Tuesday, 25 June 2019

2019 season review

The 2019 season on the Varzuga will go down in the books as one of our better ones.

Fresh fish from the start to the finish of the season
The final overall numbers make impressive reading with 152 clients landing over 6,500 fish in a 6 week period.  It worked out at an average of just over 44 fish per rod per week – superb fishing by any measure.

Alex A enjoying every minute
What is not obvious in the statistics is that these are simply a record of fish that we got to the net.  With very fresh fish and their accompanying soft mouths, losses are often very high and most clients seemed to reckon that they had lost as many as they landed. 

Eskild in the first week 
It is this action which draws people back to the river time and time again as there is nowhere else in the world where you can fish a pool just knowing that there are fresh fish in there every time you go down it and that belief makes you fish with an air of expectation and not just hope – a very different fishing experience to the norm.

4 camps, 4 superb cooks
What is also not obvious in those statistics is the quality of the fish that we all encountered this year.  The Varzuga makes no claim to hold monsters and it is not a river to find your 30lbs fish of a lifetime but for sheer fun and entertainment, she is hard to beat. 

He doesn't smile much but Vitale knows where the fish are
Every single fish we landed this year was just the embodiment of the perfect salmon and the strength of an 8lbs grilse, fresh off the tide, simply must be experienced to be believed.

Jenny with one from the boat
We all laugh about it when on the river but the experience genuinely is not just about the numbers.  Of course, the fact that the Varzuga is the most prolific river in the world is its main USP but I would hope that the overall trip leaves people with many more memories than just a static final number.

Fishing in stunning scenery
The Varzuga deserves to be thought of as a week in the middle of nowhere with fishing that is simply from another planet – even in her “slower” years, there is nowhere else in the world where more fun can be had and more memories made.

The tuition week was a huge success
We strive to match the river in terms of excellence in camp and the cooks, guides, helicopter pilots, the office in Hungerford and everyone else on the ground all work really hard to make sure that it is the fishing trip of a lifetime.  Feedback from clients would suggest that it is just that and repeat rates look very high for next year but naturally please do register your interest as soon as you can.

One straight off the tide at Beach
There will be a change to the format of next year’s blog and we will be reporting on Sundays and Wednesdays only.  I am conscious that a daily blog can become a bit of a scorecard which of course, is entirely what we don’t want it to become. 

A deep fish for Paul C
2020 is our rebasing year and so the main season will start on May 16th.  This is a very late start and we will also be running a “casino” week from May 9th to 16th on Lower and Middle Varzuga.  Only apply if you can handle cold weather, tough wading and sinking lines but if you can do that, there is an opportunity for some of the most prolific fishing imaginable at a really decent price.

My thanks go to all of our clients who put their trust in us this year and we hope that you enjoyed it as much as we all did.  My further thanks go to our teams on the ground and to our Russian partners, without whom none of this would be possible.

The end of another great season
We will of course be going through our strict first right of return policy but if you would like to have more details for our 2020 season please do not hesitate to contact me.

Charlie White

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Take me up the Indel

It has been scorching hot here. The river has dropped dramatically in the three days since we arrived here at Pana. We have lost 8 inches of water and things are getting rocky in places. That does not seem to bother the Salmon who are merrily running regardless and equally taking the fly.

Yesterday we joined Paul D and Hamish W up river at Ford pool. Paul had two nice fish and then Henry Crawford caught a lovely fish in lower Honey Pot. We have been catching between 40 and 50 fish per day here. Kitza are doing well with all happy clients but due to limited text availability at both camps I don’t have any ball park figures currently.
On Sunday Matt and I had a go at hitching a single on the Indel and raised a couple of fish. So after supper on the Monday Beaney, Henry, Matt and myself set off into the woods. Mark L was going to join but turned in instead, certainly an error. The mission was to get some footage up the Indel. We combined my tele lens with Matt’s camera and video skills and attached a tiny Icelandic style hitch fly on. I was sent into “wade” and hitch whilst Matt filmed. We managed to raise 4 fish, land 2 and film one take. Kind of a big deal.

A slightly shorter blog today as Henry and I have very generously been allowed to join Sasha on the float trip on the upper Pana. There was rain this morning and whilst this won’t change the river levels it will mean cooler air temps and a change is always good in fishing.

