It has been a very busy summer with so many interesting opportunities and people to meet but it has left me short on energy. However, there was one last project I had committed to do. Having wavered, I headed to Ponoi to keep to my commitment to help with the autumn filming of various information chapters that will be available on the DVD which will soon be distributed. I wrote about my time on Ponoi in the spring which explains the plan in more detail, have a look here.
During the week before I recieved a message from my mate ‘Lucky Peter’ of Desroches shark fame among other great fishing moments who was a guest fishing that week. It read as follows…
“Quick update before breakfast. Fishing very exciting. Lots of bright fish in the system and very powerful. Quality of fish amazing. Many sea-liced with full, long tails. A 12 lb will take you through the backing twice or more and necessitate a visit to the bank and 100 yd walk to get it to the net. Many fish in high teens and a couple of 20’s for the team. My best 17. I estimate we are around 450 on day four. I personally landed 13 yesterday. We hooked 27 and got 22 to the net. It’s like June numbers, only the power and beauty of Fall Run. Very high proportion bright. Wind irritating. Threw toys out of cot on Tuesday and had to take afternoon off and seek guidance from Uncle Alan for a few hours. Paid huge dividends yesterday.
Looks very promising for you next week. Best to Dom and Mike when you see them on Friday. Tell them to pack hand cream for line burn, they will need it. I had one hit so hard it cut my finger, then acrobatics all over the river before coming off, I estimate high teens possibly 20 plus, best fish I ever hooked. Many fish boiling at the fly, then coming back and back again, very aggressive fish. Bodes well for next Spring If this continues. See you on Saturday. Travel safe. LP”
This was music to all ears as LP does not and never needs to exaggerate.
On arrival in Helsinki I was met by the wonderful Marjaliisa Bjorkbom as usual and headed to the Kamp Hotel.
One mission in Helsinki was to photograph some of the better restaurants near the Kamp Hotel which I did. They were all closed in the day but I took pictures of the outside.
I also happened on the market by the harbour where there was a feast of autumn berries on sale which I could not resist photographing. Autumn in the north is such a wonderfully, plentiful time.
Saturday morning came and as we headed to the airport Marjaliisa gave the team the news of a new record for week 14 at 703 fish for the week to 19 rods (one sadly had to drop out at the last moment through his father’s illness), an average of 37 fish per rod. They had some nice stable weather and rumour had it that we were to enjoy similar weather. I will not bore you with a blow by blow of the details but there were 21 rods (there was a special favour this week allowing an old client to fish his own boat) and they ended with 932 fish, an average of 44 fish per rod. This places this week among the best three autumn weeks ever on the Ponoi. Having been very involved with the record years of 2002 and 2003, I am absolutely delighted that it seems those incredible days are returning. I expected them sooner because all the scientific signs are perfect but it seems they are now upon us and I am delighted for the new owners who had yet to see the Ponoi really on fire during their ownership but on fire it really is now, maybe even better.
I had a chance to chat with the two scientists in camp and they confirmed that the river is in all time good shape and currently the sea temperatures are excellent for salmon going to sea. As I will comment on later there is a huge run of rather unique grilse diluting the bigger salmon and it is these that are swelling the numbers. I asked them if this huge run of one sea-winter fish this year would likely mean a massive run of two sea-winter fish next year and they grinned and nodded! 2013 might be the all time amazing year on Ponoi. In Norway, if we get a good grilse year, we hope for a good salmon year two years hence. It seems to work that way.
I was not part of the 21 rod team. I was there with Alan Maughan to add much of the detail to our filming efforts as well as try and capture the essence of the autumn fishing. I also hoped to take some good photographs. This meant maximising time on the river when we could but we spent most mornings working and recording the narration for each section. We discovered that the actual banya or sauna itself acted as an excellent sound studio though some days the stones on the stove were still giving off a great deal of heat so it was hot work!
