After a nerve-jangling wait for the green light to go to Russia, the Mason team (Howard, Sam, Hebe and Hugo) and the other members of the party (John, Hideko and Alistair) departed Heathrow for Murmansk via Moscow on the 14th of August. After a little sleep in the simple, but comfortable, Jagel hostel in Murmansk, the lodge zipped us off to the rivers at midday on Saturday the 15th. Like so many overseas venues this year, we were the first foreign visitors to Belousiha. Max and the team at the lodge were delighted to see us and with Justin’s arrival hotfoot from Kharlovka we made the magic ‘8’. The group was all the more remarkable for its diversity: the youngest 18 and the oldest in their 70s and there were two lady fishers. One of us (Sam) was in hope of his first Atlantic Salmon and Hebe and Hugo were hoping for their second!
Belousiha is a remarkable place; beautiful Arctic tundra, but blessed with road access, which reduces operating costs and increases convenience. The fishing at the lodge is accessible (quite easy walking and straightforward wading), but importantly the variety suits novice and experienced fisher alike. The two rivers (the one from which the lodge takes its name and the mighty Voronya) could not be in greater contrast. The Belousiha River is best described as a small highland spate river (think upper-Naver, Thurso, Dionard, or upper-South Tyne); conversely the Voronya, of which the Belouisha is a tributary, is wider than the lower-Tay, as fast-flowing as the biggest Scottish rivers (even in low water) and deep, with the potential to hold an impressive head of fish.
We had a wonderful week, but by way of context, August fishers on the Kola (as for salmon fishing anywhere) will always be at the mercy of the conditions. The Peninsula had seen no serious rain for almost 2 months and the rivers (even despite the Voronya Hydro) were low, but not impossibly so. The heaviest snowfall for 5 years had filled the Voronya reservoir and the larger than average snowcap had made the river almost impossible to fish in the early season (because of essential high-volume water-release from the dam), which had also upset what might be considered to be the normal run of fish. The Belousiha River was low, but still had enough height to fish and the early-season snowmelt meant that despite the low-water, the river was full of salmon (and trout!), albeit the salmon were going to be tough to tempt! We were lucky with the weather – not for the faint-hearted, but the temperatures plummeted as we arrived and much-needed rain came in to perk up those stale residents and encourage a few new arrivals!
Low water on the Belousiha didn’t deny us the opportunity to fish the upper and lower beats and Hugo had his first fish (a nice grilse) on day one. The Voronya was hard going – in part due to us getting to know it, but several fish were hooked and lost in very difficult weather conditions on our first day. The weather worsened on day 2, but we persevered. John and Alistair had frantic sport on the lower Belousiha (two fresh fish and a resident to John) and on the upper river, Sam caught his first grilse whilst fishing alongside Howard, his father. The magic of the day was amplified by Hugo exceeding his personal best by some 14 lbs on the Voronya with a beautiful 24lb hen fish. The week progressed in a similar vein with many tales of fish lost and landed and after a tough day on the Voronya, Alistair landed a 26.5 lb cock fish, which was a nice addition to Hugo’s efforts and reminded us why the Voronya is known as a big fish river. Overall, we had difficult conditions, but it is to their great credit that the team persevered and consequently prevailed. The tally was 32 fish for the week; 34 lost (many due to Alistair’s misfortune!) and at least as many tweeks and pulls which were a symptom of the low water and the, very often, snatching takes of angry cock fish! In summary, it was great sport!
The lodge, the staff and the guides are brilliant – the hospitality and food were first class, the accommodation comfortable and the fishing was delightfully varied in one of the wildest places on earth, but what did we learn?
Well the first point is that hit it absolutely right and the amazing week we had could be doubly so, but expectations, as in all Salmon fishing, need to be appropriately managed.