Jack Selby

Sunday, 16 June 2019

From Pana with love

Assuming this has worked, we are now at Pana which also means that something very sad has happened - we have closed Middle camp a week too soon. There were fresh fish running into Birthday pool as well as Party and Lower Generator was lifting with fish as we took off in the helicopter to meet this week’s Pana and Kitza clients in Murmansk.

Last week, all three remaining camps had excellent fishing. We caught beautifully fresh fish throughout the week and all indicators suggest this will continue this week at Kitza and Pana. I met all of the clients at Murmansk with smiling faces, tales of big fish getting away and more importantly, many fish landed. I’ve said it a lot but it’s so nice to get to know so many clients across the camps in this way as you get to see them set their goals and then realise they have achieved them during their week. Be it big fish, a number of fish from a certain pool or see a Greenshank there is a strong chance they will realise those dreams in a week on the Varzuga system.

Last week Pana continued to build on early week success and finished with 413 salmon to 8 rods. We have always expect bigger fish at Pana and she did not disappoint, especially from Ponzoi. Last night, shortly after we arrived, I watched Matthew R hook and play a lovely fresh salmon right below camp and call for his gillie Guy R to net it - the whoops and hollas were hilarious. A very respectable 7lb fish released and Guy R looked at me and proclaimed “that's the average fish we get here” Not much more to be said there.

Having bumped into Ian W and Charles W at the airport, it was obvious that everyone at Kitza had a great week. They said that fish were spread right throughout the beats and there were catching good numbers to the 7 rods each day. They ended the week on 305 and everyone said how well they’d been looked after by Hamish and Bryony. 

Something I’ve also started to notice is how many clients are experimenting with fast stripped flies or paying out line to cover a distant boil and this only really comes from good catch numbers.

At Middle we truly had an excellent week. Only fishing 7 rods meant there was too much water for our rods to cover. But it also rested a lot of often hard fished pools. Bear and Generator produced fish all week which led to a 425 fish total for the week. We had a brilliant day of 89 on Friday but this was mainly due to the relentless fishing effort put in by Jim C.  If it was not for out of hours fishing then James N and Howard E would likely have been fighting for his title of top rod.

More entertainingly Jaime S and his son Javier S decided not to bring any clothes with them but instead packed a whole pig and more cured meats and tins of Mejillones en Escabeche than I could possibly conceive. They kindly cooked a spectacular barbecue with some of the most delicious home grown pork ever.

It’s warm and sunny today with a mercifully brisk breeze keeping the bugs at bay. We are off down to Lunch pool today for a look at the river as well as some photo opportunities. I look forward to updating on Wednesday with some fresh Pana images.

Jack Selby

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Still running

This morning I had a very unexpected conversation with Howard E. We were mulling over the chances of having to fish with sinking tips by the end of the week. That is the extent to which the weather has changed. We now have 6 degree air temperature and 12 degree water temperature. The river has not dropped or risen due to just enough rain to hold it level. However the wind has been howling for 3 days. Quite a difference from the 27 degree heat we arrived to on Saturday.
And release
Despite the weather the fish are still running. As you look out across generator you see waves of running fish bouncing about. And all beats have been very productive. Howard E has had some lovely day's fishing with cracking catch rates. It helps to have a Guideline representative in camp too. Having said that Diego R and his father Emilio have also been a big part of the action. We have been catching between 55 and 65 fish per day for the start of the week. Not bad at all with 7 rods fishing.
Excellent supper of baked salmon and pickled beetroot
Kitza camp have a team of regulars in camp and they are going great guns catching between 44 and 62 per day. All beats are fishing well and Hamish reports that mood in camp is very jolly. Everyone is missing Richard G who sadly was unable to travel. There is always next year Richard.
Henry Crawford at Bear yesterday
Up river at Pana fishing has been good with an impressive number of bigger fish being caught. They are landing between 61 and 74 fish per day to 8 rods. Yesterday there were 10 fish caught on the Indel and fishing with bombers was successful despite the hateful wind and rain. David M and Guy G had 19 between them on the ever popular float trip.
Holly shows Henry how to do it
Like last week my advise is come prepared. I'm told it was snowing in Murmansk yesterday and it's really very cold here with added wind chill. It's perfectly possible that we get 27 degree heat again next week but bringing layers and sinking tips will cover you for any eventuality. Judging by the wind so far this week a compact skagit would be an excellent item to have in your packing. Just in Case.
Vova - Super Guide
Next report on Sunday from Pana to round out the week.

