A Finnish Beginning to the Fall
Week 11 Report
After a 3-week midsummer break, we returned this week to welcome the first days of August and the second half of the 2017 Ponoi salmon season in Ryabaga Camp. As is often the case through this midsummer period, the Ryabaga staff went in several different directions: some members of the crew took vacations, some launched an exploratory expedition to the distant Yakutia, and some remained in camp to undertake both maintenance projects and upgrades.
Though Ryabaga and the PRC waters are inhabited for only a portion of the year, extreme winter weather across the Kola and an ongoing commitment to improvement compel us to refine and upgrade facilities each year. These midsummer projects have become something of a tradition, and this year saw some wonderful improvements. Among them were the new river tents at Tomba and Lapynarka, a new mechanics shop with storage space, and a beautiful new staff banya. Additionally, our crew was able to grade the road to the moorage and reinforce it with with steel plates, so there will be no more bumpy morning rides to the boats!
In keeping with what we saw at the end of spring, summer remained quite mild across the Kola. Frequent rains kept the Ponoi at a good fishing level, and as the temperatures barely passed the 20˚C mark we returned to camp to find a cool yet somewhat dirty river. The fish remained in very good shape, and, to our delight, in a “taking” mood.
On the first day of fishing this past week a few bright fish were landed, proving that the last salmon of the summer run had continued up the Ponoi during the break. Though the longevity of the summer run was noteworthy, following Day 1 we nonetheless felt a bit disappointed that we would have to wait a bit longer for the sought-after fall runners. That said, on our first day of fishing 20 rods landed 70 fish.
The slightly off-color water kept Ryabaga guides reliant on big, bright Max tubes at first, though smaller tubes and some small traditional patterns were used with good success. Anglers fished intermediate tips almost exclusively.
There was a unique circumstance that Ponoi anglers encountered this week in the form of a strong run of Humpback (Pink) salmon. Humpies, which were introduced to the region in the mid-1950s by the Soviet government, now spawn in the salmon rivers of the Kola Peninsula and Scandinavia (and even northern Scotland). This year the Ponoi witnessed a major run of these non-native Pacific salmon, with fish occurring in the river in unprecedented numbers. We can only speculate about the cause of this strange phenomenon, but we trust that the population will go back to its normal level in future seasons. We will know for certain in 2019, when the 2-year cycle brings the Humpies back again. Though they can be quite aggressive in finding their spawning grounds, the Humpies will be long dead by the time the native Atlantic salmon spawn in fall. Unlike our Atlantic salmon, the Humpy juveniles will hatch in March and will almost immediately run downstream to the saltwater. Conversely, Salmo salar hold for two to six years in the fresh water before descending to the sea. Despite this minimal overlap in spawning cycle, we don’t fear that there should be any interference between this comparatively significant run of Pacific salmon and our native fish, as the two species have coexisted for more than 60 years. In light of the unexpected abundance, guides, staff and guests have been feasting on Humpback salmon eggs!
This week we enjoyed the return of Erkki Moisander and his full party of Finnish guests. Ryabaga was again running at full capacity, and bubbling with enthusiasm. Even though there were several first-timers in the group, the party managed to land 350 salmon including a nice 20 lb. fish by Ahti. Without a doubt, however, the high point of the week was the first Fall-run salmon of the season, taken by Juha and vigorously celebrated by all in camp. That inaugural fall runner was only a grilse, however, and Juha was far more excited about the 19 lb. colored cock fish he landed just a few minutes later.
Needless to say, it is a pleasure to be back in camp. With the arrival of fall-run fish, we cannot wait to see what the second half has in store. This has been a unique season on all fronts, as marked by the late spring, the fine midsummer river condition, and this remarkable arrival of humpback salmon. It may well be that the late season 2017 will bring more unprecedented things to Ponoi anglers.
More to come…
Joaquin Arocena and the Ryabaga Team