Reflections on Spring fishing on Ponoi 2013
Experiencing a 1000 salmon week…
Restaurant recommendations for Helsinki before Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi.
I headed to Helsinki a day early to have dinner with some Finnish friends and clients. We had a great sporting evening talking non-stop about fishing and shooting all over the world. They took me to a restaurant I had not been to before called Boulevard Social at No 6 Boulevard Street just 10 minutes from the Kamp Hotel. We had a very good, light, tasting menu, which was not slow and laborious but very good and swift with excellent food including fois gras, honey pork belly, lamb, gazpacho prawn cocktail etc…see http://boulevardsocial.fi/. It’s neighbour is run by the same team of chefs is called Gaijin and is more of a Japanese/seafood experience, have a look at http://gaijin.fi/.
My favourite story of the evening was about Orri hosting a past Danish Prime Minister at Big Laxa in Iceland. He caught a good fish, which had to be killed sadly so they were taking some photos of him with the falls in the background. Orri asked him to move back a bit to get more of the falls in and just those two steps made him fall into the river! Orri rushed to help him out of the river but was told to save the salmon instead. They got both the Prime Minister and the salmon out of the river and set themselves up for the shot again. Orri was about to press the shutter button when the Prime Minister’s life jacket cylinder went off belatedly and this caused him to fall in again! Both Prime Minister and salmon were retrieved again!
My last recommendation, which I really enjoyed last autumn, is Salutorget, a Scandinavian Bistro with excellent seafood and many other excellent dishes. Go to the main street by the Kamp and turn left, and walk about 100 metres, it is not easy to see but it is there. Have a look at http://www.salutorget.fi.
My final comment, which happened to us on our Friday evening is that we spent so much time gathered in the lovely outside bar at the Kamp that we focused on dinner too late and never got a table so do plan ahead if you want to go out to dinner on a Friday night in Helsinki!
Our Journey to Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi River
Our journey was uneventful. Marjaliisa, the Frontiers representative, looked after everyone and we sat and had breakfast while the queues of other rods for other rivers checked in. When our turn came, our bags were put on the conveyor by Marjaliisa’s team and we collected our boarding pass and headed through security. The lines looked dreadful but there were plenty of lanes so it was fine. It is a bit of a walk to the gate but the rest was uneventful. Passport clearance in Murmansk is slow but not as bad as it was and customs is a breeze with the Green channel. Obviously, declare if you have an excessive amount of anything in particular but otherwise on you go through the Green channel with no hassle. Our team gathered in the VIP rooms and had something to eat and drink and then on to the chopper for the direct flight to Ryabaga Camp. Our arrival in camp was as it always is, lots of healthy friendly faces and down the hill we go to our tents. I had been hoping for a single tent because of all the gear I had but this was not possible being the extra man so Dieter, my legendary (because he has caught two 40lbs fish on rivers where they do not come so easily) had to endure me and the tent looking like an electronics shop for a while. I had the use of any empty room for a few days but I had to return and bother Dieter.
Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi River
My objectives for the week were to see if I could add or improve to some of the spring footage we shot for our short films last year, to see if I could demonstrate, through film, how close (and therefore visually) the spring fish will take a fly and finally to capture footage of the journey home to complete the last in the series of short films, The Ponoi Journey, because last year, for some reason, that part of the trip did not get filmed.
It turned out it was not possible to have full use of a boat as we had done last year and there were no guides available to help or model for me so I had to change plans. I was therefore due to have the pleasure of fishing with Dieter which I knew would be a very relaxed affair but I am sure Dieter will not mind me saying that his base colour is green so not the most photogenic!
