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End Of Season Report

Steve Estela

AST Ltd.

October 2018

2018 End of Season Report: Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi River

Regardless of the time of year, it is always a mystery what the weather at the 69th Parallel will throw at you… I will never forget the beginning of the Ponoi salmon season in 2017 when June presented Ryabaga Camp with something more representative of Christmas; needless to say, snow can arrive at any time on the Ponoi!

As the 2018 season drew near, all in camp were anxious to see what sort of conditions the start of the season would bring. We were delighted to welcome a normal spring onset and ice-out, as mild weather made camp preparations quite predictable and enjoyable, despite the heavy work load. The hard work and bustle of pre-season was interrupted by an early-season visit that proved very exciting for the entire staff. The wildly popular St. Petersburg rock band Leningrad and its leader Sergey Shnurov (who is widely considered the Russian Mick Jagger) visited the camp for a few days. Shnurov fished a few days and his bandmates took full advantage of the remote beauty of the Ponoi River and the outdoor pursuits available on the tundra. We were honored to host them and add them to the long list of Ryabaga friends. Their energy certainly got the season off to a great start.

The first week of the 2018 Ponoi salmon season delivered as expected, and guests were delighted to return to camp and get back on the water on schedule, attributing the late start of 2017 to a “one off” climatic situation. Ryabaga guests enjoyed a very solid and enjoyable spring with great weather and excellent fishing; anglers averaged 32 fish per rod through the first 5 weeks of 2018 season! Several guests took advantage of optimal conditions to try their luck on the day-long float trip of the Purnache River. This unique float is certainly one to add to the must-do list for any adventurous Ponoi angler.

June 20th witnessed the arrival of the first sea-liced, summer-run salmon. From that day on a mixed bag of fresh salmon made July a very good time to be on the water. In what seemed the blink of an eye, the first half of the season passed by, along with thousands of happy memories, pleased guests, and many new friends! We left Ryabaga for the mid-summer break wondering what the weather might hold for the later season. Despite strong fishing through the first half, the mid-summer river was in need of rain, and high temperatures did not bode well for the later summer fishing. Having experienced the warmest summer of the last century on the Kola Peninsula, we were all eager for a reprieve.

Summer projects are a key component of every season’s agenda, and several camp facility and hardware upgrades were completed in 2018 to ensure that we continue to improve the guest experience in Ryabaga. Elevating the camp experience is certainly as critical to us as offering guests the best angling experience possible, and we are quite proud that Ryabaga is known for its professional, friendly atmosphere, great team of staff, and superior amenities.

After a well-deserved break we found ourselves back in Ryabaga for the second half of the 2018 season, and as expected we found the river at a good temperature but extremely low. In truth the Ponoi was flowing at a level that many of our staff have never witnessed, even those who have been with us for 20 or more years. Nonetheless, with the arrival of the famous Ponoi Fall Run in our minds we all headed out to the river day after day, eagerly awaiting the arrival of those autumn beauties that can put the most experienced Atlantic salmon angler to the test.

August passed with a string of good catches and the arrival of the first fall-run salmon but continued low water. Our devoted Guide Team had to dig deep into their knowledge base to effectively circulate the river and put Ponoi anglers onto fish. As summer progressed towards fall, the weather started cooling down and some rain finally arrived! The river came up, temperatures came down and we knew what to expect... fresh fish! September afforded anglers some strong catches and some of the more technical fishing of the season; it was indeed challenging but rewarding, enjoyed thoroughly by true anglers. Many were excited to take advantage of the ample wading opportunities that paid off with good catches. Through the end of summer, the fishing improved by the day.

Mid-September saw the central quality of fish that the Ponoi can deliver, and every day reminded guides and anglers that there are far more 20+ pound fish swimming in the river than we think. The Aurora borealis made for some magical evenings spent enjoying a drink in the Big Tent. Before we were quite ready, the final week of the 2018 Ponoi salmon season reached its end, and with it we stopped to consider all the stories, memories, and friendships that had emerged. We said goodbye to the season’s last anglers and started to pack up our gear, and all in camp enjoyed the sweet rewarding feeling of another great season accomplished.

2018 has seemingly been a difficult and slow Atlantic salmon year everywhere. Russia, Norway, Finland, and Scotland experienced tough times in 2018, and we all look forward to seeing the cycles of weather and migration return to normal. At the end of the day, we are all in love with a sport and a bright silver fish, and we all wish our days on the water to be prosperous.

All my thanks go to our loyal guests, who make Ryabaga so special. In deference to those guests, it is my pleasure to announce that we have completed a comprehensive history book about angling on the Ponoi. This volume, titled The Incomparable Ponoi: A History, will be delivered to all Ryabaga anglers, past and future, in the coming months. It will certainly provide those who love the Ponoi most with stories and pictures that reference the incredible evolution of fishing on this mighty river. We are very excited for you to see it.

