Updated
2005-03-11

Swedish version

  

At the foot of the Rainbow
By Jurij Shumakov

Part 1

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.

Mark's results 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 tubes. J 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 intensive retrieving.

Day 1.
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" class.

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 group. J 

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.

Day two.
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 begin.

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 Ocean.

This article continue here:
part 2  part 3

Fly recepies for article

Read the reference to this article

Text and photos by Jurij Shumakov 2005

 

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