Brown Trout on The Varzina

The Kola Peninsula in Russia is one of the strangest places that you will visit. Situated in the Arctic Circle near Scandanavia it gives you an opportunity to fish for some of the wildest fish in one of the wildest places on earth. On the northern side of the last European wilderness – Russian Kola Peninsula – the river Varzina starts from a huge Enozero lake.

Even though the river itself has a good number of resident fish, the big fish coming from the lake, are the ones that create the quality fishing. They migrate from the lake down to river to feed and to find spawning grounds.

The spawning takes place in late autumn, but the fish start their journey during the late summer months. Being the biggest and the meanest of them all, these fish are aggressive and eager to defend their position in the pool.

The Kola Peninsula is near to the old Russian Submarine base of Murmansk , and as such you will find it hard to identify on any maps of the area. – I believe that it will stay that way for many years to come. You may recollect that it’s near here that the Kursk went down in the Barents Sea losing all of its crew some years ago. But don’t worry, the area isn’t radioactive (well no more than where you live now) and many investigations have been made to prove that this is the case.
The Varzina River meanders its grand way from the upper lakes down to the sea, and with it brings some of the best wild Brown Trout and Char fishing that you will ever experience.

The Journey

Starting in the UK there are flights from most airports to Stockholm which, after an overnight stay, you will be taken on via an early flight by smaller aircraft to Murmansk . Accompanying me on the flight was that week’s set of anglers ready to experience the delights of the Kola’s fantastic Salmon and Trout fishing.


Varzina Trout Camp

This is true wilderness. – To experience the tranquillity of the place is one thing, to actually comprehend where you are and that you are miles from any civilisation is humbling. As your luggage and tackle is unloaded and you see the great Varzina rumbling its way down to the sea. – you just know that there are fish here and that this is going to be the experience of a lifetime.

After unpacking there are a couple of formalities and then you are free to fish.
Rule 1 – fill in your Russia licence;
Rule 2 – barbless hooks only please;
Rule 3 – please don’t start any fires;
Rule 4 – always go in pairs or make sure that somebody knows where you are going and what time you are expected back (if you fall here you may not be discovered for some time);
Rule 5 – Always wear a hat and glasses (bog standard fly-fishing sense);
Rule 6 – Please don’t take fish unless you have to (or are asked to for supper);
Rule 7 – Catch fish and have fun;
Rule 8 – Off you go – it’s up to you now!

On my trip there was no guide which left me a little awed for the first 2 days – it takes some time to sort out the tactics, swims, flies, times of day (see day later). I am advised that this is not a normal occurrence and that there is ALWAYS a guide. I would say that to maximise your week you need to be aware of the flies and tactics – and obviously a guide can pass this on to you. If there isn’t one then you will probably be there with some serious fishermen anyway – my group was full of Swedes and Finns (and a great friendly bunch they were too). The very nature of fishermen means that we all readily share info rmation, so the tactics are soon nailed down.
Your fishing day is up to you – as you are in the artic circle in late summer it means that it goes dark (ish) at midnight, and becomes light (ish) an hour later. Your body clock soon adjusts to some serious evening/night/morning fishing. – This is twilight fishing at its best and you will soon become a nocturnal beast.

The typical day is as follows:

9-9:30 – Breakfast
Get geared up – fish until 1-2 pm (take a packed lunch and fish for longer if necessary)
2-4 pm – grab a few winks of sleep
4 pm – Sauna
5-6 pm – Dinner
7 pm – back to the river
2,3,4,5,6 am (it’s up to you) – return to camp and bed.

Well almost. We had an unwritten rule. The first back in the morning set up the welcome party (remember thye tent with the big table?) – which consisted of the beer, vodka, (and any other duty frees that had been taken over) to welcome back the party as they trickle back and report their catch. Alcohol, tobacco, high spirits and good friends means that this is the real social period of the trip, and I made some good friends there – with some times and memories that I will never forget.

It’s quite humbling to think back of sitting with a glass of Vodka as the Midnight sun rises, listening to nothing except for the rumble of the river, until a shadowy figure, rod in hand ambles up the path, greets you and settles down to join you in a drink with his report and stories for the evening.

The River

This is an incredible experience – on the left is a picture of a typical Char. If you’ve never caught a Char then you have a treat in store. They are truly beautiful fish, and when you are talking about 2-3lb Char – it’s a rare treat indeed. It’s a shame that you are here to target the big wild Brown Trout as the Char alone are worth the visit.
Back at the camp there’s a map with the names of the pools, basically from the camp you have a choice downstream or upstream (obviously).

Downstream is harder to fish and looks more Salmony than upstream, but it carries with it the same stamp of Trout as the upstream swims – so it’s your choice really (whilst I was there the only two Salmon caught were caught downstream of the camp – one on a Streamer, the other on a small Deer-Hair Sedge dry fly – although two more were lost – both taken on the dry fly).

It is up to you where you fish and how far you want to walk. There are fish everywhere – my biggest was caught within thirty yards of the camp – late one evening – a tremendous leopard-spotted wild Brown Trout of about 8lb taken on a size 12 Killer Bug. But, no matter what you have heard – they do not crawl up the rod tip! – These are wild fish – not stupid fish. You still have to use all of your guile to catch them – but if you get it right then it’s well worth it.

The river is strewn with boulders and as such you need some fairly serious tackle at times. Also it’s hard fast, and deep in places so be careful wading. – I would say have a look again at Rule 4 – and stick to it (in general).

Tackle

What should you take tackle-wise?
The obvious are good wading boots and breathable chest waders, a wading stick, warm clothing (including thermals), your waterproofs and your normal fly fishing apparel.

