foot of the Rainbow
By Jurij Shumakov
Well, it seems my
fate (and the Internet!) have helped me meet quite a few friends and
fellows from the USA who tie flies and fish for Rainbow and
Steelhead... Do we ever know what Fate will bring us?
In the 2002 season I
had the unique opportunity to fish "Mikizha" - the Russian
name for wild Rainbow trout - on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. On
that trip, we fished in the river Kolpakova, and Mikizha were not the
major target. Nevertheless, I caught a dozen of them and, lets say,
that was just "episodes". I had no special knowledge at that
time, nor did I have special flies, because we fished mostly for
Silver salmon and different char species.
I was already quite
familiar with Rainbow trout, which we fish in reservoirs in South
Sweden. However, fishing for Mikizha in the wilds of Kamchatka differs
as much from fishing for farmed triploids, as hunting for wild boars
differs from shooting domestic pigs in a farm enclosure. In our team,
the real specialist in fishing for Steelhead and Rainbow trout was
American Mark Kabakov, who came to Kolpakova especially for this
purpose. This gave me the exceptional privilege to watch some new
fishing methods, and to see special lures.
impressed me deeply, and I decided to spend a whole trip in the future
for fishing this beautiful and powerful fish.
The chance to fish
for Mikizha - and what's more of trophy size - came some two years
later. In September 2004, I was invited by a Russian tourist firm
specialized in organizing fishing trips all over Russia, to enter a
mixed Russian-American group. We were to float with rafts downstream
on one of the world's best rivers for Rainbow trout: the Zhupanova.
This river is
situated on the East coast of the Kamchatka peninsula, and is known to
be the river with the biggest average weight for Rainbow trout in the
world. At the same time, you have a real chance to catch fish of
trophy size - over 30 inches in length! Americans, who fish this
species the most, generally don't pay that much attention to weight,
but are more interested in "inches of catch". Since fishing
on the river is performed strictly under the "Catch &
Release" principal, with the use of single barbless hooks only,
guides have no time to weigh the catch, but just quickly measure the
length and release fish promptly. With such initial data to go on, I
began my preparations for the actual trip.
Based on my own
experience fishing on the Kolpakova, and having stocked up on a
generous portion of advice from my American fellows, I started to fill
my fly-box. Since I just love tube flies, you can guess what type of
flies I concentrated on! However, keeping in mind that Mikizha
in the Zhupanova river have shown considerable interest in surface
skating flies and mouse imitations, I also tied a few flies in this
style. In the first segment of my collection, I mostly concentrated on
short body tube flies.
On some of my mouse imitations, I followed the recommendations of
Americans Bob Kenly and Nathan Mayl. The later had already visited
the Zhupanova. Of course, my own "mice" were tied on plastic
One of these "mice" was tied with mixed hair: deer plus
rabbit. Such flies swim on the surface very naturally, with a
submerged rear part, but steel high enough to avoid diving with
Every journey, no matter how well organized, seems boring if it lacks
an element of adventure. Those things, which make you catch your
breath and feel you are really and truly alive. Although our trip was
perfectly organized, we fortunately didn't miss our chance and got our
share of adventure as well. Fate kept her eye on me!
While collecting my
stuff I had been very nervous, because of the past two weeks' weather
reports and stories told by fishers returning from Kamchatka at that
time. Three typhoons unexpectedly hit the Kamchatka Peninsula
early September and had ruined fishing for many.
After flying the expected 9000 km, our airbus met a breathtaking
sunrise over the sea of Ochotskoe. We were feeling as stiff as you can
imagine, but the view outside gave us back the light breath of hope:
the cloud front had scattered, no longer a thick menacing wall.
Lighted by the first probing rays of the rising sun, the landscape
reminded me of scenes from the classic science fiction film Solaris.
