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Kamchatka 2-Yurts Float Trip 09-05-2003


By this time, the drill seems familiar. It all starts a few weeks before your trip. You begin by piling a bunch of gear on your basement floor. Then over the next few days, you divide that big pile into a few smaller piles that fall loosely under the heading of fishing gear, clothing, camping gear, camera gear, toiletries, etc., etc. You double up on the important stuff and can the rest. When an item gets put in a bag, it gets checked off the list. To do otherwise invites pre-trip paranoia (PTP) that leads to repeated unpacking and repacking.

Eventually, you run out of room in your bag and you have to make some important choices. If it's a choice between that extra box of flies and clean underwear, you of course, take the flies. (Packing hint: you've got the rest of your life to wear clean underwear, but only one week to catch a 25 inch Kamchatka rainbow on your new mouse pattern). Continuing, you slide in an extra 6 weight rod and grab a 4wt. and an 8wt. just to cover your bets. You throw in a sink tip line, even though you know you probably won't use it. With flies sorted, leaders built, sleeping bag stuffed and toiletries gathered, you still find time to madly rush about the day before you depart thus annoying everyone in your family.

Then you fly to Anchorage, where you eat some halibut, drink a few Alaskan Ambers and most importantly, buy a few more buggers. This purchase is essential for it is hard to imagine what disaster might befall you if you don't have that bugger with the big eyes and the orange marabou tail in your third box of streamers.

The next day, you get up very early (on Friday morning) to take the 6:40 flight to Petropavlovsk which arrives on Saturday but is only a 4 1/2 hour flight (crossing the International Dateline is always confusing and most of us never quite get a grasp on it, especially when booking connecting flights or explaining to spouses when we will be back in the states).

After you arrive in Petro, you go through a very slow and stern customs process. While waiting, you listen to the other Americans alternately complain about and then offer opinions on how this mind-numbing process can be improved. You wonder what the Russians think of us. Last year, one blue-blooded male with country club lockjaw and a full mane of silver hair was festooned in a safari suit complete with silk ascot and a felt fedora with a leopard skin hatband. I saw the Russians roll their eyes as he passed. I smiled. They did not.

After exiting the terminal, you throw your gear in a truck and jump in a van or a bus for the ride to the helicopter pad. At the pad, you keep your eye on your gear and make sure all your bags get on your chopper. You watch as the beer, gasoline, food, anglers and crew load-up. Then you plug in your earplugs, watch the rotors circle the orange fuselage of the big bird and hang on for the ride.

Slowly you lift off then jerkily rise over Petro past the MIG bunkers and drab Soviet-style apartments. Quickly you're out of town and into the country. You follow the only road north for a few minutes, and then it's up and over the saw-toothed peaks past smoking volcanoes and countless rivers. Finally, you're into one of the finest unspoiled tracts of wilderness that remain on our big blue ball.

That's how it is supposed to go, and on each of our previous trips to Kamchatka, that's how it went... flawlessly. But this time, on our way to the Dvukhyurtochnaya River, there were some surprising twists in this now familiar drill (from here on in, let's just call it the 2-Yurt River 'cuz I don't want to continue writing out that tongue twister of a name). To begin with, the weather in Petro was windy and rainy with a very low ceiling. To fly a chopper in this weather would have been iffy at best. In addition, on the 21st of August, a chopper had gone down and the company that owned the chopper was now grounded by order of Moscow. Apparently, the pilots had been ordered by the dignitaries on board to fly in marginal weather. The flight recorder documented the pilots' protestations that were unfortunately overruled by the politicians (sometimes it sucks to have power without knowledge... guess politicians are the same the world over). Combine that crash with a forest fire and a lost hiker on one of the volcanoes that both required helicopter support, and the chopper fleet was stretched thin. As a result, we went directly from the airport to a hotel where we spent the night hoping for clearer skies.

Rain and wind again greeted us in the morning. At 10:00 a.m., we got the call to be ready by 11:00 a.m. The weather was improving! To make a long story short, after many false starts, we left the hotel for the chopper pad at 6:00 p.m. We didn't get in the air (under a better, but still low ceiling) until 7:00 p.m. At 9:00 p.m. we refueled, one half hour short of base camp on the 2-Yurts. We didn't make camp until it was nearly dark, due to some backtracking and maneuvering to find open passes. As the sun got lower, we had some nervous moments wondering if we would have to put down for the night to await the light of dawn. But we made it just fine and after a quick dinner, we shoved our bone-weary bodies in sleeping bags and slept soundly in the cozy cabins at base camp.

Morning brought our first view of the camp that was built in a beautiful meadow beside the 2-Yurt Lake. We soaked in the camp's great hot springs before breakfast, then ate a delicious meal and choppered downriver to Camp 1.

The next four days involved fishing leisurely from Camp 1 to Camp 2, then to 2.5 (built because the fishing is so good between 2 and 3) then onto Camp 3 before finally arriving at Camp 4. We walked between Camps 1 and 2 and used six single catarafts and two doubles to get between each subsequent camp. At each camp, wooden tent frames marked these semi-permanent sites. Our staff of six moved a mountain of gear including tent skins, stoves, kitchen gear and all our personal gear each day between camps via rafts while we fished. Our camps were very comfortable and included ingenious warming stoves in each of the anglers' tents, a cook/dining tent, a shower stall with hot water, a drying tent for wet gear, two outhouses and an outdoor fire pit. The only bad news was the no-see-ums at dawn and dusk.