In terms of how to fish, the Belouisha can be very easily (and arguably most effectively) covered with a single-hander, or light switch rod in low water; small dressed doubles, little coneheads and tubes (particularly varieties of ‘frances’) and light tippets (no heavier than 15lb) are the order of the day. If it looks too small to catch a salmon it probably will! In higher water a grilse rod or a heavier-duty switch would be more appropriate; In terms of tactics, the key is not to get bogged down with ‘down and across’ methods: upstream with a conehead, dibbling in a pool-neck, dropping the fly into fast pockets, slow stripping in slack water - all need to be considered to maximise success and if one thing doesn’t work, the chances are that another approach will; try Scottish ‘backing-up’ in slack water! The watchword
On the Voronya, a 14 foot rod is fine and a 15 footer is probably the optimum; you need to give yourself the best chance of covering the water, notwithstanding the fact that you will often encounter/ ambush fish in the margins. Long-belly spey lines can work well, but ‘Scandis’ and ‘Skagit’s’ (bring both) offer greater punch into the sometimes vicious cross and head-winds. That said the advantage of skagits (as Hebe would testify) is that even a 13 foot rod can bung them miles!
Big fish don’t necessarily need big flies and many on the Voronya were caught on one-inch tubes, or sometimes smaller, but a full armoury (plenty of copper and tungsten to get the fly down) and doubles for the slower water needs to be available. Key is to ring the changes – depth, style, speed and fly-size adjustments will stir the fish up and could encourage a response, but encounter a fresh taking fish (as would be the case anywhere else) and it will generally take whatever you offer it! High-quality hooks, robust leaders/ tippet (23lb minimum) and sink tips (variety of sink rates) are all essentials for the tackle bag. Always be prepared to use a sunray and go back through with a tiny fly; that approach resulted in the biggest fish of the week! Finally, keep moving, keep the fly moving and cover the water – the fish are there!
As for the weather, be prepared! It can be perishingly cold and very wet! Layer-up (and be prepared to put warm clothing on when you stop), bring thermal underwear, have a waterproof daysack (or a dry bag) for your kit and make sure you have a wooly hat and neoprene gloves. The mosquitos are not too bad at this time of year and the wind helps, but good insect repellent, anti-histamine cream and tablets should also be included in your kit.
A weeks fishing in August at Belouisha coms in at a very reasonable €2-3,000 including a guide shared between 2 as well as being inclusive of alcohol avoiding any 'end of trip' surprises! There are very few locations where you can expect to receive this level of service with good accommodation amidst undeniable fishing potential. 2 personal bests with salmon in their mid 20's alongside a significant quantity of activity during the fishing day that was not reflected in the numbers of salmon landed.
Finally, the owner Alexander and the guides and staff at Belousiha really make the trip. Max and the team are excellent – they know the water, the ways you will catch fish and it absolutely pays to listen to them. Above all, they are kind, sympathetic salmon fisherman with years of experience between them. It only remains to thank them all (particularly Max, Sergei, Roman and Pasha) for their fantastic support, but also to thank all the fishers for their amazing company. Well done Team Mason, John and Hideko! Here’s to Atlantic Salmon in Belousiha in 2021!!
What a way to end a gap year after the misery of lockdown! It wasn’t the gap year adventure most 19 year old girls wish for, but for me, I couldn’t complain. With the fishing, the company, the landscapes and of course the vodka. The guides were all brilliant in there little ways; Max had the knowledge, Sergie lending me his rod and giving me my new fishing seat, Roma having the patience to perfect my cast and Pasha being more enthusiastic than me which I thought was impossible! What a week and I hope everyone enjoyed as much as I did. H Wallington - Aug 2020
To sum up, “why would you go to Belousiha Lodge”. The cost is about two and a half times more than the average beat in Scotland but what do you get, two whole rivers to exclusively fish, catchable fish in the river, clear water, I didn’t fish the same water until day five and even then as I was fishing alternate pools with my buddy I was able to choose different pools to fish in, a chance to catch a really large fish, a chance to use salmon rods, switch rods and trout rods, incredibly welcoming guides, great food and lashings of Russian vodka - what’s not to like. After taking my son for eight consecutive years for a weeks fishing in Scotland and returning empty-handed Belousiha Lodge didn’t fail and provided his first, second and third salmon. I will return next year . H Mason-Dorset-Aug 2020
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