Monday, 13 October 2014

Choosing Between Spinning and Bait-casting Outfits

The Combination You Choose Can be the Difference Between Catching and Fishing

 - virvelin kela/flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The easiest outfit for newcomers to the angling world to use is usually a spin-cast or spinning rod and reel. Learning to operate and cast with one of these outfits is relatively painless, and certainly free of backlashes and tangles. These are the ones that most anglers use as they begin to learn how to fish.
From that early experience of learning to fish, many anglers stick with spinning tackle, and are happy fishermen for years. Others migrate to the bait- casting world. In some parts of the country the term "conventional outfit" means the same thing as bait-caster. Conventional in this case refers a reel where the line is reeled onto a spool that sits perpendicular to the direction of the rod.

The question many anglers ask is which type of reel is better, spinning or bait- casting? That answer depends on several things, not the least of which is angler preference.
Many fishermen today grew up watching the B.A.S.S. pros, either in print or on television. Not many of these pros ever have a spinning rod in their hands. Whether it's emulation or education, most bass anglers today use bait-casting gear. In years past, no self-respecting bass fisherman would be caught dead with a spinning rod in his boat!
From a saltwater perspective, aside from the heavy trolling rods and reels, more spinning than bait-casting tackle can be seen in use. Larger spinning reels with better drags can handle heavier fish.
The bass anglers that do fish with spinning tackle are generally using a very specific technique like finesse fishing or dock shooting, techniques that are difficult to master with bait-casting tackle. A lot of things changed when a well known B.A.S.S. pro came out one year pitching and flipping worms and jigs with a big closed face spin-cast reel!

In actuality, line size probably plays the most important roll in this tackle choice. Whether bass fishermen realize it or not, pros are using bait-casting tackle for a very specific reason. Bait-casting reels can handle heavier line and actually allow a longer cast than spinning gear in the same size range. Bass anglers regularly use line in the 14 to 17 pound test range. A small spinning reel has a smaller, narrower spool, which has a hard time with larger line size. Small bait-casting reels can handle these lines and provide comparatively greater casting distance.
Casting rods, size for size, also have more backbone than spinning rods. The backbone of a rod is the side of the blank that gives the least when bent. Made properly, a casting rod's backbone will lie directly on top of the blank as the angler holds the rod. This backbone allows lures to be "ripped" through vegetation more easily, and insures a more powerful hook set than a spinning rod in the same class.
The arrival of braided line with much heavier breaking strengths brought some issues to light in bass fishing circles. This super thin line causes problems on bait-casting reels simply because it is so thin. Setting the hook on a fish with braided line on a bait-casting reel tends to bury the line deep into the spool, a situation that will cause a major backlash on the very next cast. That same thinness is why lines less than about 10-pound test are seldom found on a bait-casting reel.
Spinning tackle, on the other hand can usually handle the braids much better. In fact, several manufacturers make a reel that picks the line up on the spool in such a way that it can't bury itself into the spool on a hook set. That, coupled with the virtual no-stretch quality of the braided line has made spinning tackle more and more attractive to bass anglers.
From a saltwater perspective, anglers using baitcasting outfits can be seen more often these days fishing the inshore arena. The heavy use of artificial lures in backwaters, coupled with reels that can now stand up to saltwater conditions have made bait-casters very popular today.
The spinning tackle used in saltwater today tends to be larger than that used in freshwater and consists of larger reels on heavier rods and line up to 30-pound test.
Anglers looking to make a choice between spinning tackle and bait-casting tackle need to look at their specific fishing techniques before making that choice. In reality the choice is not between which one an angler uses. It has become a choice of which of the two an angler will use in a given situation. In general, the lighter the line required in a given fishing situation, the more attractive spinning tackle becomes.
So the answer to this oft asked question is, "it depends". Next time you think about which outfit is the better choice, make sure you determine where and how you plan to fish. That is the true decision maker between spinning and bait casting tackle.


