KAMCHATKA & ITS GEOGRAPHY OF RIVERS
For many fly fishers, Kamchatka is the most desirable place in the world for unforgettable experiences fly-fishing for wild Pacific Salmon.
Rivers both large and small split the territory of Kamchatka up and in each of the rivers there are species of the Pacific Salmon family. The total area of the Kamchatka peninsula is 270 thousand sq. km. stretching from north to south for 1,200 km. with around 14,100 rivers and streams, most of which have a length of just 10 km and only 105 rivers the flow for more than 100 km.
Most of Kamchatka’s’ rivers flow in the direction of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk. Depending on which way the river flows (east or west) the landscape and character of the areas and rivers change. Rivers running east or west are visually very different to each other. Rivers running east throughout its length are rapid in nature as the long distance they traverse cut through mountainous terrain. The western flowing rivers have a calm nature, the upper west side of these rivers have a mountainous landscape, with the main current flowing amongst the hills before reaching tundra landscapes downstream.
Depending on the time of year, there are different species of pacific salmon that start running these rivers, this period starts from the beginning of June and ends at the beginning of November.
My first expedition to Kamchatka was in early October 2011. I was invited by a friend who owns a stretch of the river and was planning on developing a fishing camp, he needed help to determine the potential value of the river, so the purpose of my visit was to test the river and define the best fishing spots as well as the best place for the camp to be built.
In Kamchatka, there are a lot of streams and small rivers, in which there are as many different types of fish that are interesting for fly-fishing. Some rivers have a unique landscape and nature. Some of the rivers along its entire length have an ever-changing character beyond recognition.
Upper streams of the longer rivers have mountainous characters, the middle part is flat and forest lined and the lower reaches of the rivers flow through the tundra. Some rivers have many fallen trees that make the waterways unsafe when using a raft. To investigate the wilder more remote places we travel through the river using jet boats, which makes manoeuvring through difficult areas with fallen trees on the way much easier.
Transparency of the water in the rivers is also very different. Some rivers have crystal clear waters without any shade, but there are rivers that change in the transparency of the water along its entire length. In these rivers, the upper areas have water with a touch of turquoise; the middle area with a grey tint and the lower area course of the river has a peaty brown tint to the water.
Each river has its own character and temperament. Rivers of Kamchatka are picturesque in their landscape and fishing pools, where fishing in such areas are extremely nice. The banks and bottom of the rivers consists of pebbles and large stones, only upper reaches of rivers flowing in the mountainous parts of Kamchatka are rocky. For the most part the rivers do not have boulders and big rocks, which allows the angler to move very comfortably whilst wading or on the shore during fishing.
SPECIES & FISHING SEASONS
The earliest running fish entering the rivers are Masu Salmon and Chinook, immediately after this run comes the Chum, Pink and Sockeye Salmon and in late August the Coho follow. During the summer there are also sea run Char running the river alongside the Salmon.
There are two kinds of Char in Kamchatka called Kundza and Dolly Varden. The most valuable and protected fish in Kamchatka are the Steelhead. The Steelhead start entering the river from the Okhotsk Sea during late August and the beginning of September. They accumulate in the lower parts of the rivers and gradually move up stream. Steelhead mainly run the rivers of western Kamchatka that flow into the Okhotsk Sea, Pacific salmon however do not migrate to all the rivers in Kamchatka.
In some rivers there are no steelhead or Chinook that run, the majority of Chinook can be found in the fastest flowing rivers with the deepest pools. Chinook migrate to the upper reaches of the rivers to spawn, where they must battle through more than 100 km of river from the sea. On the contrary, Steelhead prefer the much quieter tundra rivers with steady streams, where the water has a brownish tint due to many smaller tributary streams flowing through peat bogs.
Fly fishers from all over the world come to Kamchatka in search of wild Rainbow Trout and many fans of these fish come to Kamchatka specifically to fish with dry flies. The most popular fly for Autumn Steelhead is a dry fly mice imitation pattern, that produce a lot of fun and become quite addictive.
For myself, the most interesting fly-fishing for Rainbows is during late autumn using flies like a leech or intruder. I love the feeling when the line goes tight from an aggressive take by an angry Rainbow Trout. When a Rainbow trout takes the fly and turns, they can often strip a few meters of running line from the reel. They are an aggressive and strong fish, making incredible runs, taking you a fair way downstream during the fight. Throughout the year the Rainbows migrate up the rivers and after spawning, fall back into the middle and lower parts of the river to feed.
In the fall they begin to migrate to the upper reaches of the river to find a comfortable holding pool.
