Another year ‘running the gauntlet’ to try and fish in Russia. This was to be my third trip to Belousiha lodge in as many years, having fished towards the end of July and mid-August over the previous two years. Early July should represent the prime time at Belousiha Lodge, catching the Belousiha river with a reasonable height of water, and the Voronya which should be warming up and therefore encouraging the salmon to run its length.
I will not dwell on the travel hurdles other than to say it took a degree of fortitude and commitment to see past the smokescreen of austere warnings regarding quarantine on arrival. Encouragingly, as we arrived into Moscow, I saw three well known faces, who with grit and determination had also decided that they were not going to lose another fishing year on Russia’s Northern Kola Peninsula rivers. At immigration there was the usual forensic investigation of our passports, which even involved a jeweller’s magnifying monocle, I assume to check we were not secret agent. Once we had passed the inspection and breathed a sigh of relief, it was possible to reflect on this as being humorously flattering. To follow was a rather delightful lady who flashed a glance at our NHS vaccine passports and then we were in! The Iron curtain had been breached!!!
I was the only one heading to Belousiha Lodge. Being accessible by road it has the distinct advantage of allowing a degree of flexibility with travel plans. As I was the only guest arriving who needed transport, I had the comfort of a Volvo V40 to myself which made the two-hour transfer very pleasant. On a normal week a minibus is used, but in the event that anglers flights do not fit the connecting schedule, taxi transport can be arranged for approx. $120 USD each way which is a lot less than rerouting a helicopter! It certainly makes logistics a breeze and in the current climate you certainly need a good headwind!
The arrival Saturday is non-guided so after the typically warm greetings, lunch, unpacking and kit disinfection, I headed to the Belousiha, a pleasant 20-minute walk although improved track access does allow for a lift on a quad bike should it be required. The weather on the first afternoon was ideal, lightly overcast and warm without being over-bearing. The light clouds were due to part the following day with blue skies forecast and the temperature due to rocket. I was determined to make good use of my first afternoon…and I did! Although I only landed 2 grilse, I spent almost the full 4 hours fishing the upper step of Three Steps, above and below the small fall opposite the picnic hut. A fantastic afternoon with innumerable swirls, pulls and takes. It was a great start, but I was nervous as to what the heatwave would do over the following 3 days.
With the Voronya high, Max the camp manager and guide, Slava, a very keen Russian angler and myself decided to try and make the very best of the conditions on the Belousiha. It was certainly hot but a very dry heat with a surprisingly strong wind and that had the effect of keeping the Mosquitoes firmly at bay. The river warmed up reaching 18-20C, although with the air temp at 27C it felt surprisingly refreshing! I have never been one for covering my face in a buff, but when worn conventionally around your neck they are very useful to stop the small black flies crawling down your shirt. Immersing one on a regular basis in water is amazingly refreshing and the best way have found to cope with the heat although a capful of water on the shirt also does wonders.
The Belousiha was running just above a summer height. It certainly had substantially more volume than my trip in mid-August last year, (full drought), but all the pools fished in a very similar manner and interestingly I did not feel as if our chances or options had increased dramatically from last August, other than we were fishing over salmon that were for the better part very fresh. Although the Belousiha is a small and intimate river, and the drone images make it look as if it is little more than a puddle when the sun is shining, it has some very stable pools which are far deeper than you might expect. Consequently, they hold fish throughout the season, and it is not as adversely affected by low-water conditions as you might otherwise imagine.
Despite the heat and the blue skies, the Belousiha delivered. On average 1-2 fish/person /day, with salmon up to and just over 80 cm or 10lbs. All are caught on single-handed rods with light gear and a degree of stealth. Silhouetting and shadows will definitely unsettle the fish far more than a lack of casting finesse! Hitched flies worked extremely well as a first option however bombers, regular doubles and small weighted flies all can be deployed to good effect. You need to work the pools on the Belousiha. Finding the fish is not so much the issue but rather getting the right fly to get a reaction is.