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Catfishing Time

Catching Catfish

While spring weather has many anglers across the country scratching their heads about where to go and what to do as lakes and rivers are high and muddy in some regions and low and clear in others, there is one group that doesn't care about the conditions - catfish anglers.
"Channel catfish are the most widely stocked species in the country," said longtime guide and the founder of Team Catfish Tackle, Jeff Williams. "They can be found virtually in every kind of water we have, from neighborhood ponds to the largest rivers and reservoirs. Spring is a great time to catch catfish because they are often shallow and close to the banks."

Water Conditions
Williams especially likes when the water is high as it is right now in and around his home state of Oklahoma, saying it makes the catfish very active. He says what he is doing now to catch channel and blue catfish on nearby Grand Lake will work almost anywhere.
Williams targets water depths of 2-5 feet, while also keying on areas that have grass or flooded brush or timber. He likes to find this combination in three different situations: 1) the very back of creeks with even the smallest inflow; 2) long and slow-tapering main lake points; and 3) islands with flooded timber or brush on top.
He also said that while most anglers curse the wind, the "wind is your friend" for exceptional catfishing success. "You want the wind blowing into the area you are fishing," he explained. "It is stirring up plankton that attracts baitfish, plus it carries the scent from your bait and that will lead fish to your hook."
The catfish expert said when fishing from a boat, always anchor the bow to the wind and hold the position by putting anchors out in front and back. Then do your fishing from the back of the boat, casting downwind.

Williams prefers to use a commercially prepared catfish "dip" bait that he helped formulate called Secret 7. He uses a Dead Red Dip Tube to hold the bait, rigged on a 2/0 Jackhammer hook. The hook is tied to about a 30-inch leader. He threads a 1- or 2-ounce Smooth Operator catfish slip sinker onto the end of his fishing line and then ties a barrel swivel below it to the end of the line. Next step is to attach the leader with the hook to the bottom end of the swivel.
Rods and Reels
When fishing in states where multiple rods are allowed per angler, such as Oklahoma, Williams and his anglers will fan out four to six rods and reels from the back of the boat. He says the new Zebco Hawg Seeker rod and reel combo is ideal for this application because a built-in "bite alert" feature responds to a bite with a sound and flashing light on the reel, making it easy to manage more than one rod at a time.
Zebco brand manager Scott Smith said the Hawg Seeker's bite-signaling feature, powered by two long-lasting Lithium batteries like used in watches, is truly innovative. "Catfishermen have been rigging bells and other devices on their rods for years to detect strikes, but BiteAlert is a much more sophisticated, more technical feature that is made right into the reel and assists anglers during day or night. When a fish tugs on the line, the beeping starts and lights begin flashing. And BiteAlert's sensitivity can be dialed up or down on the reel to compensate for wind or current."
Hawg Seeker BiteAlert combos are available in spinning or spincast versions, coming pre-loaded with 20-pound test line and on 7-foot rods in medium-heavy actions.
In support of Williams' claims that spring is a great time for catfish anglers, Smith said that Hawg Seeker sales have been "brisk" during March and April
Move Often
Williams also added another tip for those looking for the whiskered species. "If you haven't had a bite in 20 minutes, change locations," he said. "You might make four or five moves before you catch a fish. Catch one and you'll typically catch several in the same area." The suggestion applies whether fishing from a boat or the bank.
Catfish are considered excellent table fare as is proven by the extensive number of menus and fresh fish counters across the nation that offer the selection, but Williams has advice for fully enjoying that part of the catfishing experience, too.
"Take care of your catch immediately, either putting fish on ice or keeping them alive until cleaning," he said. "Then after cleaning, either freeze fillets in a container of water or keep them in a bowl of water until time to prepare and cook."

Williams is also a proponent of releasing catfish weighing over 8 pounds. He says these adult fish are important to sustaining catfish populations, and fish under that size are the best tasting ones anyway. He concluded by saying, "you can't catch any size if you don't go, so take advantage of the spring catfish activity and get on the water today."