Jack Selby

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Sunny Sunday

With a wet and cold start to last week we went from shivering clients huddled next to the fire at lunchtime to lunch on the balcony and 27 degree air temps. It just shows you can't predict the weather here one bit. Today we have started the day with blazing sunshine and the water temperature is 19 degrees. However the cloud is rolling in and the forecast is rain. Diego R had a swim last night in generator and said it was a lovely temperature.
A jumper for Ropo at Eagle Rock
We said goodbye to our teams at Murmansk yesterday who were all full of beans about the week's fishing they have had. The Irish team at Kitza finished their week with 234 fish to the 8 rods with Kitza regular and team leader David W knocking up a cricket score to show them how it's done.

A belting fish for Jennifer C at the wires
With only 5 rods fishing Pana I was not expecting the numbers that kept coming in each day but if one was to choose an experienced and dedicated team those rods would have been the 5. Joe M, Jack M, Iain L, Rhodri and Tudor D set a formidable score of 257 fish including some big fish and really good fishing at Ponzoi. The current team also have many years experience and should have a great time with the fishing almost entirely in or on the surface now.

Eoin Fairgrieve's tuition week is a superb introduction to the art of Salmon fishing
At Middle we had a selection of first time rods and regulars. The fish kept on coming and despite a slight dip in the latter part of the week, we chalked up 497 fish to the 11 and a half rods. I say half as Pete Rippin joined us from the office early in the week but left to open up the Yokanga on the Tuesday evening. The fishing was very fair to all with good sessions and tough sessions. We are fishing almost exclusively floating lines and long leaders and down to size 10 and even 12 at times.

Fly colour and pattern varied a great deal last week with some fishing orange flies and some on green highlanders etc. As I explained to Jim C and James N last night, they all work, you just need them in the water. Diego R had 6 fish here before his swim including a lovely fish of 4.5 kgs. Jim and James had at least 12 between them but were a bit sheepish to say how many they caught this morning. I imagine quite a few.
Blue sky and green camp, amazing the change
Eoin and Bill's tuition week was a great success with 5 of the 7 rods relative beginners but all catching plenty of fish and reporting a lot of fish still running into the system. They finished the week with a staggering 355 salmon between them.

It was sad to say goodbye to Bill, Glenn and Claire yesterday although Bill will be back next Saturday for his Yokanga stint. I know it's easier to operate a fishing program when there are plenty of fish in the system but everyone has really worked well together this year and all the little things that need adjusting and tweaking behind the scenes have been beautifully handled both by our Russian partners and our own imported staff members. It feels a bit disconcerting to think that I no longer have Bill and the crew down below to reassure me the fish are still rolling in. But I simply know they are.
Rachel M with super guide Vitale up at Clarks
The tundra is now completely green and we are getting some splendid light in the evening. Many of the birds are paired up and nesting and it really feels like summer. This week I have Henry Crawford from the office for a bit of training so now I will take him out for another casting lesson. I could probably just let Holly teach him to be honest. Next report on Wednesday with an update of stories from the remaining 3 camps.

Jack Selby

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

It's Wednesday and all is good

Since my last post we seem to have been bombarded with weather. We have had 2 days of heavy rain and even heavier wind. Whilst it certainly has not put off the fish it has to a degree put off the fishermen. And casting in a strong upstream wind is never easy. However we have still caught good numbers of fish in all camps and a few have caught their first Salmon on the fly.
Rob M into a lively one on Party

