KOLA’S SIDOROVKA – THE LITTLE BRUTE!
Text: Oystein Aas
Photo: Oystein Aas, Rolf Voergaard & Jon Anders Walle
Tucked in between the more famous East Litza and the Varzina, she might look like a modest grilse creek. Beware, her mix of salmon running strong in weights between 10 and 20 pounds will test your abilities as a salmon angler like no other river! She is the little brute among the wilderness rivers on the Kola Peninsula – the Sidorovka!
We are strolling downstream from camp, heading for the Sea Pool at high tide. However, the tide is hours away and after having fished the fine pools at Lower Aquarium and Valley, we are spending some extra time looking for places to find salmon in the long rapids section between Valley Pool and the estuary. My fishing buddy Rolf has picked a new spot looking worth a few casts, while I move slowly downstream to some small pots that provided surprising tugs the previous season. As I prepare for some inquiring casts, I suddenly hear Rolf’s whistle through the roar of the river. I turn, run upstream – he is into silver in the rapids!
Most Atlantic salmon anglers are aware of the fabulous salmon rivers of Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Some have fished them, the rest wish and hope they once will have the chance. The pioneering days of the Kola salmon fly fishing of the early 1990s are gone, and today foreign anglers seeking salmon in the wilderness for the most are restricted to consider the well-developed and costly offers on the main rivers Rynda, Kharlovka and East Litza, Varzina, Yokanga, Ponoi, Varzuga and Umba. However, there are lesser known rivers, providing a wider spectre of expeciences and qualities, and there might still be treasures to find.
The Kola’s north coast rivers, draining directly into the Barents sea are my favourite rivers! Rugged, tough and unpredictable, with a strong run of multi-seawinter salmon they provide challenges like no other rivers I have fished. Over the years, I have fished a range of these rivers, including the Kola, Kitza, Rynda, Kharlovka and East Litza. A few years ago I was invited to the Sidorovka. This river, located on the most remote sections on the north coast, has for years received only occasional fishing as an addition to the fishing on the Varzina river. Sportfish Russia, the organiser of the fishing decided to set up a separate program as they felt the river deserved more committed and regular fishing.
My first trip was not without scepticism and down ceiled expectations. However, my first visit turned into some of the most fascinating salmon fishing I have ever experienced. Besides, the week became an endeavour of physical exercise bordering on a boot camp. After all, the blending of strenuous mountain hiking and challenging salmon fishing sounds about right for a Norwegian.
The river and its fishing
The Sidorovka Paradise Pool Tented Camp is located approximately 4 km upstream from the sea, and offers fishing for a total of six rods. The salmon fishing includes the whole river from sea and up to the mountainous lakes starting about 10 km from sea. You are helicoptered into camp and then left to explore the river on foot. The camp is under the control of an excellent Camp Manager, Ilya Skornyakov, who with a team of a few Russians serve three meals per day (lunch to bring with you), keeps the shower warm and generally provides a fine atmosphere in camp.
The river’s fishing pools are well spread out and the salmon run far into the tundra plateau past the Maxim Lake, a rather large lake located about 20 km from the sea. Just downstream from camp is the large complex of the Lower Aquarium, and the smaller but productive Rat’s Tail is just above. Except for these two pools (and the lesser productive Paradise Pool just outside camp) the majority of pools demand you put in some amounts of mountain hiking! However, throughput the season, the Lower Aquarium and Rat’s Tail probably are the most productive pools, since they are good holding pools and of course also receive a large share of fishing pressure. While the Lower Aquarium is a large pool that can be fished for some time, Rat’s Tail is smaller and rather quick to cover.