Another 20 minutes' flight, and our plane landed on the airport of
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski. Quickly, we collected our luggage and jumped
into the waiting mini-buss. Only ten minutes later, we reached a small
hotel with the chilling name "Blizzard". But the hotel
inside turned out to the opposite of its name: perfectly equipped,
comfortable and provided with everything in the "four stars"
While eating our
breakfast and talking with the owner of the tourist firm, who hosted
us there, we learned that the American part of our group had arrived
the day before and already flown to the river. Our part of group was
to fly with another helicopter, heading for the Geyser Valley with a
group of tourists. Well, we had not expected an excursion to this
absolutely unique place, which is listed in the UNESCO list of highly
protected places on Earth!
We packed our stuff,
quickly got through with the flying formalities, and took our seats in
a comfortable helicopter packed with regular tourists. Kamchatka
slowly started to reveal its gorges for us, seen as the bird flies. It
is impossible to describe the view of awesome, high and perfectly
coned volcanoes, or the rich and luminous colours of that autumn
tundra and mountain forest. Our copter, after about one hour of flight
and circling for a bit in the tight space of Geyser valley, landed on
a small field. The two-hour excursion is just breathtaking. Our
cameras were clicking all the time. Who knows next time I can feel and
see with my own eyes the breath of the Earth? This is Russia's
Yellowstone, but still preserved in its natural formation: no roads,
no concrete and almost no civilization at all.
The excursion ended with fantastic lunch (with helpings even a Russian
would consider generous!) and after a last farewell circle over the
valley, our copter flew back. Another twenty minutes of flight, and we
could see our target - the Zhupanova river opening its silvery loops
between the hills and low green mountains of Kamchatka. We had finally
reached our destination. Or so we thought.
Whether we hadn't
properly shown on the map the spot we wanted to be dropped, or if the
pilot simply missed the camp where we were supposed to join the rest
of our group in that vast wilderness, we will never know. After
winding its way between the hills for a while, our copter followed the
river downstream and landed near a camp on the riverbank. With a
confident sign on his face, the pilot showed with hand language that
we had to quickly leave the machine. Shrugging our shoulders we cast
out our stuff, jumped out and flattened ourselves against the ground
under the madly chopping propeller, giving a final wave to the
helicopter as it took off.
Only moments later,
we realized with a sinking feeling in our stomachs that this was the
wrong camp. If we had been looking for adventure, this was it.
The camp we had been
dropped at was totally empty. All doors were secured with nails and
all we could find there were bear footprints and a bottle with half a
litre of fuel. A quick calculation of our "food supplies"
showed that we only had one bottle of Danish bitter "Gammel
Dansk" (my absolute favourite on fishing trips), a bottle of
whiskey, a bottle of cognac, two bottles of vodka and 13 candy bars.
Not that little! But, then again, maybe not that much. J
And you would have to travel a long way to find a place as remote and
lonely as that riverbank in the wilds of Kamchatka. Still, as I said,
what would travel be without adventure?
Well, thank God, all
the members of our team were experienced hunters and fishermen, ready
to survive in remote and wild regions. We just hoped that the pilot,
after his complicated meandering between the hills, hadn't missed the
direction completely and dropped us upstream from the main body of our
We quickly repacked
fishing gear, put on our waders and went down to the river. Dinner
would be whatever we could catch. After the previous days' rains, the
river was quite high with far from perfect clearance. In addition, a
terrible amount of soggy leaves caught on the hooks at almost every
cast. Despite this, we quickly managed to catch a few quite impressive
Mikizhas and Malma chars (Dooly Warden). While all the Mikizha went
back to the river, chars proceeded to spit for grilling.
The half-bottle of fuel was more than welcome, because all wood was
totally saturated with water after the heavy rainfall. We spent a
short but intense night in one of the camp's cabins, a small oven
burning, telling stories and anecdotes, drinking natural tea we had
picked from wild roses and strawberries, mixed with drops of
"Danish Prince" and short sleep. In the small hours before
dawn, we lay wondering what fate would bring us next.
