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The Weather Year

2019 End of Season Report

Following a smooth winter that was marked by an average snowfall, the Kola Peninsula was shaping up nicely as the 2019 Ryabaga salmon season approached. Early May saw the arrival of our first group of mechanics who reported a nice clean camp, very little snow left on the ground, and a river that was opening quickly despite that there was some residual ice on the banks. A period of road maintenance, boat preparation and launching, and numerous little tasks in and around Ryabaga filled the days before the first lucky anglers arrived to kick off the 2019 season. When those anglers did indeed land in Ryabaga, the camp was in tip-top shape.

Spring settled in over those first few weeks. The sun was out and temperatures in the mid-teens made fishing very enjoyable. It seemed that both Ponoi salmon and Ponoi anglers were quite happy!

Then the weather set in…

Over the first days of June, we started to see some unusual fronts arriving seemingly out of nowhere. Strong winds, the occasional snow, and significant rains arrived with regularity, changing the composition of the river and making the fishing quite challenging. I cannot say that there have been many times when we have seen snow flying sideways in camp on June 15th. Guides and guests were undaunted, though, and all did a fantastic job of pursuing the elusive salmon despite rising, dropping, and off-colored water. Due to persistence, cagey guide work, and at times utter faith, the first several weeks of the season passed with catches ranging from 22 to 35 fish per rod per week, and an average of 25 fish per rod for the first 7 weeks of the season.

The 2019 Summer Run arrived with a vengeance. The run of salmon was strong, both in number and size of fish, and we all breathed a bit easier knowing the fish were still responding to their natural calling despite the inclement weather. On account of the steady rains that we saw through the first half of the season, we left camp for the Summer Break with the river at the same flow we had found it at 2 months earlier!

The Summer Break arrived and allowed us a short window to work on new facilities, upgrades, roads, cabins, and all behind-the-scenes hardware. Ryabaga is in a constant state of improvement: a complete Big Tent renovation was undertaken, as was the installation of a proper bar, a new tackle room and storage, and myriad of other small enhancements. By the end of the Break, the camp was ready to welcome back guests in style.

With the start of the Second Half, we were pleased to show guests a new, state-of-the-art, 14 pax (4 groups of 2 guests + 1 guide) Hovercraft! This vessel proved a great addition to the program, allowing our guests to reach the bottom beats in comfort while sharing stories and enjoying a beer or coffee in transit.

With the arrival of Fall, certain anxiety and expectation settle over the Ponoi as we wait to see what the mighty Fall Run might hold. Following the Summer Break, we hosted two weeks of Finnish guests who proved incredibly eager to learn about and enjoy Ryabaga. As the second half began, the tail of the Summer Run was still coming through Ryabaga waters. A nice level made for a good start, and we were hopeful that greater stability in the weather conditions might last.

The last week of August saw PRC Owner Ilya Sherbovich hosting the much-anticipated “Friends and Family Week”. This week is always a delight, as it is a time when two or sometimes three generations of fly anglers can share a week fishing our waters. It was a pleasure to see 12 and 13-year-old kids receiving daily awards for the most and the biggest salmon, and of course the coveted “Outstanding Achievement” medals! The future of the sport was alive and well in Ryabaga this summer, not only during this special “Friends and Family Week” but also throughout the season!

The Annual Poker Ponoi Cup took over the Big Tent. After several well-played hands, the 1st Prize went to Matthew Solon, who proved that he is not only a skillful guide but also a very strong Poker player!

The first of 2019’s bright, sea-liced, fall-run salmon started showing up in Ryabaga water accompanied by some more unwelcome weather! Wind, wind, and more wind made things challenging; by this point in the season, we had lost 8 to 10 days to dirty water and unbearable winds!

As the Fall Run progressed, the fish arrived in greater number. Some of our most seasoned guides were overheard saying that the number of bright fish showing was ridiculous! The only problem lay in catching them. As days passed, patience, skill, and knowledge of the river started to pay off, and our catches grew daily. Some nice, deep, fat salmon began to cooperate, and lots of happy faces were seen at the Big Tent bar!