The largest specimens of Rainbow Trout can be found in the deep holes in the middle reaches of the river, and during the autumn they also begin to migrate to the upper reaches of rivers. The middle reaches of Kamchatka’s rivers usually have a lot of fallen submerged trees and deep holes. In such places it is very difficult to catch trophy Rainbow Trout, as it is hard to effectively reach the fish with a fly and to land them without snagging, however in the fall during the migration to the upper reaches of the rivers, anglers can have a chance to catch a trophy Rainbow Trout travelling through or stopping in classic holding pools. The rivers change to a harsh winter setting from late autumn and for those who can brave the conditions, this time of year is a very productive time for trophy Rainbow Trout fly-fishing.
FLY FISHING CONDITIONS
Kamchatka’s rivers are of different characters, depths and breadths when viewed from a fly fishers perspective. Anglers will find something interesting on each river, which for better or worse, will be imprinted on their heart for a lifetime.
The water temperature in the rivers of Kamchatka is far colder than in the rivers of the north and the mid reaches of Russia. Most rivers in the hot summer days still do not go above 8-10 degrees. In early October, the water temperature in the middle reaches of the river is around 4-6 degrees and in late October, the temperatures are even lower averaging 2 degrees or lower on the extra cold days. These temperatures are not the most comfortable environments for Salmon and their activity is greatly dependent on this factor.
Rainbow Trout are also very sensitive to water temperature and atmospheric pressure changes, with the onset of cold weather and the water temperature dropping to 4 degrees, Rainbow Trout begin to actively take streamers. This is the most productive time to catch Trophy Rainbow Trout, focusing on certain areas in which it is easer to catch them. Trophy Rainbows do not like to stay in places where the sun’s rays fall on the water surface. They always stay in the shadier areas under the branches of the trees, their flooded roots and overhanging banks.
During the fall Rainbow Trout tend to lie on the boundary of the main river flow and deep drop offs, however in places with a smooth passage, larger rainbow trout tend to lie in the gradient drop offs of the shallower water. For me, my greatest fly-fishing interest in the Kamchatka Peninsula is the Rainbow Trout and Steelhead. I am willing to spend all my time fishing for these creatures when I am there. The habitat of the Rainbows and Steelhead also varies.
In the autumn Rainbow Trout mainly hold in the middle and upper reaches of the rivers, where as Steelhead concentrate on the lower parts and only in the late autumn begin to migrate up to and accumulate in the middle areas of the rivers. If the Rainbows in the late fall are readily rising to the surface for a dry fly, the Steelhead will respond much better to flies that are fished subsurface in the main water column. The takes from a Steelhead and Rainbow Trout are usually very aggressive and an exhilarating experience.
Often during the autumn I will spend my time fly-fishing for Coho Salmon. Coho in Kamchatka run the rivers in several stages. In the early autumn, the first run is the medium-sized Coho and in the late autumn comes the largest specimen of Coho, reaching up to 8 kilos. The average weight of a Coho Salmon in Kamchatka is 4-5 kilos.
When fly-fishing for Coho you need to get the fly to sink down to the bottom levels of the water column close to the riverbed. Coho do not like to rise to the surface to take a fly. Popular patterns for Coho are leeches and Intruders tied with different weighting such as cone heads and dumbbells. To get a Coho to take, you need to get good movement on the fly and strip it at different speeds. Coho are regularly disinterested in motionless flies, they are usually triggered to take aggressively when the fly is lively, and once hooked these fish are very strong contenders and swift runners.
TACKLE FOR FLY FISHING
For Rainbows and Char in the upper reaches of the rivers, where the river is not so wide or fast flowing, I recommend Single Hand rods in the #5 – #7 class complete with a floating line such as the Opti Stream or Evotec 85. I tend to prefer fly lines with a shorter head because I need to cast large dry flies like mice patterns and in some places, use a sinking leader with heavy flies. I find shorter heads on fly lines much easier to Cast when using big flies or, sinking leaders with weighted flies.
For Chinook fly fishing in the early season, I use Double Hand rods #8 – #9 with sinking shooting heads such as the GDC in S-3/4, S-5/6 category, my favourite rods are definitely the Cross S1 #8 13’0, Cross S1 #9 14’0 or the new Cross SX #9 14’0.
In autumn, I prefer to use lighter Double Hand rods #6 – #8 as well as the Switch #6 – #7 complete with Skagit heads and leaders of different sinking rates. Most often I use lines in the category of T10 – T18. In the fall, with lower water temperatures, Salmon in Kamchatka respond better to the flies that are fished in the middle layers of the water and close to the bottom. At the end of October the water temperature drops to 2-3 degrees or lower, and in that time, the key to success is a fly-fished deep with fast sinking polyleaders in the T18 class.
