Greetings from Ryabaga Camp on the banks of the Ponoi River in northern Russia.
The Ponoi has certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s greatest Atlantic salmon fisheries. Prior to coming here, I fished for Atlantic salmon in Canada and Ireland for a total of eight days, and only landed one fish. I landed nine on my first day here, and I did even better yesterday. The 12 anglers who covered this section of the river accounted for 205 caught salmon, the largest being around 20 pounds.
Believe it or not, conditions here are rather challenging. The skies are bright and clear (at least for the time being) and it is light virtually 24 hours a day. The river is low for this time of the season, and what snow remains on the banks is melting rapidly. I spent the afternoon yesterday fishing in shirt sleeves, skating a Muddler Minnow on the surface, and caught several nice brown trout as well as a salmon or two. We’re using 14-foot, 9-weight Spey rods, and when we aren’t fishing dry flies, we’re primarily swinging brightly colored tube flies and large, classic salmon patterns with sinking tip lines.
Obviously, I realize my good fortune to be here, and understand that this is a trip of a lifetime. What impresses me most, however, is the feeling of awe and appreciation for what can happen in a natural river environment where human impact is kept to a minimum. There is no commercial fishing here (though there was decades ago) and no pollution. The habitat is perfect, and as such, the fish are able to thrive.
I also have a much deeper appreciation for Atlantic salmon as a species. These fish typically spend three to five years in the river before heading to sea, where they will range across the North Atlantic–sometimes as far as Iceland or Greenland (62.5 percent of fish spend two years in the ocean)–before making an instinctive return to the White Sea and up this river to spawn. Many salmon will enter the river in summer or fall, spend the winter under sheet ice, and then spawn the following summer or fall. Some will even return to the sea and do the whole thing again.
The Atlantic salmon really is one of the most interesting species an angler can study. And so I will continue to do so. Pulling on the waders now. About to grab tea and toast, and then I will hit the river in search of something big.