Wednesday August 5, 2009

I’m about to embark on my second trip to Kamchatka in search of the ever elusive 30” rainbow trout.   Although the idea of 24 hours in the air isn’t exciting, the big Kamchatka Rainbow is definitely reason to endure such an arduous journey.    I’m also excited about touring Moscow.

My traveling companions for the trip are Dr. Jim Cochran, who is making his 6th trip to Kamchatka, and brothers Ryan and Kyle Ellis.  Ryan is a second year attorney and Kyle just finished the Bar exam last Thursday.  I can’t think of a better way to reward yourself for 3 years of law school and 3 months of endless studying for the Bar.  Congratulations Kyle!

Our itinerary looks like this:

9:30 departure AA flight 2332 DFW arrive Chicago at 11:20

5:20 departure AA flight 158 Chicago arrive Moscow (DME) 12:30 pm

6:15 departure Transaero flight 117 arrive Petropavlosk 12:25 pm

Instead of waiting until the last flight out of DFW to Chicago, we opt to take the first flight of the morning and spend the day in Chicago.  If any of you have been reading our blog, you know that I’ve missed one flight and been close another time due to summertime thunderstorms.  I’ve learned my lesson…..leave as early as possible to make an overnight connecting flight.

We arrive in Chicago on time and decide to ride the train into downtown and get something to eat.  We have 6 hours before our flight so we have lots of time…..well, it takes and hour to get downtown and then another 20 minutes finding a place to eat.  It was all worth it…we ate at a downtown whole in the wall called “Monk’s”.  Based on all the suits it must be a local hang out…..”one of the best burgers ever!”

By this time, we have only 3 hours before our flight and we’re concerned that if there are any hiccups on the way back to O’hare we could be late so we decide to go back to the airport.  As we’re buying our train tickets, a one-armed homeless man tries to get us to buy a ticket from him….obviously some kind of scam.  We refuse nicely but he doesn’t want to give up…he persists and persist…I thought that only happened in Dallas?  Back to O’hare, through security and to our gate….no problems.

Yesterday I got online and checked the seat assignments and noticed the flight wasn’t full so I chose a seat in the back with a row all to myself.  As we board, I’m nervous because I know someone is going to sit next to me… I have the entire row to myself and after dinner I fall fast asleep and sleep at least 7 of the 10 hour flight.  Dr. Cochran slept well in first class but Ryan and Kyle did not.  I think they got about 30 minutes between the two of them.  Kyle was sitting next to a Russian Lady with the tallest hair I’ve ever seen and Ryan mentioned “The guy next to me doesn’t have high hygiene standards”  typical of international flights…someone always smells bad.

Anyway, we make it to Moscow a little tired but safe and sound.  We get our bags, get through customs and try and find the Transaero desk…finally we find the desk and she doesn’t speak English….she is very friendly and we get checked in just fine.  Somehow we all have business class tickets and this gives us access to a business lounge….it is incredible…tons of food, reclining chairs, internet access….great way to kill 6 hours in the Moscow airport.  It’s now 2 and a half hours from our flight and the Ellis brothers, bellies full,  are fast asleep in the comfy chairs.  Dr. Cochran is watching Rio’s “Modern Spey Casting Techniques” getting any last minutes tips possible and I’m writing this blog post.  I will sign off for now, we have to get to the gate soon.  On my next report, I hope to have tales of 30 inch Rainbow and 40 inch Khundza!

Dasvedanya! (Bye in Cyrillic)

Friday August 7, 2009 (Petropavlovsk, Russia)

Well we made it…..I have to say, it was actually quite enjoyable.  Although the trip was long, we had good luck and no delays or problems.  As I mentioned, we were in Business Class on Transaero and it was very comfortable…fully reclining seats and more food than I needed in 8 hours.  After dinner, I slept for 4 hours and was awaken by the smell of breakfast.  It seems all I’ve done is eat.

We arrived in PK (Petropavlovsk) on schedule and are met at the airport by a member of Perga Outfitters named Demitri.  He’s a nice young Russian that speaks decent English.  The airport in PK is something out of a 1950’s movie….when you arrive you think you’re stuck in time.  Old Russian MIG’s sitting everywhere….the 1949 Jeep still driving around the airport, no fences to keep people out?  The airport is about 3000 square feet…not nearly enough room for 200 people fresh off a nine hour flight.  Baggage Claim is a complete mess but we push our way to the front and manage to get our bags.

