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Kola on a Budget
Challenging your dreams of Russia
It all began in 1985 when I was 8 years old. That was when I got my hands on a Russian (Soviet Union) magazine "Rybolov" for the first time in my life.
I read an article and saw pictures of how Americans came to Kola for salmon fishing. Since that, my only one dream was to get some fly-fishing gear.
Finally, in 1996 I had three years of fly fishing experience and was there - in the polar village Umba.
A mecca for fly-fishing fans.
It was my first time on Kola. Salmon were the only thing on my mind. In order to get some information I had to spend one night drinking vodka with the chief of Umba Fishing Inspection.
Moreover, what I saw changed my personality as a fly angler forever. I saw on video an advertisement movie made by a Swedish company operating in Umba. The movie was called "The Last kingdom of the Atlantic salmon".
That was something... Even now I remember every minute of that movie.
In addition, there was a short episode, where a group of anglers flew in for one day only, fishing somewhere in deep tundra in some river-lake system full of wild brown trout.
A couple of years later, the same group made the movie "Tundra Trout" only about trout fishing.
The year after, I revisited Umba for salmon and the next year again... And so it continued for six years in a row, where I visited different rivers in south region of the Kola peninsula.
I fished Varzuga, Kitsa, Pana, Chavanga, Chapoma, Jugin and some other small streams full of salmon.
However, every time I was there, I was wondering weather somebody knew about the tundra trout. No success...
Finally, one evening in the winter of 2005, I was again thinking about next summer plans. I realized that I had had enough of salmon and that I needed to go where few people had been before. So the only one target I saw in front of me were fat, aggressive, fast and tasty brown trout of the Russian tundra. All research started from finding complete map of Kola peninsula. The map was not the hardest issue; the main problem was the names of rivers and lakes. I joined a couple of Russian fly forums and started asking, started writing personal mails and after some 200 hours spent on the Internet I finally got some ideas. I figured out about upper parts of Rynda, Kharlovka and Litza.
So those were the rivers, which were famous. A couple of companies who operated fishing tours were giving me most information. I was more or less able to make a picture of what to expect. After many evenings of sitting in my chair reading the maps, drinking beer and snaps in big quantities, my friend Linas and I decided that Rynda, which was the closest river, would be the optimal target for us.
Therefore, we laid down our route: Klaipeda - Kaliningrad - Murmansk - Tumanyj - Rynda. The small military village Tumanyj was the most remote place east of Murmansk, which was possible to reach by road. Rynda was about 40 km from Tumanyj if you draw a straight line on a map.
I was thinking :
I am strong enough, so I should easily be able to walk 20 kilometers or 12½ miles per day, so I should reach Rynda in 2 or 2½ day, then fishing for 6 days and way back again 2 days. That gave 10 days in tundra bringing everything on my own back. The plan looked just perfect - we more or less knew the way to Murmansk, then to Tumanyj and finally to the river.
License to fish?
Nevertheless, it was unclear situation how it was with permissions for fishing. I heard many rumors and had good experience about Russian fishing regulations. Regarding salmon licenses was crystal clear to us, but for other fishes like pike, perch, char, grayling or trout it was absolutely unclear.
Everybody told different stories. At the end of the day I got complete list of Kola rivers with clear prices and places, where fishing was allowed and where it was prohibited.
I felt ready and started preparing for a trip.
The start was planned to the beginning of June in order to catch the two first weeks of August, when it was not too hot and the mosquitoes were less aggressive but still retaining a big chance of hatching sedge flies.
Getting into Russia
The first thing that everybody who comes to Russia on their own must do is make a registration of arrival. Any tourist has 3 days to register their passport. It can be done either in a hotel or at the police station.
Very often, there is no time for a hotel stay, since you want to enter the wilderness right away. I booked one day in a sport school hotel. I could write a whole separate article about this registration...
Main rule: always check with travel agency which issues Russian visa regarding all registration details. Always carry small cash 5, 10, 20 US$ bills.
Next step was to go to the Russian fishing authorities to buy licenses. But the office was closed and by telephone I was explained that the rivers, which we wanted to get, were closed and had never been open for the public. Also we were warned not to go there, as some tourist operator would bring fishermen there from time to time, and the river was protected from strangers.
Linas and I were very disappointed and after long discussion - we had not travelled more than 2500 km or more than 1500 miles to be victims of the bloody Russian system. We had to go for it anyway but we had to be very accurate and had not camp near the river.
One minute I said to Linas - we would be lucky if we would be able fish three days in Rynda before inspectors come to pick us up.
