If you decide to make the big trip for big fish, here are a few guidelines and advice:
Who should go and how much? This is not highly technical fishing (although as in most situations a good fisherman will catch more fish), so you do not need to be an expert fly caster to catch and enjoy fishing in Kamchatka. Even a beginner can quickly figure out how to bounce mice and pull streamers. However, you should be up for the adventure of the trip. It is a lot of travel, and accomodations are basic. If you don’t enjoy the journey and a fairly rustic experience you won’t enjoy Kamchatka. While I did not find the fishing unusually strenuous, I would also not advise someone in questionable health to make the journey (this means you Dick Cheney). You are a long way from qualified medical help, and you will be hiking, wading, and climbing in and out of boats.
Keep in mind this is also an expensive trip. The tab for my week was $6895, but that is just the beginning. You need to get to Anchorage and overnight, and then there is the ticket to Petros, which in my case was $2000 for a coach roundtrip seat. There is a fee for your Visa, and you also should have emergency evacuation insurance. By the time you get properly equipped you need to reasonably budget $10,000.
Plus, you will probably want to buy your wife one of the mink hats that Svetlana sells on the final night in camp. (Or maybe you will want it for yourself – as you can see they look great on men too!)
I stopped in Alaska and fished for a few days on the way home, which makes for a particularly great trip if you have the time and budget. In a later post I will cover my favorite Alaska lodge.
How to book the trip. This is important. Make sure you book with a legitimate agency. When I got to Kamchatka I heard horror stories about people wire transferring large sums of money in response to ads they saw in magazines for trips, only to discover they had been ripped off. I heartily endorse Yellow Dog – www.yellowdogflyfishing.com – as I have fished all over the world with them, and as I said in an earlier post nobody knows the area better than their local guide, Will and Best of Kamchatka. I also had several friends that fished this year with The Fly Shop in Redding. They fish different water than I fished so I cannot personally comment, but I heard very good reports.
What to bring. In anticipation of the trip, Yellow Dog sent a fairly extensive list of flies and equipment, and as is often the case, I brought too much. My advice after being there…. you really only need the following –
1. Lots of big mouse pattern flies. The bigger and noisier the better. The Mr. Hanky Mouse was my favorite, plus I just like to say “Mr. Hanky” for some reason. (He was almost my favorite character in Green Acres.) You won’t lose flies – the fish will simply tear them to pieces.
2. A few big streamers. I had the best luck with a green and brown bead headed string leech that resembled the local sculpins.
3. 15 lb test Maxi. No need for a fancy leaders – these fish are not leader shy. Just tie on a 6 foot piece of rope and set hard.
4. Bring two or three rods – 6 and 7 weights. Be warned – rods get broken on this trip. We broke at least five during the week. Mr. Klug stepped on my vintage Sage SP, but luckily in the good old days the SP came with a spare tip, so I was saved, and Sage was happy to fix it when I got home. I borrowed one of my favorite rods from Will, a Winston Boron that had never been fished, and Igor my guide stomped on it as he tried to slow the boat. Every night someone would come in with a broken rod, and there is not a fly shop near the camp.
5. Floating and sinking lines. I did not use the sinking line very often, but it was really effective in some big deep holes, so every day I headed out with two rods, one set for floating and one with a medium sink tip.
6. Huge bottles of Deet bug spray, and a bug hat.
7. I would never advise anyone to take up a filthy dangerous habit (even if it looks really cool), but cigar smokers have a distinct advantage given the mosquito population, and I went through a lot of cigars. By the way, my personal pick for the ultimate fly fisherman cigar…..a silver wrapped Zino.
8. You want great comfortable waders and boots, as you will spend a lot of time in them. The weather will range from cold and rainy to 80 degrees, so bring appropriate clothes. I would start the day in Simms wading pants, a long sleeve Patagonia wool t-shirt, a fishing shirt, and a down sweatshirt, topped by a rainproof jacket. By the end of the day I was usually down to the fishing shirt.
9. Your flask. I never go fishing without my official “Hemingway’s Fishing Team” flask, filled with Doctor Dennis O’Donnell’s Irish Whiskey. Unless you love drinking obscure Russian Vodka with names like “Ivan’s Wolf Head”, you might consider bringing a flask and your own favorite beverage.
10. Noise cancelling headphones. You not only need them for the helicopter trip, but also to sleep at night. Envision seven large men that are exhausted and have been consuming copious amounts of Ivan’s Wolf Head Vodka. This is some serious snoring in a small camp!
11. Electrical adapter and Bluetooth speaker. They have a small generator in camp, and if you have an adapter you can recharge batteries a few hours a day. I brought a terrific little battery-powered Bluetooth speaker, and at night stream my favorite tunes from my iPad.
12. Condoms. Absolutely no reason I can think of to bring them.
And the final, most important thing to bring…. a really comfortable sleeping pad. The literature tells you to bring a sleeping bag and they provide a comfortable cot with a bug net. The cot is not comfortable! It is a wooded table with a thin fabric mattress pad. I have heard the CIA uses a similar sleeping set up for prisoners at Guantanamo! Bring the thickest, most comfortable pad you can pack!
So the biggest question…. Can you go? Unfortunately, the ability to fish Kamchatka is completely dependent on flight availability, and if the airline cancels the flights again all the fishing stops. But Will from Best of Kamchatka tells me that the airline has agreed to at least keep the flights through next year, so if you want to go I encourage you to book a trip. To talk to the expert I recommend e mailing Will at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know I will be back next year if I can get there.