We’re quickly whisked away by Demitri to the heliport….again, there is food there for us.  We get our fishing license and we’re off to the helicopter.  The clouds are starting to get thicker and thicker and the pilot wants to take off before it gets any worse.  The entire 30 minute flight is no more than 500 feet off the ground….It’s so cloudy that there isn’t a thing to look at but Kyle manages to spot a big grizzly in the river.

We arrive at camp, get settled in and guess what….they want to serve us lunch.  We eat again, gear up and head to the river for a couple hours of fishing before dinner.  Jim, Ryan and Kyle catch tons of dollies and Kyle catches the fish of his life so far…a 28 inch rainbow.  I’m skunked.  When we get back to the lodge, Dr. Cockran asks me for some pointers in his spey cast….we work on some things then I take his rod to show him something and bam!  I hook up to a nice 28 inch Rainbow…its not fair to catch a big fish on another persons rod.

Our good friend Ryan Peterson is with us in camp this week and we couldn’t be more excited.  He’s fished the waters of Kamchatka more than any other Western angler and is a die hard steel header and spey caster.  Dr. Cochran and I are newbie spey casters and his instruction will be immensely important.

Zendzur lodge has a natural hot spring that has a year round temperature of 97 degrees.  After dinner and a dip in the hot springs, its time for a shower and sleep….I haven’t had any real sleep for 45 hours now.

Ciao for now!

Day 2:

I awoke at 3 am to the sound of rain on the tin roof….as it turns out, this will prove to be the theme for the day.  It’s now 9:50 pm and it hasn’t stopped raining all day.

Breakfast is at 8:00 am but I’m up and ready for coffee by 6:45…I grab a cup and sit on the porch listening to the rain and watching the birds…all of a sudden I see a huge splash on the far side of the river…Big Bear chasing salmon. The bear is about 350 yards away but he looks huge.

After breakfast, (Russian Pancakes, similar to American Crepes, filled with fruit, porridge, and of course salami and cheese….great way to start the day.) we quickly dress for the day and head out…we run about 5 miles upstream and begin the day.

Our guides for the day are Ivan Naimushen and Ryan Peterson.  Ivan drops me off in the middle of the river and says fish both sides as you move down.  The water is just over my knees but very heavy….I immediately slip on a rock and fall straight down but somehow manage not to get wet….whew!  First cast I hook up to a nice dolly….I catch a few more dollies but the rest of the morning is quite slow….

Jim is fishing below me about 500 yards and has a great morning….2 nice Kundzhu and 3 Rainbows…..

For Lunch, Ivan starts a fire and we eat a Russian version of ramen noodles, salami and cheese and hot tea.

After lunch, things turn around for me quickly…by the 10th cast I’ve already landed a nice dolly and a nice khundza…things just keep getting better and over the next 4 hours, I catch 8 big khundza up to 33 inches, 1 15 pound moldy chum and 3 nice rainbows, ((2) 25 inches, one 28 inches….Jim  and Ryan walked a back channel and had similar luck…not as many fish but a 30 inch rainbow to top off the day.

On the ride back to the lodge, Jim comments about not seeing any bears today…he no longer gets the words out of his mouth and there are two big grizzlies in the river just ahead…and another about 1000 yards up on the left.

After a cold rainy day a 30 minute soak in the hot springs warms the bones right up….dinner, jokes, blog report and time for bed.

Day 3:

Once again we awake to the sound of rain….it has now rained non-stop for over 30 hours and the lower river is muddy.  After breakfast we make a 30 minute run up river looking for clear water and luckily find plenty.  After about an hour or so I hook my biggest rainbow of the trip….28.5 inches…it was a beautiful fat hen.  The rain continues until about 1:00 and then tapers off….Just before lunch, Kyle is fishing across the river from our lunch spot and hooks a huge trout…he motions for Nazar to help and they land a 30 inch Rainbow….huge fish.  Lunch today was (grilled dolly, ramen noodles, fruit, hot tea).  After lunch we hit several spots with no luck but finally in the last hour of the day Dr. Jim Cochran catches a 35 inch Khundza and I catch 2 really nice rainbows.  I’m tired so that’s all I have tonight.