To reach the two pools of Upper Aquarium, a hike of some 30 – 45 minutes through the rough canyon is necessary. This also leads to some highly interesting pools and pots above the Upper Aquarium, where fish needs to rest as they approach the upper river. The upper river is completely different from the lower river, as the terrain flattens out and salmon tend to lie at tailouts and inruns in smaller ponds and lakes. To reach the pools on the upper river, around a small cabin used for resting, repulsively named Shithouse (because of its poor standard, not because it is full of s***) depends on a walk across the mountain plateau of approximately 90 minutes from Camp (we do it less than 60 if the salmon is on the run, but then it is closer to jogging). The fishing around Shithouse consists of several pools and runs, two of which are among the most productive places on the entire river. The Avenue of Giants is the uppermost spot, actually the tailout from the first real lake. The tailout below Shithouse is the second spot which also tend to produce fish of good size.
From camp down to the estuary is a hike of around 45 minutes, and after you have passed Lower Aquarium, you reach Valley Pool in 10 minutes. Valley Pool is actually two pools. The lower is a productive pool primarily in high water, while the upper part is the most popular, where fish can hold several places, in the white water at the top as well as on the first as well as the second tail. Between Valley and Sea Pool the river consists mostly of rapids with some smaller pots in between. To search for fish in these pots is highly exciting, as you are in it for a rough ride if you hook one. Immediately they run downstream, and you are lucky that ice and water for the most part have rounded and polished all the rocks scattered out in the river. Sea Pool is exciting as you always spot rolling fish, but salmon is generally tricky to hook down there. A few smaller pools just up from the estuary might give you the best chance on salmon. However, an impressive population of sea trout provide interesting sport, with fish regularly up to 3 – 4 kgs.
Sidorovka is a small river, with surprisingly large salmon. A rather steep gradient, however with no real obstacle for the fish to migrate upstream, I believe the combination of large gravel on the spawning redds and cool sanctuaries in the big lakes during periods of warm water and drought explains why the stock consists of such a large proportion of quite large salmon. Even if salmon between 10 and 15 pounds dominate, quite a few are in the 16 – 20 pound range, and even some in the 30 – 35 pound range are caught each season. Our best salmon on the river have each year been in the 30 pound range, and we have caught many around 20 pounds.
The crystal clear river calls for technical fishing and it is no surprise that Icelandic approaches often works wonders. Several in our group have learned some lessons in Iceland, and since the character of Sidorovka is not unlike that of a midsized Icelandic river, Frances coneheads, smaller Sunrays and hitched microtubes often is tied to the leader. The Frances conehead tube is always a good choice in turbulent and heavy inruns. The Sunray and the hitch is often a primary approach on the tails of the upper river. In some pools we have also had success in sight fishing with dead drift nymphs or heavy Frances flies. While difficult to hook the fish applying this technique, little is more exciting that following a drifting fly heading straight at the fish. Each year I regret that I do not try dry flies on some of the shallow tails – but then: next year I will!
Short doublehanders, a switch rod or a solid single handed fly rod are the tools we use on Sidorovka, mostly with a floating line. A polyleader or a weighted fly is normally what you need to get to some depth. We normally use rather heavy leaders as they often get in contact with rocks and boulders.
Boot Camp fishing!
When preparing for a week’s fishing on Sidorovka, you might instead of spending time speculating over choice of lines and rods and tying flies you don’t need, put in some extra training. Our best fishing is had when we move actively along the river, making sure that all major pools are covered each day, and even so all the small, unnamed pots in between the major holding pools. Making your legs accustomed to hiking in rough terrain will pay back tremendously. Also, it is necessary to make sure your waders and wading boots don’t give you blisters and sore feet. It is wise to bring a small backpack for these hikes, to carry extra clothing, soft drinks and lunch. To bring some extra underwear for change after you have reached Shithouse adds comfort and makes you fish better, especially if the weather is cold. Spending hours in cold rain when you are soaked on the inside after the mountain hike are not advisable.
Rolf’s fish is strong, and takes him several hundred meters downriver. After some struggle when he carefully maneuvers his line between the uncountable boulders, we can admire a perfect hen of 15 pounds, fresh from the Barents Sea. We remove the doublehook and shoot a few photos. Soon she is ready to depart Rolf’s hands, and her sides are blazing in the afternoon sun as she speeds off into the currents. Soon we are deep into discussing and recollecting the fabulous experience, highly satisfied that we were able to find silver in these hefty rapids.