  • If intending to fry or bake whole, with the skin on, fish in the .75 - 1.5 pound range
  • If intending to fillet, and cook in a variety of ways, fish in the 2-6 pound range
  • Take pictures of catfish weighing over 8 pounds, then release the fish CARING FOR CATCH
  • Put fish on ice immediately after catching or keep alive until cleaning
  • Freeze fillets in containers filled with water BATTER OPTIONS
  • Lots of commercial batters on the market, with various seasoning choices
  • For do-it-yourselfers, go with Corn Flour instead of Corn Meal. Salt and Pepper to taste BEFORE YOU BATTER FILLETS
  • Pat fillets with a towel or paper towel to remove excess moisture
  • Doing so allows the batter to stick to the fillet instead of the water on the fillet
  • Then roll fillet in batter DEEP-FRYING
  • Grease must be hot, maintaining a temperature of around 350 degrees
  • Don't overload the cooker with fillets. Cooking too many at a time will cool the grease, slow the cooking process and cause the fillets to absorb more grease
  • Cook hot and fast for the best results of holding batter and maximizing flavor


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Tips Lokasi Memancing

Keberadaan ikan di laut selalu ditandai dengan gejala-gejala alam yang ada. Bagi mania laut membaca tanda-tanda keadaan alam paling tidak menjadi pengetahuan dasar untuk keberhasilan memancing. Nah, sebenarnya tanda alam apa saja yang perlu diketahui oleh mania mancing?
Para kapten laut ataupun mania mincing selalu menjadikan tanda-tanda alam sebagai panduan untuk mengetahui keberdaan ikan-ikan. Kelihaian membaca alam inilah yang membuat kesuksesan dalam memancing.
Banyaknya Burung
Banyaknya burung merupakan tanda-tanda alam pertama. Salah satu panduan bahwa di lokasi ada banyak ikan adalah dengan hadirnya banyak burung. Burung-burung tersebut sedang mencari makanan yang secara kebetulan di permukaan air terdapat banyak ikan-ikan kecil. Yang ikut menikmati ‘hidangan’ ikan-ikan kecil bukan hanya burung-burung yang terbang di udara saja, namun ikan-ikan ukuran sedang dan besarpun ikut berpesta.
Sudah menjadi hukum alam atau hukum rantai makanan bahwa ikan-ikan besar selalu memakan ikan kecil. Jadi bila banyak ikan kecil di lokasi tersebut pasti di sekitarnya terdapat ikan-ikan besar.
Nah, memancing trolling di sekitar kumpulan ikan lebih menjanjikan dibanding memancing di lokasi yang tidak jelas ada tanda-tanda keberadaan ikan.
Sampah Kayu
Ciri kedua sebagai lokasi ikan adalah adanya sampah kayu di tengah laut. Batang pohon yang terhanyut arus ditengah laut membawa plankton-plankton kecil. Kumpulnya plankton- plankton ini membuat ikan kecil pun beramai-ramai makan plankton. Karena banyak ikan kecil di sekitar sampah kayu ternyata mengundang perhatian ikan-ikan yang lebih besar seperti ikan lemadang misalnya.
Ciri ketiga sebagai lokasi ikan adalah keberadaan karang di tengah laut. Karang merupakan struktur yang keras yang berupa bebatuan. Di dalam karang ternyata banyak tumbuh biota-biota dan rumput- rumput karang yang menjadi rumah ikan. Ikan-ikan kecil biasanya banyak mencari makan dan berlindung di lokasi yang berkarang.
Sebagai lokasi persembunyian ikan-ikan kecil maka di sekitar karang menjadi gudang makanan bagi ikan-ikan besar maupun ikan predator.
Mancing di karang memang menjanjikan. Pertanyaannya bagaimana kita bisa mengetahui bahwa di dalam laut terdapat karang cetek (dangkal) maupun karang dalam? Dahulu sebelum ada alat elektronik semacam depth sounder maupun Global Position System (GPS) para nelayan hanya melihat ombak di permukaan air. Setelah mereka menduga ada karang di bawah dengan panduan ombak, merekapun lantas menurunkan timah pemberat dan menganalisa struktur di dasar. Cara ini oleh nelayan disebut dengan nama ngelot.
Tubiran laut
Tanda alam yang menjadi lokasi ikan yang keempat adalah tubiran laut (drop off), dasar laut dari yang plat tiba-tiba mendadak ke dalam atau seperti jurang, di sinilah merupakan lokasi strategis penangkapan ikan. Banyaknya ikan di lokasi ini diakibatkan oleh arus laut yang membawa plankton naik ke atas sehingga mengundang banyak ikan kecil di lokasi tersebut. Ikan-ikan kecil inilah yang menjadi perhatian ikan besar.
Gunung di Laut
Layaknya sebuah di daratan, struktur dasar lautan ada yang menyerupai gunung, yang oleh para mania mancing disebut dengan sea mount reef. Lantaran arus laut tertahan oleh gunung sehingga arus tersbut naik dan membawa plankton, sehingga ikan di sana banyak. Selain tertahannya arus, gunung di tenah laut juga menyuburkan karang-karang yang menjadi rumah ikan. Jadi mancing di seamount reef tentu saja lebih menjanjikan dibanding lokasi lain. Bahkan ikan yang di dapatpun lebih variatif seperti ikan dasar dan ikan pelagis. Cara melihat seamount reef dapat dilakukan dengan menggunakan depth sounder dan GPS.