I got up at 5.30 every morning to photograph those in Home Pool, hoping that some good fish would be caught which happened more in the evening than the morning. Of course the best morning for quality of fish was the one when it was raining so no decent photos or filming. It must be said that we were jinxed being on the spot when the good fish were caught or from catching them ourselves which we tried to do around those that were content for us to hang around them and film.
This is not to complain because the grilse and small salmon we were catching were spectacular. They were the fattest fish I have ever seen and a good 6 or 7 lbs. They were like bonito or small yellowfin tuna, most with sea-lice and strong as anything. Most took me in to the backing and they jumped and were a real handful. But it was not the grilse we had come to film and they are not representative of the autumn run, on a normal year the grilse show up in late September and are not quite as fat. We came to film the classic autumn run salmon which perhaps averages 10 to 12lbs – the real standard fish is an 11lbs female or about a 14 or 15lbs male fish. These fish are truly spectacular.
Before I continue with some pretty bold declarations I feel I need to set out my stall for the basis on what I have to say. This year I fished Norway, Iceland, Canada and Russia. I have fished all the Russian rivers in prime time over the years except the Umba but specifically Kharlovka, E Litsa, Rynda, Varzina and Yokanga. I have fished in Norway since 1989, that is 24 years, 22 of them on Alta, a river correctly famous for its strong, large fish. I have fished Iceland since 1989, fishing something like 17 different rivers over the years. I have also fished some wonderful rivers in Canada over the past 20 or more years. I know that many have done a great deal more than me but I hope you will agree that what I have done is enough to have a fairly creditable opinion and I have also fished a fair bit in Scotland.
I am not going to tell you that an 11lbs autumn run Ponoi fish is stronger than a 30lbs salmon, how could it be? But, I do stick my neck out and claim that such a Ponoi fish is certainly the strongest, most acrobatic and fast salmon of any I have caught and really they need to be caught to be believed. Unless you go to the Ponoi and hook these incredible fish in decent water conditions (by that I mean clear and of a reasonable temperature) you will never understand why I and those that do make the pilgrimage have such high regard for these fish. In Norway, when we catch a fish, I guess because of its size and the fact that catching a fish is a real event which involves and requires team work and effort and thought, such fish are celebrated.
Time out is taken to have a drink, toast the fish and just think about it for a while and reflect before resuming fishing. I believe we should do the same with these extraordinary autumn Ponoi fish for catching them is a real event. Very few just come to the net, most take off jumping and rattling off multiple yards of backing and are then seen again jumping in the middle of the river in the distance. Almost without fail, one is in disbelief when one sees what has caused or created the need for all that struggle and effort and noise. These fish don’t just punch above their weight, they are a law unto themselves and have to be hooked to be believed. No salmon fisherman’s world is complete without the experience of catching Ponoi autumn run fish and these fish really deserve time and a toast before fishing is resumed. They are truly an event to be savoured and toasted.
During the course of the week I landed 49 fish, all wading beautiful fly water. I spent quite a bit of time running down the river bank after these fish chuckling to myself. One fish on Friday afternoon was my 100th fish of my season, it took hard, jumped a few times and then took off down river as if it would never stop. It got so far away I was so out of touch with it I actually picked some wild blueberries as I walked the couple of hundreds yards after the fish. They were delicious!
I finally landed the fish and just sat beside it, holding it in the water marvelling at its beauty and strength. She was about 11lbs and she had taken the fly deeply, there was no blood so I cut the line and left the hook and she went on her way. It was the end to my salmon fishing year.
I adore my time on Alta, one of the most historical and exciting rivers to be a part of, I am fascinated by the intimacy and visual experience that is Iceland which always draws me back and I have to say that wading the Ponoi in the autumn for these incredible fish must be added to my list of ‘must have’ salmon fishing drugs. They don’t need to be big, they don’t even need to be 15 or 20lbs, they just are something that has to be experienced to be believed and deserve to be among the most reverred and respected Atlantic salmon strain out there.