The Voronya is the chalk to the Belousiha cheese. A more different river you could not expect to fish. Substantial in size and volume and controlled by a hydro, the only thing that you never need be worried about is a lack of water. This year the water was high with a substantial amount being released, not via the hydro turbines but by the overflow which made for a very impressive backdrop. Being a very substantial river there is no question, in my mind, that when the water levels are high the fish are harder to find. There is simply so much water that they can disappear and unless you have a little luck and the fish are showing, you can miss them. Covering the water is key and although the water temperature was more than warm enough to catch with a floating line, my suspicion is that a sinking line provides more options.
There are of course well know areas where which are considered the productive sections, and these tend to be the softer areas where the water is slower and shallower or on a seam. I found one such spot where, over 3 consecutive days, I enticed what I imagine was an individual salmon, to react to a large-hitched sunray, without actually taking it, but each time after 2 or 3 swirls went on to tentatively takes a medium weighted Francis. That fish became something of a personal obsession, but after each touch of the hook I did not get another chance until the following day, even though I could still get a reaction from the sunray. I would have persevered all week had events not overtaken me.
Immediately below the deep channel where the water is released from the hydro and opposite the water from the overflow is a pool that yielded a fabulous 24lb fish on the WhereWiseMenFish trip in mid-August of last year. When the water being released is low you can walk across it to the mid-stream island without it reaching much above your thighs. But when the water being released is at a medium of high level, then it creates a very good pool, neither too fast nor too deep and my goodness it came into its own. On my first day fishing there I was rewarded with two fish in the 15-18lb range. On my second day 4 fish, two of which were of a very similar size with a further 4 good sized fish lost, the day after, 2 more up to 20lbs and on the final day another of 15lbs.
It has often been said that salmon sized in their teens to early twenties are amongst the hardest fighting salmon, and these were no exception. Voronya fish tend to be short, fat and very powerful and although they were surprisingly unacrobatic, they fought like demons! I was supremely thankful for the 25lb nylon leader and size 4 Ken Sawada hooks that I was using. My trusted, loved and much used Loop Classic reel, which I had unwisely lent it to a friend a couple of years ago, started regurgitating a substantial quantity of nylon from its inner workings on account of the very violent work out it endured over those 4 days. Although a medium sized, tungsten conehead Red Francis fished on a short leader and a fast sink tip was my most effective fly, when the water was at medium flow, hitched singles and sunrays were very effective and very very exciting. There is one thing having a grilse come at a fly fished on the surface but when of substantial proportions it is nothing short of arresting! I never caught beyond 20lbs but the fish I were covering and some I got a glimpse of had me trembling! The pool is now formally named Power Pool!
My personal success did not just benefit me. Artem & Victor, Russian father and son ‘occasional’ fly anglers were on their annual once a year fishing trip to Belousiha lodge (I think this was their 8th time). Previously their focus had almost solely been on the Belousiha, in part on account of the fact that they were not proficient with a double-handed rod. My streak of success had them on the case and I was delighted to receive a picture with a fabulous bright silver fish caught, not on Power Pool but on the Beach on the day following my departure.
As a small subnote to what was a very exciting and productive few days fishing on the Voronya a brief note of recognition to the much maligned Pink Salmon. Although they are an invasive species and subject to polenty of discussion as to the impact on Atlantic Salmon (I suspect not much but I am not a fishery scientist) there were a reasonable number about this season and whist they may not be what people come for, a small nod of appreciation as they can liven up a quiet day. The ones we were catching were on the whole bright silver, fat, even came to a hitched fly and worthy of mention rather than total disdain. After all people travel to BC and Alaska solely to enjoy their sport!
So much of fishing is luck. The right time and the right place. Quite possibly I hit the Voronya just as a good run of fish came in and caught them with ideal water conditions but that is the absolute joy of fishing. I feel that the Belousiha is a known quantity. It is a relatively consistent provider of salmon from grilse up to 10-14lbs, although it certainly can produce far bigger fish. The Voronya by contrast does not reveal its treasures as consistently, but when it delivers, it delivers, and that is just the sort of tantalising reason to keep on coming back!
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