Tired of the same old sailfishing? Bored with casting lines that never seem to hook anything? Need more big-fish fun in your life? Perhaps, it’s time to enjoy a fishing experience that’s a little more exclusive, a little more extreme. In fact, something so extreme that it whisks you away to the Arctic Circle by helicopter.
There are specialised operators that will fly you in a private Boeing 737 for the three-and-a-half-hour trip from Helsinki to Murmansk on Russia’s northern Kola Peninsula, and from there transport you by helicopter for 90 minutes across snow-capped mountains and thousands of square kilometres of pine-rich forest to the most inaccessible salmon-filled waters in the world.
Here in the 24-hour summer daylight you can catch a couple of dozen salmon and then relax with friends in a fully equipped luxury log cabin and, inevitably, tell tales about the ones that got away.
The Kola Peninsula is an extraordinary place of frosted tundra and taiga forests. One of the most northern points of Russia, it borders the Barents and White Seas. Just north is the inhospitable Bear Island and Franz Josef Land, fly further and you’re in the Arctic Ocean with all its glacial glamour.
In Kola, people still herd their reindeer across the region during the impossible minus-degree winters, and the submarine base at Murmansk continues to employ Russia’s finest new recruits. More importantly, however, the peninsula is home to the richest rivers in the world where the giant Atlantic salmon return to spawn in Kola’s fresh water from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Unfortunately, the only way to get to them is by air.
One of the specialist travel operators that will get you within a rod’s length of these wonderful fish is Roxtons. “We have an exclusive lease on the Varzuga River and operate here for the absolute peak prime months of May and June every year,” says the company’s director of fishing, Charlie White. “The fishing is without doubt among the most productive in the world. We average 44 salmon per week per client during the season and that is a phenomenal result by any standards. We’re still collating last year’s figures, but we had a lovely salmon of around 10 kilograms in our Kitza camp on the penultimate day of the season and it was a real wrench to leave.”
At Roxtons all clients are housed in newly built, comfortable log cabins that offer private bedrooms and extremely efficient heating as well as that tundra essential, a Russian sauna. Each of the four camps, spread across more than 200 kilometres of Varzua River, caters for just 10 clients each. “All the accommodation offers single occupancy with en-suite showers,” says White. “This is not a luxury hotel, more grown-up boy-scout accommodation, but it is comfortable and each camp is a two-minute walk from the pools.”
There are 15 employees for each group of 10 clients to keep the drinks stocked up and the food is, according to White, fantastic. “I personally interview and employ a professional chef for each camp, along with a manager that organises rotas, gets people to the best pools and helps with every aspect from advising on flies to netting and releasing the clients’ salmon,” he says. “All the fishing is strictly catch and release.”
White visits the camps before the first clients arrive in May when the weather starts to change. “The river ice is just beginning to break and it is an awesome sight to sit and watch the ice floes crashing together opposite the camp. By the time the first clients arrive in the second week of May, the ice has almost gone and the fish are running in extraordinary numbers.”
By June summer has begun and Arctic grass carpets the riverbanks, flowers blossom and fisherman are in shirtsleeves. According to White, the experience of catching a salmon under the midnight Kola sun and the chance of meeting the occasional member of the Kalashnikov-wielding local Russian community are unforgettable experiences. “Everyone who visits is amazed at the resilience of these people,” he says. “They are still very wild and cut off from the rest of Russia and the politics of the world. They simply live by the seasons.”
Representatives of Roxtons first visited the region in the early 1990s as the former Soviet Union started to break up and access into the former military zone was made possible. A few days zipping around in helicopters and touching down to test the waters soon established that the Varzuga was the holy grail of fly-fishing.
“For non-anglers it’s hard to imagine, but it is difficult to get access to salmon rivers these days,” says White. “It’s a very European thing where rivers are often privately owned and the owners keep them to themselves. Even if you do get to fish there, you would be delighted if you caught one salmon in a day and you would be very nervous about losing it.
“In the Kola one person can catch 35 a week, so you become more confident, if you lose one there’s always the chance of catching another, then another. It’s very rewarding especially when you are landing average sizes of eight to 10 pounds [3.6kg to 4.5kg], always with the promise of a 30-pound monster. It’s fishing nirvana.”
• Prices for fishing expeditions with Roxtons start from $5,000 (Dh18,350). Visit www.roxtons.com for details.