I must thank all of the great staff at Frontiers US and Frontiers UK, who have been such steadfast players in the success of our ventures on the Ponoi. Similarly, I thank the Rybaga Camp Staff, Mechanics, and Guides; it is these folks that make operations day-to-day run smoothly. A special thanks, of course, is owed to Owner Ilya Sherbovich for his support and efforts in maintaining this unique resource. I have extraordinary gratitude for the Murmansk Office Team, the behind-the-scenes group that “makes it all happen”. And of course, a big thanks to my family, Pata, Santi and Simon, who are the pillars of my life.

On a final note, though it is a purely technical and legal matter, I want to use this opportunity to announce that the Ponoi team has restructured its operations to match our actual business activities in Russia and abroad. With that, long-term Ponoi River Company employee Yana Tsukanova has been named the new General Director of ZAO Reka Ponoi, the primary Russian legal entity that holds the fishing rights and operates camps on the Ponoi River. From now on, Julia Vlasova (former General Director in Murmansk) and I will represent a new company called Atlantic Salmon Travel, Ltd. (AST Ltd). AST Ltd. will operate internationally, and together with Frontiers Travel (our long-term exclusive agent), it will maintain guest relations internationally, oversee quality control of Ponoi Camp services, and provide support services to participants in international fly-fishing expeditions to various destinations. This re-structuring will not change anything in terms of my commitment to Ponoi; I will continue to be a go-to person for Ponoi guests and I will continue to do my best to make sure that Ryabaga Camp maintains the highest possible standard of service. 

With our energy already focused on 2019 we wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a happy and safe 2019. We are excited to see you once again on the banks of the Ponoi.

Best,

Steve Estela

Another Season Gone

Week 19 Report

Another week comes to an end in Ryabaga, but this past week was an especially significant one, as it was the last week of our 2018 Ponoi salmon season. As we said farewell to our last group of guests we had the usual feelings of accomplishment and sadness; that said, we were yet again pleased to look back over a fantastic ending to a great season.

This past week we welcomed a group of 20 anglers in Ryabaga. We started the week with the hope that the push of fresh fish that arrived in Week 18 would carry on steadily, and to our delight it did. Throughout the week we saw sea-liced fish caught every day, and the steady pulse of these bright fish into our waters made for some wonderful angling opportunities. Again this week we had anglers of all experience levels in camp, with some who had come to catch their first salmon ever, and others who have been fishing for Atlantic salmon for more than 30 years. All in camp were thrilled when Vadim K. took his first Atlantic salmon this week, and equally pleased when Alexei S. and Alexander B. did the same.

The weather was consistent with what might be expected for a first week of October within the Arctic Circle. We saw frosty mornings and cold water, but the salmon were undaunted, and continued to enter the Ponoi. Our anglers landed an average of 8 fish per rod for the week. The fishing was not easy, but it was certainly rewarding. As is the case in these types of conditions, guides chose either Skagit lines with 15’ sink tips (in the T-10 to T-14 range) or occasionally full-sinking shooting heads to get the fly even deeper. Both tactics had positive results. The quality of fish was again remarkable, as is expected on Ponoi, and we saw stocky, silver fish with the broad shoulders that we expect from our Ponoi fall-runners. Gilbert P. and Martin V. posted lovely 19 lb. beauties, Birger B. took an 18 lb. brute, and Lois S. on her first visit to Ryabaga managed a 17 lb. and a 16 lb. brawler. A great week, indeed.

Perhaps the best news is that fresh fish are still coming into the Ponoi, and this bodes extremely well for 2019’s spring fishing. Ryabaga is still a very busy place, with so much to do before the last group of Mechanics leaves camp and the full clutch of winter covers the tundra. Several camp upgrades are still in store for the coming days, and then the camp will be officially put to bed.

It has been a fantastic week for all of us here in Ryabaga Camp, and an equally fantastic season. As we look towards the coming year we can only hope to again share great moments with friends in what is certainly one of the most special places in the world.

Until Next Time,

Austin C. Lo Greco

Ryabaga Camp Manager

And So Goes September

Week 18 Report: And So Goes September

In many ways it is a challenge to describe just how special this past week in Ryabaga was. After all, only a precious few know the magic of the Fall Run in late September, when the tundra is fast tumbling towards winter. By the last week in September the Ponoi has taken on a unique quality: a dark and frigid season looms ever closer, but the salmon continue to arrive, often in great numbers both in size and in quantity.

