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The Bolshaya River System

Don't get lost there - it's huge!

Bolshaya River means "Big River" in Russian. It is the second largest River in Kamchatka and it drains into the Sea of Ochotsk. This means worse weather than on the eastern side of the penninsula but more fish.

Bolshaya River is one of a few rivers which can be reached by car. You can get access to the river in Ust-Bolshereczk, a town close to the west coast. Bolshaya river drains into the Sea of Ochotsk. This is the coastline with the most productive rivers on the penninsula but it is also the one which has usually less good weather. It might be cold and rainy at the west coast while it is sunny and warm in Petropawlovsk. The chain of mountains that devides the penninsula is the reason for this. Some parts of Kamchatka have even micro climate. The Bolshaya has got the largest king salmon and silver salmon on Kamchatka and the humpy run is one of the strongest world-wide. As Kamchatka is dependent on fish the easy accessability of the river attracts many fishermen, legal and illegal ones. It is easy to sell fish on Kamchatka as China is very close. So is Japan. Nevertheless, provided you have got a boat there you will soon find a good spot in the large system where you are on your own with the bears and salmon.

You will find my picture on this huge banner when leaving Patropavlowsk.

I was fishing through the different salmon runs at Bolschaya for nearly five weeks starting mid July and never found any good fishing spot used by net fishers. I was more or less the only one fishing there with a rod at all. It is far more difficult if there are many fly or spin fishers at a river because everyone knows that you can only catch fish at certain spots in the river no matter how big the river is. Salmon cannot be caught everywhere! A spot might look good to you but for the migrating salmon it is not suitable for a short stop and you will probably only catch a fish by accident there or failhook one. I had plenty of time to get to know the Bolshaya which means „Big River“ in English by exploring the different side arms with a jet boat covering a radius of about 40 km in diameter. The first days I was on the river with our host Vitali who was said to know Bolshaya better than anyone. He does, but knowing the river as a net or spin fisherman is different than fishing it with a fly. Fly fishing was something quite new for Vitaly so he was not really aware of the really good fly fishing spots and techniques for the different species. But despite of this fact he got to learn how to handle the fly rods very fast no matter if fishing with a single hand rod or a double handed one.

So in the following days I was following my instinct and I found some very good spots where salmon can be caught constantly on a fly when they are in the river. The places where you can wade in are limitted because there is a really big amount of water flowing down the Bolshaya. Detailled local maps about Kamchatka are hard to get because only the military maps you can trust. So I was navigating through the labyrinth of Bolshaya’s side arms by using a sattelite picture which I took with my Canon EOS 20D from Google Earth. So my digital camera was also my navigator and it did a very good job. For security reasons I had a GPRS from Vitali with me the first days. Without any map or guide you can easily get lost in the wild – and it can be quite dangerous.


The first days were pure exploration and when checking some spots I even could manage to land a King salmon on a tiny attractor nymph on a class 5 fly rod. It was not a big fish(see picture on the right), but a welcome surprise. The King season was already over so I was surprised to catch another Tshawytscha just in front of our guesthouse a few days later. The season for King begins in June and ends about 10 July at Bolshaya. This river is said to have the best king run of all rivers in Russia and the trophies reach about the same size as in Alascan rivers. The following days we spent fishing for other species and getting to know the area better. The Chum and Red Salmon were expected to enter the system a few days later so we were checking the fly fishing possibilities for grayling, Kundsha and rainbow trout. I was mainly nymph fishing for graylings and rainbows but the Kundshas obviously preferred streamers. The better places for Kundshas are usually near the river mouth but you can even get them further up. Sometimes I was fishing for them with mice patterns but without success. The water was still a little bit too high and not clear enough in my opinion. Grayling fishing was good with fish up to 50 cm just in front of the house. We did not really fish hard for them but used these days to improve Anjas casting, to tie flies and to take some walks into the the small town nearby. Fishing equipment and especially fly fishing equipment cannot be bought in the towns. You have to go to Petropavlovsk where my friend Arkady operates the only fly shop on the peninsula. There you can get all what you need. Russian fly anglers cannot be compared with Europeans. They prefer to use very expensive equipment! I took many old but still very good lines and stuff with me but I brought all back again. I did not expect to meet such fully equipped fly fishers there. They all looked as if coming directly out of the Sage and Simms catalogues. So I would have been ashamed to give these poor presents to them. Better present them some European flies!