Dieter was a classic example of someone who ‘discovered’ wading on the Ponoi. This sounds ridiculous because there is endless wading but there is a real misconception about wading and Ponoi because boats are used – have a look at the short film Boats and Wading. He wades on his ‘home’ rivers in Norway but was a little nervous of wading here because he did not know the river. He loved the boatfishing where the boat is placed off a point where the water draws as if a tail of a pool and on the first day caught some wonderful fish up to 17lbs skating a fly away from the point. This method has clear purpose in terms of the use of the boat, offers huge anticipation because it is so obvious where the fish should take and can be very visual with amazing surface takes. He did a lot of this type of fishing early in the week but as he got to know the river and witnessed me wading all week, he began to literally dip his toe in the water until by the end of the week he was keen to wade all day.
I decided to change my video plans and make a short film about the week using my GoPro as a head cam for much of the time and to fish a skated fly of some sort all week and wade much of the week. I used mostly basic hitch tubes or larger plastic Temple Dog style tubes as the week turned out. I wanted to see how handicapped I was and if I would lag behind others with catching fish. I suspected this would not be the case but I had never tried it myself. Joe told me over dinner the first evening that last year, he had fished ‘something skated’ for the whole week and had caught 72 fish so that sounded encouraging.
Home Pool, first evening, Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi River
The week before had produced over 1200 fish. This was an all-time record for the first week of the season and also among the top weeks ever at Ryabaga Camp. It was exactly as was hoped given the amazing autumn fishing in 2012. What really astonished me was this had been achieved despite some boiling hot days and cloudless sunny skies. In my experience such days can half productivity compared to a nice cloudy day. I was concerned that the longer this went on, the more likely the fishing might begin to show signs of suffering but it only seemed to be the fishermen that suffered with burned faces and blistered lips.
Before I comment further on the week I think I need to give it some perspective. Days of cloudless skies with temperatures of over 20 degree and higher can happen on the Kola at this time of year but they are not the norm. The norm is often a cold north wind, days of about 10 degrees or less and a water temperature just below that. Little difference in the night-time temperatures. I have warned guests about possible conditions in recent years but I have to admit that better weather and Home Pool being a nice height is becoming the norm lately rather than a pleasant surprise and maybe I need to change my perspective. I maintain that had we had cooler, cloudier days, we might, and they might, the week before, have caught even more fish. One usually starts our week and the week before with sink-tips and then, as the week goes on, elevate to another rod with a floating line and heavy tube or a skated fly. Skated flies are best big a bold early but I will say that I think one gets the best and most aggressive reactions to skated flies at the beginning of the season. Where we are now, with the spring cycle is more akin to two weeks time. The evolvement of spring has been a matter of days rather than a few weeks. This makes the experiences of the week unrepresentative but it makes the process of spring rather complete and therefore what we experienced this week almost covers an entire spring season.
Obviously, when I went down to Home Pool for the first time to photograph those fishing, it was with the knowledge of the previous week but the sheer numbers of fish hit me right away with those fishing the middle section of Home Pool hooking fish after fish. If the autumn fishing on Ponoi is all about the awesome autumn run fish that come into the river almost 40% fatter than normal salmon what is spring fishing on Ponoi all about? The two words that immediately spring to mind are numbers and visual action.
As I have said, the season usually starts with sink-tips but it is never long until at least intermediates, if not floating lines are being used. With this comes visual action and this was the theme of the week. I was not able to capture fish taking at my feet on film as I had hoped for reasons explained but there was story after story about guests seeing fish take a fly right in front of them. This is so typical of spring fishing on Ponoi. To really explain the spring let me break it into four stages, almost three of which we experienced in our week due to the prolonged hot weather spanning almost two weeks.
Typical Spring Fishing at Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi River
When guests first arrive, the water is usually high and on the cold side. Home Pool can often be unproductive at the start of the week but comes in as the week progresses. With the higher, colder water fish lie in a certain pace of water and can be in such water in huge numbers because they favour a certain speed at that height and temperature. Fishing from bank is very productive. I say bank because wading is unnecessary, the fish are right there and as the water warms a little it really is possible to rise fish right in front of you. Move a lot fishing from bank, walk past the slower or faster water and back eddies. If fishing from boat the rod casting to the bank will generally out-fish the rod casting out. This is because the water on the outside is often too fast for the water temperature.