The rain we have had, so far, has not given us a rise in the water levels but has slowed the drop. We have been dropping around 1/2" to 1" per day. But it has been cold, the daily temperature today has spiked to a balmy 13 degrees but we have been seeing 8-10 degrees most days and cold evenings. We had some brief sun on Monday night but the team here at middle were fairly shattered so did not take advantage in the drop in wind to hit the home pools. By this time last year, in contrast, we were enjoying warm, late evenings down on party in the big boat skating flies. 
This time a pool of silver at the end of the rainbow
Each morning at least one guest will ask me what the forecast is. I dip my head and peer out of the window and say "in the short term like this". There is no telling what you will get here and whilst we are warmer today and have almost all been fishing full floating lines things at the watershed could be very different and tomorrow could be cold once more. Therefore it is essential to pack for all eventualities. Layers and sinking tips don't take up much luggage space and whilst we hope not to need them it is worth having as back up.
Matt C with another fish

The fish are certainly much more active in the surface as the day goes on and it has always been said of the Varzuga fish: "They like a faster fly". Having had several very different years both here and Kitza I have never seen this aggressive nature and it's nice to see people stripping the fly over structure, seams and rocks to receive explosive takes. Those using Spey lines are seeing similar effects from a down stream mend and a giving the fly a bit of a twitch. We are fishing mainly size 8 and 10 doubles now and a few people are considering skating flies in the surface. If you have bombers bring some. Just in case.
A deep fish from Larder for George R
Down at Lower Varzuga we have Eoin Fargrieve in partnership with Bill Drury hosting our tuition week. Out of the 7 rods fishing 5 are essentially beginners. But what a great way to learn. They have had days ranging between 37 and 52 fish which is an excellent introduction to the art of salmon fishing with a fly. Of the 5 beginners: John A, George R, Stephen C, Matt C and Mike M have all caught their first Salmon on fly. It also gives us heart that fish are still moving into the river and that can only be good as the next couple of week's clients will see fish and with luck catch them.
A rare chance to have lunch outside again
Over at Kitza they are having a ball. I know some of the team and despite the combined age of the team they know how to throw a party. This does mean there is less fishing out of hours but that is the beauty of our varied camps. There is something for everyone and at the end of the day it's as much about the people you are with and the wonderful place as it is the fish you are catching. The team of 8 rods have consistently been catching around 50 fish per day including a bumper day of 16 for David W.
Rachel M with a lovely fish from bear
Way up river on the Pana they are catching fish across all beats. Many fish being taken on the surface and skating flies already. They are averaging about 30 fish each day to the 5 rods currently with Joe M, Jack M and Iain L doing the business each day.
Domingo with a very fresh fish
Here we have seen highs of 92 fish and lows of 68 but the weather certainly had an effect on the totals. Rachel M caught a fish on Simmons (much to her surprise) and then followed it up with 3 from East Generator. Nigel L has done well with his very relaxed approach to fishing hours and time in the water. Pundostrov regulars Hugo M and Rob M have been keeping the tally on the river going and utilising the Russian Banya. The Ponzoi continues to be a favourite and home pool is also producing well.
Almost a smile from Vitale from Rachel's first fish at Simmons
The last 3 days has seen the tundra change colour, finally the new grass shoots are poking through the old grass killed off by the snow. The birch trees are now almost in full leaf and the birds are singing all hours. The Ruffs at the top of the island have done their dance and are now paired off and the wood sandpiper pairs line ever beat.
Wood Sandpiper
For those heading out my suggestion is to bring a versatile set up based on a floating line and plenty of layers. With luck we wont need them but as we know all too well things can change from hour to hour and "be prepared" is the key to comfort and success in fishing. Next update on Sunday and I look forward to seeing the incoming teams at Murmansk airport on Saturday morning. Safe travels.

