foot of the Rainbow
By Jurij Shumakov
Next morning didn't look too misty. Everybody enjoyed the scenery,
decorated with strands of fog draped along the hillside and
highlighted by early sunrays. Crews of rafts formed anew each morning,
so as to escape possible dissatisfaction with guide or boring partner.
This morning we went with guide Alexander.
Since I speak more or less acceptable English, I again got an American
partner. Can't say I was too pleased, because when you live abroad for
a long time and come to your homeland for some short days, you always
want to speak your native language. The Russian guys joked about my
fate. I gave them a friendly snarl, remembering that at least I had
the opportunity to exchange experience with my foreign partner and to
learn something about fishing in his home waters.
This day went even
better than the day before. Alexander quickly moved our raft from one
promising place to the next, and our hands, rods and reels never had a
moment to pause in their work.
I again had a partner who preferred to take it easy and fish from
Well, at that point, the river was still shallow enough to wade and
banks had space that allowed an underhand cast. Then we came to a
stretch of river with limestone banks and the character of river
changed dramatically: gravel on bottom changed to perfect lies made in
soft limestone. I often caught myself rather watching the breathtaking
landscape than my fly line. At last, I managed to hook and land a few
Mikizha in the 25-28 inch range. Up to that moment, I had only landed
a couple such fat river ladies the very first day.
I noticed that fish
definitely preferred really big flies, and didn't like to come near
the surface for them. For these reasons, I added a heavy super fast
sinking tippet to my line, and began to use double-decked tube flies.
That's why I like them: you can adjust weight and size at any time
with ease. The only real problem that disappointed me was that my
hooks were too small, with correspondingly big loss of fish.
Unfortunately, I hadn't brought any hooks bigger than size 6, while
Americans used "anchors" of about size 2/0 to 4/0. I tried
to calm myself with the thought that a "long line release"
at least gave me the chance to escape handling fish on bank. J
In any event, I had tricked fish with my lure, which was the main
point, and proved that I was smarter - or so I thought. I had not come
here just for the pleasure of holding fish in my hands. Please don't
mention sour grapes.
Next stop we made in camp named "Gloomy". (You must be
wondering who picked these names, but I really don't know. All I can
say is that the camp was brighter than its name!J) After repacking and
shower we landed in the cosy dining room. Quiet conversation
("How is it in your country…?") mixed with fragrant
Russian fish soup and huge sandwiches of caviar. Can't say I have ever
had a better possibility to watch and to learn more about my former
"enemies" from the Cold war, or peacefully and friendly talk
without swindlers and mad mediators from TV and the newspapers.
Enemies? Just normal people, like you and me. Conversation smoothly
glides from politics to fishing and back. Gliding like the waters of
the Zhupanova. We exchange ideas and observations, dreams and hopes,
fishing stories about home waters and the criss-cross lazy questions
go on another couple of hours. Close to midnight, guys go to their
cabins "complaining" of pleasant pains in hands and back.
The beautiful and calm morning is starting to feel like home, but
still toothbrush sees an opportunity to jump from regular working
place and hit my eye or ear, because all the time my attention is
drawn away by magnificent views around. My advice, if you want to
shave here, on Zhupanova, better to do this by evening. It is safer. J
After solid breakfast, people bring their stuff to the riverbank and
"raft lottery" begins again. Once more, I crew with
Americans. Definitely, guides swindle, and better I wouldn't speak
I had fished with my
tubes flies quite a lot, and wanted to try something new. Ed Word,
American guide from our raft, readily showed his fly box. He is an
expert on the Zhupanova and has guided here for 5 seasons. I had no
reason not to trust him. Ed's flies are really huge! He gave me a
couple of hand size black and dark purple leeches and big Flesh flies.
All flies are armoured with terribly big hooks of about size 2/0-4/0
and I felt really anxious about how fish could survive being hooked by
such anchors. O.K., lets try these American monsters.
River became much
clearer and didn't carry as many leaves as the first days. Fishing was
just perfect and American flies worked like a charm. There is only one
inconvenience: their weight. All flies are equipped with lead on body,
or with big lead eyes, and to cast them with a single hand rod isn't
easy business. I noticed with pleasure that my double-handed rod
managed the heavy weights much easier and with less effort. BTW, Ed is
an admirer of Steelhead and has fished with 12-foot double-handed rod
for the last 5 years.
downstream on the way from one place to another, we discussed our
tackles and cast techniques. He set on the rod at next stop and loaded
it with his handmade Spey fly line. His technique is perfect, clean
and very graceful. I think that's what every guide should look like.
