Earlier this year I made the long trip to participate in what may be the ultimate rainbow trout fly fishing adventure – to Kamchatka, Russia. I first heard about Kamchatka eight years ago. It sounded like the most exotic possible place in the world to hunt trout; one of the least populated places on the earth; so difficult to reach that only a few dozen people a year would make the trip to the massive peninsula. It is reputed to be one of the two birthplaces of all the Rainbow Trout in the world; perhaps ground zero for the original and most perfect strain of Rainbow in existence.
But before I could make the trip the opportunity suddenly vanished. The Russian airline that provided the one flight per week in and out suddenly went out of business. So for the last four years Kamchatka was once again shut off, and the thousands of miles of rivers once again went unexplored.
But last year I was contacted by my friend Jim Klug of Yellow Dog Flyfishing (www.yellowdogflyfishing.com). Another airline was going to resume flights from Anchorage, Alaska to Petros, and Jim was hosting a trip for eight fishermen through Will Blair’s “Best of Kamchatka” fishing expeditions. “You’re going to fish trout that have probably never seen a fly”, Jim assured me. “Big trout…..Rainbows so big they primarily like to eat mice.” I signed on immediately to fish the Ozernaya River.
Getting there. This is not a trip for those that demand cushy travel and accommodations. I flew on a direct flight from Portland to Anchorage where I met Jim and the rest of the group at The Millennium Hotel (one piece of advice about the hotel – do not attempt to smoke cigars on the deck or the very intense security guard may try to Taser you – but that is another story).
After overnighting in Anchorage we flew out the next morning on Yakutia Airlines for the 3 ½ hour flight to Petropavlovsk. When I told people I was going on this trip, the common concern was flying on a Soviet airline, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had a brand new, well-equipped Boeing aircraft for the flight, and the pilots appeared to be sober. Since it was only about 1/3rd full there was plenty of space to spread out, and it was quite a pleasant trip.
Landing in Petropavlovsk brings to mind every image of Cold War era Russia; a tattered, small gray airport filled with unhappy-looking bureaucrats. At the airport we boarded a bus for a four hour ride to a waiting helicopter, first passing through the town. Petros, as they call it, is a very poor place, looking much like any shanty town you can find throughout Central and South America and Eastern Europe. Even in bright sun it somehow lacks light. The people look hard, and we are warned not to wander the place on our own. The bus trip is long – the first couple hours on pavement, and then dirt roads, until we finally reach another village where we discover on old Mi-8 helicopter in a field. Friends had also warned me about flying in these old military helicopters, but Will assures us they are the safest helicopters ever built, which if true, proves that looks can be deceiving. We are going to an incredibly remote place, so everything we need comes with us, and the helicopter is packed with gear, leaving a little room around the edges for us to sit on benches. I had the forethought to bring noise cancelling headphones (everyone else was using ear plugs), as the massive copter is very noisy. Will’s Russian partner Victor (reputedly an ex-Colonel in the KGB) sits at the front of the copter watching over us. After several hours and including a stop to refuel, we land on the banks of the Ozernaya (or the Oz as it is known).
The first thing you notice when you step out of the helicopter are the mosquitos. We had been warned, but it is still shocking to have swarms of bugs cover your entire body anytime you are outside. My cigars prove a good repellant, but the bugs make the otherwise pleasant camp challenging. Luckily, once you hit the water they tend to disappear, and since you are fishing most of the time the bugs are manageable.
We are introduced to the camp staff and guides, which include Svetlana the cook (and yes – she does live in a cave), Cody, the American lawyer-turned-fishing guide that assists Will, and the local guides that include Yegor and Igor. Svetlana has prepared a meal for us before we hit the water, and we all come to greatly appreciate her cooking (as long as you are a fan of moose). Svetlana is the master of moose; moose stew, moose meatballs, grilled moose, and even something called moose salad, all washed down with a variety of very strong vodkas with strange names, and massive bottles of beer. Be warned vinophiles, there is not a bottle of wine to be found.
Svetlana’s biggest talent is her baking, and every day we have freshly baked pastries, breads, and cookies, often filled with a local berry called a “cow berry”. I have never seen them anywhere else – but they are incredible – and Svetlana not only bakes with them, she also makes different kinds of cow berry jams.
It’s light until midnight, so after our first meal we head out to the river for our first taste of The Oz…..(next installment – the fishing)