The Journey – Most important to note is that you need to be in Helsinki on the Friday night before going to Russia the next day. Occasionally, because the days of the week are Saturday to Saturday for your week’s fishing, some guests forget about the Friday. You can leave as early as a 7.30 am flight (3-hour duration) from Heathrow, or you can leave as late as the 7.30 pm flight to get to Helsinki after midnight. This option can save a day’s holiday if you play your cards right at the office! There is also a 10.30 flight from Manchester, to arrive in time for lunch as well as other flight via Amsterdam etc. Alternatively, make something of having to go to Helsinki and get there early, overnight in town and see and enjoy the city. There are some good restaurants and if it is a nice day, which it often is, sit outside, relax and enjoy the city de-stressing before fishing. If you go for the town option we recommend the Kamp Hotel, or, if you want to just get there and go to bed to maximise sleeptime then the airport Hilton is the best option, you can walk to it within the airport and walk to check-in the next day. If you go for the Helsinki option our ground services team will meet you and provide transfers to and from the airport.
The next morning the charter service to Murmansk usually leaves around 9 am so check-in is early. Our ground staff will be on hand to help and label your luggage for Ryabaga Camp. The flight is about 90-minutes, there are drinks and a snack on board. On arrival you will get in the obligatory bus (regardless of how close the aircraft is parked to the terminal!). Once inside the terminal, you will go through passport control, which can be a little lengthy because there are only two people checking passports. This is a social time when everyone sits down and relaxes until it is their turn. Once through passport control, your bags will be there and you simply pick them up and go through the green channel assuming you are simply bringing your usual amount of fishing gear. The customs officers might spot check someone from time to time but this process is a far cry from the old days of filling in customs forms and everything being x-rayed.
The Ryabaga team will meet you the other side, they will take your bags except hand luggage and guide you to the VIP room where there are snacks and a pay-bar. They take USD and GBP as well as credit cards. It is best to keep a jacket or fleece handy for when you arrive in camp. The weather is often different to Murmansk. The wait is not too long, while you wait the bags are scanned and loaded on to the helicopter. Once this job is done, back on the bus to the helicopter and you have a two-hour, non-stop flight to camp. The bags are in front of you so if you need leg-room for medical reasons, make sure you get somewhere where that is possible. The Ryabaga team will provide earplugs if you need them, some guests bring their own headphones or ear plugs.
The return journey is usually possible in one day. You leave camp at about 8 am. Depart Murmansk on the charter flight at about midday, arriving Helsinki at about 2 pm. We strongly recommend not booking an on-going flight before 4 pm. Although there were issues this 2016 season, it should be possible to check your bags all the way home if using Finnair/British Airways. You can earn miles (or use your BA miles) on Finnair. All you need do in Helsinki is get your second boarding pass from the transfer desk.
The Accommodation and Food – Ryabaga Camp was famous for its tents but they are now consigned to the museum. Accommodation is now in single, en-suite, duplex cabins with queen-sized beds and electric heating. By duplex we mean two en-suite rooms to one building, usually with your fishing partner across the way. You do not share bathrooms and you do not hear snoring because the bathrooms are between the bedrooms. It is a perfect set up. They tend to place those less able nearer the Big Tent, which is the social and dining hub of the camp and those cabins have less steps up to the rooms. It is important that we know your fitness level before travelling so we can let the camp know. There is Wi-Fi in camp for email not web surfing but it can be unreliable and slow. There is a great massage service, which can be booked in camp before or after fishing. Ryabaga also has the best gym in the tundra!
