What did you expect?
I expected it to be like everything you hear or see about Russia. I expected it to be pretty hostile with plenty vodka and scary Russians.
What did you find?
When I first got there it was like arriving in a place that was frozen in time during the Cold War. Everything was monotone. It was cold. The river was completely iced over, temperatures averaged around -4C for the first part of my time there. It never got dark. I did not see the night sky for over a month. I watched the sun do almost 360 degrees around me during the day and just dipping below the horizon in the north east at “night” for only an hour or two at the most. It’s a gnarly place. And don’t mess with Russians.
Any encounters with bears and other wildlife?
Not personally, but our camp living room was a complete mess when we arrived there, a young bear had managed to find his way inside. You could see teeth and claw marks all over the furniture. Our storage shed also got broken into by a bear, very visible claw marks all over it.
Best thing about the fishing in Russia?
Definitely the amount of water available, where I was beats were kilometres long, you never saw other people, there is so much variety in the type of water and the river is packed with salmon. The Varzuga system I was working on is known to have the most prolific salmon run on the planet in terms of numbers.
What surprised you?
How the environment changed throughout my time there. I saw the season change from an Arctic winter into summer in the space of 3 weeks. I guess it makes sense because there is 24-hours of daylight to help the change of season. When I arrived it was quiet and completely snowed over, you would see no birds or wildlife or any sign of it. A week later the snow starts to melt, there are birds everywhere chirping 24 hours a day and insects start to appear. A week after that the snow has melted and the grass changes from a light brown to the lushest green you have ever seen, then finally the flowers appear.
When I arrived it was quiet and completely snowed over, you would see no birds or wildlife. A week later the snow starts to melt, there are birds everywhere chirping 24 hours a day and insects start to appear.
How are your vodka drinking skills these days?
Pretty good to be honest, at least way better than before I got there. We only ever drank vodka on Fridays, and when we drink vodka, it’s only vodka, no mix or beers on vodka night…just vodka, and a lot of it. Our record was 10 bottles in a night between about 12 of us. Guests left on Saturdays so the Friday night was party night, we would get absolutely shitfaced, then be up at 6am on Saturday to get the guests onto a helicopter that arrived any time between 6.30am and 8am. The amount of times I had to drag guys out of their beds and get them dressed and throw them on the helicopter was ridiculous. Most Saturday mornings are a complete blur as I was still feeling the night before. The next group of guests would then arrive a couple hours later and it all starts again. The only other time I drank vodka was when I was man down with the flu and the Russian girls looked after me. A Russian ‘remedy’ they made me try was a shot of vodka with black pepper mixed into it chased with a vodka hot toddy.
What gear were you using?
I was fishing a switch rod (a Sage Method 11’9ft 8wt). I love my switch, but most guests would use 14 and 15ft double handed rods. You’re probably better off with longer rods but I seemed to manage with my switch rod. I fished mainly with a floating shooting head and changeable sink tips. The river was really big for the most part of the season, the highest anyone had fished it, so sinking lines and heavy flies were the go to. Fly-wise, I was fishing mainly tube flies, some copper tubes for really fast and deep water to make sure I was getting down. Favourite fly was the Ally Shrimp tube.
Who else was out there?
We were in the middle of nowhere, helicoptered in so you can understand that you would not see many people. The only other people out there apart from the people involved with our camp were the fishing inspectors, the odd Russian float trip that comes down the river and the army. Yes, the army just kind of float down the river and pull over, walk into the camp and help themselves in the kitchen. It all seems pretty normal. I always gave them a couple bottles of vodka for good relations. They are pretty intimidating walking around with their Kalashnikovs and full camo.
Do you guys get much time off? What does an average day look like?
No much time off at all, possibly an hour or two in the afternoon when our generators are switched off. My role was the camp manager, pretty much being a host to our guests. I would sort out any issues they had, answer any questions about the fishing and kind of just be present to help out where I can. My day was long, as you can imagine with it never getting dark, but myself and the cook would be the first up at about 6am, I’d sort out the living room and get coffee ready and help with the breakfast. I’d then see off the guests with their guides and make sure guests and guides were on the same page (our guides spoke no English). Once everyone was on the water I’d have some time to take a quick shower. I’d then sort out the drinks stock and general camp stuff (I fixed a lot of toilets). I would then go with the cook down to Lunch Pool where we would set up lunch on the river banks for the guests. We would then have about two hours max in the afternoon where we couldn’t do much as the generator was off. I’d sometimes sneak off for a fish or cruise the river (I had my own boat) and take photos for guests or help anyone who was struggling with the fishing. I’d then have to be present when guests start arriving back, get them some drinks on arrival and just socialise and speak about the day’s fishing. Then I’d help get things ready for dinner. I would usually eat dinner with the guests and then it was time to sit up and drink with them until everyone decided it was bedtime. Bedtime varied. People don’t realise how late it is because 2am looks the same as 6pm. I would always be the last in bed after clearing the living room after the night’s drinking with guests. We did this without a day off the whole season so you can imagine how buggered I was when it was over, especially with the amount of drinking involved.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to be around in South Africa for a bit. I’m off to the Orange river, going to be doing some guiding with the focus on largies (largemouth yellowfish). I’m keen to make some films (Ed: see Waffles in the Mist, the latest from Matt and the other half of Flybru Nick van Rensburg in which they blank on the Breede, but make it look good). I will however take any opportunities that I get to do any other guiding or hosting jobs. I will then probably be traveling back to South America early next year.