You rods should be 6-8wt (and I would recommend 8wt mostly – but a 6 is fine unless you are intending to use the streamers), – and take MORE THAN 1! – If you have a breakage out there you’ve had it. Unless somebody has a spare that they can lend you – you will be a bystander for the week. (I broke the tip on one of my 8 weights on day 2).

Floating Lines
Strong Tapered Leaders. –
I fished a 8lb tippet for the first 2 days and then stepped down to a 6lb. The key is that is should be fine and strong. – If a fish gets stuck behind a boulder (as I had 3 times) you have had it, and the only thing that you can do when they scream off on a 50-yard run is to try and stop them – and it would be wrong to break off with a weak leader. Leader length depends on the swim and the fish (as in any other river fishing). It may be worth taking some spool of super-strong fine tippet material of various strengths (e.g. 10, 8 and 6 lb) with you as you will soon realise what is best for the swim and fish. But if you do, it would seem wrong to use Fluoro – as it won’t rot – so use Mono or Co-Polymer.

A Camera
A ruler (I used those that stick on the rod) for measuring the fish
Hat or cap
Polarised Glasses
Flies
INSECT REPELLENT!

Flies are flies (and I’ll discuss them in a minute) but flies are also flies – well midge actually. You will get bitten. You may get bitten so many times that you will not know what being bitten is really like. Unless there’s a cold snap that puts them down you will have to prepare. – I would recommend taking lots of Deet. Roll it all over your exposed skin and take it with you for a refresh when the little devils come out and attack you again. If you like the midge face nets then take one with you – personally I loathe them but it’s up to you. Just be prepared!

Regarding artificial flies – I went to the Varzina equipped with lots of big streamers. Remember that the trout here are big – they don’t get big through eating small flies (well – see later about that) – so take a good selection with you. Pink works well, as does black – and lots of flash – these are aggressive fish. Also take with you some Grasshopper flies and some Mouse flies.

The Hatches

The river is full of millions (probably billions) of caddis – small green ones. The evening hatches can be phenomenal – lasting at the peak for 2-3 hours and the fish make hay. There must be thousands of caddis per square metre – but seldom do you see any coming off the water – the trout mop them up sub-surface or in the surface film.

It is an astounding site seeing dozens of 6lb plus trout mopping up these flies – a huge Brown Trout head and tailing certainly gets the adrenaline running. – Take with you some size 12-16 olive caddis pupae – if you can take some super-pupae (they have some in the camp shop if you are struggling) – but you will also catch on hoppers, mayfly (yes there were also some large mayfly hatches during the day), and some of the standard river nymphs such as GRHE, and dry flies such as the Klinkhammer.

To summarise the flies I would recommend taking your normal river flies, lots of caddis pupae (the hooks WILL get straightened), grasshopper, mouse flies and streamers.

Tactics

Fishing tactics vary depending upon the conditions. Fishing a deep nymph is like any other river – use the induced take method if you like, or cast upstream and gently bring it back slightly faster than the flow, or dead drift. You may also have some fun fishing a nymph 10 inches below a grasshopper – New Zealand style – just twitching the hopper to attract the fish’s attention then – BANG – the nymph will be taken. These fish must glut on the caddis as they hatch.
Another successful tactic is the sub-surface caddis pupae. – The caddis pupae nymph is a very agile swimmer – and it can even manage to swim upstream in a river of this size and power, therefore to be really successful you must mimic the action. This involves short-sharp jerks constantly bringing the nymph downstream (or across stream etc) faster than the current – this can be very tiring but when the trout hits the fly it’s well worth it.

If you have never caught a 6lb plus wild Brown Trout (or even if you have) then you will be in for an experience. These are locomotives and you will be down to the backing in a matter of seconds. You have to be prepared to be hard with these fish and stop those runs – or else you will lose them.
These are without doubt the fittest, biggest, most beautiful Brown Trout that I have ever seen. They are all different – some will look like a leopard – whilst others will be deep brown – others red, and all big and fit. It is an experience that you will never forget.
A last point on the fish. One evening I Czech Nymphed down 1 and a half miles of bank downstream – just to see what would happen. EVERY cast brought a fish. There were no monsters (and I should have given it a better go during the week) but every fish was between 6 and 12 inches. No wonder that the trout grow to the size that they do! (Incidentally the trout winter in the lake at the head of the river – this is huge and full of food – hence the fish grow to such formidable sizes).

Totting it all up

A final note on the river. There are fish all along its length. Wherever you fish you will have to adopt the appropriate tactics. For example the Home Pool has a series of fast boulder-strewn runs, above which is a slow wide expanse with a shallow, rocky outcrop. This provides food channels that you can fish with the dry fly or the nymph. According to the water level the channel may change and the food move – so be prepared to be flexible and change your tactics until you find the killer location on the run and the correct method. Also be prepared for frantic activity when you get it right. BUT – do not expect this to be a ‘duffers trip’ – the fishing is hard and you need the skills that you have with you. It’s not a chuck it in and hook a fish river – it’s a ‘real’ trout river. Also be prepared for the unexpected. About a mile and a half upstream from camp (perhaps slightly more) is the lake pool (not to be confused with the lake a million miles upstream). The lake pool is a feast to behold – give it a try!

This is the Trout Fishing experience of a lifetime. Is may not appear cheap but it’s well worth it. Be prepared for some hard work, some great times and some great fish. If you go you WILL catch the fish of a lifetime – hopefully many fishes of a lifetime!


Some Varzina images on this site courtesy of Kimmo Piispa

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