Breakfast is positively an array of goodies from eggs to order to in-camp pastries, fresh fruit, cereal, porridge etc. If you want to eat a trout or sea trout for breakfast, just ask. Lunch is of course on the river but it comes with some signature ingredients like the world-famous Ryabaga soups and the equally popular freshly-baked cookies. In between there are cold meats, salads, cheese, tea, coffee, cold drinks etc. Many guests like the guides to cook a sea trout or a grilse on the bank and the guides come ready with onions and all sorts of herbs to do a great job. They really take pride in their bankside cooking. Dinner starts with a plethora of canapés from sushi to mini-pizzas, the chefs are very creative in that department. Dinner is usually a three-course affair with another legendary soup, a main course of lamb, beef, white fish, King crab etc. There is always a good salad as well as vegetables. The caliber of available ingredients improves every year and really the camp wishes for nothing these days. There is also a good selection of red and white wine in camp.
Please be sure to let us know of likes and dislikes and any allergies so the chefs can cater accordingly.
The Camp Social structure – It may sound tacky but when you arrive the guides will take a picture of you and it gets put up on the board for all to see with your name underneath. This aids the social flow amongst the guests as well as staff and guests. Everyone has been known to take a sneak peak at the board to remind themselves of someone’s name! On the one hand, if you want to be left to your own devices with your friend or group, you can, on the other, Ryabaga is a famously sociable camp with a great bar. What really makes it special is that staff and guests gather around the same bar before and after dinner. Each eats at their own table but not further than a few feet apart. This means that guests and staff get to know each other during the week and often end up playing cards, music or whatever together. This is what makes Ryabaga particularly unique and special, it also facilitates a relaxed camp atmosphere and the staff’s willingness to help at any time and say hello when they pass you because they know you.
Equipment – It is possible to borrow everything from rods and reels to waders, wading boots, wading jackets too but most guests like to bring their own gear. Thus, chest waders, wading boots, a wading jacket and modern layered clothing are essential, as is a waterproof bag of some sort to take on the river into which you can decant layers or from which you can add layers as well as carry extra tackle, camera etc. We think that 14ft rods are the ideal rod for Ponoi but do not rush out and buy one if you have a 15ft rod. It is just that today’s 13 and 14ft rods can cast a perfectly adequate line and are less tiring and work better if you are fishing from a boat. It is best to have two rods, one set up with a certain line, perhaps a sink-tip and the other with a different depth line or a floater for skated-fly fishing. Reels need to have at least 100+ yards of backing. Leaders at 15lbs are about right, maybe lighter in summer and a bit heavier in the autumn. For flies, it is our view that it is better and cheaper to buy a few of what is working at the time you are on the river from the camp shop than bring tons of flies all of which the guides reject which has happened to all of us at some time or other. You will be doing lots of spey-casting so bring tape to tape your rods. Polarised glasses are obligatory for safety and they do help you see if a fish moves to your fly. A hat or cap is also a good idea. Bring a wading stick if you like to use one, they do have a few in camp, also bring a life jacket if you like, they have gas bottles in camp.
A Typical Day – It really begins the night before when you meet your guide for the next day (guides are assigned to a beat for the week so guests will fish with six different guides during the week). During your chat he or she will take your order for hot and cold drinks for the day, you will discuss tackle, he will want to establish you have the right lines and flies etc. This conversation is a good time to talk about wading versus fishing from the boats, fitness levels, ailments etc. The day begins with cold breakfast available from 7.30 am, tea and coffee even earlier. Hot breakfast from 8 am with guides coming to your cabins to help with your gear at 8.45 am. You head down to the boats on foot or by vehicle and head off for the day around 9. The journey to your beat is anything from one minute to 40 minutes. The camp use a hovercraft for the further away beats. You can have lunch whenever you wish wherever you wish, in the boat, in the river tents on the beats or at a pretty spot along the river. You do not have to stop for lunch if you prefer not to but can eat as you fish. Lines are up at 6 pm unless you have a fish on. This is a golden rule because the camp knows where you are and when you should be back, if you are not back by then, they come looking for you. In the spring and summer you can fish Home Pool before dinner if you wish but most go after dinner into the midnight sun. As the light fades, fishing after the fishing hours or in the morning (also popular in the spring and summer) are the better options to take advantage of that superb pool. You will get back to the dock between just after 6 pm and about 6.45 pm. There is time to shower and get to the bar for canapés before dinner at 8pm. What time you retire is up to you!
