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Well, that was just about as good as it gets

Varzuga Fishing Trip

Fact: the River Varzuga is salmon fishing paradise. At one o’clock in the morning of the final Saturday we were due to return home, I was photographing my lodge mate Craig land his 100th salmon of our week at the lower camp’s home pool.

The handshake that followed was one of many highlights of a truly amazing week of non stop salmon fishing action with big, strong, fresh spring salmon coming to our rods in awesome numbers. The sport was sensational and varied and it wasn’t just a numbers game although I managed to catch 71 salmon without the inconvenience even of having to fish early and late. (Just one pre-breakfast fish I think but then the 8am camp breakfast equates to 5am UK time – you decide!)

Frankly, fishing the Varzuga is a huge adventure and as far as I’m concerned it’s the best there is.

The week started with a helicopter drop in to the Middle Varzuga camp, on its island about 15 miles north of the hub camp, Lower Varzuga, where I was destined.

Biggest of the week

It’s well known that the prolific run of Varzuga salmon does not always comprise the biggest fish among the Kola rivers. But for the record, here’s a shot of the biggest fish I caught last week. A shade over 11lb? It’s hard to say but this well-built chap was caught at 12.30pm on the Tuesday, from Bear Island. One of those fish that leave you turning up for lunch feeling somewhat animated and yet without the powers of speech: ‘How did you get on Henry?’ ‘Ah… Ah…Good!’

Just say you’ve had an amazing morning, because, out on the Kola Peninsula armed with a 15ft salmon rod, you probably have..

As to tackle, throughout I fished my trusty 15ft double-hander, tried and tested on Norwegian salmon, with a Waterworks ULA Force Spey kindly lent me by Guide Flyfishing MD, John Legg. And the shooting head attached to the Vision shooting line on my reel was the light-blue RIO AFS (again sourced via John, many thanks) – it’s a slow sinker basically, with a short fast-sink Versileader on the end to turn it into a slow-sinking sink-tip. A shortish fluorocarbon leader led to an orange shrimpy tube or a black and greeny conehead. Or a bloody great 2 inch brass tube Cascade when the water coloured up as it did on the final day, giving me one of the most

One from Jackson’s Pot. Looks cold eh? It was at times exciting 1.5 hours of the week with running fish smashing into my fly and yanking line out of my hands as they hooked themselves in the middle of the Bearlets pots.

The week really was superb and any worries as to a delayed start to the season with ice banks on the river and a first night frost of minus 6 Deg C were erased. By the final day I was on a high and ready to finish off with what was the most enjoyable two sessions. Ten fish the day before had bumped me up to 58 fish for the week, but I planned to finish off by fishing hard and, I hoped, well within the 9-6pm hours left to me but above all I aimed to seriously enjoy myself to cap off what had been an unforgettable salmon-fishing week. And see where that left me.

Camp manager Jess James’s beats board was welcome viewing. I was on beat 2 am and 3 pm. In my own mind there was some debate about the state of the river after heavy overnight rain but Jess only seemed to think it would improve sport further and it was hard not to be carried away by his enthusiasm.

The morning was unforgettable. We went to Bear Island with the river starting to rise. In a typical Varzuga reality check I lost three fish in a row then, as Jess motored down I was playing another which turned out to be this 9-pounder (pictured), which we took for the kitchen, so I took the photo. John’s trusty reel and the RIO AFS Hover 1 shooting head firmly estlished as the go to set-up.

Then things went quiet and the water started to colour up fast. We went up to Bearlets where, in the middle pot I was greeted by water that was getting on towards milk chocolate brown but was still see-able into. I put on a two-inch brass tube Cascade complete with fluo orange tubing and after a while started to hit running fish, resting briefly as the current swung over to the left bank. One smashed into the fly. Then two more. Furious at being hooked they cavorted off into the swelling river and fought very hard indeed. It was like everything you dream of during quieter times on quieter rivers, and yet it happened three times in 40 minutes. Then another fish came from the lower ‘pot’. An added excitement was when a big bar of silver came up from below and bumped my fly near the surface. A classic take but he didn’t grab hold.

Then back to the island for another cracker before lunch – all but one smaller grilse, decent fish of 6- 8lb.

The last afternoon at upper Jannaways, with its ice wall which kept crashing behind us as lumps fell off!

Lunch at the lodge and Jess reminded Craig he had eight fish to his 100 and turning to me said I had six fish to get to reach my 70. I honestly thought it wouldn’t happen but like so many Varzuga dreams, during a red-hot afternoon at Jannaways when the orange Flamethrower could do no wrong, it did. The sheer sport of the fishing – after a quiet hour or so, casting to a fish we spotted running up the bank only 15 feet out and hooking him – was superlative – really really good fun. My first after lunch was a smaller one, but was hooked as Losha and Sergay talked downstream and new dad Losha (my guide last year) gave a wave as he wheeled off in his boat watching my bouncing rod.

Now, back in Cambridgeshire, I am thinking about the subsequent parties out there fishing with Roxtons orchestrating their centrepiece operation. And memories of that Friday afternoon ten days ago when having caught my 70th fish I was then encouraged by Sergay to try for one more and was so thrilled to net a final one at 5.55pm Russ-hour (three hours ahead of UK).

Anyone interested in following the remainder of the short, 6 week Roxtons Varzuga season can do so via their blog www.varzuga.com

Post by Henry Giles

Henry’s Salmon Adventure Blog

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