Fly fishing gear

PAUL SMITH: Half an hour to catch a brown trout in Russia

SPANIARD’S BAY, NL “It’s the first day of February and there’s not a speck of snow on the ground in Spaniard’s Bay. I’m not happy with this winter so far. Here on the Avalon we were supposed to have another big rain storm and high temperatures on Friday.

There was hope for snow for the weekend, but we’ll have to see.

I am losing hope of having a snowy winter worthy of the name. So far, I haven’t put on my snowshoes, not once.

Either way, trout season is on.

As I consider fly fishing plans, this could be a good winter to catch brown trout on nymphs. I want to tell a fishing story.

These are possibly the best brown trout waters on planet earth. -Paul Smith

For many years I have wanted to go salmon fishing in Russia, always I guess that would be an apt description.

At least that seems to be the case, as I have been reading fly fishing magazines since I can remember.

So, I really don’t know when I first heard about the fantastic salmon fishing on the Kola Peninsula, but it was definitely a long time ago. In 2007, an opportunity presented itself, or sounded on my computer, should I say.

At the time, I had only a few years of journalism experience in the fly fishing world and was not very well known.

Most of the time I wrote in Canadian fishing publications here in Newfoundland.

I felt it was time to go big or go home. I spent some free time researching Russian salmon fishing camps online.

Crazy flight experience.  -Paul Smith
Crazy flight experience. -Paul Smith

The Atlantic Salmon Reserve sounded like a good match for me, so I sent an email and resume. I did not hear anything.

It was early February I think, and by May I had forgotten all about Russia in the short term, and focused my angling energy on local trout and Labrador salmon.

The invite

One weekday just before Victoria Day weekend, my computer rang and a new email appeared in my inbox.

It was from Peter Power, owner and operator of the Atlantic salmon reserve. He asked for my phone number so he could call me. I quickly answered.

Two minutes later my phone rang and I was on the phone from London, England.

It was Peter and he explained that a writer and photographer he had booked at his Rynda camp for the end of June had just stepped down.

If I still had an interest, there was a place for me.

The famous Kola River meanders through Murmansk.  -Paul Smith
The famous Kola River meanders through Murmansk. -Paul Smith

I just had to bring my butt and fishing gear to Stockholm, Sweden for a charter to Murmansk, Russia on June 23rd.

I thought about it deeply for 1.0 seconds and said yes. I was going to Russia. I had a month to prepare.

I already had a passport, travel gear for fishing and photography, all that good stuff.

But I only had a short time to go through the paperwork and official KGB invitation needed to acquire a visa.

Yes, no kidding – I had to get a written invitation approved by a local KGB official. However, it was all easy compared to telling Goldie about my big adventure.

She had endured a lot of my hunting and fishing extremes, but hey, that was a big deal on short notice.

Stuff like this is better slow-simmered than fast-fried.

But I didn’t have a slow cook option or time.

I said it directly at supper. “Goldie, I’m going to Russia.”

She thought I was joking at first.

Realizing my seriousness, she replied, “No, you’re not.”

Somehow, to dessert, I was going.

I remember my daughter Allison joking about it at the table.

Goldie was not amused.

Our pilot announced over the cabin loudspeaker “We are now entering Russian airspace”.

I looked at the floor through the window.

Shit, I’m in Russia and I’m going salmon fishing.

    I was away from home.  -Paul Smith
I was away from home. -Paul Smith

It didn’t feel like home at 10,000 feet.

As a child growing up during the Cold War, I never imagined this could happen.

Then I read in the magazines of adventurous anglers going to the remote and wild rivers of the Kola and I started dreaming.

The feeling was surreal, one of the pivotal moments of my life.

The world wasn’t as big as I once thought.

From dream to reality

And dreams sometimes come true.

I could write a little book about this trip.

For now, I’ll tell you about the day I went flying in an MI-2 helicopter with Peter Power.

He wanted to show me around all the rivers, then head out to supply a group of Norwegian brown trout fishermen.

They had been dropped off in the upper reaches of the Kharlovka River and were camping while cruising around in inflatable canoes.

They had communicated their position by radio and needed supplies, incidentally wine and spirits for the most part.

Peter explained to me that the headwaters of all the famous salmon rivers on the Kola Peninsula had amazing populations of brown trout.

In fact, I now know that this area has arguably the best brown trout fishing in the world.

At the time, it was the first time I had heard of it. Peter pointed out that he only booked Scandinavians for these trips.

There were no permanent facilities and harsh weather conditions.

No one, but the Vikings were up to it.

He said he would consider a Canadian.

I told him that I wanted to catch a Russian brown trout. He told me I had half an hour.

The Vikings were certainly a tough looking bunch, but pretty nice guys.

We all sat around talking trout over a beer in the tundra.

Peter mentioned that I wanted to catch a trout and better keep going. In no time I had the perfect nymph handed to me and I was swept up in my quest.

The clock ticked and I kept throwing.

You know what? I wouldn’t mind staying a few days with these guys. I dug the atmosphere.

    Pilot Alexander with his raw and read flying machine.  -Paul Smith
Pilot Alexander with his raw and read flying machine. -Paul Smith

Land a beauty

Around the sixth cast, my line got tight and I was in a battle with a nice trout.

I don’t quite remember everything that went through my head, but I do.

Shit, I’m far from home.

I wish I could tell dad about it.

I landed the trout and took a photo.

This is the photo of my Facebook and Twitter account forever. Its important to me.

Thanks guys, wherever you are right now planning a summer adventure is very likely.

Thank you for helping a complete stranger from Newfoundland.

I heard Alexander launch the helicopter.

He was serious and we had to get back to camp before dark.

He had been shot down in Afghanistan by an American-made missile shoulder launched by a mounted guy.

The tail rotor exploded, but he managed to land and return to camp. Hard huh? We boarded the MI-2 and Alexander lit a smoke.


Spaniard’s Bay native Paul Smith fishes and hikes outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @flyfishtherock