The Fly Shop’s owner, Mike Michalak first ventured to the Kola Peninsula in search of Atlantic salmon in 1993. After 3 years of research on virtually all the rivers on the Peninsula, he made the Varzuga his top choice, based on numbers of fish and the quality and diversity of water for the flyfisherman. Ten years later, I received a very generous invitation from Christopher Robinson, of Roxton Bailey Robinson (the British outfitter and organizer on the Varzuga), to fish with him on the Varzuga and Kitza Rivers for a week starting in late May. My only real experience with Atlantic salmon was staring at the dead, pen-raised fish under the magnified sheen of cling-wrap at our local Costco. Having spent most of my youth and adult life chasing trout and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest, I was absolutely giddy to finally get a chance to fish for Atlantics. I knew I was in for a truly memorable trip, but after all the stories I had read over the years about Atlantic salmon fishing, I was determined not to get my expectations out of whack. I mean, Atlantic salmon fishing is like permit fishing, right? If I landed a few fish for the week, I was going to be happy. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised.
Roxton Bailey Robinson has been instrumental in protecting and developing (the two are synonymous in Russia) the entire Varzuga River System. They run five different camps- Kitza, Lower Varzuga, Middle Varzuga, Upper Varzuga and Pana. A common thread in all the lodges is that they are small, with no more than 10 – 12 anglers at a time. That’s a simple reflection of what we at The Fly Shop® believe in and enjoy. Smaller operations usually offer less regimented angling opportunities, more personalized service, and encourage camaraderie among the guest. The small, intimate camps on the Varzuga offer that personal service and more. They are organized by British anglers to very strict standards, managed by experts, and staffed by enthusiastic Russian guides, European chefs, and native boatmen familiar with every riffle and rock in the river. The combination of British and Russian staff is terrific and adds to the total experience.
The Lower Varzuga camp is beautiful and well appointed. This is base of operations for all five camps Roxtons operates on the Varzuga and its tributaries. The accommodations are very comfortable; brand new, spacious cabins with each angler given his own private room sharing a separate shower/basin and toilet room. Each cabin has a big covered porch with large table and benches – very nice for organizing and getting geared up for the day. The cabins sit on a bluff overlooking the river and are connected by wooden walkways. The main lodge is quite nice and again features a brick fireplace, sitting area and large dining room, all overlooking an expansive lawn area and views of the river.
If the Varzuga River is the most prolific Atlantic salmon river, then by definition Middle Varzuga is the most prolific beat in the world. Situated on a beautiful tree – studded island, 18 km above Lower Varzuga camp, “Middle” produces some incredible numbers of fish on its beats. One rod in 2002 landed over 480 fish in just two weeks. Recently, 10 rods landed a total of 831 fish! Due to big water, double-handed rods are needed. This is great dry fly water, more technical fishing than the Lower and Kitza camps. Right now the camp has small individual cabins with a central wash-house and banya (traditional Russian sauna). The camp is going to get all new pre-fabricated double occupancy log cabins with in-house bathrooms, slated to be completed by the beginning of next season. The main lodge is quite nice with a massive fireplace, gathering area with chairs and couch, and main dining room.