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Kamchatka River Exploration 07-21-2001

The Baptist missionary that joined us on the Mavial Air TU 154 jet told me there are 400,000 people that inhabit the 750-mile long Kamchatka Peninsula.... 275,000 of those people live in Petropavlask and the remaining 125,000 are spread out in an area greater than the size of Montana. Kamchatka is a truly wild land and you feel you are on the edge of a frontier the moment you enter Russian airspace. Our flight down the peninsula revealed many of Kamchatka's 127 volcanic peaks, some of which still smolder menacingly above endless forests of birch, poplar and cottonwood. These verdant forests have only one road cutting into their interior and are home to the densest population of brown bears on planet earth. After being met at customs in Petro we were whisked to our helicopter where we quickly loaded gear and then departed on a stunningly beautiful one-hour flight through the central mountains of Kamchatka... a range reminiscent of Idaho's Sawtooth Range. We set down on the Kolpakova, had lunch, put on waders and began a comfortable routine of fish, eat, sleep that I hope will only conclude with our reluctant departure.
Journal Entry, SSH - July, 2001.

This was a great trip in a great land with a great group but this was a fishing trip so let's concentrate on that...I would describe the fishing as fantastic, favoring the experienced angler but certainly good enough for the novice fly-fisherman. From July 21st to the 29th we caught dollie varden (averaging 18" to 19" and up to 7 or 8 pounds) on mice, dry flies, streamers and droppered nymphs. We caught chum salmon on pink streamers, pollywogs and, strangely enough, nymphs. We caught the rare Siberian kundja char up to 8 pounds on streamers fished very deep. We also landed a few humpies and one king salmon. But it was the abundance of wild rainbow trout that stunned many of the Alaskan veterans in our group. One trip participant estimated that there were over 800 rainbows caught for the week. The largest fish was a bit less than 25 inches and the average fish was around 19 inches. We caught these full-bodied 'bows on streamers and nymphs, but the most fun was the dry fly fishing and the mousing. We had some exquisite dry fly fishing, especially on the cloudy days when size 10 to 16 blond humpies, adams and elk hair caddis alternately worked depending on the hatch. I caught at least five fish over 20 inches each day and at least 25 fish over 22 inches for the week. These rainbows were deep, powerful fish... strong predators anxious to put on weight for the cold Kamchatka winter. To see a rainbow's speckled back, faintly edged in pink, rise elegantly to a dry, slash violently at a mouse or magically materialize to snap unsuccessfully at your streamer's marabou tail is a sight I will remember for a long time. An image that I'm sure will draw me back to Kamchatka again and again. We all remarked that these Kamchatka rainbows are very difficult to see. They are perfectly camouflaged for this their native waters. They might be visible when moving but when still, are almost impossible to see. Eons of evolution have made these trout perfectly colored to match Kamchatka's cobblestoned river bottoms. I will remember this when I see rainbows on some of their adopted waters, not quite easy to see but certainly not invisible. This was a wonderful trip, somewhat difficult to describe. Dick Hanousek of Minnesota offered "I don't know where you could go to get better wild rainbow trout fishing."...and Bob Hartmann of New Jersey added, "As an overall adventure, you cannot top this trip."

Technically speaking, we had great luck both dead drifting and stripping various streamers such as leeches, sculpins and woolly buggers. Forget mending, sloppy fishing works well in Kamchatka! This is true with mice too. Cast across stream or quarter down stream, let a belly form in your line then pop the mouse on the swing lifting your rod tip to keep the fly on the surface. High floating mice patterns work best especially if they splash a bit when popped. If a stripped mouse was missed by a large 'bow, stopping the retrieve and dead drifting the fly often elicited another attack. We had some classic dry fly fishing with size 10 to 14 attractor patterns and we often had takes on drys skated erratically when no trout were rising. We also had great luck dropping a size 12 prince nymph on 2 to 3 feet of 4X below a size 10 stimulator. We caught fish on drys and with mice each day of our trip.