Weather can still be cold but the trend is improving. With the dropping water, parts of Home Pool are kicking in and becoming really quite productive. The water is at the unique temperature and height where the fish are starting to rise aggressively but are still lying in a certain water speed and therefore easily found and fished for. Skated fly fishing can be outstanding at this stage but there will be many rises which are tail slapping attacks rather than real takes but it is great fun to see. Bank fishing is still just that with fish close by and it is therefore very effective and becoming more visual with perhaps the best possible chances of fish rising right in front of you if you are of a mind to invite them to do so. If fishing from boat; the rod on the outside now feels much more optimistic of catching fish too.
This is perhaps the biggest change and it is when new guides can struggle because they ‘lose’ the fish for a while. The water warms and drops enough that the fish move to features like points and channels etc. Suddenly, while water speed is still a relevant consideration, lies and features become greater factors and the fish can often be found in much faster water too. Home Pool comes in almost fully and can be productive from start to finish and is now at its best and will remain so for the season until there is major rain to impact it. Wading begins fully. It is now possible to actually wade because the bottom is now visible. This is the stage where the river goes from seemingly very deep, to the reality of being a shallow highly featured river. It is now possible to walk in the river for long periods up to your middle thigh and be very safe and relaxed and to open your shoulders and expect to catch fish with long as well as medium to short casts. The fishing in general goes from interesting (because of so much going on close by) to full of feature everywhere and the fish are now fully spread out.
Home Pool is really in full steam now. The fish are fully spread out and they are tending to hug features such as points, tails, boulders etc far more. Floating line is the order of the day and now smaller flies are being used and tubes are being put away. More subtle skated flies like hitched tubes and green machines are better used and fish are rising very freely but not always taking. This time of year is often when the great games of cat and mouse are played where your guide will advise you to change flies in size or colour or wet to skater and back to catch a specific rising fish. These fish are often the most satisfying and provide really fun and interesting fishing. Wading continues to be excellent with islands and gravel bars appearing. We are pretty much into summer now and the willingness or pickiness of the fish will depend of the sun and temperature of the water. Some cooler weather and rain will see the fish really come on while some hot and sunny days might slow things down. There is the added bonus that the summer run of grilse and larger female fish is now in full flow and these fish are particularly strong and free taking.
During our week we would normally be at Stage Two but we probably experienced most of stage three with some of Stages Two and Four. A word on the fish we were catching because despite explanations and scientific talks guests continue to be tricked by the fish we catch in the spring, last week was no exception. I heard several guests commenting that they caught mint bright fresh fish, which, in the first week of June, is not impossible but highly unlikely. Indeed, I caught some fish that I checked the gills because they were so mint-bright but they had gill maggots in them. I did not hear any talk of sea-lice at all and that is the first real sign of a fresh summer run fish arriving.
The facts are that the fish we were catching fit into two main categories but all are classified as autumn run fish therefore they have not arrived into the Ponoi this spring viagra in polen kaufen. Although all the fish were beginning to colour due to the unusually warm water, those with more colour will have arrived between early August (the most coloured fish) and early October (the less coloured fish). The reason why they have some colour is because they came to the river when the water temperature had some warmth and therefore had time to change. The other category are those that are very silver and trick us into thinking they are fresh. These fish came to the river after we went home. They entered the river when it had very low temperatures and consequently spent the winter under the ice without losing any of their silver sheen. This is why they fool us when we catch them in the spring. There really is nothing to tell them apart from a fresh fish because they take aggressively and fight like all hell but if you look in their gills there will be gill maggots there. These can best be seen with the gills underwater.
As I have said, all these fish will now turn with the warm water and will spawn in September/October of this year.