Gear: Black Rabbit Leach w/ Blue Tassle; Black and Purple Skagit Minnow, Baitfish, Various egg sucking leaches, various flesh patterns with red hooks

Sage 7136 Z-Axis Spey Rod, Hatch 9 Plus, Rio 550 Grain Skagit Line

Day 4:

Finally, a morning without the sound of rain….still cloudy and a little cooler but no rain.  Breakfast this morning is oatmeal with dried strawberrys, potato pancakes, grilled dolly with rouimalade sauce and of course salami and cheese….they have this peach juice that is incredible…

The middle and lower beats are still blown out so we make the 30 minute run up river…I forget the details of the morning but I do remember I caught about several dollies, one 27 inch khundza and one 26 inch Rainbow.  Dr. Cochran caught 3 rainbows, 2 small and one 25 inches.  Ryan and Kyle each landed a nice 27 incher.  We meet for lunch at a beautiful spot next to a small tributary…lunch is the same, ramen noodles, fruit, salami and cheese, hot tea, beer, etc.

I’ve decided to skip the hot springs tonight… is so comfortable that it almost puts me to sleep….dinner is in about and hour so I’m going to shower and relax….we may play some cards tonight!

Day 5:

Well the rain is back….we decide to make a 1 hour run up river today to find some water we haven’t fished….it’s much colder today and by the time we arrive we’re chilled but ready for action.  Very quickly Jim and I each hook up to a nice ‘Bow’ each about 22 inches.  Jim catches a few smaller fish but the big fish isn’t to be found.  After lunch, more of the same….a few dollies, small rainbow and finally a nice 24 incher and 23 incher.  It rains all day and Jim mentions that he measures how hard it is raining by whether his cigar will stay lit….

As we get back to camp, there is a “home hole” directly in front of the lodge….it’s been muddy all week so we haven’t fished it.  Dr. Cochran isn’t ready to go in so he fishes this hole.  No one was there to help him but evidently he hooked a monster….this fish takes him into his backing (he cracks his knuckles twice on the handle) he gets the fish back twice but on the third run he breaks the 0X tippet.  The fish jumped twice to give him a good look….he thinks maybe 30-31 inches?  My guess is he’s still in that home pool, maybe by the end of the week someone will have another chance.

Day 6:

I’m writing early this morning getting ready for the day and guess what…’s raining.  This may just be one of those weeks when we don’t see the sun….oh well, 30 inch rainbow have a tendency to make everything better!

I haven’t mention much about the bears….it seems each boat sees on average 5 a day.  It’s very apparent by the markings on the streamside that bears are everywhere.   There are game trails leading to the water every 10 feet and the only mammal in the area are bears….half eaten salmon litter the banks.  It’s interesting that the bears don’t eat the heads of the salmon.

I also need to mention the dogs.  The dogs in camp are a husky breed called a “leika” and they are the coolest dogs ever.  They are very sweet and loving but absolutely hate fur bearing animals.  They live here at Zendzur year round.  In the summer they keep the camp and fisherman safe from bears and in the winter they help with the trapping.  In winter they run about 15 miles a day keeping up with the snow machines.

Each dog has the scars that show how hard it is living in this place.  All have scars on there faces from dog fights….one dog is missing a foot that he lost in a trap when he was 4 months old he is now 12 his name is Tripod (Zorbek).  Another dog lost 2 toenails to a trap and his left ear is cock-eyed due to a fight with a bear his name is Busya…The youngest dog is Feya….18 months old, no scars as of yet but sure to come, likes to bark at seagulls but very sweet.  The black dog is Ciganka…she doesn’t like to go fishing but keeps the camp safe during the day.

It’s time for breakfast and fishing….talk to you later.

Day 7:

Finally the sun is out…it’s going to be a great day on the river.  I think the change in weather does something to the fish….it’s a little slow but we manage some nice fish.  Dr. Cochran gets a 26 inch rainbow, Kyle a couple 26 inchers, Ryan a few rainbows and 2 nice silvers….I have a good day and catch about 8 rainbows with the biggest 27 inches…lots of dollies.