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Jenis ikan yang di anggap paling kuat dalam olahraga mancing adalah jenis ikan berparuh. Kebanyakan dari jenis ini akan mempertontonkan atraksi yang cukup lengkap. Menyelam, melompat, menari dipermukaan, menggeleng dengan liar, dlsb. Beberapa pemancing pernah berucap:
"Jangan pernah mengaku sebagai pemancing, sebelum menaklukan salah satu dari jenis ikan berparuh ini". Selain perlawanan yang gigih, jenis ini juga dikenal dengan ukurannya yang besar. Beberapa diantaranya bisa mencapai lebih dari 500 Kg. Memancing dengan tim yang solid (Kapten, kru kapal dan pemancing) sangat dianjurkan untuk memenangkan pertarungan dengan jenis ini. Bersiap akan sambarannya dan berilah Label (Tag) sebelum melepaskannya, jika anda memenangkan pertarungan tersebut.

Berikut ini nama-nama ikan jenis Billfish, antara lain:


NAMA LAIN : Broadbill Swordfish, Broadie, Pez Espada

JENIS : Broadbill Swordfish, Broadie, Pez Espada

UKURAN : Biasanya mulai dari 50 Kg s/d diatas 500 Kg.

REKOR DUNIA : 1,182 pounds
KARAKTER : Tidak seliar Marlin Biru, tetapi memiliki kekuatan setara dan bertarung dengan kasar yang mana kadang-kadang dapat juga melakukan lompatan spektakuler

NAMA LAIN : Black Marlin, White Marlin, Silver Marlin

JENIS : Makaira Indica

UKURAN : Perkiraan berat maximum 1.000 Kg

REKOR DUNIA : 1,560 pounds
KARAKTER : Sangat kuat dan luar biasa cepat yang mana bukan hanya menguji pemancing dan pirantinya tetapi juga seluruh kru kapal. Berenang cepat dipermuka-an, lalu menyelam di kedalaman yang dapat menyebab-kan kenur putus karena hambatan air.


NAMA LAIN : Blue Marlin, Pacific Blue Marlin

JENIS : Makaira Mazara( Marlin Biru Pacific), Makaira Nigricans(Marlin Biru Atlantic)

UKURAN : Dapat mencapai berat 1.200 Kg lebih (Pacific)

REKOR DUNIA : 1,402 pounds (Atlantic)
KARAKTER : Lebih kuat dari Marlin Hitam dan untuk menangkap Marlin Biru sangat pasti diperlukan kerja tim. Biasanya bertarung lebih dalam dibandingkan dengan Marlin Hitam atau Marlin Loreng.