I found Tumanyj a horrible place to be. The major part of the five floor soviet buildings were empty, without windows. Some houses seemed to have been devastated by fire, robbed, and all metal pipes were stolen etc. We saw wild dogs running around, and only few people lived in the village, which would easy be able to accommodate some 1000 people.
I understood that most people were temporarily staying here and were occupied by collecting berries or fishing. In general, the view was very similar to what is seen in American movies showing some remote villages in the desert soutjh of the Mexican border.
Naturally, we did not like to stay too much longer in that godforsaken place and we quickly put on our rucksacks, switched on our GPS and marked points on the map.
Tundra Days - Fishing and Inspection
The first day we managed to go only 6 kilometers - not 20. Despite of hard training at home our 35 kg rucksacks (that's 70 lbs.), high hills up to 600 meters (1800 feet), wet ground and millions of mosquitoes made it hard to walk.
Next day we did 11 kilometers and overnighted near a small river called Olionka. Three hours of fishing in Olionka was exclusive. Brownies of 30-45 centimeters or up towards 18" were very aggressive. When fish are that aggressive, it makes no sense to talk much about flies. I can just say that my favorite was a black Woolly Bugger and a mouse pattern. Linas preferred a Muddler Minnow.
The third day we did 10 kilometers, and finally at the end of the 4th day we reached the pace, which was our intention since the first time I saw that Swedish movie. My feet's surface was one complete bleeding blister, both mine and Linas knees were hurting and every hour we had to use cooling, painkilling spray.
We were still full of passion and we were rushing to tie on flies and head to the river.
There isn't much to add… The river was full of fish - and very aggressive fish too. One kilo trout easily pulled the line down to the backing with at least five jumps up to couple of meters in the air. What words can express that feeling...?
The next day (day 5) the weather was perfect in all meanings of the word. Linas was very productive with trout up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) taken and released every hour. I was less successful, but that day I got a fat monster of 62 centimeters (24½ inches) and similarly managed to break my line a few minutes after that first fatty one was released.
Day 6 we faced the strongest storm during our trip. The weather in the tundra changes very rapidly and one minute it is shining and another minute it can blow as a hell or even snow.
What happened in day 6 was what I was waiting for every day. After sleepless and wet night, it took us longer to get up for fishing. After a rainy night, the water level rose some 20 centimeters and the fish were not so active.
We decided to go further down for a couple of miles. After an unproductive couple of hours of fishing we gathered as usual to make some quick food and get some shots of vodka.
On moment during our lunch, Linas and I suddenly looked at each other and both agreed that we heard strange sound - like helicopters. However, it was so strong wind and cloudy that we did not take it too seriously. This was a mistake.
One hour later, I landed a trout and looked at Linas asking if he was willing to take a picture, but my smile changed very quickly as some 200 meters behind Linas I noticed three men running toward us.
They were fishing inspectors. The conversation was warm and polite. Our rods were taken and we were advised that we would be able to get rods back after we paid a penalty of 20 Euros per person in Murmansk.
The most interesting moment was when one of inspectors asked why we did not buy licenses. This moment I just wanted to scream. I told that we wanted to buy but nobody was willing to sell it to us. I hope you now understand what an absurd relation exists are between law-issuing and law-supervising authorities in Russia. In addition, we learned that the inspectors got information a day before. They had been informed by their informant Tory who lived in a small tent near the river. The man was so experienced that we would never been able to notice him first. He was a local inhabitant and he had a satellite phone.
Drowning the sorrow
After having said our goodbyes to the inspectors, we had no other choice but to go to our camping site and to empty our bottle of vodka and go to sleep.
The next morning we packed our rucksacks and headed back direction to Tumanyj. For sure, we had spare rods, but last 5 days of hiking and fishing in smaller rivers was not that exciting. Well even fishes up to 1kg did not boiled our blood that much. Rynda was the top... On other hand, we were very proud that our bodies became very strong we even reached records of walking 19 km in one day.
To finish our story I would like to say that Linas' rods and mine were successfully returned back after we paid a penalty. So kind of a happy end.
I booked return tickets for flight Kaliningrad - Murmansk 300 Euros.
A private man agreed to drive us from Klaipeda to Kaliningrad both ways for 60 Euros (30 per person)
Russian visa 30 Euros
Taxi airport Murmansk to hotel Murmansk 10 Euros
Hotel - sport school hotel - 24 Euros per 2 nights per person
Bus - Murmansk - Tumanyj both ways 20 Euros
Food in restaurant 3-10 Euros main menu
Food for 10 days including 3 liters of vodka for each - 60 Euros per person (bought in Murmansk).
Total 492 Euros per person.
Of course if we could have bought licenses, which were 30 Euros a day, we would have to add some 200 Euros on top.