Once the clouds are away, the views are amazing!  Volcanoes everywhere  Zhupanovsky Volcano looms over the entire region….it’s only about 20 miles away and if it were to blow, we would be in trouble….there’s new snow on top….The mountain is very beautiful….three huge glaciers!

After dinner the past few nights we play about 2 hours of spades….Dr. Cochran and I seem to find a way to win every night….we bet big, lose big but somehow come from behind to win….we’ve been accused of cheating!  The running joke is that Kyle is going to take the chambermaid (Sveta) back to America….he could do worse!  She is a 20 year old blond that’s going to Law School.

The food at Zendzur has been incredible…it’s a nice mix of traditional Russian fare, soups, salads, fruit, fish, chicken, salami and cheese, smoked salmon.  Lena , the cook, does a wonderful job with presentation…everything is garnished with parsley or dill.  The vegetable plates always look colorful and decorative.  The only thing that we don’t enjoy are the mayonnaise based salads???  If you ever go to Russia, make sure to bring you own coffee.  They only have instant…not bad but definitely not Starbucks.

Day 8:

Ryan and Kyle go up River with Ivan and Ryan Peterson….mostly sunny with spotty showers but overall good weather,  Dr. Cochran and I go down stream for the first time with Nazar.  The downstream water and landscape is much different…there is a lot of braided water and islands creating several small back eddies and channels that hold fish.  Each one takes only 10 minutes to fish so we hit and run for each one….our day is ok, I land a 27 and several 24’s, Dr. Cochran has a slower day than normal and only manages one nice 25 incher.  Ryan and Kyle have a slower day as well but topped it off with a 28 incher.  We haven’t caught any khundza in a couple of days….they must be moving fast?

Tonight is the last night of our trip and the staff has planned a special bonfire for us….the Russians are very hospitable an it’s and honor for them to make sure we are happy.   We have a huge dinner before the bonfire and then it’s out to the fire for stories and vodka.  The mosquitoes are incredibly thick but the smoke keeps them at bay…Sveta and Lena join us and we have a great time…..they barbeque more meat but I am stuffed.  The party lasts until about 11:30 and I have to turn in….I think the other guys stay until just after midnight and take a few vodka shots with Nazar.

Day 9:

Today is the last day of fishing and we have about 4 hours to fish….we leave camp a little early and go down river….I hook a nice rainbow early and then things slow down….we stop at a place that is very rocky and hard to wade but the quintessential big trout holding water….I see a huge boulder about 40 feet out and 60 feet downstream….I make a nice cast and as the fly swings into the slack water behind the boulder, all of a sudden a huge hit…things just stop for a second and then he realizes he is hooked and he takes off…he is into my backing quickly and I know he’s big,  I let him run and then take back some line…he run’s again, this time much further into my backing…..I take back some line but he’s not ready and runs a few more times.  By now, Ivan has come with the net and we try to get into position to net him….The rocks are very dangerous and I fall twice during the fight.  The fish is hooked right in the corner of the mouth and it isn’t coming out…Ivan nets him and he is huge….from a distance the fish looks like 32 inches and Ivan says to me 30 inches!….very fat.  We take a few pictures,measure and release him…he is only 28 inches but easily the biggest fish all week….Dr. Cochran catches a nice 26 incher and it’s time to go.

Upon return to camp, we hear a rumor of a 35 inch fish that was caught….dolly varden?  No way, they don’t get that big…well as it turns out they do.  Kyle caught the biggest fish I’ve ever seen….He said the catch and fight was very uneventful but great picture nonetheless.  Ryan and Kyle have a good morning catching every species except for Rainbow.

Back at camp, we’re not sure what time the helicopter will be coming so we pack quickly and get ready…we’re all ready to go by 1 o’clock but we wait and wait and wait….we takes ton’s of pictures of camp and staff and dogs, about every 45 minutes another helicopter arrives but its tourists, not ours.  Our ride finally arrives around 6:30…we could have fished a full day!

