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Archive for February, 2009

I recently returned from two weeks of Atlantic Salmon fishing on the Kola River system in Russia. I traveled there with a group of six great guys. The plan was one week of “exploratory” fishing out of a tent camp followed by a week at the adjoining Kola River’s main lodge. In short it was the best of times and the worst of times. I have often said that Russia comes with its share of drama but if you can handle it with grace, the fishing will likely prove worth it. This trip was no exception.
Located well within the Arctic Circle near the northeastern borders of Finland and Norway, the Kola River is the northernmost of the Kola Peninsula’s significant systems. It is a rugged, handsome river with numerous deep, dazzling, boulder-strewn tailouts, an impressive 20,000-40,000 returning fish, and some of the largest (meaning 40 plus pounds) Atlantic salmon in Russia. The river flows due north entering the Barrent’s Sea smack dab in the middle of the peninsula’s largest city, Murmansk. As you might imagine, this is a mixed blessing: no helicopters needed for access and in the same breath, little escaping the locals and the often bitter realities of their lives. Our first week of exploratory fishing was a major disappointment if not a complete bust. The Kola tributaries and headwaters we had intended to fish were getting pounded hard by local spin fishermen and net poachers. There were communication and alcohol based issues with guides and there was very little quality water for our group to fish. It was a seemingly endless week that we should have never been offered. Tempers and the weather ran hot and by the week’s end the water temperatures rose to 68 degrees. Week two, however, at the Kola main lodge, did a lot to make up for the first week’s suffering. We upgraded to tidy single occupancy cabins and we had new improved guides. The weather came in hard and cold, and we were tuned up and hungry for a crack at the Kola’s prime beats. The karmic payback was essentially instantaneous. Without driveling on, we had amazing fishing and “Team America” distinguished itself with high catch rates everyday amidst a skilled international crowd. The water temperatures steadily dropped to 50 degrees over the course of three days and the river bumped up about six inches. We had days where group members went 10 for 10, 12 for 12 and on our last day one of our party members actually went 14 for 14 with seven fish between 10 and 20 pounds! The Kola River was loaded with Grilse (very strong bright salmon that average 5-6 pounds) but there were good numbers of large adult salmon as well. Virtually every member of our group landed fish in the 20 plus pound class and there were plenty of big fish lost. One fish in the 35-40 pound class was lost after its fourth jump. I had the good fortune of watching the entire event unfold. Hooked by my companion after having seen it roll, the beast headed straight upstream making two low angle jumps along the way. I reeled my line in frantically so as to not complicate the affair and the next thing I knew the monster jumped right at me less than a rod’s length away. It appeared as though there was a case of mistaken identity and that the fish was trying to knock me off my rock! I could see it clearly; its actions severely slowed by it lumbering size. I can safely say that it was the biggest, darkest and most frightening salmonid I had ever seen. It was in excess of 45 inches and its leathery alligator-like head had to be 15 inches long. The fact that it neither growled nor roared as it passed me left me with a confused empty feeling. Next the creature turned downstream and made a desperate wallowing leap like a fat man being chased by hornets through waste deep water. Then it turned back towards the angler, rushing him until line and backing went slack and then he, and our ability to describe the experience, was gone. In camp the discussions surrounding fly selection were ceaseless, but in the end we caught fish on every conceivable technique and fly pattern possible. Effective flies ranged from tiny hitched surface tubes to big sunrays stripped through slack water. By week’s end, our group of seven had landed roughly 230 fish and the lodge had its highest catch rate ever with over 500 fish landed! How quickly the problems of the past can dissolve! So what is the upshot? The bottom line is that the Kola is a great river despite the prerequisite drama and semi-urban interface that it entails. Its awesome fish and exquisite structure are deeply compelling if not addictive. Now after having been there and knowing what to expect, I am eager to return. For the highest catch rates and maximum amount of dry line, dry fly and wade fishing, consider the dates we hold during the second week of July. For those willing to work hard from the raft for a few big, bright, hard to land monsters, consider some of the more expensive weeks in June. In either event, the Kola lodge is a great base for the hardened anadromous angler in search of the real Russia and the largest trophy salmon it has to offer