NAMA LAIN : Striped Marlin, Striper, Stripey

JENIS : Tetrapturus Audax

UKURAN : Diperkirakan berat maximum mencapai 250 Kg.

REKOR DUNIA : 494 pounds
KARAKTER : Petarung yang kuat untuk piranti ringan Biasanya akan menari dipermukaan jika terpancing dan melakukan lompatan-lompatan spektakuler. Ketika pertama kali terpancing akan melompat beberapa kali, kemudian menyelam dikedalaman tanpa pernah muncul kembali. Ikan yang fantasis untuk dipancing dengan pancing cambuk (Fly fishing).


NAMA LAIN : Hatchet Marlin

JENIS : Tetrapturus Sp.

UKURAN : Tidak diketahui, kemungkinan berkisar 100 Kg

REKOR DUNIA : Tidak ada
KARAKTER : Sangat langka. Merupakan varian dari Marlin Putih, kemampuan bertarung sama dengan Marlin Putih.


NAMA LAIN : White Marlin, Spikefish, Agujo Blanco

JENIS : Tetrapturus Albidus

UKURAN : Berat maximum diperkirakan lebih dari 100 Kg

REKOR DUNIA : 181 pounds
KARAKTER : Mungkin jenis ini merupakan jenis ikan berparuh yang paling senang berada di udara, tetapi juga dengan stamina yang baik


NAMA LAIN : Indo-Pacific Sailfish, Spindlebeak, Pez Vela

JENIS : Istiophorus Platypterus (Layaran Indo-Pacific), Istiophorus Albicans (Atlantic)

UKURAN : Berat maximum diperkirakan 120 Kg. (Layaran Indo-Pacific)

REKOR DUNIA : 221 pounds (Layaran Indo-Pacific), 141 pounds (Layaran Altantic)
KARAKTER : Berakrobatik dengan spektakuler dan lebih banyak berada di atas air ketika terpancing. Kecepatan yang luar biasa yang umumnya tidak bertarung dikedalaman. Merupakan primadona untuk piranti ringan dan mancing cambuk (Fly fishing).


NAMA LAIN : Longbill Spearfish, Altantic Spearfish, Long-nose Spearfish

JENIS : Tetrapturus Pfleugeri

UKURAN : Berat maximum 50 Kg

REKOR DUNIA : 94 pounds
KARAKTER : Sebagai ikan yang termasuk kecil dalam keluarga ikan berparuh, ikan ini sangat asyik dipancing dengan piranti ringan dalam mengantisipasi larinya yang secepat kilat dan juga akrobat yang dilakukannya.


NAMA LAIN : Mediterannean Spearfish

JENIS : Tetrapturus Belone

UKURAN : Berat maximum 50 Kg

REKOR DUNIA : 90 pounds
KARAKTER : Sebagai ikan yang termasuk kecil dalam keluarga ikan berparuh, ikan ini sangat asyik dipancing dengan piranti ringan dalam mengantisipasi larinya yang secepat kilat dan juga akrobat yang dilakukannya.


NAMA LAIN : Shortbill Spearfish, Altantic Spearfish

JENIS : Tetrapturus Angustirotris

UKURAN : Berat maximum 50 Kg

KARAKTER : Sebagai ikan yang termasuk kecil dalam keluarga ikan berparuh, ikan ini sangat asyik dipancing dengan piranti ringan dalam mengantisipasi larinya yang secepat kilat dan juga akrobat yang dilakukannya.


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Monday, 15 September 2014

Fly-Fishing in Russia

The icy waters of a remote arctic river have become a Shangri-la for anglers in pursuit of Atlantic salmon—hard (and expensive) to get to but, oh, the fish!

