This was to be the first of the Three Rivers Weeks with our team of 16 anglers fishing 2 days each on the Kharlovka, Litza and Rynda Rivers. Grouped into teams of 2 or 3 there were miles of river to be covered and for this week the knowledge that the rivers had been unfished over the previous fortnight.
As with any week on the Atlantic Salmon Reserve guests approach it with a heady mix of anticipation, expectation and hopes of a fish that might sit alongside the record 47lb monster salmon caught by Chris Tarrant that graces the walls of the Kharlovka Camp. For those following the fishing and weather reports there was also a level of apprehension as the Kola Peninsula has had a long hot summer to date.
On arrival in Murmansk cloudy skies and an updated weather report suggested encouraging rainy conditions. With the Kharlovka gauge showing a record low of -19 the change of weather was greeted with anxious anticipation in a manner that only salmon fishermen can appreciate seriously inclement weather. The heavy rains that were forecast arrived on Sunday and the rivers rose a welcome 18 cm and then a further 4 cm over the course of the week ending up at a respectable but still unseasonably low height of +3. The weather turned steadily colder throughout the week and this again was a significant improvement that helped trigger increased levels of activity.
This week there were a total of 5 anglers who had never salmon fished before; with no bench-mark to compare the rivers it was all new and exciting but for the more experienced and veteran rods it meant having to relearn the rivers and to a certain extent the techniques needed to winkle out a lethargic leviathan or two. Areas that would normally be white-water now revealed glassy holding spots with fish moving away from some of the main pools in favour of the more highly oxygenated areas.
Heavy fog on Saturday afternoon prevented a multi-river deployment but all 16 rods spread out over the full length of the Kharlovka from National Park to Sea Pool and despite the extremely low-water a reasonable amount of action was experienced even if it did not translate into big numbers in the book. Vyacheslav, who headed a team of three Russians showed Maxim and his 14yr old son Gregori, (both of whom had never fished before), how it was done with an 18lb fish from Tail of Canyon as well as loosing a second good-sized fish. Henrik one of three ‘Super Swede’ brothers also notched up his first ever salmon on a fly.
Sunday saw the start of the rain which although extremely welcome made for a very wet day which tested clothing to the limits. John, another salmon fishing novice who had made the long trip from Australia with his wife Valerie, landed an impressive 4 salmon from the Lower Kharlovka whilst fishing partner Michael added another two. Over on the Rynda it was Krister who had a story to tell, hooking a fish in Eagles Nest which looked set to beat his previous 28lb personal best (PB).
Although the line initially hummed tight like a wire with concerns that the fly was attached to a boulder his guide Sasha confirmed that this was no inanimate object and after a stubborn start the monster fish quickly found its legs and after tantalizingly showing itself tore off down stream into the rapids. After a significant chase and holding on grimly for survival Krister managed to ease the fish back to the pool. With 15 mins on the clock it appeared the upperhand had been gained however just when visions of glory looked imminent…the hook was gracefully returned to the owner.
With the rivers revitalized by the heavy rains expectations were high on Monday. Despite the promising outlook, as is normally the case following a prolonged period of hot weather and low-water, the fishing remained relatively steady with approx 48 hrs being needed before an appreciable improvement is noticed. Never the less there are always surprises and of course notable exceptions, the highlight being a sea-liced 26lb Osenka (winter run salmon) from Middle Tent.
Proving the maxim that you "won’t catch a fish unless your flies’ in the water", Justin, having made a final cast from a rocky platform in the midst of the rapids of Upper Tent, with back turned went to navigate his way back to the home bank when the line went taught. With no guide or net to hand, a nerve wracking retreat from the centre of the river to the home bank was followed by a cliff dash down the side of ‘upper’ middle Tent, all to the encore of Chris from a scenic vantage point. Finally an almost continuously air-born and highly acrobatic sea-liced 26lb Osenka was subdued and pictures taken. Managing a further fresh grilse and a 24lb salmon from Red Cliff it rounded off a very memorable but not unusual Litza day.
Elsewhere Harald landed a 25 lb Salmon from the Upper Rynda, his second ever salmon after just 4 days salmon fishing. Young Gregori delighted all and made his father Maxim especially proud taking his first ever fish, a 14lb salmon from Twin Slabs.
Thursday saw conditions substantially improve with 15 fish from the Litza and 11 from the Rynda. Dermot lead the Irish team with 3 nice fish from Litza including a fresh 10lber from the Falls and a 16 and 18 lb PB fish from Secret pool. Krister wielding a ‘German Flag Sunray consolidated the Swedish efforts with a 29lb Osenka from Red Cliff along with a 16,14 and a grilse. The Osenka looked likely to be unsurpassed as the fish of the week and showing true Viking form substantial celebrations ensued.
There were many victims in the aftermath of the evenings festivities but despite the casualties inflicted amongst the ranks it did little to dampen the catching power the next day. Chris, Sean and Justin managed 11 fish from the Upper Litza including a 28lber from flat stone, a 20, 18, fresh 16, 16 and a 15lber shared amongst Litza Falls, Flat Stone and Secret Pool. The best however was still to come with a monstrous 37lb fish from Ledge Pool. John, Harald and guide Gena could barely believe their eyes when first the head, expansive flanks and then spade like tail showed as the fish rolled on the surface. With a previous PB of 22lbs John kept a steady nerve even when the structure of the net collapsed under the weight of the fish as it was brought to the bank. A triumphant final day.
Over the autumn season on the northern Kola the rains will arrive. Exactly when is impossible to predict however when they do the Osenka (winter running) salmon will start to appear, dormant salmon will be revitalized and the rivers will yield their treasures. Beginners learnt to cast, everyone caught fish, numerous PB’s were broken along the way and all witnessed the sort of dreams that lurk beside large boulders and deep runs. When the sun shone the burnt oranges, yellows and red of the autumn tundra reflected nature in all its glory. Reindeer herds were visible along the skyline, Lemmings, of which this season has seen an almost unprecedented population explosion, were visible at every turn of the river; squeaking defiantly, swimming occasionally and even climbing a leg…and all to the warming chink of raised glasses at the end of a fun week with great company.
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