Ryabaga on the Ponoi River
The best salmon fisheries I know have one thing in common, and that is, they remain relatively undisturbed by man. From the early days of salmon fishing in Scotland where access to your favourite fishery, perhaps, was by train, pony, or even “shanks pony”, we have thought of better ways of making the whole thing more comfortable. Gone are the days when it would have taken two days to reach the wonderful salmon rivers of Scotland, no, those are now accessed from all over the world in a matter of hours, with an infrastructure when you arrive, second to that of none the world over. Roads, hotels, fishing huts and lodges all pamper the 21st century salmon angler beyond anything his grandfather could have possibly imagined. However, all those luxuries have come at a price, and that is – the salmon themselves. Rivers once remote with little people living along their banks are now semi industrial areas with ever expanding towns, intensive farming and forestry, my god, your grandfather would not recognise the place any more, and so it may seem, do the returning salmon! Many people have asked me over the years, “What’s the salmons main predator”? My reply is always the same, MAN! Everywhere he sets his footprint, he spoils the nature around him before taking time to properly understand it. This is exactly why nearly every salmon river touched by man is in decline, other than, of course, those so remote that his unsympathetic influence cannot be exerted. I find myself sitting on a helicopter writing this on my way to such a place; The Ryagaba fishing camp on the Ponoi river in Russia’s Kola Peninsula, A location so remote, the only way in is by helicopter and as we fly over the Arctic tundra toward it I feel a great sense of adventure, similar I’m sure, to that felt by those 19th century anglers as they made the long journey north to fish the Spey, Tay, Tweed and Tay, or to fish in 19th Century Norway . But the main difference is, this destination,its unique ecosystem, flora and fauna, has not “yet” been spoiled by man’s untidy influence, whether that be nets, fish-farms, dams and a multitude of others. Sitting looking at the faces of expectant anglers across a row of luggage filled with all the most modern and up to date tackle is a somewhat surreal experience. Headphones to cut the aircraft means no one is talking, this really is a first for me; to be in a closed situation with 20 salmon anglers and all at staring at Moblie phones, out windows, or simply relaxing, head on luggage, day-dreaming in contemplation, or, like me, anticipation! We’re on our way to one of the worlds, if not, the worlds most steady and productive salmon rivers, so despite the empty expressions and of lack of communication, there very much a sense of building excitement, the closer we get more I feel this. For those travelling for the first time on a helicopter, myself included, the ride itself is strange. Noisy, a little smelly, and flying not like a fixed wing aircraft, but, strangly for someone who doesn’t really enjoy flying, I feel safe. I’d wondered what this flight would be like, but as we fly further into the tundra covering what’s become known locally as “MAMFA” (Miles and Miles of f*** all) I’m enjoying the ride, view and incredible feeling of optimism building from within the group. Every turn of the rotor takes us ever closer to salmon fishing paradise; the excitement continues to build! The time of year is late September, a time of change in the Tundra, summer colours melt, lush green chlorophyll rich leaves have now turned and like the year, are dying. The ground we travel over is the same, the grass and heath are orange and light brown. Strange to be coming to such a place as the year is dying! Why? What would make us do this? My god, salmon fishers are a strange lot I know, but even the strangest of us must question this! However, there is a simple answer, an answer as unique as the tundra itself – “Osenka” [Ice Fish]! A particular breed/cohort of fish which run fresh into the Ponoi at this time of the year, fish so fat, fresh and powerful; and they must be, for those fish will stay under the ice, dormant, in hibernation during winter, fasting like our spring fish until it’s time for them to spawn the following October or November. A remarkable part of the Atlantic Salmon’s amazing and complex insurance policy. So why not fish for those in the summer? Is this possible? Well, the answer to this is yes, and, remarkably, they’re still silver, take well, and, when they wake up from hibernation in late May provide anglers with fantastic sport here too. At this time and throughout June they are joined by the new run of fish in Ponoi, leading to an abundance of fish of all shapes and sizes in the system. The Tundra year is new during the month of May and June, the long dark inter has ended and the 23.5 degree tilt in our amazing planet ensures an extremely short spring before the onset of summer. With the heating of the ground comes a new generation of insects to feed birds and fish alike in this amazing place. Back home in Scotland we have Midgies, a tiny tiger toothed tear away, which frankly can be the scourge of many a holiday to Scotland, however, would any of us be put off by those if offered a weeks prime fishing at Delfur on the Spey? Same goes for the mighty Alta in the north of Norway, would the presence of a few mosses put you off going there? “Hang on, what till I check my diary”!! I think not!!! My flight would be booked in two seconds. in my mind, Mosses and Midgies are part of the natural environment and very much linked to every good salmon destination I know. If you know they will be there you can guard against them. I never heard of anyone playing a 40pounder on the Alta being disturbed by Mossies! The note of the Helicopter has changed, I look over and see, my god, the most amazing camp nestling in birch trees on the bend of a river, a few meters from what I’ve heard is the best salmon fishing pool on the Kola Peninsula, the scene is perfect, I’ve arrived in salmon fishing paradise!
And the fishing is yet to come! Wow, you will not believe whats about to come here.