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“I feel so blessed that I fish”- my fishing friend, Bobby Armor. I have to say that I mirror her sentiments exactly -– I get to fish for rising trout in beautiful places like the Elk River in Fernie, British Columbia. This past August, I took a group of six ladies to fish the Elk River and its tributaries.This was my first time to Fernie and my first time catching westslope cutthroat. The Elk River has an estimated 5,000 fish per mile and the fish are aggressive towards a fly. Most of the cutties are somewhere from 12-20 inches and are very chunky, beautiful fish. My group of ladies and I fished with the Elk River Guiding Company and they did a great job. The owners Paul and Ned run a solid operation and have a team of qualified and fun guides. They were all great with our group. August is prime time for dry fly fishing so we were happy we had locked in our dates almost a year in advance. Each day we enjoyed floating different sections of the Elk or wading one of its small tributaries. Our group casted green drakes, hoppers, and caddis on the edges of small pocket water and landed 15-19 inch cutties all day long on our favorite 5 weights. The Elk River is a popular place and though we did see other drift boats and anglers, it did not seem to affect the fishing. Overall I could not get over the quality of the fish in these waters. I was very impressed and just kept thinking that if I lived in Fernie – I would be out on the rivers every day.
To get to the fishing, part of the group chose to fly into Kalispell, Montana and drive 2 ½ hours to Fernie while the rest of my group flew into Calgary and had about a 3 hour drive to the lodge. Fernie is a charming ski town surrounded by the Canadian Rockies. There are a few options as far as accommodations go in this area. You can rent a cabin or condo, stay at a local hotel, or go for the all inclusive resort. There are local golf courses, mountain biking, and hiking for everyone to enjoy.
We picked Island Lake Lodge which is only 20 minutes from downtown Fernie. It is not the typical fishing lodge. It is not actually a fishing lodge at all. Island Lake Lodge is primarily a hiking and ski lodge tucked away up the mountain and gives you a wonderful feeling of remoteness. There are incredible views, wildlife, and very comfortable accommodations. For those who love to hike and trek, nothing could be better than Island Lake Lodge. Our lodge time was limited as we fished all day each day, but a few of us managed to take advantage of our surroundings by waking up early and hiking around the lake each morning. There are many hiking trails, including some through spectacular old growth cedar forest. The local lake has canoes and even trout fishing if time permits.
Island Lake Lodge accommodates up to 32 overnight guests and their restaurants are open to the public. The lodge amenities include their spa with yoga classes, massage, and hot tub. Next trip I will schedule a non-fishing day to take advantage of these things.
This is a great fishing destination for anyone who loves dry fly fishing plus it is a wonderful destination for couples or families.

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In an angling world that is growing smaller every day, it is rare to be involved in the exploration of unique new destinations. Over the past year Fly Water Travel has done just that and has hosted, facilitated and followed a number of missions to the giant freestone rivers that flow from the peaks of the Himalayas in Northern India. Our quarry was the mighty Himalayan mahaseer; a sport fish of great strength and mystery that seems part tarpon, part carp and part steelhead. Feeding on nymphs and baitfish, these exceedingly clever fish run from one to upwards of 60 pounds. After closely following six weeks of exploratory mahaseer fishing in India we at Fly Water Travel have a good understanding of the challenge, mystery and mystique of chasing these remarkable fish. Thus far the fishing has been a mixed bag and somewhat more challenging than we had hoped. Our target river, the Mahakali has proved too large, silty and unstable for fly anglers. However one of its tributaries, the Saryu, has shown good number of fish and predictable flows. The Saryu is a handsome freestone that could be compared in size and flow to the Rogue River in Oregon, but with superior clarity. When hosting a group on the river last November, I personally saw a number of fish that weighed in excess of 40 pounds and one that I estimated at over 60 pounds. On three different trips the river has produced from as low as .5 mahaseer per angler per day to has high as three mahaseer per angler per day. Most of these fish were under five pounds but a number of anglers have hooked into fish that screamed into their backing and broke them off before any semblance of control was gained. The downside to the system is the fact that there are fair number of people around and the big fish are more spooky than permit!
Several recent trips have also been run out of a fixed camp on the Western Ramganga River. To date this may be the most promising river on the roster. The Western Ramganga averages sixty to eighty feet wide and looks like a good trout river. It is hard to imagine but this small river holds monster mahaseer. Recently Jeff Currier of Wyoming stalked and landed a fish that weighed an impressive 27 pounds!
To date we have learned that these fish are very sensitive to water temperatures and are most happy with water above 60 degrees F. We have also found that the rivers that are most appealing to fish are quite clear and the fish in these clear waters are very sensitive to both light and sound. They must be approached with the utmost stealth. While spey rods are a great way to fish some of India’s more glacial rivers, the line tear while casting creates more noise than these fish will tolerate in the clear flowing systems. To date we have taken mahaseer while swinging mid- sized nymphs, streamers, wooly buggers, and sculpin patterns.
All of our trips have been with the Himalayan Outback headed by Misty Dhillon. Misty is a very competent, articulate professional with a deep passion for fly fishing. His staff has provided excellent service and everything from travel logistics to camp meals have been exactly as advertised. His equipment is good and the river camps are invariably comfortable and well organized. With that said, it must be noted that these trips are best suited to skilled anglers who can do a lot of walking over rough, hot terrain.We have two distinct and personal reasons for pursuing mahaseer fishing in India. The first is that we are always interested in being on the early wave of anglers trying to figure out the secrets of catching species such as the mighty mahaseer on the fly. The sheer size and strength of these fish is amazing and the rivers they inhabit are every bit as intriguing. The other reason is the travel itself. Kenny and I have both spent a considerable amount of time traveling in Asia (a year and a half combined) and have developed a very strong bond to the region. We never knew that quality fly fishing would enable us to return but it has. While not all of the anglers that have traveled there with us have shared the same connection with the region, they all agreed that the sights, scents, sounds, and culture of this country are undeniably unique and distinct. In our travels we have seen the raw poverty of Delhi and stared in awe at the Taj Majal. We experienced overnight sleeper trains, and some heart stopping 4WD rides through mountain passes. We drank tea in small roadside huts, ate an astonishing array of curries and drank cool Indian beers on warm evenings around riverside camp fires. All in all we were touched by the many scenes and people we saw and met along the way. For most people a trip to India pursuing the mahaseer will be a wonderful and unforgettable adventure travel experience but one that they will not need to do again. But for a few it will be a place that will become an obsession; a place that holds its own magnetic appeal, to say nothing of the huge crafty hard fighting fish that more often than not will get the better of you!