Late September is when we welcome our Ponoi River Club friends. The Ponoi River Club week is a different week in many ways, as anglers fish singly in boats, enjoy very long lunches, and focus wholly on having fun both on and off the water. As luck would have it, it was during this annual Ponoi River Club Week that Mr. Badweather showed up again, and the conditions became challenging, to say the least. With cold mornings, heavy rains, and some snow and hail, the weather was a distinct challenge. The group did not give up, however, and all in camp had an enjoyable week.

Every angler has heard the adage “you should have come a week later…”. This sentiment proved itself out, as conditions turned a full 180 degrees on the Sunday following the Ponoi River Club week (one day later) and following that day the Ponoi revealed its true colors. Through the very last day of the 2019 season, the Ponoi has been at its very best, much to the delight of every angler that had the chance to cast a fly! Each day ended with stories of strong fights, lost fish, and the beauties that were landed. Fish that were above average in size were seen daily, to everyone’s delight. The 2019 Fall Run was indeed a strong one.

With the suspicion that we might be ending our fishing too early this year, we decided to extend the season one more week into October. What a great week we had! Thanks to the in-suite cabins, our guests were entirely comfortable as winter approached, and the fish continued to run. We had a great final week, with 95% of the landed fish being bright fall-runners. Any concerns we had about season extension were dismissed when a 25 lb. sea-liced fish was landed on the very last fishing day of the 2019 season. With this proof that a healthy population of salmon is heading upriver to perpetuate our salmon stocks, we are excited to think what the spring of 2020 will bring!

The 2019 Ponoi salmon season will certainly be remembered as a challenging one, largely on account of uncooperative weather. Our catch statistics, however, were offset by the resolute positivity and dedication of both our anglers and our staff. Fortunately, our guests, guides, and staff realize that part of the beauty of fishing the remote north is its very unpredictability. With that in mind, I would like to thank all of the Ponoi staff on behalf of AST for looking after our guests in such a warm and professional manner. It is a significant responsibility and a significant honor to ensure that guests always receive the very best treatment while visiting Ryabaga Camp. Providing a sublime experience is something we all take great pride in.

I must offer many thanks to the Frontiers UK and US offices, the Murmansk Office Staff, and every single member of this great team. You are what makes Ryabaga, and fishing the Ponoi, so unique.

A special thanks, of course, goes to our tireless supporter Ilya Sherbovich. His unwavering care for the river and its salmon, as well as the Ryabaga guests and staff, is remarkable.

I must again thank my family as well. It is they who keep me motivated and support my passion, allowing me to do what I love.

Best wishes to all; tight lines and see you soon!

Steve Estela

AST

Season’s End

Week 20 Report

With this past week, the 2019 Ryabaga salmon season comes to an end. It was a very special week for all in camp, made notable by the fact that though it was the last week of the season’s fishing it was the first time we have been able to offer Ryabaga anglers the opportunity to fish a week further into October. Recent weather patterns have been hinting that this season extension might prove bountiful, and a camp full of veteran anglers proved that this ‘late-week’ experiment was indeed a success.

We started the week with difficult salmon fishing conditions on account of dirty, rising, and cold water. Nonetheless, all guests and guides returned to the dock with smiles, as the fish were willing to take. Among the first catches of the week were those of Andrey K. who landed his first Atlantic salmon, and Georgiy R. who landed a 15 lb. fish. These early successes set the tone for the great things to follow.

This last week of the season was made up of a multinational group of guests, with both new and old friends from Russia, Finland, and the UK. After the exceptional fishing that guests witnessed in Week 19, we anticipated a similar showing once the water cleared. Day by day it did just that, and anglers found fish by utilizing both sinking lines and heavy sink tips. Even as the wind increased on Tuesday the fishing did not slow down. Both Hannu N. and Alexey L. landed 15 lb. fish and the number of quality salmon over 10 pounds made up 20% of the day´s catch. 

Wednesday, the river was rising minimally and began to stabilize at a healthy fall level. Snow showers and seasonably cold mornings did not slow the fishing down at all, and our anglers returned once again with great catches. Mark A. landed a beautiful 22 lb. fish after a lengthy battle in Clough Creek, and on Thursday Evgeny S. and Andrei K. landed fish of 17 and 16 lb. respectively.

As the week’s end approached the water rose slightly in temperature, giving anglers a great finale. On the last day of fishing, Ryabaga anglers boasted 65 fish landed and many more hooked! Mark A. proved once again that he knew how to handle the big fish, finishing the week off with a magnificent 25 lb. fall runner, the biggest fish of the 2019 season caught on the last day of this ‘first/last’ week. 