Most favourite rod for fishing in medium width rivers is the Double Hand Cross S1 #7 12’0 complete with an Opti Speedrunner reel and a 450gr Skagit head with a polyleader Tip 10′, 12’5 in T-14 or T-18. Last autumn, I was testing rods in Kamchatka including the new Cross SX #7 12’4 with the same set up. This rod works perfectly and for me, the new Cross SX rods were a big surprise, the rod blanks are very obedient and has the best qualities to allow you to perform the most sophisticated casting techniques.
When fishing the wider rivers during the autumn, I use a Cross S1 #8 13’0 complete with Opti Strike reel and various Skagit heads around 475-550gr, occasionally with tips from 10′, 12’5 in T-14 or T-18. I have recently tested the new Cross SX #8 13’2 with the same set up and again, this fast action rod series works perfectly.
When my soul wants to go fishing with a melody I have to use LOOP Classic Reels. When a salmon takes off, you can hear that magical sound of these reels in all their traditional glory.
I discovered Kamchatka for myself in 2011 and I now regularly go there for research into new fishing places several times a year. In tern Kamchatka has been a suburb testing area to put LOOP’s products through many different scenarios and the results have been fantastic.
5 TIPS FOR KAMCHATKA
1. Try using fast action rods with shorter heads when fishing big flies or heavy sinking
lines with weighted flies. A shorter head will allow you to perform any desired cast in the most cramped conditions. Skagit heads are suitable for use in the second half of the
summer, into autumn and the fall when fishing the fly in the depths, is often the key to success. It is best to carry different heads with varying sink rates and leaders with various lengths and sink rates.
2. Take water and air temperature into considering when targeting certain species, this
will determine the depth at which you should be fishing. Weather in Kamchatka brings key changes in the nature of the rivers. Some rivers vary greatly after the rain, rising and
becoming dirty making conditions difficult for fishing. If such a change in the weather occurs you are likely to lose a few days fishing.
3. Change tactics depending on the fish you are hunting such as presenting the fly with a lively action and lots of movement, in the mid to lower water column when targeting
Coho, or when targeting Chinook in the early season, use sinking heads of S3/4 & S5/6 with a steady swing and no stripping, Chinook love to take flies with a steady movement.
4. Prepare for cold conditions, even in the height of summer water temperatures are ranging from 8-10 degrees. Cold conditions may not be very comfortable especially when fishing in the water for long periods of time, but fishing at this time can have great rewards, the bears begin to leave the river and move to the mountains and the river has a more relaxing feel. It is during these times that the Brown Trout and Char become very active and aggressive towards the fly.
5. It is highly recommended to hire a guide, as someone with local knowledge can not only put you in the right places at the right times, but also get you out of trouble if needed, it is a wild place after all. One should always keep in mind the large number of bears on the rivers. Kamchatka is not a park, all bears are wild and not so friendly to intruders in their territory.
You can get expert advice about fly-fishing in Kamchatka from Russian LOOP Pro Team member Dmitry Drozdov.
Check out Instagram for some inspiration:
LOOP GEAR FOR KAMCHATKA
• Cross S1 Rod 7120-4 MC/MF | 12’0” #7 – Medium Rivers
• Cross S1 Rod 8130-4 MC/MF | 13’0” #8 – Large Rivers
• Cross S1 Rod 9140-4 MC/MF | 14’0“ #9 – Large Rivers
• Cross SX Rod 9140-4 F | 14’0” #9 – Large Rivers
• Cross SX Rod 8132-4 F | 13’2” #8 – Medium Rivers
• Cross SX Rod 7124-4 F | 12’4” #7 – Medium Rivers
• Evotec Cast Medium Rod 7122-4 F | 12’2” #7 – Medium Rivers
• Evotec Cast Fast or Medium Fast Rod 590-4 F | 9’0” #5 – Small Rivers
• Evotec Cast Fast or Medium Fast Rod 690-4 F | 9’0” #6 – Small Rivers
• Evotec Cast Fast or Medium Fast Rod 790-4 F | 9’0” #7 – Small Rivers
• Opti MegaLOOP Reel OMLB #10 – Large Rivers
• Opti Strike Reel OSTB #8 – Medium Rivers
• Opti Speedrunner Reel OSPB #7 – Medium Rivers
• Opti Runner OSTB Reel #7 – Small Rivers
• GDC Shooting Head Lines #7/8/9 | All sink rates – Large & Medium Rivers
• Evotec 85 Line WF #5/6/7 – Small Rivers
• Opti Flow Line | WF#5/6/7 – Small Rivers
• Lainio Wading and Lepik Liner Jackets
• Wool Long Pants
• Wool Hood Sweater
• Hot Wool Socks
• Dry Backpack 40 & Dry Duffle Bag 90