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From Russia with... fly
by Jurij Shumakov

Part 2

So after such a long introduction, I have finally reached the subject of the present story and reason why I feel the urge to write on this subject. From my point of view, there might be a number of explanations why Western fishing magazines publish "Fish took - I hook" stories about fishing in Russia. It could be an aftermath of (brrrr) the cold war era and an attempt to show that "our flies are the best" and work everywhere, all the time, no matter what etc, etc. Then again, it could be editors simply don't understand these questions, or else they don't care about contents of articles as long as it concerns a "distant" country like Russia.

On the other hand, perhaps the writers just want to add a bit of drama and a taste of adventure for fishing in Russia, showing off their own courage. I suppose we are all a bit kids at heart and keep those romantic boys' dreams.J Whatever the explanation though, as we Russians say, they "render a bear service" to their readers. Perhaps that is why I have so many letters in my e-mail box from different countries from ordinary fly-fishermen who just want to know how and where to fish on Kola, or who are interested in local flies. There seems to be a real need for practical and relevant information.

During the 2003 season I applied my best efforts to finding and sorting out many local Kola fly patterns. Unfortunately, for several patterns I couldn't find the inventor’s names. Locals would refer to such flies with a smile, saying: "Music and words of the song belong to the people". Many patterns were received as digital images by e-mail from Kola Peninsula local fly-fishermen and tiers I correspond with. I re-tied some of them, and have listed them below just under the name Kola fly # -. Perhaps some day I will learn the names of their inventors, or find out more about their history. Fortunately, I was able to localize the inventors of a number of Kola flies, and even have flies tied by them. It is a great pleasure to introduce these tiers to the Internet fly-fishing society. Many of Kola flies may be similar to flies you already know. That's normal. Similar ideas come to different heads. Nevertheless, early discovered Russian fly patterns can be described as original ones, for a very simple reason.

Plaing Kola 20 lb fresh runner
Plaing Kola 20 lb fresh runner

In Soviet times, the Kola Peninsula was an area with highly restricted entry even for Russians from Continental Russia. Don't even think about foreigners! Connections with the outside world were quite poor, and it was impossible and unthinkable to find Western fly-fishing literature there. But local people fished with fly for salmon and trout for decades before the first foreign tourist came to Kola. They developed their own fly patterns based on the scanty information they could obtain from Russian fishing literature, including the very old Sabaneev’s book, "Fishes of Russia", edited before the revolution and later reprinted. Sabaneev describes principles, fish species, geographic regions, devices for tying, and some flies for fly-fishing. I can't say fly-fishing was a popular discipline in Russia in Soviet times, partly due to restricted "classical" areas of use.

In Sabaneev's book, salmon fishing with fly was described as the most suitable method for Finland (Finland was part of imperial Russia before the revolution) and Northern parts of Continental Russia. Lack of information about fly-fishing could perhaps also be explained by ideological reasons, because it was presented in Soviet fishing literature as a type of fishing practised by rich men and the "bourgeoise". But the free souls in Russia who had the desire and opportunity to fish with fly always could and did. Fishing with fly for salmon in Russia at that time was mostly performed in a type of spin fishing, with the use of a quite heavy floater.

That type of fly presentation is still very popular in Scandinavia, even at the present time and known as "spinn-fluga". In narrower fly-fishing sense, another method of fishing with fly was applied, based on the use of a long and flexible rod with a long knotted line (sometimes 2X rod length), made from monofilament pieces of different diameter. Finally, the classical style of fly-fishing was most known among sport fishermen (casting) from Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg today) and in the former Soviet Baltic Republics. Fly-fishing may not have been widespread, but it definitely did exist, and there was a specific Russian tradition for it.

Much could be written on this subject, but I am not going to go deep into historical questions about the development of fly-fishing in Russia in general. Here I only want to give an idea of the background for flies developed in the Kola Peninsula region.