Jack Selby

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Sunday Round Up

Yesterday we said goodbye to a lovely team of largely regular clients and they were happy to have enjoyed the fruits of their labours on their respective camps. Now in my 4th season of taking over from Charlie on the Murmansk change over day, it was great to see all our clients smiling and telling tales of the fish they caught as they checked in. Things have become extremely smooth in respect of departure and arrivals at Murmansk and it's great that so many faces are now totally familiar.
Nice fish from the Kitza
The speed of turn round between arrival and helicopters is so quick and smooth thanks to our excellent team on the ground that it felt like a heart beat and I was in the air with the Pana and Middle teams. We dropped in at Pana and caught up with old friends briefly before heading down to middle and frankly enjoying the warmer weather and good runs of fish.
The Argentinian Connection
On friday all camps fished well ending with 179 to 7 Icelandic rods for Pana. 12 rods at Middle Varzuga managed to catch 712 fish for the week despite some limited fishing hours due to both illness and horrendous wind and rain. Lower ended up with 353 for the week and I still await the final for Kitza but I know they had excellent fishing from speaking to Jamie K and Michael G at the airport.
Wading Essential
Many people think of the Varzuga system as the place you go to dangle your string in the water and the fish evict themselves onto the bank. But what really shows is those who can wade and cast a long line when needed tend to make their own luck. I hear a lot that the river is at an in between height. Whilst this can be considered to be true to a degree there are places where fishing a short line across the close in channel pays dividends too. There are always angles that you can exploit and that really explains the truth of Russian Salmon. If you work hard and think about the way the water behaves and the salmon within you will likely catch more than you ever expected.
Earlier in the season I was chatting to Peter W who mentioned that as he was fishing he realised he was continually watching his line come round and never took enough time to look around at the bigger picture. Here we are on an island with like minded Russian people whose passion is catching fish but also they have a great passion and respect for their wilderness and the wildlife that resides here in summer. Along with the occasional bear and elk we have seen 38 species of bird from waders to terns to bullfinches.
Ringed Plover at the top of the island
Today there is a bit of a breeze blowing drifting clouds through a pretty blue and sunny sky. The water has stopped rising and the fishing last night was great with lower catching 23, Pana getting 11 and Middle 32. This morning the river was 11 degrees here and the air was the same but would not be at least 15. We are fishing intermediate tips or full float with a slow sinking poly leader. I predict that by the middle of the week we'll be fishing a skated fly on full floating. Peter Rippin from the office fished a sunray for an hour last night but with no joy. I suspect that will change rapidly in the next days.
Peter Rippin at Bear
Next blog on Wednesday.

Jack Selby

Friday, 31 May 2019

Leaving on a high

The tundra definitely does something to your body clock.  It feels like yesterday that we were flying in with our first guests of the season but the river definitely tells me that it was 3 weeks ago.  24 hour daylight accelerates everything and it never fails to amaze me how this place can change in such a short time.
Lower Varzuga three weeks ago
What has not changed is the fishing.  My telephone was ringing constantly yesterday with updates from the camp managers and it took me a bit of time to sort everything out but it was clear that it had been a very good day across the river.

The same view this morning
Pana has really started to kick in and the team up there are making the most of it.  56 fish to the 7 rods was the final result and with some cracking fish amongst them, it was a very happy sounding Matt that I spoke to on the satellite phone.

Chris C on Middle
Rock Face and White Rock are fishing very well and it was interesting to hear that they are fishing smaller flies and trying to take the fish away from the main part of the pool as soon as they hooked them – a very Icelandic way of looking after a pool and making sure you can maximise your chances.

A double hook up on the boat
At Lower we landed 27 to our 6 rods.  Wading and casting are key at this height of water and it will be fascinating to see how they get on next week.  Every year we run the Ultimate Atlantic Salmon Course where Eoin Fairgrieve and Bill Drury are on the river all day with our guests to help improve their all round skills.  There is simply nowhere else in the world where you can learn so much about salmon fishing in such a short period of time and it is always a great week – I will be sad to miss it.

Enric in the sun
I was concerned to get a message at around 3pm, from Jack at Middle, to say that they were having a “very slow day”.  I was slightly less concerned when he had counted it all up and found that they had landed 83 fish between them.   Relativity is often in short supply up here!

Kitza is simply bouncing with fish.  96 was the final tally and Hamish couldn’t really tell me which beats were the most productive – it seems to be from Sasha’s to Beaver Pit.  I am sure that Brendan G accounted for a few of those out of hours but it was nonetheless a superb day of fishing.

David M with one from the boat at Middle
I am flying home tomorrow and as a result, Jack is taking over the blog.  He has a very busy camp to manage as well as the small things that I have to do and so we will be changing the format of the reporting.  He will do a round up of this week on Sunday and the next blog after that will be on Wednesday morning.
Bill and the excellent team of guides at Lower 
As ever, it has been a privilege to be up here and it has been lovely to be part of it.  Not a record season but a really solid run of fish and it has been a lot of fun.

Charlie White