The food served was healthy, delicious and plentiful. Breakfasts were traditional with eggs, oatmeal, breads, doughnuts, crepes and Russian-style French toast. Lunches were often taken between casts. Usually we did a shore lunch with 2 or 3 fat dollies delicately spiced then cooked in foil on an open fire. In the evening, we all met in the roomy Hansen Weatherport dining tent for obligatory vodka toasts, followed by sumptuous and hearty dinners consisting of chicken, pork chops, cabbage rolls usually preceded with an excellent soup as a first course. Sleeping quarters consisted of either individual 9 x 9' tents with cots for those wanting to tent alone or two Weatherport tents for up to 3 anglers in each. We had hot showers available each night thanks to a wood burning stove that made both the shower tent toasty warm and ingeniously heated the water stored on an exterior home-made water tower. The camp was very comfortable and dry, especially when you consider that this is one of the most remote places on the face of the earth. Inconveniences were few and we all agreed we lacked for nothing.

The two American and two Russian guides use Lowe 16' flat-bottomed jet boats with sixty and ninety horsepower motors. We also had two Zodiacs with twenty-five horsepower motors at our disposal. We ran from 50 minutes above camp to 50 minutes below camp...more miles than you could possibly fish in a week. The river was beautiful with gin-clear water running over a cobblestone bottom. There was plenty of holding water with every riffle, chute, pothole and shelf seemingly holding fish. One mile of river could easily provide a whole day of fishing and we had 60 or 70 miles available to us. We saw no other anglers, in fact, we saw no other humans except for those in our group! To put this in some kind of perspective, this would be the equivalent of nine anglers on one of Alaska's great rivers like the Alagnak or the Kanektok! And also like on these famous rivers in Alaska, Kamchatka's Kolpakova has numerous small side channels that often held large trout. One day, while we waited for lunch to be cooked, Steve Peskoe M.D. and I caught four rainbows over 21 inches on less than 75 yards of a classic "skinny water" side channel. The Kolpakova is a beautiful river with classic trout water. Each bend reveals spots that excite even the most jaded angler. Cottonwood, birch, poplar and alder line the banks and the forest floor is carpeted in wildflowers. With the sound of distant thunder or with the river shrouded in fog this river seems a magical place. We had no bear encounters but grizzly tracks along with moose and otter are evident on many of the Kolpakova's sandy bars. Osprey and Stellar sea eagles prowl the river while the comical sound of cuckoos nosily announce the hour to anglers content to forget about schedules and time.

We had a lot of fun with the guides both on and off the river. We had an excellent Russian interpreter who doubled as the Kamchatka Department of Fisheries inspector. Elena cheerfully made sure all Russian toasts were translated and that we all learned as much Russian as we wanted. Meals were entertaining and enjoyable with 14 people sharing a single long table in the dining tent. After dinner we often adjourned to the campfire surrounded by camp chairs or stayed in the dining tent to tie Kamchatka mice at the well-stocked tying table.

Our weather was spectacular with daytime temperatures running 58 to 82 degrees. We often had evening thunderstorms followed by moody, foggy mornings. We had three absolutely beautiful days, perhaps too good, because the dry fly fishing was definitely better on the days with at least some cloud cover. Our accommodations in Petropavlosk at the Avacha Hotel were clean and neat, if not fancy. While in Petro, we had a great time exploring the markets and people watching. The Russian people are very friendly to Americans and are always ready to try out their English. We felt very welcome in Kamchatka.

All in all, this was one of the best trips I have ever had. This was great fishing with an enjoyable group in a fantastic unexplored wilderness... an unbeatable combination! We are already planning our trips for next year. We are planning hosted trips beginning August 18th and again on August 25th, 2002. Other dates are available from June through September.

If you love to fish for wild fish and have the heart of an adventurer, this is a trip for you. If you want to visit Kamchatka, there are many details we will need to discuss from visas to flies to what to pack, so we encourage you call us to make your plans early for Kamchatka 2002.






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