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August 09, 2011

RUSSIA: Ponoi river report (Ryabaga)

To summarize the first half of the 2011 season in Ryabaga I will turn back to May 28; upon arrival, our first group of Ryabaga anglers found the river level to resemble that of the mid-summer.  A light snow-pack and an early spring thaw brought ice out and the spring flood well before our opening day, thereby allowing anglers to experience the unprecedented circumstance of wading and fishing dry flies on floating lines in the first week of the season.  Moving into the second week, the majority of fish landed fell prey to the skated fly, an angling experience most salmon fishers certainly envy.  Summer weather prevailed; short pants and sandals were a common site as anglers wet-waded their way through unseasonably warm days.  The Home Pool produced an unprecedented 110 salmon for Week 2 anglers.  During Week 3 a ten-year-old boy and his father encountered the unparalleled angling on Ponoi, thus spawning a passion for salmon fishing for a new generation of angler.  Production of a not-yet-titled motion picture about Ryabaga underwent a series of shots from many angles, including some bird’s eye footage from the perspective of the Mi8 helicopter.  A most amazing image was captured: rather than taking the fly, a salmon turned and batted the skated dry fly with her tail, a territorial response to something that could invade the redd and compromise thousands of eggs.  Week 4 saw Bill Young and his timeless fly, the “Bill Young Fly” in “The Windows” at Kolmac.  With a bit of determination and great skill, Bill produced a large cock fish of 23 pounds, alongside guide Barrett Mattison.  Ilya Sherbovich, owner of Ponoi River Company, also visited Ryabaga in Week 4 to greet guests and observe the general plant, all the while managing to fish for a few days, in order to again whet his appetite for salmon; the long wait until autumn is an absolute impossibility for an angler as keen as Ilya.  Our tagging program, with combined efforts of PINRO, the guide team, and the anglers, provided fascinating data of a fish that was tagged in 2006, and returned this year to spawn again.  This occurrence, though uncommon, is a true testament to the strength and fortitude of Salmo salar.  On the final week of June we were joined by two of the Frontier’s team, Joe Linscott and Joe Codd.  The two made the trek to camp to catch salmon and to “suss out” the Ryabaga scene, as they will join in promoting and booking Ryabaga and Brevyeni camps into the future.  During a one-day visit to Brevyeni camp and the surrounding waters, Joe Codd landed a 21 pound summer run salmon with guide Sergei Bistrov.  During Week 6 our delegation of regulars from Finland pushed through tough conditions and turned up a fantastic week of salmon fishing not to be equaled anywhere else in the world.  Anglers from Scandinavia often raise the bar with regard to effort and enthusiasm…at least this is the case with Erkki’s group. 
Last week, Week 7, we were joined by anglers from the USA, the UK, and France.  Alan Maughan hosted three anglers from the UK.  David, Duncan, and Sam all enjoyed the Atlantic salmon wilderness that is the Ponoi.  Unlike any other salmon destination that the trio has fished, Ponoi exhibited the true potential of a river that has never been spoiled by development, crowds, limited access, out-of-reach exclusivity or cost, while always maintaining a notably high average catch rate per angler through the summer and into the autumn.  Sloan Harris and his son Walker (17 years old), were a bit irresolute about joining the ranks of experienced fishers.  Having cleverly prepared themselves for the trip by undergoing a few sessions of Spey casting instruction, they found themselves not as unprepared as they feared upon arrival in Ryabaga.  Fishing through their trepidation, the father-son team nestled nicely into the joys of fly fishing under the tutelage of Ryabaga’s masterfully skilled, extremely enthusiastic, and highly articulate guide team.  Steve Estela, CEO and Managing Director of Ponoi River Company arrived with his wife Pata and their two sons with the Week 7 anglers.  It is always a pleasure to be joined by the Estela family for a week each season in Ryabaga.  Santiago (8 years old) and Simon (6 years old) had a stab at a few salmon along the banks of Gold Beach with Steve and Pata.  Exploring Ryabaga, swimming the Ponoi, and romping about in the tundra present a fantastic way to complement a fruitful upbringing.  I even experienced the potency of Simon’s assorted Judo skills (not an experience I care to soon repeat).
With the initial 7 weeks of the season complete on Ponoi, Max, Lena, and the majority of the guide team, kitchen team, and camp staff have flown back to town to recharge the batteries, soak up some sunshine, and have bit of a holiday.  The mechanic team and guides Anatoly, Tommy, and Daniila remain in Ryabaga, which is now undergoing a bit of renovation and re-tooling.  Projects currently underway include the completion of wood floors in each of the river lunch tents, new tables, and firewood cribs.  Installation of three new guest tents will give anglers the opportunity to enjoy single-occupancy accommodations.  Genia Flidner has been charged with the task of building a new dining table for the great room at the Guest House.  Genia is a semi-professional carpenter, and his ability to work with wood is unmatched by anyone in Ryabaga or Kola Peninsula.  With a fresh coat of paint, a bit of renovation, and some small additions, Ryabaga will certainly meet and exceed the expectations of guests this coming autumn.  On August 7, we will welcome to Ryabaga Erkki Moisander and a split week of Finns.  A total of 38 anglers will descend upon the banks of Ponoi, truly a sight to behold.  One of the lucky Finns will likely land the first autumn run salmon, as the average catch date for the first autumn run falls in the first days of August.  With so much to look forward to, our daydreams remain full of hard-fighting salmon and the glorious descent of autumn over Ponoi!
Matt Breuer

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