If we are talking about fishable flies only, I can't say many of those local Kola patterns are a piece of art. There is not a shadow of a doubt, fully dressed classics and American "flies for frame" top the pyramid of tying art. But for anglers who use flies for their direct purpose, the effectiveness of a fly might not be entirely unimportant.

Jurij Shumakov and Yuri Lobanov on the brige over sea pool in Western Litsa

I remember the story I was told by highly respected and well-known local fisherman and fly tier Yuri Lobanov on the river Western Litza, last season. He once met a couple of Finnish rods who desperately, during a whole week, had tried to at least feel something on the end of their lines, with salmon jumping all around, but clearly refusing to take their flies. Yuri took pity on them, and gave one of them a couple of local patterns for use at that time of year. He advised where and how to fish. During the following four hours the Finnish guy hooked five salmon, landing three of them. With a shiny smile on his bearded Northern face, Yuri grinned: "He met me on the river bank on the last day of their stay, heartily thanking me for flies and knowledge." "And you know", added Yuri with a cunning smile, "they couldn't manage to land the biggest salmon he hooked!" When you will see his flies you understand the words about beauty and effectiveness.

Of course, the perfectly tied fly is always welcome to any fly-box. The flies I have selected and would like to present here do not represent more than a tiny fraction of all flies I've seen on the Kola Peninsula, in the fly-boxes of locals and of Russians from other parts of Russia. Maybe my choice is even a bit unfair and prejudiced. Still, the major aim for me is to present different and original flies, not all that similar to patterns known in Western salmon countries, but which could be interesting and useful for fishermen heading for the Kola Peninsula this year. Who knows, some of these patterns might do the job for your domestic salmon too?

I don't want to say much about the tying technique of these flies, and want to avoid long and tiresome descriptions. As we Russians say: "Better to see once than hear a hundred times". I just would like to give a few short explanations, my own observations and proposals I've heard from locals on how to use those flies, and in which time of year. I would also like to give a list of proven Western patterns, which I know for sure are effective on many Kola rivers.

Traditionally, most popular hooks for tying local patterns are with eye down, type trout doubles of the size 2, 4 or 6, because locals believe they hold fish better and fly tied on them is more stable in the stream. Nova days Mustad and heavy LOOP double hooks are the first choice among locals. Many flies are tied using unconventional materials, because of lack of suitable tying materials in local fishing shops. Interesting particularities of local patterns are the use of very fine flat metallic tinsel for ribbing and varnished body. On my patterns and variants of Kola flies presented here I tied, more traditional rare ribbing. On retied patterns I substituted Arctic fox as underwing with Serebrjanka hair, because it is a bit stiffer and long wing less prone to tangling. Local patterns carry wings made of Squirrel (American or Sibirian), Arctic fox, Carcarou, Badger, Bear, Goat and Bucktail, depends on size of hook and for what condition fly is tied.

On local patterns, very often whole grey Mallard or teal feather is used as a wing. Many patterns carry as a top or sides fine Grizzly feathers. Usually body is formed by floss or tying thread in shape of pivot. Perhaps, tight ribbing of many turns on local patterns came from some early trout patterns. Varnished body is believed to be more resistant to salmon teeth.

Most of these flies are successful in time of junction between spring and summer, when water drops down, and as summer patterns for low water on smaller hooks. For spring high water conditions you may use tube and Waddington versions of this flies. I would also like to give you a couple of examples how those local flies tied on doubles can be transformed into Scandinavian style tube flies. In some patterns, which appeared just a few years ago you may notice the strong influence of Scandinavian tying style inspired by such tiers as Norwegian Torril Kolbu and Swedish tier Håkan Norling.

Transformation into tube fly
Transformation into tube fly

From my point of view, tube flies work much better in spring on Kola rivers, at least for me.J So, let's have a look at those flies!

This article continue here: part 3  part 4   part 5  part 6  part 7

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Text and photos by Jurij Shumakov 2004 ©




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