Russia's Ponoi River is not what most people would consider a typical fly-fishing destination. For starters, there are no long-established, luxurious lodges lining its bank like those found on other famous salmon rivers. It's located on the eastern edge of the Kola Peninsula—a 40,000-square-mile wilderness of tundra and low forest. The capital city of the province, Murmansk, is home to Russia's Atlantic nuclear submarine operations. In fact, until the early 1990s, it was virtually impossible to travel to this remote, lonely part of the world. Security was tight along the Finnish border where locals were required to report sightings of strangers to the authorities. In those days, the Kola was considered so strategically important that Russians living under the former Soviet regime were forbidden to travel to the interior without special permits. The guard towers and the patrols are gone now, but the wilderness of the Kola, particularly in the eastern sections, remains untouched. That has been a boon for the region's Atlantic salmon. While many Canadian and United States rivers have seen extensive development over the past century, Kola waterways are comparatively wild. Because of the lack of dams and pollution, these rivers have some of the largest runs of Atlantic salmon in the world. In just over a decade, the peninsula's Rynda, Kharlovka, and Yokanga rivers have become common names in fly-fishing circles. But it is the Ponoi that is considered the crown jewel—the river where you can catch more salmon in one day than during an entire week in eastern Canada, Norway, or Iceland.
If you're not a fan of helicopters, however, you'll never make it to the fishing grounds on the Ponoi. Located 130 miles southeast of Murmansk, the river is accessed almost exclusively by air—which means a somewhat grueling ride in a Russian MI-8 (pronounced "me eight") helicopter. These military workhorses (they were used in Afghanistan and more recently in Chechnya) have two massive engines and can carry 24 soldiers in full military gear or—in my experience—18 anglers and their many bags crammed with fleece-lined jackets, dozens of rods, and boxes of brightly colored flies.
The two-hour ride is cramped and loud (you are given earplugs before boarding), but as the MI-8 thunders over the tundra, passengers are treated to a stunning view of arctic wilderness. The Kola's windswept landscape is dotted with birch trees, clumps of stubby pine, and endless bogs. It is easy to understand why, during Soviet times, escaped prisoners (criminal and political) picked this area to hide out in. During the flight, there was not a single hint of mankind—no roads, no towns, not even a shack.
Ryabaga camp is operated by the Ponoi River Company, which is owned by Shackleton International, a company that specializes in unique fishing expeditions. Their base on the Kola is a tidy village of white canvas tents on platforms, located 30 miles up the Ponoi river from where the Barents Sea meets the White Sea on the eastern tip of the peninsula. It accommodates up to 20 and from late May to the end of September the outpost is filled to capacity with ecstatic anglers.
After spending days getting to the Ponoi (most people fly to Helsinki, lay over for a night, and then take a connecting flight to Murmansk), I was desperate to get on the river, and the Ryabaga guides—a multinational mix of seasoned pros—were quick to accommodate. Immediately after breakfast on my first morning, John Gendall, a 31-year old New Zealander, ushered another guest and me into a 17-foot boat and headed up the wide, slow-moving river.
Russians and Scandinavians have been fishing these waters since the 16th century, but the area has not seen the same decline in stock as Canadian and U.S. breeding grounds. The annual run on the Ponoi is estimated to be between 30,000 and 60,000 fish. In comparison, Maine's Penobscot River, which has the largest population of Atlantic salmon in the United States, sees an average of only 1,000 adult fish each year.
At the head of a large pool, Gendall cut the outboard and released an anchor. My fishing partner, Tom Watson III, a retired lawyer from Connecticut, started casting from the stern while I worked my ten-weight rod from the bow. On only my second cast I got a solid hookup. I was so surprised that I played the fish badly and lost it. It turned out to not be a problem. In the next six hours, I went on to catch and release five very respectable Atlantics averaging about 14 pounds each. Watson managed to land five as well.
A typical day on the Ponoi starts around 6:30 a.m., when a camp manager appears in the tents and lights the stoves. As guests rise to a crackling fire, a hot breakfast (including delicious scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and freshly made pain au chocolat) is prepared in the dining tent. If anyone has been lucky enough to catch a sea trout the day before—most everyone does—the chef adds it to the morning menu. Around 9 a.m., groups of two set out to fish different sections (called beats) of the Ponoi—some in boats and others in helicopters to more far-flung locations.
Even though the camp is located 35 miles above the Arctic Circle, the weather during summer months is surprisingly mild, with temperatures typically in the 70s or 80s. But visit as I did in late September and it's a bit more like November in New England. Some days the mercury stayed in the 50s, while on others it dropped to the low 40s. All guests came equipped with high-tech waders and Gore-Tex fishing jackets as well as many layers of fleece, hats, and gloves that convert to fingerless models instantly in order to feel the fly line. If the weather turns ugly, each beat has a small tent with a wood-burning stove where anglers warm up and have a hot lunch. One Ponoi veteran, 65-year-old Page Chapman, told me that he preferred the colder trips. "In the summer, I had to wear mosquito netting all day because of black flies," he said. "And my tent was a furnace at night because we kept it sealed up tight to keep out the insects."
