Located on the northeastern edge of the Kola peninsula, it’s about 175 miles from Murmansk. This western Russian river empties, fused into the Barents Sea. River meets mother ocean. For a million years, the Yokanga’s waters rush, unyielding. Every year, a parade of natures enduring truth starts in June lasting through August. In early spring, a deafening roar bellows from the rivers life force, heralding the path home into tundra and taiga, the interior of the Kola Peninsula. An army of invaders, festooned in chrome and fins, staged at the rivers entrance, are about to return from two or more campaigns out there in the untamable sea. The Atlantic Salmon of the Yokanga are large and formidable. Marauders of the open ocean, they move through the powerful gates of the Yokanga like belligerent pirates raiding their home port.
Atlantic Salmon of the Yokanga show not a sign of weakness, easily jumping, swimming up and over impossible waterfalls. A well presented fly is accepted as an equitable challenge fit for a returning warrior and the angler who has been called to meet face to face with a destiny forged by an unyielding desire.
The fishing is conducted amongst boulders, glides, pools and sometimes huge springtime run off. A two handed spey rod is the correct tool of choice. Tube flies in plastic or metal are commonly used. Popular patterns include: Temple Dog, Yokanga Gold, Ally’s Shrimp (orange and yellow), Willie Gunn, Pot Bellied Pigs (various), Cascade, Green Highlander, Copper Shrimp, Garry Dog and Sunray Shadows. There will typically be a good stock of these patterns in the Lodge as well as fly tying materials and equipment.
Leave the 10lb tippet at home. If your 30lb tippet shows signs of fraying, change it. Yes, 30lb tippet is what you must have to stand a chance. There is no merit in the numbers of fish released on the Yokanga. Only the luckiest anglers get into numbers of fish on any given day. True success is handed to the angler who plies the waters with humility and compassion. The chance at squaring off with a 30lb or 40lb Atlantic is the culmination of your journey.
The Yokanga is one of the legendary rivers on Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Known for enormous trophy salmon, it wasn’t until just recently that this river was opened up to foreign anglers. The Atlantic Salmon of the Yokanga are officially classified as the largest genetic strain on the Kola by the Russian scientific institution known as PINRO (Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography).
Modern transportation and geo-political shifts have combined to make it a relatively close playground for sea-run thrill seekers. Jet direct travel and polar routing has put the Kola Peninsula and the Yokanga River no further distant from our U.S. east coast than Alaska, and closer to Los Angeles than Patagonia. It’s close and, for a change, the fishing is exactly what it used to be.
A trip to the Kola begins in Murmansk after either a connection from Moscow, or a direct charter flight from Helsinki. The final leg to Russia’s northern peninsula wilderness is a breathtaking chopper flight passing above a broad canvas of tundra, lichen, scrub taiga and clean rivers that harbor unequaled runs of the prized silver fish. The Yokanga River is found inside the Arctic Circle at about 67.5 degrees north latitude. The landscape feels oddly familiar to Alaska and other circumpolar regions — a fusion of the barren tundra that sweeps the North American arctic, combined with the granite-bottomed rivers of British Columbia, and the slightly off-kilter wilderness of Kamchatka. It’s enough to make any steelhead or king salmon junkie drool. Apart from the Cyrillic letters on the vodka bottle, everything looks just right as you string up your two-handed rod.