North of the Arctic Circle the fishing season is compressed into a tight four-month window. On the Northern Kola the fishing starts in early June and closes in September. Over that period, on a normal year, you can expect the rivers to change from a cascade of water following the snow-melt to lows during the mid-summer and then an autumnal shift to cooler/cold conditions as the daylight hours surrender to the dark winter months with a likely water rise along the way.
With such varying conditions over a relatively short period there should always be a 'reasonable degree' of uncertainty as to what you might find on any given week of any particular season. After a couple of particularly warm early springs on the Kola Peninsula which saw the snow-melt happen much faster than normal, leading to much lower water conditions, for the 2014 season things were quite different. Alongside a strong run of salmon which continued through June and July good water levels were sustained. The result was that the salmon were willing and eager to take and with a good proportion of ‘biggies’ July 2014 was definitely a season to remember on the Atlantic Salmon Reserve. Average catches were up 50% from 2013 and with 43 fish of 25lbs or over of which 15 were in excess of 30lbs there were plenty of smiley faces and dinner table stories!
Seasonal variations from year to year and week to week are what allows us to speculate endlessly and indeed what makes it so rewarding when you hit it right. Even when you do not when you are succesful in the face of adversity it is should be equally as rewarding. That aside the following will hopefully give you an idea of what you might expect when fishing for salmon, over the summer period (typically the mnonth of July/early August) along the Northern Kola and specifically on the rivers of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve, the Kharlovka, Eastern Litza, Rynda and the Zolotoya. The only caveat to this being being that from year to year ‘summer’ may well shift a week or two in either direction.
By July the last snowdrifts will be disappearing and with the end of the melt-water the rivers will start to stabilise at summer levels. Whereas earlier in the season day by day the rivers may drop 5 or more cm by July it is more likely to be 1 or 2 cm. The water temperature will probably be anywhere from 12 to 20 C. This can fluctuate quite rapidly with even a relatively swift cold or warm period changing the readings quite dramatically. Sustained periods of heavy rain are unlikely in July but neither should you expect perpetual blue skies. Jumps of 5-10 cm on the river gauge can happen at anytime although the rivers always remain fishable.
If there was to be a single identifiable enemy to salmon fishermen over the July weeks it is those prolonged periods of blue skies and bright sun. With 24 hr daylight, even during the supposed dark hours, the salmon may not get a sustained break from bright sunlight. Unfortunately there is no great remedy to this and if it comes in combination with low water then invariably the fishing will be harder. It is by no means prevalent throughout July but one does need to expect this and try and adjust fishing tactics to suit.
If there was one factor that would steer me towards a July week as opposed to an early season week it is in the knowledge that by July you can expect the salmon to be in every part of the river. (The exception being the upper sections of the Kharlovka. The salmon typically start to run the waterfall from around the 10th July on a normal season). Having the full length of the rivers at your disposal ensures that you will have the benefit of fishing some of the most picturesque and exciting pools available on the rivers. That is not to say that the lower sections will not continue to produce very good salmon however the abundance of waterfalls, gorges, deep pockets and rapids all add to the charisma of a week whether that be the Litza/Kharlovka or the Rynda/Zolotoya.
The balance to this equation is that in low-water there can be a level of frustration when the fishable area of the pools has shrunk. Rather than the one step one cast approach the angler needs an added element of mental fortitude to believe that the pools do indeed hold the fish and it is just a matter of ‘winkling’ them out with different tactics as opposed to simply covering water.
At any stage from late June going forwards there will be a definitive moment when the salmon will start readily taking either hitched flies or dry flies/bombers from the surface. If you have fished either of these techniques anywhere in the world you will not need me to explain how exciting this is. However to this equation add the big fish factor. Envisage standing on a rocky ledge overlooking a deep dark pool and seeing a 30lb + leviathan emerge from the depths to take your fly. Holding ones nerve when faced with a salmon larger than you may well of ever seen before is not easy.
Summer conditions traditionally dictate the use of floating lines and smaller flies and by and large that will always stand you in good stead. Having said that bright conditions will encourage the salmon to find areas where they feel protected, where they have a proverbial roof over their heads. That may mean either finding a deep hole, tucking in behind a stone or an area where broken water above them provides them with camouflage.
In such situations it can often pay to use a small but compact weighted fly to get the fly down to them or indeed a quicker sinking tip. Fast sink lines in the deep gorges can work as can a square or slightly upstream cast with a weighted fly to give it a chance to drop down before the current takes up the slack.
Sunrays remain an excellent means of ‘enraging’ docile salmon. Fished hitched, square or stripped fast can often get a reaction..and if you ever wanted encouragement remember it was a sunray fished by Chris Tarrant that resulted in the huge 47 1/2 lb Salmon that was caught in July before breakfast on the Tent Pool of the Eastern Litza!
As the proportion of fresh fish entering the river slows down it becomes more important to be increasingly proactive with regards fly choice. It is true that a fresh fish entering the river is not going to be particularly choosy and providing you have confidence in your fly and have the right size and profile for the river speed and visibility then the difference in specific patterns may not count for so much.
Grilse aside, as they will run throughout the season, as the fish settle into their lies fly selection becomes ever more important. Probably the most important thing you can do is to keep changing flies. Start with what you are confident with however resist the comfort trap of resolutely sticking to the same pattern just because it worked well in the morning. Equally what peeks the interest of one salmon may not stand true for another so keep alternating your choice.
Have in your summer selection fly sizes to suit the river conditions but make sure that you have a good range of Sunray shadows, a few bombers, nymphs, compact weighted tubes and hitched tubes (although you can of course add a hitch to any fly).
Comparable to the dread of super low-water conditions that affects the minds of most salmon fishermen is the threat of clouds of mozzies blotting out the sky. During July it is undeniably true that mozzies are an issue relatively to some other more genteel fishing locations…although if you have been bombarded by a mist of midges, whether that be in Scotland or N.America, they are no more or less of a menace.
The rivers along the Northern Kola do not suffer from Mosquitoes to nearly the same extent as those in the southern Kola or indeed further inland. Onshore and offshore winds keep the worst away for at least 50% of the month and when on the river they rarely pose much of a concern. It is of course paradoxical that when the wind is blowing it will probably be in such a way that anglers look upon the still days, regardless of the mozzies where casting was effortless with more favourable memories. Nature as always leads by example and as the summer heats up the Reindeer migrate from the southern Kola to the northern coastline where the ASR rivers are located to help them escape the bloodsuckers…it is just a shame that they inadvertently bring a proportion with them!
A robust defence by way of a strong Deet will keep them at bay and prevent you being bitten. Just remember to be methodical applying it and always have a bottle handy so that you do not get caught out having just washed it off releasing a fish or similar. Keep a tube of anthisan handy and when bitten apply straight away and DO NOT scratch for 5-10 mins. If you can keep your finger nails away over those golden minutes you will escape any prolonged itchy torture!
Pick a week and stick with it and you are as likely to see the full spectrum of fishing conditions from season to season, ranging from excellent to mediocre and all the permutations in-between as you are if week selection is based on chasing last years results. You will find any number of weekly reports on the website which will serve to give you a historical picture of what has transpired but it is worth remembering that they rarely ever come close to mirroring the week that you go on.
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