Maintaining an outpost in the arctic, particularly the Russian arctic, is a logistical challenge of epic proportions. Camp manager Roderic Hall described to me a few of the expenses: The camp consumes 19 tons of fuel totaling $60,000 annually. It costs another $40,000 just to have it flown in by helicopter. All food—fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, and numerous cases of Spanish wine—is flown from Finland and Murmansk. Even obtaining firewood is an ordeal. The trees in this part of the Kola are stunted so the camp must have pine timbers floated down from a forest 100 miles upstream every spring. There are 32 staff members to pay, including guides, chefs, maids, mechanics, and a camp doctor. Shackleton also makes annual lease payments to the Russian government so the camp can enjoy private fishing for 50 miles of the Ponoi. Running the camp is a labor of love, says Thorpe McKenzie, a private investor from Tennessee who was a co-owner of the operation for ten years before Shackleton bought the camp. "There was never a year where we made more than $500 pre-tax per angler."
What all this means, of course, is fishing here is significantly more expensive than, say, casting for trout in Montana. Six days and seven nights during prime running weeks in June and September costs just under $10,000 per person, and that's not including airfare to Murmansk.
Salmon enthusiasts take consolation in the fact that any difficulty they experience getting to the Kola pales in comparison to what the fish go through. After hatching, young salmon typically spend two to three years in the river before they begin their migratory gauntlet. First they must make it downriver, dodging kingfishers and mergansers, and then out to sea where they race past schools of hungry cod and seals to the waters off the Faroe Islands, a collection of 18 windswept, treeless land masses around 200 miles north of Scotland. There they spend one or two years fattening up before making the long journey back to the exact river, tributary, and often same pool in which they were born.
What happens next is what drives otherwise prudent individuals to spend outlandish amounts of money and time just for an opportunity to be in the same water as these fish. When an Atlantic salmon returns to its native river, its sole purpose is to lay eggs. Salmon do not linger in one place for very long and, more importantly, they do not feed. But, for reasons that remain a mystery to marine biologists, if you place a brightly colored Mickey Finn, Hairy Mary, or any number of other flies exactly in the right place at precisely the right moment, they chase and strike. The sound of a screaming fly reel as a salmon performs great leaps out of the water is one of angling's greatest thrills.
"I'm always amazed to look at the vast size of the water I am covering and the small size of the fly that I am using, and that any fish is prepared to take it," says Jane Stewart, who has traveled to the Kola over ten times from Somerset, England. "It's a great privilege to get one on the end of the line."
Another inspiring factor is that there are simply not that many Atlantic salmon in the world to catch. All five species of Pacific salmon—which differ greatly from Atlantics in that they die once they spawn—are much more plentiful. For example, British Columbia's Fraser River alone gets an annual run of between ten and 20 million Pacific salmon each year. The total world population of Atlantic salmon, in comparison, is estimated to be around 4 million fish, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, an organization that studies marine life in the North Atlantic. That's about half of what it was in the mid 1970s. Most marine biologists believe that overfishing and deterioration of freshwater habitats have been contributors to the decline in stocks. The good news is that many countries, including Greenland and Norway, have either put a halt to, or reduced the harvesting of Atlantic salmon. The United States and Canada have eliminated commercial fishing for Atlantics altogether. (Fly-fishing on the Ponoi River Company trip is catch and release with barbless hooks.)
There comes a point in every fishing trip when you want to see if you can outwit your prey without the help of a guide. On an overcast, windless afternoon, I made my way along the rocky shoreline downriver to a slow-moving pool. I have been fly-fishing for most of my life and understand trout streams and bonefish flats, but I found it difficult to know where to start on such a wide stretch of river. Typically I use a nine-foot-long single-handed rod, but on that day I was armed with a 14-foot Spey rod, which is the preferred weapon on the Ponoi. The additional length allows you to cast the line farther, up to 120 feet, and cover more water. This is key, because unlike sight fishing for trout where you see them rise, it's not always easy to tell where an Atlantic is hiding out. As with many river fish, in front and behind large boulders is always a good bet, but salmon are also happy to linger in the middle of a moderately swift current. The idea is to cast your fly directly across the current, let it swing through the pool, and hope it catches the attention of a fish.
After an hour, I decided that this section of river was a lost cause. But as I was about to pack it in, something big hit my Mickey Finn. As the water boiled, I could see the silver flicker of the fish just under the surface and knew it was a salmon. I waited a moment before raising the rod to ensure a good set. The salmon began a series of long runs. After a ten-minute fight, I pulled it up beside me and removed the hook from its mouth. It was a powerful fish that weighed around ten pounds—not a monster, but still a marvelous specimen. I held it gently, nose into the current letting it recover while the water rushed through its gills. A few moments passed, and then it snapped its tail and was gone.
I had to take three planes and a helicopter to reach this river. It was, as I learned that week, a privilege to be able to cast to these tough, determined creatures. Few game fish need the pristine, pollution-free environment Atlantic salmon must have to survive. The Ponoi River is such an environment, and it's still as it always was—wild and difficult to get to. It's the end of the line, and the Atlantic salmon like it that way.