A record week, Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi River
So, what of the week? How did the wading and the skating of flies go? We caught an astonishing 1666 fish with the most notable catch being Dom with 307 fish to his rod for the two weeks he was staying. He shared his rod with his son aged 13 for the first week and his son caught 58 fish!
I remain of the opinion that the warm (very very warm Sunday) weather we had and the blue skies reduced what we might have caught which I know sounds possibly spoiled or greedy but it is a well-known fact that willing takers reduce in bright conditions. This point was amplified by Home Pool, which produced 219 fish out of fishing hours when the sun was lower. Dieter slipped out one morning early and caught 12 in one and a-half hours!
For me, I fished five full days only, I had a flu bug one day and stayed in camp. I did fish Home Pool around the guests either after they had fished in the evening or in the mornings when it fished very well. With the skated fly, I felt there were times when a wet fly would have been better but I had endless incredible rises and takes that I will never forget. The most memorable was in Home Pool. A fish came about three feet out of the water and was clearly looking down at the fly on which it landed and took. It was truly spectacular and leaves one in no doubt that in such cases, the fish thinks it is feeding. Those that did fish an intermediate did better at times and there was no doubt that the more subtle skaters or even hitched tubes were the top performers during the day, especially the bright days.
At 5.10 on Friday I had 98 fish. I had never caught 100 fish in a week before. It was such a long time since I fished a proper week in the spring and in the years I did so, it was not a bumper year. I was therefore keen to achieve that particular mark being so close. However, at 5.10 on Friday the engine made a strange noise and Ollie (the guide) and I concluded it was time to row home. Thankfully we were upstream. I faced trying to catch two fish in Home Pool later. I sat there as we drifted our way down river and decided that it was at least worth a try to make short casts and use my rod to create a swing on the fly. I asked Olly to drift us through the likely lies and deeper water in the hope of raising a salmon.
The first fish to come up was a really good sea trout. Disappointment. Soon after, a salmon came up and took the fly. It was on. It made a long run upriver as we drifted downriver and came off. More disappointment! Time passed but in a deeper section of the river another salmon came up and took the fly. This time it was well and truly on and landed. Number 99! We were now floating in mid-Purnache beat and hoping to get 100 before home. Nothing, and more nothing. Then having had a really nice 15lbs fish come and look, another salmon came up and took. It was amazing to watch. It came up, swirled around the fly. Seemed to get confused about the fly going forward but downriver. It regrouped and came again with double the speed and purpose. Missed again. It came a third time and took hold and we landed number 100! Such things do not happen on normal salmon rivers. I was able to take my rods down and enjoy the evening. 100 salmon on skated fly for the week.
The week was the second highest of all time at Ryabaga. Everyone had had incredible fishing and had witnessed visible action the likes of which they will likely never see again. The fish fight like hell with many stories of huge long runs and tough fish. Maybe because it was fairly predictable, partly because of the autumn run in 2012 and partly because of the week before, the sense of achievement and history seemed lacking somehow. What was not predictable was the size of fish. I called a huge number of grilse because of how many there were in the autumn but they were not there in numbers. The most common size was 7 – 9lbs which was certainly the classic average in the days I was weighing and tagging fish. This had been an extraordinary week and this team from the UK, the USA and Russia were now part of salmon fishing history. Maybe we were all so tired and had not had time to reflect on what had taken place.
Inevitably the records will not flow every year and the cycle of highs and lows will resume, except on Ponoi, with the removal of the nets in 1994, the lows are higher as are the highs. There is no question that the autumn fish of the Ponoi are to be revered but just as they are rare creatures of world class, so, in my view is the spring fishing experience on Ponoi. I know of no other river in the world where salmon demonstrate such a propensity to take a fly so aggressively and so willingly from the surface. The variety of fishing from boat and bank, the magic of Home Pool on fire, the list of special experiences goes on and on.
The Spring fishing on Ponoi is no poor relation to the autumn.