I would be remise if I didn’t mention the incredible staff at Zendzur Lodge.  Lena the chef was incredible….I’m not sure if see is culinary trained but the meals she served would stand up to any lodge in the business, Sveta Mashenko was incredibly sweet and pretty and just wanted to be helpful (Good luck in Law School), Sanua Vasechko (Woodsman) was a little shy but very nice and polite.  We always had hot water and electricity and the grounds were immaculate.  I’ve never seen a more organized and clean generator room.

The guides Ivan Naimushen and Nazar Garchenko were great….Ivan has many years of experience on all the rivers of Kamchatka and he knows how to find fish.  He understands how to read the water and could guide on any river in the world.  Nazar is young but has been at Zenzur for 3 seasons now and is always willing to help.  He works hard and his skills are improving daily.

I want to also thank Ryan Peterson.  It’s nice having an interpreter in camp…Ryan isn’t fluent in Cyillic but he can definietly get the point across.  He’s also one of the best fisherman I know and his advice and instruction is much needed and welcomed.  His knowledge of everything fishing and outdoors, from Salmon runs to important issues facing our fisheries such as the Pebble Mine and overfishing our oceans, is broad and informative.  I’m happy to call him my friend and enjoyed spending time with him.

The ride back to PK is spectacular…beautiful clear skies and he flies very low…we see everything…once in PK, we settle in to our hotel and Dima picks us up to go to the restaurant.  Dima is one of the managers of Perga and speaks broken English but very easy to understand.  He’s probably 25 years old…dresses very Euro trendy with big glasses, tight jeans and puma sneakers….he is a great guy.  We have fun with him but his music is way too loud and he drives way to fast….the restaurant is less than 2 miles away and he is driving 80 miles an hour weaving in and out of traffic…easily more dangerous than the helicopter ride.  Dima invites us out to the club that evening and says in very broken English “You will be safe, I know everyone and everyone knows me…I’m all safety”….we are all asleep on our feet so we decline.

Day 10:

We have until 1:30 to tour the city so Dima lines up a driver for us…he is just the opposite of Dima…his name is John and he is very understated, drives very cautiously and speak no English.  He drives us into Petro and we go to an open market and see a few sights before returning to the hotel and off to the airport.

The airport in PK is small and packed….typical Russian bureaucracy..there are lines for everything and they check our passports 3 or 4 times before we finally get our bags checked and inside of security.  The plane is running late are we finally depart at 5:15…again we are in first class and they give us a portable DVD player loaded with 6 or 7 movies….I watch Syriana, eat dinner and sleep the remainder of the flight.  Kyle, Ryan and Dr. Cochran watch several movies each and don’t get much sleep.

We arrive at Domodedovo Airport, get our bags, make our way to the hotel and it’s off to Red Square.  We debate taking a taxi or the train and opt for the train.  It’s about a 40 minute ride to the downtown train station and then we have to get on a Metro train to Red Square….it is the most confusing travel I’ve ever experienced….no one speaks English and all signs are in Cyrillic…we use the small city maps and finally find our way to Red Square….it’s a beautiful place but it’s late in the evening when we arrive and it’s getting dark.  It’s extremely cold and rainy and we’re freezing our tails off….we spend about 30 minutes walking around and then navigate our way back through the maze of subway tunnels and back to our hotel….

Day 11:

Now all that’s left is the flight from Moscow to Chicago and Chicago to Dallas.  Everything goes smoothly to Chicago but storms in Chicago delay our departure so we spend a night in Chicago and get back to Dallas at 2:40 Monday August 17th.

It was an absolutely epic adventure….Kamchatka is the most remote trout fishing on the planet.  Huge Rainbow, Huge Khundza, Huge Dolly Varden, Huge Bears and Huge Volcanoes.  I’ve always heard that Kamchatka is Alaska 100 years ago.  I can’t image what Alaska was then but I will say you are stuck in time when you get to Kamchatka.  The rivers are completely untouched…you don’t see any markings of mankind….no trash on the streamside, no foot prints.  The four of us fished 20 miles of river without seeing another soul.  If my words don’t encourage you to go to Kamchatka I hope the people, beauty, bears and big fish will.

One final thought on my fishing and traveling partners.  Thank you Jim, Ryan and Kyle for an incredible trip and thank you for allowing Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company the opportunity to earn your business.

Until next time.

More Photos!