For the less able – Ponoi is almost unique in its ability to look after the less able. There are vehicles to take you down the hill from the helicopter and from the camp to the boats. There are plenty of attentive staff to help you into the boat, you can sit on a chair while you cast if you need to but the boats are very, very stable. Tell us what your abilities are and we will tell you if we can handle looking after you but the answer is usually yes. We have gone so far as to build beds in the river tents for one old gentleman of over 90 to have a post-lunch nap! Ponoi has extended many a salmon fisherman’s career and thus has brought a great deal of pleasure to many.
For the able – There is the other end of the scale which is the possibility of wading all day. I do it every time I visit Ponoi and I catch plenty of fish. If you want almost endless wading, Ponoi is the place. Some wading is easy, some tough, the key to being productive is choosing the water to fish and/or walk past. There is a wonderful sense of freedom and remoteness to being left on the river to work things out for yourself. You learn a huge amount, you are challenged and there is nothing more satisfying than reading the water yourself successfully. The same applies to the wonderful nights under the midnight sun. There is Home Pool, which is 400+ yards but you can walk up or down river as far as you like and explore. Best to tell someone you have gone and which direction. It is simply a myth to say that Ponoi is boat fishing only. There is nowhere in the Atlantic salmon arena which provides the space and freedom to explore wilderness rivers by day and night like Russia, and Ponoi has 67 kms!
The Spring – We classify spring as the first week’s fishing to the last full June week which is usually four weeks. This is the time of plenty and one of these four weeks will be the best of the season every time. Which one depends on the weather and how the river settles down to a good height and temperature. These weeks will usually be the top four weeks of the season (30 to 50 fish per rod on average), it is just a matter of which order they come in. Once the river is warm enough (48–50 degrees) the fish will start taking skated flies and this is when it is at its best and most spectacular in terms of aggressive takes. Home Pool also comes into its prime during this period and many times guests enjoy a ten-fish night all on skated flies. If you want numbers of fish, this is the time for you.
The Summer – This is classified as the first of the cusp June/July weeks until the camp closes for the summer recess, usually two or three weeks. We include these weeks when we speak of the Spring season which is classified as the weeks the camp is first open before the summer break. The summer weeks will undoubtedly have mosquitos (priced accordingly but any wind or cold and they are not a problem at all) and can have warmer weather but it is also the time when the summer run comes into the river. This is a grilse run mixed with bigger females predominantly but there are some larger male fish among them. The fishing is often more technical, the river is lower (Ponoi is never too low to be good fishing) and therefore at its most interesting and the size of the flies and skaters being used comes down to 12s and 14s as well as muddler minnows and hitch tubes. This is a time when guests often work a fish, which rises to the fly multiple times. Home Pool remains productive under normal conditions. If you want good value (20 to 30 fish per rod) fishing, these are the weeks.
The Autumn – This is the entire autumn season which starts from early August when the camp returns from its break, all the way through to the beginning of October. The autumn is all about the fresh Autumn or Fall run. They start on 6th August almost to the day and keep coming long after we have all gone home. The early autumn weeks may have some mosquitos or black flies around depending on the weather but they are exciting weeks because everyone is hoping to catch the first ‘minters’ which explode at the fly and take off down the river. You know you have an autumn fish almost the moment you hook it.
With each week that passes so the run grows and the ratio between old and new fish changes. By early September the new are usually in the higher percentage and that continues to increase as temperatures decrease. My favourite week is the cusp week from August to September, there is still good light to fish Home Pool in the mornings and before dinner, one is still using floating or intermediate lines therefore witnessing incredible takes and the water is not yet cold so the fish are at maximum power. There is of course the bonus of the magnificent autumn colours and berries along the riverbank and, with a clear sky and a cold night, the northern lights. If you are OK with less fish (20 to 35 fish per rod) but want the bigger (10–25lbs) explosive, legendary autumn run Ponoi fish, this is the time for you!