Rigging Up for Russia

THE SEASON AND COST The 2004 season on the Ponoi begins May 29 with the last week starting on September 25. Cost: from $4,690 to $9,990, depending on the week. Early and late weeks are the most expensive because they have the largest runs of salmon.
EQUIPMENT The rod of choice on the Ponoi is a 14- to 16-foot Spey rod with a nine- or ten-weight line. Rio Windcutters with interchangeable sink-tips are the preferred fly lines. Floating lines come in handy during the middle of the summer when water levels are low. Single-handed rods can also be used very effectively because most of the fishing can be done from a boat. However, when wading, you'll be able to cast farther and more comfortably with a Spey rod. The camp's fly shop has an excellent selection of appropriate flies as well as plenty of topnotch equipment, including fishing gear by Sage, Tibor, Thomas & Thomas, and Rio.
CLIMATE The Ryabaga camp is located 35 miles above the Arctic Circle, and that means the weather can change in an instant. Early in the season the temperature is typically in the 40s during the day and drops into the 30s at night. Midsummer is warm, with temperatures around the 70s and 80s. During the fall, expect anything from the 40s to the 70s during the day and below freezing at night.
HOW TO GET THERE Travelers from both Europe and the U.S. fly to Helsinki via Finnair, spend the night, and connect to a Murmansk flight the next morning. From there it's a two-hour helicopter ride to the Ponoi.
RESERVATIONS Frontiers International Travel has been the exclusive agent for the Ryabaga Camp since its inception in 1991. Contact Frontiers at Box 959, Wexford, PA, 15090; 800-245-1950, 724-935-1577;


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