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Not only do I get to fish for a living but I get to fish with wonderful people. I recently returned from the John Day River here in Oregon.
Our group of six ladies ranged from rank beginners to experienced anglers and we spent three days and two nights floating and fishing for smallmouth bass. All and all it was a great trip. The first day we all met in Condon, Oregon (only 2 ½ hours from Portland) at the historical Condon Hotel. This is a charming hotel in the center of town complete with a nice bar and restaurant. Marty and Mia Sheppard and their staff came by to check in with us to determine the next morning meeting time.
The day started early with a hearty breakfast at the Condon Café. Our first day on the water was tough, as we were the first group of the year and spring had come late to the Pacific Northwest. The river was still relatively high and cold, far from ideal for bass, but we managed to land a few fish. Each consecutive day improved greatly with warmer weather and water temperatures. We fished olive wooly buggers most of the time and lost count of the numbers of fish we caught days two and three. It just kept getting better and better. While most fish ranged from 10-14 inches, Nikki landed a 6lb bass that was heavily photographed and spoken of for days. She had a lot to be proud of – it could be the fish of the season. We are rootin’ for her.
The John Day River curves and twists through vertical basalt cliffs with breathtaking views of incredible rock formations. There were painted hills, sagebrush and juniper, ospreys and eagles, deer, and the occasional snake. It was still early enough to see wildflowers in bloom including lots of lupine. We were in the middle of nowhere but we had what we needed. A tidy camp was always waiting for us at the end of each day. Our tents were fully set with comfortable cots and there was a nice kitchen, a dining table in the shade, a hand washing station, and a camp toilet. Each morning we had hot coffee and tea along with fresh fruit, pancakes or French toast, and sausage. Lunches were fresh salads and sandwiches while dinners included pasta with smoked salmon, grilled asparagus, teriyaki chicken and vegetarian sushi! Mia even brought a birthday cake for our friend Kate who celebrated her 22nd birthday on the trip. Marty, Mia, Kaitlin, Spanny, Kate, and Clabe were an amazing team. They were knowledgeable, fun and they worked well together taking care of every detail.
This is a perfect trip for those who enjoy continuous action on a fly rod in a remote wilderness setting. It is great for kids, families, novices, and those just looking to enjoy one of the nation’s longest undammed rivers. All I could think about is how I could get my nieces and nephews on this trip next season. I hope to figure it out. Space is limited due to having a short season (June and July) so if you are interested let us know soon!

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