We welcomed a group of 21 anglers in Ryabaga this past week, most of whom have visited the river this same week historically. Of particular note was Len S., who was with us for the 59th time!! We welcomed new friends too, and folks like Chris F. saw what Ryabaga, and salmon fishing in general, has to offer for the very first time. Chris succeeded in catching his first Atlantic salmon with us, and then many, many more, much to the delight of all. It was Jane S.’ last week of her typical three week stay in camp. Jane, and so many others, illustrate the point that when considering Ryabaga and fishing the Ponoi, it is impossible to get enough. This place, and this experience, have a certain magnetism…

The week was special for many reasons, but we will try to focus on the fishing, which was once again incredible: of the 250 fish landed this past week 77 broke the 10 lb. mark, 35 broke the 15 lb. mark, and we had 6 fish that tipped the scales past the 20 lb. mark!! And all this despite some chilly fall weather that caused ice build up on rods. The bigger fish were all fresh, dime-bright Osenkas (Russian for “Fall Run Salmon”). Even for those who have spent a few weeks fishing for salmon each season over a period of many years, nothing can compare to the potential of Fall fishing on the Ponoi. Stephen C., who has fished many of the hallowed “big fish” salmon rivers around the world, caught his biggest salmon ever this past week. Stephen’s fish was a lovely 21 lb. bright salmon in perfect condition, though he also landed a 17 lb. and a 14 lb. fish during his stay. Len S. landed a 19 lb. beauty on the first day fishing, as it did James E. Also on that day, Achile C. landed his own 21 lb. and Michael G. landed a magnificent 20 lb. sea-liced brute. Gert B. had a good start too, landing a 17 lb. Osenka, all on the very first day of the week! The second day was a bit slower, but the big salmon were still very much in a taking mood; on this day Stephen landed his 21 lb. chrome, his dad David C. landed a 16 lb., and Rupert D. landed another 16 lb.

Our French friends did not lag behind: Jean-Pierre C. and Jean-Pierre L. had a 15 lb. each. On the third day out the numbers picked up again, and Jean-Pierre C. landed a 20 lb. brawler. Richard White landed a 17 lb., and James E. and Michael G. took a 16 lb. each on Day 4. On the fifth day of fishing the biggest fish taken were three 17 lb. caught by James E., Rupert D, and David N. The last day of fishing this week let anglers finish on a high note: three 16 lb. fish by Achile C., Stewart L., and Rupert D., two 17 lb. fish by Len S. and Peter R., and one incredible fish by Gert B. who caught his first ever Atlantic salmon last season while fishing with us. Gert’s fish last year was a 19 lb. fresh fish, and this year he managed to raise the bar even higher by landing a 20 lb. Osenka, his last fish for the week. And the biggest fish of the week was John C.’s glorious 22 lb. All in all, a great week with an average of 12 fish per rod, 80% of which were bright.

It was another exceptional week on the Ponoi. Every night around the bar there were endless stories shared among friends, rounding out great days on the river. Though all of our anglers enjoyed catching a few, it’s the shared experience that becomes all the more significant in a place like Ryabaga. Here, our anglers find a home and a family, if even only here just for a week. To this fine family we bid a farewell; you’ll always be welcomed in Ryabaga, your Russian home.

Agustin C. Lo Greco

Ryabaga Camp Manager

The Ponoi River Club

Week 17 Report

The resounding motto for Week 17 was “Another Great Week on the Ponoi!” The Ponoi River Club once again convened last week in Ryabaga, and each night Jeremy B. shared a few words about that day’s fishing, recounting the adventures and misadventures of the day and noting the catch count and exceptional fish. At the end of Jeremy’s report, all in attendance raised a glass with the words “it was a great day on the Ponoi”.

In retrospect, the sheer catch numbers do not adequately represent what a great week it was in total. The Ponoi River Club Week always takes into account the entire experience that is Ryabaga, proving the idiom that “there’s a lot more to salmon fishing in Ryabaga than just catching salmon”. This week that greater experience included Hacker C.’s storytelling, the smell of Partagas cigars, the long lunches, Nick G. and George F.’s style of fishing to the rhythms of a very eclectic playlist, Patrick Q.’s unique (and very effective) casting style, and Paul Q.’s contagious energy. There was of course the noteworthy adventure of Mike H. and Nick H., who on their first day out decided to target sea-trout by fishing single-hand rods and skated mouse patterns. There was the annual costume gala on Thursday night, Deke W.’s 25 lb. brute, and so many other shining moments that made this week unique and special.

The fishing this week was not particularly easy; fish were moving upstream extremely quickly, only allowing a tiny window of opportunity for Ryabaga anglers to target them. Though fish were not arriving in the significant numbers that we have seen in this week historically, the scarcity did nothing to curb the enthusiasm and the enjoyment of the group. Everyone, guests and staff alike, said definitively at week’s end that “it was another great week on the Ponoi”.

We had an average catch per rod for the week of 12 salmon, with several fish in the high teens. Patrick Q. and Jack M. both had an 18 lb., George F. had a 17 lb., Deke W. had a 17 lb. and a glorious 25 lb., Nicholas H. landed a 19 lb. brute, Jeremy B., Hacker C., & Charlie M. each managed a 15 lb. Stephen M., who was fishing for salmon for the first time, caught his first salmon on the first day out, and went on to be the top rod on the last day! Needless to say, but I’ll say once again, “IT WAS ANOTHER GREAT WEEK ON THE PONOI!”

Farewell to our friends of the Ponoi River Club,

Agustin C. Lo Greco

Ryabaga Camp Manager