Ally Gowans, Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland
They say that it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive. With regard to fishing, there’s a lot of truth in that statement, since you never know what might be encountered on any given trip—the chances of being there when conditions are exceptionally good always feel similar to those for winning a State lottery. However, if you play the percentages and go places at their normally best times, the odds against you are reduced. So it happened that I gratefully received an invitation to fish with friends on the Rynda, one of the famed northern rivers on the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Prior to the trip I spend an enormous amount of time researching the area and its fishing and although I have thousands of flies that would I’m sure be quite sufficient, I couldn’t resist tying more whilst I dreamed of my oncoming adventure. Thoughts of majestic rivers and bright silver salmon brought more than enough excitement even before my bags were packed!
Then of course the big question, which rod (or rods) should I take with me, knowing that conditions are as unpredictable as arctic weather? For a start, I don’t like to carry separate rod tubes or unwieldy rod cases. In my experience oversize baggage is often delayed and on one occasion they managed to crush my substantial polycarbonate rod holder in a door and break three rods inside it. Instead I prefer to take rods that fit into my duffle bag, surrounded and packed by clothing and concealed. My bag is just long enough to hold a 14ft 5-piece rod, and since I haven’t yet got a new model, my much travelled and trusted Thomas & Thomas DH1409-5—veteran of numerous steelhead and salmon rivers from BC in the west, to Finmark in the east and the star of my “Spey Casting Made Easy” DVD—was again pressed into service, together with a couple of reels and several lines and shooting head combinations that would allow me adapt to almost anything imaginable.
Over the course of my week at Rynda, weather started with three days of arctic blasts, north winds, sour drizzle and a temperature of 4 deg C that felt like -10 deg C and finished with three beautiful days of southerly winds and 20 deg C sunshine. I cast with flies ranging from large heavy tubes with sinking lines to small skaters and dry flies. My wand waved its magic, dropping the flies into the hot spots that my guide identified with a regularity that was shortly rewarded with my first Kola salmon—a lovely fish of about 20lbs. Jenya, a hugely knowledgeable man, has 14 years of experience of guiding at Rynda and I was taken aback when he said to me “Can you teach me to cast like you? You do it so easily and I never seen anything like it”. Whilst I would like to take all of the credit, it’s not all me—it’s partly T&T! We became good friends as we fished and cast together, he especially liked to put me into places that others found difficulty casting, the kind of challenge that I really enjoy too.
What a wonderful river and wild surroundings. Countless brightly coloured arctic flowers, ptarmigan, loons, sea eagles, seals, reindeer and bears were just a few of our group’s encounters during the week. And the fishing was fantastic, the largest salmon— a 31lb. osenka (Atlantic Salmon that entered the river the previous autumn to spawn more than a year later) fell to Bryan Sohl from Oregon, caught on one of my Willie Gunn tube flies. Next, Chuck Gentry and I shared honours with bright, fresh fish of 27lbs. Mine was taken on a last day reconnaissance mission to the upper river at Swan Lake and was the first recorded so high upstream.
Rynda is fantastic. An exciting and invigorating place to fish, totally cared for by the Atlantic Salmon Reserve and one of the last preserves of truly wild Atlantic Salmon.