Our meals were wonderful. For breakfast we had fresh REAL coffee and traditional breakfast foods such as cereal, eggs, ham etc. For lunch, hot soups and sandwiches were de rigueur and were plentiful and delicious. For dinner, we enjoyed typical Russian entrees with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables including wonderful Chinese peaches and local tomatoes and cucumbers. And man, did we all love that Russian brown bread! We did not go hungry and we never wanted for anything. The staff was incredibly accommodating and hardworking. The guides were knowledgeable and fun to be with. Our cook, Lena, was superb and very organized. This is a very well organized, very competent operation. They heard no complaints and much praise from our group. Thanks again to all of you!

If we had any regret, it was only that because of our loss of one day while waiting for the weather to clear in Petro, we did not get to spend a day exploring around base camp. Instead, we had to begin fishing at Camp 1 to get back on schedule. Maybe next year!

The 2-Yurt is a small river shallow enough to wade across in many spots. It is not always easy wading, especially in the upper river. Fast water and slick boulders require anglers to be diligent, conservative and mentally prepared for such conditions. Due to these wading conditions, we were a tired group when we reached Camp 2 at the end of our first day. Cold beer, a great dinner and a warm tent smoothed out most of these wrinkles!

Each day the river changes its complexion and feel. The 2-Yurt goes from fast, riffly water on day 1 to classic slower spring creek runs that lead into a section of pool/drop rapids on day 2. The river goes then into a wonderful braided section on day 3 that has a little bit of everything and ends at the first big pool on the river that is just loaded with fat grayling that are very cooperative on a dry fly. Our last day saw the river settle back and relax into a series of deep, slow runs punctuated by shallow gravel shelves. The 2-Yurt then changed yet again and spread out into broad slicks, dotted with weed beds layered over with gin clear water. This is classic mousing water and it did not disappoint. (On this last day, I caught 25 'bows over 20 inches with the biggest being 25 inches and lost count of the number of big grayling I landed.)

The best fishing for rainbows was between Camp 2 to well beyond Camp 3. We caught rainbows up to 25 and one half inches, mainly on mice and streamers (especially white Clousers and wooly buggers often opting for the egg sucking variety). Rainbows held behind rocks, especially near the banks. On slower stretches, snags, tree trunks, rocks and cut banks often held big fish. The average 'bow was 20 inches, but 21 to 23 inch fish were caught every day. Most of these 'bows were fat and very hot. They didn't jump often, but they were powerful and well suited to a 6 or 7 wt. We also caught three species of char (including a kundja), a 10 lb. jack king and hundreds of grayling on everything from mice to skated dries to big ugly streamers to glow bugs. A typical grayling was 16 to 17 inches, but 18 to 20 inch fish were common. One note, we used small hooks on non-articulated mouse patterns. Because the 'bows took the mice patterns so aggressively, articulated or big hook patterns were swallowed too deeply and caused too much damage to effectively call this "catch and release" fishing. We recommend small hooks and attentive hook sets. If you delay, the 'bows put the flies "down the gullet" very quickly.

Having said that, the takes by these big 'bows were classic and thrilling. Cast to the bank, watch a big wake jet 5 to 10 feet, then watch as the 'bow's whole head would appear before opening a white mouth that would inhale your fly. My favorite section of the 2-Yurt was between Camp 2.5 to below Camp 3. In this magnificent water, you could see the 'bows confidently leave their bankside lairs to attack your fly. This is classic big rainbow fishing. Wade, fish and then move on to cover all the holding spots. With each new bend and turn offering a new puzzle, you decipher the hydrodynamics, then cast and perhaps catch. You're always moving, always enthralled, often rewarded and always challenged. Even though you often are fishing alone due to the use of the single catarafts, you find yourself muttering, "That was cool!" into the whispering clear 2-Yurt as it swallows up all that remains of your last big 'bow.

Streamers were most successful when dead-drifted then stripped S-L-O-W-L-Y on the swing. Also, dropping streamers in the moving water then slowly stripping them up through bankside eddies worked well.

The 2-Yurt is a fantastic, really beautiful stream. Small as a Michigan brook, the banks are lined with pine and birch. High hills and rocky ridges provide a dramatic view from the well-chosen campsites. This scenery makes sipping a cold libation at the end of a great day of fishing a true pleasure.

We had a tremendous group on this trip. Dr. Charlie Walter added his droll sense of humor and relaxed whatever-happens-happens attitude while Dick Davis contributed similar skills when he wasn't laughing at Charlie! These old friends are from Angling Destination's hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming. It was a rare treat for me to be with some hometown compatriots. Dick's son, Newt, was an added bonus, possessing both a great sense of humor and a fluent grasp of Russian. Old friends Dr. Craig Johnston, Dr. Stephen Peskoe and Dick Hanousek made this trip a true pleasure. We have shared adventures all over the globe including the Seychelles, French Polynesia, the Bahamas, Chile and Alaska and we always enjoy seeing and fishing with each other. Thanks guys for another great trip and certainly one of our best!

Our outfitter Victor got us as promised (if the weather looked threatening), off the river and into Kozyrevsk on Thursday night. We decided to go to Petro by bus as the weather there was sketchy and we wanted to make sure we made our once weekly flight home. We dined at a local "disco" and slept well at our guesthouse. At 7:00 a.m. we headed south, took the ferry across the Kamchatka River, had lunch in another nightclub in Milkovo, enjoyed the hot springs and showers of Malkynsky and got into Petro at 6:00 p.m. in time for some shopping. The rest was a breeze.

This was a great trip with difficult logistics. It lived up to our expectations and turned out to be a great adventure. We saw much more of the real Kamchatka on this trip, experienced some sensational fishing and had a great time with each other and our Russian hosts. Four of our group are already making plans to return to Kamchatka next summer to fish a "new" river that Victor promises is even better than the 2-Yurt! Given our experience this year, we have no reason to doubt him!
Scott Heywood


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