Reopening Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula

Reopening Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula

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In a long list of best places to fish, Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula—and the opportunity it provides for adventure and giant rainbow trout—sits at or near the top for most fly fishers. And photographer Valentine Atkinson is no different: On a recent journey to Kamchatka he wrecked a camera body, a lens, a pair of sunglasses and two fly rods, and he was pitched out of a raft while he was at it. He set up his tent at night, took it down in the morning, ate mostly sustenance fare of canned corn beef hash and homemade borscht, and saw enough grizzly bears to keep one ear open at night. Despite those challenges Atkinson says it was one of the best trips he’s ever taken (he’s fished 30 countries), and his companions on the adventure, to a man, said it was the best fly-fishing for rainbow trout they’d ever experienced, times 10.

And now, for the first time since 2005, direct flights between Anchorage, Alaska and Petropavlovsk, Russia, make Kamchatka conveniently accessible again. Prior to this past summer, anglers hoping to fish Kamchatka had to fly to Moscow, and then work their convoluted way across the country, via multiple flights. Now, anglers can take a four-hour flight on Vladivostok Air to Petropavlovsk, followed by a one-hour helicopter ride, and be casting for rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and the super-size Kundzha char, on wild rivers winding between active volcanoes on their routes to the Pacific Ocean.

Reopening Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula

Kamchatka’s Giant Rainbows

In a world full of rainbow trout, Kamchatka’s Pavana and Zhupanova rivers may offer more 27- to 35-inch-long rainbow trout than anywhere else. But that’s not the only place to find those brutes on the Peninsula—it’s estimated that more than 100 quality rivers exist and that only 30 or so have been fished. If you are looking for lots of big rainbows that pounce on streamers and mice imitations, Kamchatka is the place to be.

Kundzha Char

A bonus to fishing Kamchatka is getting shots at Kundzha char. They are beautiful, big anadromous fish, growing to 20 pounds or more, and they behave like steelhead, frequenting the boulder seams, buckets and tailouts (read: eminently swingable). These fish don’t “color-up” like char you might find in Alaska, but their copper and rust coloration, accented by white-tipped fins and roundish, white spotting, make them one of the world’s great fishes.

Dolly Varden

Kamchatka’s Dolly Varden are much like the Pacific Northwest’s, and they grow to solid sizes, too. Like Alaska’s dollies, these fish are brightly painted in strokes of olive, brown and silver, punctuated by white-tipped fins and radiant red spots.

The Wildness

Bears are omnipresent on Kamchatka, and Atkinson saw up to a dozen a day in some places. He reported them as being mostly docile and eager to move away when he yelled at them. Still, coastal grizzlies are unpredictable and that prompted the guides to carry AK-47 rifles. As added insurance, the Russians brought along their Laikas, a word that means, literally, “barker.” Whenever a bear was near the dogs sounded off; they were more patient with guests.

Downtime

Kamchatka’s summer light allows anglers to fish 24 hours a day, but downtime is an essential part of a great trip. While floating “exploratory” rivers, Atkinson and his partners took time out to warm their bones and dry clothes around campfires, and to suck down Russia’s traditional libations. And they burned all nets deemed too small to handle Russia’s giant trout and char, rather than carry them through the hinterlands. Atkinson summed up the trip like this: “As far as accessing a virgin fishery and catching lots of big fish, Kamchatka is the equal of or better than Alaska. And because of the exoticness, it sets itself apart from other places, too. You are in Russia—so remote—fishing rivers that may never have seen a fly.”