Fly Fishing Kamchatka
In the very east of Russia a slim but nearly 1500 km long spear tip-shaped peninsula divides the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea. It is known as Kamchatka. This wild and more or less untouched territory, is regarded as one of the last paradises on earth.
Opened in 1991
It was only 300 years ago that this land of vulcanos (29 of them still active) and geysers was first explored and it was not before 1991 that the peninsula was opened to the public after being a military zone for a long time. Kamchatka cannot be reached by car but only by plane or ship. You have to be mobile to really explore it. And mobile means not by car although there is a road from North to South on which you have to be very careful to not damage your car in one of the sometimes gigantic holes in the gravel road. Mobile in Kamchatka means that you need to charter a helicopter if you do not only want to see a handful of its approximately 14000 rivers and springs. Which of course does not mean that these few rivers and streams are not worth the trip – not at all! Kamchatka is so rich in natural resources and especially in pacific salmon that a trip to this destination is always worth the money. Kamchatka has got 13 native salmonid species and 2/3 of all pacific salmon spawn there.
During the last half an hour of your flight to Petropavlovsk, you get an impression of how wild Kamchatka really is. Untouched mountains and plains without any houses and streets arise wherever you look and huge snow-covered vulcanos(some up to 4000 m high) can be seen on the horizon. The mighty Koryak and Avacha volcanoes are your first eye-catchers when you leave the plane at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky airport. Like huge guardians, they overlook the big Avacha Bay which has already proved to be able to turn mighty Tsunamis down to small waves in the past.
A Remote Country
Only army helicopters and those of one single company are allowed to operate on the peninsula at the moment. This means high prices for the visitors if they want to fish for Kamchatka's famous wild rainbows, steelheads, salmon, or chars in one of the few remote lodges. If you are dependent on the helicopter you are also dependent on the weather and this can be quite tricky on Kamchatka especially on the west coast where better fishing can be expected. The weather is usually best in September and October and there are also far fewer mosquitos to be expected at that time.
The average price of 4000-5000 USD for a single week of fishing in a camp (flight to Kamchatka not included) is for many fly fishers a prohibited price for such an adventure. So I was really happy to be invited to stay there for free for nearly five weeks in summer 2006. I had plenty of time to look for an alternative location where you can expect good fishing for a quite reasonable price. As you might guess a reasonable price is only possible if you can fish a river where no helicopters are needed and where you also have a proper place to stay close or at the banks of it with all facilities and boats needed. I finally found possibilities which are not only much cheaper but also allow you to get in touch with local people and their way of life. Maybe you do not like that but you should take the chance to see a bit of Kamchatkan reality.
Dependent on Fish
In Kamchatka, it is quite obvious how most of the residents earn their living. They fish because besides a little bit of tourism there are nearly no other possibilities on the peninsula. Some fish legally, some illegally. They have been doing that for thousands of years. Only the methods have changed. Net fishing is the most common way of fishing the mouth of the rivers and in the sea. Most rivers in Kamchatka have legal fishing brigades in the lower sections. They fish a certain stretch of water (only beats of a few hundreds of meters of the rivers) with the permission of the government. A net is stretched between a boat and a buoy and is drifting down the river. This is repeated the whole day. There are also illegal fishermen who somehow want to get their families through the strong winters by getting some of the natural resources in the short season and selling them. It is a hard job, but that is their only chance to survive. If you fish a river with easier access you have to get used to these net fishermen first of course. They are not only there but you will also recognize them in fewer numbers in remote areas. In western countries, you are not used to seeing net fishermen in the rivers at all. They were there in former times, many of them, especially at the River Rhine but with the damming of the rivers and the pollution the salmon populations went down or were distinguished.
Later when the industry provided many jobs, salmon fishing in the rivers became economically uninteresting. Kamchatka, with Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky being the only exception, is still an undeveloped country so the people still earn their living out of natural resources. I soon recognized that for fly fishers these net fishers are no problem in the big rivers. They have to fish in the middle of the river in the moving water where the ground is more or less plain and so the really good spots for fly fishing are not used by them. There are countless numbers of side channels in the Bolshaya River. From the satellite, the river looks like a huge labyrinth. It cannot really be fished down with nets if the mouth is protected by a net-free zone. So there are still millions of fresh and silvery fish moving upstream into the headwaters. There you will accidentally get in contact with a few poachers, too. They are not selling fish but open their bellies, take the caviar and drop the fish back into the water. When our guide shouted at two of them on our float trip, they approached us half an hour later, dropped five red salmon in front of our feet, and said: "We are the forest-brothers take these fish, we are friends." So we had at least enough to eat for the rest of our trip. The law has changed meanwhile and the river-keepers have more possibilities. Nevertheless whenever you detect a net of such poachers, better leave it in the water. You never know who is hiding in the bushes and as you are far from any help...
If you are interested in non-remote fly fishing in Kamchatka, please go on reading here