Most of Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula is terra incognita. The statistics are staggering: There are over 1000 rivers on the peninsula. Less than 30 of these rivers have been fished, floated or seriously explored. Currently, less than 10 rivers see any real level of activity and only 5 rivers have tent camps on their banks. Each year, more and more of Kamchatka's secrets are revealed and returning anglers are proposing many new theories as a way of explaining their experiences while in Kamchatka. But by and large, the specifics as to hatches, weather, movement and behavior of various species is still largely unknown. If you want sure bets with guaranteed results, Kamchatka is not for you...but if you are a hearty angler willing to risk the unknown in exchange for a shot at the truly incredible, Kamchatka is your bell ringing.
On our trip to the Kolpakova River this year, our group experienced the passing of a kidney stone by one trip member and the fringes of a category III typhoon, as well as the strongest pink salmon run in many years (which affected the Kolpakova's rainbow population in some unpredictable ways). Between the five off us, we had over 80 miles of fishable water. We were the only anglers to fish the upper 35 miles since last summer. On all our forays up and down the river, we saw absolutely no trash or any other anglers. In fact, the only evidence we saw of other humans was the footprint of a solitary sable trapper who lived 60 miles up the river.
Despite bad weather associated with the typhoon (that caused the Kolpakova to rise and become a bit off-color), we had excellent silver salmon fishing and very good rainbow fishing, especially on the upper river. These late summer 'bows were corpulent, well˝fed bruisers that went from 15 to 24 inches. They were stronger and fatter this year in early September than they were last year in late July. As good as it was, our fishing was not as good as last year. We concluded that this was due to the bad weather and the heavy pink run. High water spread the 'bows out and the slightly off-color water made it harder for us to find them or (them to find us).
But how does the Kamchatka pink run effect the 'bows? Our theory is this: Pinks (humpies) show up in even years sometimes in incredible numbers... this was one such year! Pinks spawn in redds spaced very close together. They are very aggressive to predators and have very small eggs. This then is their survival strategy. Predators, such as rainbows, can't penetrate their close-set defenses and even if they do, the eggs provide poor caloric benefit for the effort expended. As a result, 'bows go upriver looking for other sources of protein like decaying salmon flesh, maggots and the eggs of other salmon especially chum salmon. For instance, find a spawning area for chums (which spawn further apart and have bigger eggs) and you'll find rainbows just below the redds. Cast below a decaying salmon and often a rainbow will strike your flesh fly. As proof of our theory, the further we got upriver (away from the spawning pinks), the more and bigger rainbows we caught.
Another interesting note, last year in July, we had great dry fly fishing and great surface action with traditional mice patterns. This year (in early September), the 'bows were making their living on the bottom and while egg sucking leeches, glow bugs and flesh flies worked well, the 'bows were not looking up to either mouse patterns or hatching insects, even if the insect hatches were fairly heavy. We joked that egg sucking adams and egg sucking mice would be the best patterns to use.
With this in mind, if you seek dry fly fishing, we feel it is better to go to Kamchatka in late June through the first week in August. Once the salmon, with their bellies laden with roe and their flesh already beginning to die, flood into the rivers, the 'bows are no longer interested in little bugs, they just want to go for the big protein diet the spawning salmon provide.
As time goes on, we'll learn more about the specifics of Kamchatka, but until more of this peninsula's incredible rivers are further explored, these elaborate and intricate details (well- studied and taken for granted in Alaska and the lower 48) will remain largely a mystery in what is one of the world's last great wildernesses. For some anglers, this is part of Kamchatka's allure and if you are not willing to plunge into the unknown, you shouldn't go to Kamchatka.
Regarding other important details of our trip: we had a staff of 6 very friendly Russians including an interpreter, a chef, and a young fellow who managed the wood fires in our yurt. We had 2 American guides for 5 anglers. Our yurt-style tents were rustic, but comfortable and provided a safe haven from the bad weather we experienced. Our food was delicious, plentiful and definitely prepared with a Russian bent. Our guides used two zodiac-style inflatables with brand new 4-stroke Honda outboard jet engines. They could run in 6 inches of water and were perfect for this river.
Would we do anything different if we had it to do again? Yes... we would put the camp higher on the river above the spawning pinks or go earlier before the spawn. But who knew? This is adventure fishing and there are no guarantees and no way to do so. Anglers who travel into terra incognita must be philosophers too or at least a bit philosophic!
And one last thing... reports from anglers we met in the airport at Petropavlosk who had been on the Sedanka River and on the Zhupovona River (both on the float trip and at Cedar Lodge) had good trips and were pleased with their experiences. Please call us for all the details on these trips.