The arrival of the chum

The Chum Salmon (RU: Keta) and Red Salmon(RU: Nerka) arrived in time on 18 July. Anja caught the first fish just next to the „Banja“ (Russian Sauna) which is placed just behind of our guesthouse. We even got good grayling there and Kundsha (Siberian char). So we caught reasonable fish just in front of the door. In fact you do not really have to go far but it is fun to drive upstreams with the jet boat and discover the untamed river. All river banks in Kamchatka are untouched. The rivers dig into the landscape as they always did and nobody tries to dam them. The ecosystem is still intact and so floodings are uncommon because the swamps can still store a huge amount of water. We saw more and more salmon brought back to the weighing places of the fishing brigades so the big run was on. In just a few days the water came down another 30 cm and started to become cristall clear.

Day after day we caught many Ketas and had fantastic fights with the fresh fish. The conditions were perfect to test the rods very hard. Allthough I really tried to break them my rods were parrying the fast runs of the Ketas without any problem. We caught many fish at the current to the fast water and even when they were running with the current and I started to close the brake of the reel the rods could still manage to turn the fish. I have seen a lot in my life and I had many good fights but I was never playing fish that hard and without any compromise. I really expected to see a rod explode during a fight but it did not happen.


The Keta run is a quite long run at Bolshaya. About a week after the arrival of the Ketas the Humpies entered the Bolshaya. There run in this river belongs to some of the strongest world-wide. Many salmon fishers who just go for meat think the smaller humpies to be a pest. They usually only look for chum, silvers or red salmon. The humpies are very tasty fish to just cook them fresh on a fire at the river bank. They taste delicious and if you can sight fish for them in the clear waters of Bolshaya the fishing can be very interesting and it tells you a lot about how pacific salmon react and what you should never do when trying to catch them with a fly.

Large Silver Salmon

The latest salmon that enters the Bolshaya is the Coho or Silver Salmon (O. kisutch). Bolshaya has a very good run of them any if you want to have good fishing you should fish for them after 20 August. Probably the last week in August the main run arrives. The fish are strong and some of the Silvers reach up to 7-8 kg with average fish about 5-6 kg. Being there at the right time provided you can catch 30 and more of these strong fighters per day. The best place for fishing for them is River Ushatina, a side arm of the Bolshaya but be prepared that at the weekends when the run starts it can be a bit crowded there. Everyone catches fish then and it seems as if the run never ends. Maybe the best time to fish Kisutch on Bolshaya is the first week of September. At that time there are of course also still other salmon in the river which are spawning but can still offer tremendous fights especially the male chum with their enormous jaws take the flies and fight like hell. They are of course not as strong as the fresh fish but can still make you sweat and can cause a sore wrist. Some of them even break your leader with their strong teeth. BTW the ideal leader diameter for fishing all salmon species on Kamchatka except king salmon is 0,32 mm. 


Steelhead fishing on Kamchatka

Later in the year a few steelhead enter the River. Local fishermen usually catch them in April. It is catch and release fishing only because the steelhead is in the red book and therefore a protected species in Kamchatka. To find the steelheads in the Big River is not that easy. Bolshaya River is a huge river and you better take a guide to find the fish if you are not well experienced. But if you know how to read a water the Bolshaya is probably the cheapest possibility to have good fishing in Kamchatka.

The rivers are under much better control now than before and last year I was fishing not more than one hour until the fishery warden appeared and wanted to see my licence and passport.


The Tributaries

Bolshaya River is built by three rivers: The mighty Bystraya River, the Galzovka and the Plotnikova river. All of them have very good possibilities for fly fishing and although they are easily accessible by car, you will find many spots where you are completely on your own in Kamchatka’s wilderness especially if you use a boat. Floating Bystraya River for specimen rainbows up to 4 kg and dollies and the grayling and dolly fishing at Galzovka are worth a try. All these tributaries offer of course also good salmon fishing. In the upper reaches the fish can of course already be coloured. A salmon that enters Bolshaya will be moving up to Bystraya within about three days. The dollies as well as the Kundshas are following the salmon into the rivers and move out into the sea again after spawning. They do not die after spawning and enter the river again in the following year with the next run. Some of the fish are resident and stay smaller.


