The fly fisherman’s dream is usually some variation of the following. You are wandering through the woods when you come upon a hidden stream; so crystal clear that you can drink from it without fear. It is virtually untouched by man and utterly devoid of all human residue; no beer cans or candy bar wrappers on the shore, no rusted car bodies holding the bank intact, no broken fishing tackle carelessly discarded in the water, no rafters or drift boats floating in front of you, not even a footprint in the sand. Eagles circle overhead, bears rut harmlessly in the distance, smiling red foxes watch you from the bank; it has an otherworld feel as if you have stepped into another dimension; an enchanted forest for fishermen. In fact you somehow sense that you could potentially be the only human being that has ever been in this place.
You throw the biggest dry fly in your box into a perfect riffle, and on the first cast a magnificent twenty inch rainbow trout explodes out of the water and engulfs the huge bug, tearing up and down the stream for five minutes until your arm aches and you finally land him. A deep red stripe runs down the huge trout’s middle, and he is fat and healthy, free from hook marks and the other tell-tale signs of earlier anglers.
I’ve searched for a place like this for over thirty years, starting in the woods of Montana and working my way around all the isolated spots in the lower 48. Next I travelled north to Alaska, where I discovered many big strong fish, but also a land that was utterly polluted with people and their waste, perhaps searching just like me. Next I went the other direction to South America, which offered a more solitary experience and impressive fish, and was almost the Nirvana I was seeking, but just when I thought I was completely alone, I would discover a beer can imbedded in the gravel by my foot or a plastic bag stuck on a branch. New Zealand had great scenery and big trout, but it was still too close to civilization. While I would come close, I was never quite able to realize the dream. I might find big and plentiful fish, but I could not quite escape mankind’s trash. Until Kamchatka….
Beginning that first night, and every day after that, the eight of us and our four guides headed out in jet boats on the Oz – two men to a boat. The river is crystal clear and quite wadeable in most places, and you split your time between fishing from the boat and getting out to wade big riffles (my preferred method of fishing). Most of the time you are bouncing big mouse patterns across the riffles
– sometimes site fishing – and the huge healthy rainbows explode out of the water and tear into the mouse, often taking you into your backing. The typical fish is in the 18-22 inch range, but all of us catch fish 25 inches or larger, with a 27 incher my biggest for the trip. Every night at dinner the fisherman that caught the biggest fish treats the table to a bottle of Vodka, and without exception there is a 25 to 28 incher caught every day, with stories of the 30 incher that got away. In addition to the trout we catch dozens of big Dolly Vardens, and since I am more of a fish eater than a moose gourmand, I begin taking one back to Svetlana every night to fix for dinner.
Sometimes the river splits into braids – my favorite kind of fishing – and I might walk down the braid for a ¼ to ½ mile until it feeds back into the main stream. In this water I am fishing smaller water against the bank with more precision casts – water that you would not think would hold huge fish – but usually does. Other times we will float around a corner and there will be a very deep long stretch. In this water I switch to my streamer rod with the sinking line, and almost every stretch holds at least a few fish. The river is full of huge sculpins, and any pattern that looks like one will certainly take fish. The fishing is consistently incredible – typically 25 to 40 large fish a day – in the most beautiful and untouched scenery I have ever experienced.
On the third day Jim Klug comes to me with a compelling offer. Would I like to take a jet boat upstream many miles to be dropped off, then hike several miles to reach Lomutskaya Creek, a very remote river that has not been fished in years, and perhaps there are sections that have never been fished? Jim is a world-class fishing photographer, and he wants to shoot the area. “Not even sure there are fish in it”, Jim discloses, “but it would be an incredible adventure.”
“It’s not like Alaska where they are comfortable around people”, Jim assures me. “These bears will run from us.” I am not quite sure why a ten foot tall grizzly would run from me, but the offer of virgin water is too compelling to say no.
Jim, Cody, and I set out for Lomutskaya. They take us upriver about forty minutes in a jet boat, and drop us off with a shotgun, a GPS, bear spray, and a big backpack full of Jim’s cameras. The plan is to hike in several miles to the creek, and follow it down to the confluence with the Oz. We first decide to test the shotgun. Our plan is to fire it off every time we come to a large stand of willows that would camouflage a bear to scare him away, with the big bear loads reserved for real emergencies. Unfortunately we immediately figure out that the ancient Soviet pump shotgun jams whenever you try to load a shell, and is essentially worthless unless you want to use it to club a grizzly. Our next equipment malfunction involves the GPS. After ten minutes of hiking we discover it really doesn’t know where we are or where we are going, so we are left to bushwhack the old fashioned way; head towards where we think the creek is, while making lots and lots of noise to keep the bears away.
After about an hour we reach Lomutskaya Creek. It reminds me of the Gallatin River in Montana, a beautiful freestone creek with large rocks and pools, except you get the delightful feeling here that nobody else has ever been here. It does not look like the kind of water that would hold monster fish, but it is so beautiful I am glad we made the trip. The first hour of fishing is slow – a few takes from 16 inch fish – but as we get closer to the outlet to the Oz things really pick up. I start to fish deep pools by the bank, sometimes pulling as many as five 20 inch plus Rainbows from each skinny hole. It is the highlight of my trip; huge fish erupting from tiny water and running up and down the creek. The biggest fish of the adventure; two that probably go 25 inches. And luckily we don’t see a single bear.
The next day I fish with Will Blair, the owner of Best of Kamchatka, and probably the most knowledgeable person in the world about fishing the area. Will has been fishing the area since 1997, and has run several fishing operations in the region before starting Best of Kamchatka with his Russian ex-KGB Colonel partner. Will has a deep love for the region, and as we float down the river he gives me the history of the place, and details his dream of making it a major fly fishing destination, while maintaining the pristine beauty. “There are hundreds of miles of river around here – most of it has never been fished – and it is full of the incredible native trout”, Will tells me.
Will is an expert on the water, and we have a terrific day, highlighted by my first big King Salmon on a fly rod. We are downstream of the lodge an hour or so, when we hit a big flat water and spot dozens of Kings working their way upstream. “Want to try and catch one”, Will asks? “We’ve never caught one here before, and I doubt we could get them to take a fly, but it would be fun if it happens. I am fishing a 6wt rod, and can’t imagine landing a 25 or 30 pound fish on it, but we tie on a bright streamer, and on the third cast I hook up. Landing the fish was not easy. Will finally had to get in the water an chase it down with a net, but we did get the picture.
Every day after catching countless fish we return to camp. They wood stove-fired shower is working – and we run from mosquitos to get under the protection of the water.
Svetlana always has a great meal ready (assuming you are a moose lover – though to be fair there is plenty of interesting good food). Dinner also means consuming a lot of Vodka during the fish stories, and after dinner the group moves to the camp fire where Vodka tasting continues. While I have certainly done my share of fishing lodge drinking, I also know that Vodka and Tequila can be my best friend and worst enemy, so I purposely limit the revelry to maintain friendships and keep me in shape for the next day of fishing.
In the next and final installment of Fishing Kamchatka, I will cover what you need to know before you go.