Morning met us with heavy rain and real autumn misty
"freshness". We snacked on improvised "natural"
tea and almost hated Snickers, while putting on our damp clothes and
waders, and then went to further explore the river. Mikizha and char
were not madly - but still not infrequently - taking our flies and
keeping us reasonably busy while we were waiting for the group to
arrive. Fish mainly concentrated in the throats of pools and on the
border between fast and slow current, near the banks. But even fish
couldn't prevent us from anxiously wondering if maybe the pilot hadn't
left us upstream from the rest of the group after all.
At long last, about
midday, we saw the first raft loaded with kitchen stuff run by
chief-cook Sergey. I guess you guess what we did next! J
Shortly afterwards, we were leaning heavily on the dinner
table, letting the meal settle down and joking and telling our story
to Sergey. An hour later, one by one, other rafts moored to the
"lunch camp". Soon, we were getting to know the guides and
American rods, distributed in different rafts and, by the end of that
well-deserved lunch, our five days of magnificent floating could
Today, several months after that trip, sitting in front of my computer
and looking through the hundreds of photos I took, I am racking my
brains, wondering how to describe the magnificence of this river,
practically untouched by civilization. How can I convey to my readers
that deep feeling of unity with wild nature I felt? Perhaps, only a
thick book would give scope to all I felt, all I saw and experienced
those five vivid dreamlike days, floating downstream on the Zhupanova.
Rafts were departing
one by one and diverging in different directions. Guides, who knew
each and every stone and bay on the river and each lie where big
Mikizha like to stay, were busy setting rods in the best positions on
promising points. This was going to be another kind of adventure!
Guys tend to fish
with many different kinds of stuff and flies, according to their
personal preferences. Americans mostly use big and heavy flies, such
as Leech and Flesh, or surface "mice". Russians use their
patterns tied on tubes and singles. Rafts were running downstream
leaving behind fishermen fighting their fish, but the river was big
and there was plenty of space and lies for everyone. We didn't need to
compete for place.
Many Americans didn't care to jump in the water and preferred to fish
from rafts. To my surprise, I noticed that Mikizha here is not as shy
as you might think. My partner, an American of a respectable age,
fished from the raft and quite often fish grabbed his
"mouse" just 4-5 meters from side.
On this trip, I had brought along a couple of rods of Russian firm
Kola Salmon for testing: class #8 light 12 foot double-handed and
single-handed class #5 nine footer. Banks of the Zhupanova are quite
vegetated in upper part, and I personally felt very comfortable with
my light double hander. It helped me fish practically at any place,
using an underhand cast. River was still dirty, so almost all from the
group were fishing with sink tips, trying to present fly close to
bottom. Only in small bays the water was relatively clean and there
the "mice" came in use. I was too lazy to attach sink tip to
my floating line with intermediate tippet, so I continued with heavy
brass halfinchers and flies in Russian Bullet style.
Mykizha caught on King Crimson Diver
Fly recepies for
King Crimson Diver
My first day of rafting was rolling to its end. We came to the
intermediate camp "Sticking" for a night's lodging. Well,
the camp's name definitely did not match what we saw there. I have to
point out that all camps were built in places with a beautiful view
and maximum comfort: warm cabins, shower, dining room and electricity.
The last point is important for modern travellers: we may eat and
drink by candlelight, or roast our fish over an open fire, but we need
to charge the batteries for our cameras and video! Forest around the
camps remains untouched and very clean. All those things create
additional cosiness and a very special feeling. You are staying in the
middle of nowhere, yet can fully relax after an exciting day of
fishing and playing fish. Sergey was playing pranks with a table full
of different snacks and local tit-bits. Let all brewery owners become
green in the face of envy - fresh local Kamchatskoe beer with dinner,
after a day of fishing the Zhupanova, beats anything in the world if
you ask me. J
Our distinguished fly fishing International team contributed with all
kinds of different drinks, and dinner eventually turned into the
degustation of superior achievements from both coasts of the Pacific
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Text and photos by
Jurij Shumakov © 2005