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