Grayling Fishing at Galzovka

Galzovka is a very nice river for dry fly fishing for grayling. It is easy to wadeand even crossable at many places.I fished there with my friends Gennady, a banker and Juri who is a surgeon. We caught many nice grayling and our Russian friends cooked a perfect grayling soup for us. Of course a glas of Vodka comes always along with the meals in Russia. „This is against fish parasites“, my wife explained. „Yes, and even if it is not you will find many more reasons why to drink it here I suppose“, I answered. After lunch we run into another local species better known as Cherry Salmon (Oncorhynchus masu) or Siman as the locals call them. They do not grow very large here but they are good fighters on a class 4 rod. Juri caught them with very unspectacular slim green caddies nymphs fished in the swing with aTeeny 200 and a long leader. But as I mentioned before there are also the other salmon species present. I hooked a really good fish on the grayling nymph but it escaped after a very fast run and a mighty jump. I can still see him jumping. What a fish it was!

Galzovka is famous for another salmonid species which is said to be the tastiest fish on the peninsula – the Galez (Dolly Varden). They can grow quite large on Kamchatka and fish of 70 and more cm are not uncommon. These fish are caught later in the season. The dollies also arrive with the salmon and leave the system after spawning and enter it again with the salmon in the following year.

Floating Bystraya River

The largest tributary of Bolshaya River is Bystraya. It is a real beauty. Last summer we floated 130 km of Bystraya during 6 days. Our guide Andrej, a cook and two Russian friends Andrej and Gena joined us on our trip. Everything was perfectly organised and we did not have to do anything but fishing. It was a pleasure to see how well everything was planned and how fast the camp was always set up. We were very lucky because we had no rain during the whole trip. This is quite unusual for Kamchatka but made the float trip even more fun. Andrej is a very good guide who takes really good care of his clients. He always had an open eye regarding the bears and was rowing the raft very professionaly. It was a pleasure to have him as our guide. The bears are not that much of a problem in Kamchatka. There are some resident populations there too but most of the bears in Kamchatka move from the east to the west coast depending on the salmon runs. Kamchatka brown bears are nearly as huge as the Kodjak bears. They are usually very shy. At least I could not manage to make a picture of the two bears I met during my trip.

When drifting down the river we mainly fished with streamers but when we stopped for wade fishing we preferred to use nymphs and dries. I got some really beautiful rainbows on the dry fly and at many places I would have liked to stay longer. Especially the upper part offers brilliant fishing for rainbows and the deep holes near the Chinese bridge hold some huge fish.  The spots where we chose to stay over night were gorgeous. Close to them there were always very promising fishing spots and it was no problem to catch some rainbow or grayling while dinner was prepared. It was a pleasure to watch the beautiful sun sets at the banks of Bystraya, have a drop or two of Vodka and green tea together with our friends and enjoy the beauty of Kamchatkas wilderness. When the stars came up it was like a huge field of diamonds. I have never seen that before in my life. Because of the missing light pollution and the clear air the stars were so bright ond close that it was hard to stop looking at them. Of course not without being well prepared for it with some good mosquito repellant.



13 Salmonid Species

The latin names for the pacific salmon are of Russian origin because they were chosen by George Wilhelm Stellar, a member of the Bering expedition to Siberia in the 18th century. Even the rainbow trout was first discovered in Kamchatka in 1792 by Walbaum. You can find not less than 13 salmonid species on the Kamchatka peninsula. The largest of it is the King Salmon(Oncorhynchus tshawytscha; Russian: Tshawytscha). It enters Bolshaya first. You can catch Kings between June and about 10 July. At about 18-20 July the Chum Salmon(O. keta; Russian: Keta) and the Red Salmon (O. nerka; Russian: Nerka) migrate upstreams followed by the Humpbacks(O. gorbuscha; Russian: Gorbuscha). They can be caught until middle of August. Bolshaya river is said to have the largest run of Pinkies in the world. Around 20 August the Coho salmon(O. kisutch; Russian: Kisutch) run upstreams. There are big numbers of these silvery fish moving in and on a good day you can catch „about a ton“, one of the resident fishermen said.


species

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

King Salmon

 

****

**    

 

 

 

Sockeye Salmon

 

  **

   **

 

 

 

Chum Salmon

 

 

   **

***   

 

 

Silver Salmon

 

 

 

   **

****

****

Char

****

****

****

****

****

***  

Grayling

****

****

****

****

****

****

Rainbow Trout

****

****

****

****

****

****

Pink Salmon

 

 

    **

****

 

 

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