We exchanged rods and tried partner's gear. It seems to me he liked
the crisp action of Russian rod and was impressed with its price.
So, with fishing, talks and tests, the day rolled on. I had passed the
first fever and no longer rushed to each and every promising place -
experiments began. Moreover, the amount of fish in river doesn't let
you worry about results. This day I caught my first Mikizha on mouse
fly, and must say it was an awesome and very emotional feeling! You
can watch all stages of attack on fly at quite a short distance.
Sometimes fish attacks several times, misses the fly or even jumps out
of water, taking fly from above!
After lunch, for the first time on that trip, I met face-to-face the
"owner" of the river. I had left my partners and gone
downstream a couple of hundred meters, hoping to be first at a
promising spot. I had just started to play off my line, when I raised
my eyes and saw across and downstream, coming out of some bushes along
the bank, a pretty big bear. The distance was almost safe, let's say,
about 50-60 metres. Almost safe - or was it? Out there, alone with the
bear, I wasn't that sure. I quickly reeled line in (remembering that
bears react on running and swirling hooked fish), and prepared my
camera. It looked like bear hadn't noticed me standing in the middle
of the stream. It slowly headed upstream by the riverbank. This bear
slowly moved another 15-20 metres upstream, but then suddenly stopped
and began sniffing the air. Perhaps wind had brought the smell of my
partners from upstream? It was at the same time very exciting and a
bit frightening to watch this predator from such a close distance.
Quickly the thought
flashed in my mind: "bear needs less time to cover the 50 metres
to me, than I would need to cover 200 metres to the company of my
partners". Additionally, level of water in this place was just
above my knees - a perfect running track for the visitor. J
I must point out that all guides on the Zhupanova are equipped
with huge cylinders charged with pepper spray, which is very effective
in the case of a face-to-face meeting with bears. Guides also carry
shotguns for the "local diehards", but use of these is
The bear remained
another minute without a movement, and then turned back and walked
away in the water downstream. It was about a 3 to 4 year old bear, and
as guides had told me, at this age bears lack experience, and, by
curiosity or mischief, can attempt to hunt for fishermen. The prospect
of becoming the "hunting trophy" of a
"mischievous" young bear didn't appeal to me, and I started
slowly back towards the opposite bank. And here, I don't know what
took hold of me, but I shouted like Hell. Perhaps I wanted to scare
this "Mishka" and see his reaction? If you say it was a
stupid idea, I agree. Anyhow, the bear stopped, turned in my direction
and performed classical observation position by rising on hind legs.
"Oh, Sh…!!! I don't really need your attention" - I
thought. I immediately remembered an anecdote told by one of guides:
"One day, a man who had lost his way deep in the forest started
to scream: "People!", Ahu-u-u! " "Is anybody
there?!". After a few minutes he felt like someone touched his
shoulder. He turned back and faced a big bear. They had the following
Bear: "Why are
Man (shaking with all his body): " I lost my way."
Bear: "O.K., I get that, but why are you screaming?!"
Man: "I'm scared!!"
Bear: "Well, that's also understandable, but why are you
Man: "I hoped someone could hear me!!!"
Bear: "Yep! I heard you! Feel better?" J
frantically pumping heart, I made one nice shot. Bear stayed in circus
position a few more seconds, and finally decided he wasn't too hungry
and there was no point in bringing our meeting to the state of a
"brotherly embrace". He turned on his heels and disappeared
in the bushes at the riverbank.
Next stop was camp "Elastic". Hm-m, the name definitely
means something, because after a whole day fishing you have to be very
"elastic" to bring your stuff upstairs about 70 steps to the
I admit the people who named camps on the river certainly had a sense
of humour. At this camp you can watch the active volcano Karimski,
which periodically spits smoke and ash. I asked myself:" In what
fantastic dream could I hope to see all of this?!" Big rainbow
hanging over the valley and the distant hills with Americans smiling:
"Rainbow over Rainbow river!"
of that house had prepared an indescribably tasty Borsch and with
glasses brimming with "Boston Waltz" (name of Russian vodka)
my Russian friends and I exchanged impressions from the day that had
Everybody had had an
exciting day, and all came close to the magic line of 30 inches.
Everyone had noticed that the number of Malma char (Dolly Warden) had
increased dramatically. The char now positioned everywhere, and hung
onto flies almost at each cast. Alex had caught his first Kizhutch
(Silver Salmon). From this day Malma and Kizhutch were constantly
present in catch, and that made hunting for big Mikizha more
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Text and photos by
Jurij Shumakov © 2005