record of last year – so it takes people a little time to adjust to having to work a bit harder and maybe fish better to make the most of it.

Peter D fishing Generator
But born optimists such as Freddie and James seem to attract the salmon and they are both joint top rods at the moment. James, wanting to make the most of his six days fishing, went out late last night and had two salmon from Bear – which in this dropping water is beginning to take on that lovely defined, easy to read look to it. Freddie came to breakfast in his waders, ready for action – and then stayed out late while Donna kept his and Ollie’s supper warm on the hot plate.

Breakfast in waders
We had a better day at Middle and landed 26 salmon, it might have been more and Ollie L had a ‘mare of a day losing three apparently well hooked fish. Kitza struggled and I’m not sure why as often in late June it will fish the best of all the camps, they managed nine in the book. Pana reported in with 21 – their middle beat, normally a banker seems not to be fishing that well. However Tom R and A M-B hit several pods of really fresh grilse coming through Ponozi and managed to lose 11 of them!
Fishing Party Pool
If you are coming out to Middle Camp on Varzuga next week here is an update on conditions. The river is dropping in nicely; the water temperature is pretty steady at around 14⁰C. The weather looks reasonably settled. The mosquitoes are here, but not too bad and the Middle river is open enough to attract any breeze. However you do have to be prepared for them if the wind drops. The top beats, which have not fished that well in the high water should be much more interesting next week.

I’m off to dry out the dining room chair cushions – Freddie in his wet waders again. More tomorrow.

Christopher Robinson

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Bigger Fish

Although it felt more ‘fishy’ yesterday it did not pan out quite as expected. Freddie P had an annoying morning landing two but losing four, a theme that was to be repeated for several of the team. We met up for lunch at Snake Pit, James F had landed a really good fish, measured at 32.5”, at Fortress using the Dee Sheep and Tim S had lost a couple, one also seemed to be a large fish.
James D playing his lunch time salmon
We compared notes, Freddie had been using one of my small’ish but heavy Red Frances tied on a tungsten tube and it was agreed that getting down a bit to the salmon was probably the answer. There was a degree of re-rigging tips, James D put on a 10’ medium sink tip and went on the rocks in front of us having lunch to try it out. He pretty soon hooked a nice salmon of 10lbs which was dually netted by Sasha.
Archie R and Hugh S
My box of Red Frances and Dee Sheep was looking fairly bare by the time we finished lunch and I joined James F and Lars B on the lower pools. Party and Birthday seemed very quiet, not many fish showing and it proved to be a dull afternoon for all except Hugh S who landed his biggest ever salmon which was estimated at around 14lbs. We ended the day after dinner fishing Party from the boat where Lars lost one on the tail – it was one of those days and we could only put 15 salmon in the book to take us to 52 at the mid-point of the week.
Hugh's biggest salmon
Kitza too had a dull day with only 13 recorded and eight of those fell to Richard M and John H who hit a pod of fresh fish running through. Pana had a very good day and Toby called in this morning to report 26 salmon yesterday to the six rods including another big fish from Ponzoi – an 18lber for Andrew C-M.
The smile says it all
We were a bit slow off the mark this morning due to the International Relations Gathering that finished rather late I hear.
More tomorrow

Christopher Robinson

Tuesday, 23 June 2015


We enjoyed our first really warm, bright day yesterday. The sun shone down all day, there was a light breeze to keep mosquitoes away and it was proper shirt sleeve weather. The bright sun did not help the fishing much but after two weeks of poor weather it was a chance for the staff here to enjoy a taste of summer.

Freddie P fishing Scotts
Ollie L, Freddie P, and Peter and James D fished the top beat and landed eight salmon between them in the morning. The afternoon session was tougher although not for Lars B who had his best day salmon fishing ever with four to his name. James Fox, who normally is close to the top of the leader board had a blank day, most unusual for him. After dinner I took him out in the boat down to Party Pool and he soon hooked and landed a salmon – like Archie on the previous evening he was using my recommendation of a Dee Sheep on a ½" brass tube fished slowly and deep on a slow sinking tip.

Sonya, Genna, Natasha and Arina enjoying the first day of summer
With the water temperature up to 14⁰C after yesterday’s sun the text book would indicate floating lines and smallish flies but with the current water height we feel at the moment you need to get down a bit to the salmon. And with a smaller run of salmon this year no one yet is really experimenting with surface flies. With the river level on Varzuga dropping in now we might be able to change tactics later this week.

Hugh S yesterday
Over at Kitza Ollie reported that the river continued to rise most of yesterday and it was not until the evening that he felt that the rise had peaked. It made for another tougher day there and the team landed 12 for the day, with Richard S catching his first salmon on a fly.

James F at Party Pool after dinner
No news from Pana – the radio reception is poor to non-existent. Last week the team of eight at Pana landed 277 salmon. Here at Middle we had 194 with four people catching their first salmon ever. The eight rods at Kitza had 173, sadly they were missing Jonathan G who was hospitalised at the last moment – all of us here wish him a speedy recovery and we look forward to having him back on the river next year.

Nice cloud cover today, a medium breeze – it feels like a better fishing day.

Christopher Robinson