We ended the week with an average of 12 fish per rod, which was a remarkable number given the difficult conditions that started the week. This metric illustrates the strength of our Fall Run and promises great things for the coming spring. This week was the perfect ending to a great season, showcasing the quality and quantity of fish that return to the Ponoi. Now, as the last guests leave, Ryabaga staff will begin the bittersweet process of shutting down the camp for winter. As the winter break approaches, all in Ryabaga are eager to see what amazing things Ponoi has in store for 2020.

With season’s end, we wish to offer sincere thanks to each one of our guests. Not only do we value their friendship and company, but it is also important that we celebrate the role each one of them plays in the ultimate goal of protecting Ponoi salmon.

We must, of course, thank AST Senior Advisor Steve Estela for his support and help throughout another fantastic season. 

Finally, we must offer a very special debt of gratitude to Ilya Sherbovich, without whom the future of the Russian salmon would be a dark one. Thank you, Ilya, for your tireless desire to improve, to preserve, and to protect Atlantic salmon!

Until Next Season, Tight Lines.

The Ryabaga Team

The Stars Align

Week 19 Report

Over the last few weeks we have seen the strength of the Fall Run, with fish moving in great number through Ryabaga waters. That said, weather and river conditions have posed real challenges to anglers and guides alike of late. This week, everything came together, as the Ponoi calmed down enough to show guests just what it had in store. Water temperature, water level, appropriate winds, cloudy skies… everything aligned and the fishing responded right away. Reports of great fish began to circulate through camp just minutes after guests landed in Ryabaga. Joseph B. went down to Home Pool upon arrival and immediately connected with what ended up being a fantastic 15 lb. fall-run fish! This fish seemed to foretell what was to come…

The first day out was undeniably good, especially for Genady D. and Sergey S., both of whom caught their first Atlantic salmon. Gerard P., who was fishing the Ponoi for the first time, landed a 21 lb. beast in Tomba, and Len S. (who was remarkably fishing his 60th week in Ryabaga!!) landed an 18 lb. chromer. On Day Two there was no sign of slowing, as Duncan B. and Henri A. each landed a 19 lb. salmon. Timothy Y. landed a 21 lb. and Martin V. landed a 22 lb. fish. It seemed this week that all the fish we knew were in the system decided to play the game, and our anglers rose to the occasion. Through the week we saw an increasing number of fish entering our waters, and sea-liced fish were a daily sight through all beats. On Day Three, Simon B. landed a 20 lb. and Martin a 19 lb. salmon, proving that these boat partners had a way of working together. On Day Four the weather took a bit of a turn, bringing colder temps and even a snow shower, and yet the numbers remained strong. The biggest fish of the day went to Ian B. who landed a 19 lb. silver beauty. Day Five arrived, and beautiful conditions remained; the fishing was great. Martin V. landed a 19 lb. bar of silver, and just minutes after releasing it he hooked, played, and landed what is currently the biggest fish of the season: a 24 lb. slab of perfection.

On the final fishing day of the week, the fish were still quite willing to take a fly. Dean M. landed an 18 lb., while Duncan B. & Gilbert P. each landed 20 lb. fish.

By the end of the week, anglers had landed an average of 28 fish per rod, and over 90% of them were bright, broad-shouldered Osenkas.

The fishing was wonderful this past week, and all in camp were grateful. Nonetheless, what made the week even more enjoyable for guests and staff was what our old friend Peter R. refers to as “the X factor”. According to Peter, there is something unique that characterizes the Ryabaga experience. That something may be impossible to pinpoint or fully describe, but it is there no less and recognizable to the guests who come to love this place. The magic that is Ryabaga is real, both on and off the water.

 

With just one week left in our 2019 Ponoi Salmon Season, the excitement remains palpable. All look forward to seeing what may enter our river in the coming week. As our final group of anglers arrives, spirits are incredibly high, in part because this past week represents a success story that goes beyond the numbers in a statistical spreadsheet. Week 19 was confirmation that the great efforts made to protect these fish, and to ensure their survival, are paying off.

As the weather cools and the days keep getting shorter, we are warmed by the certainty that even when the Ponoi decides to take its winter sleep, the promise of something truly special will hover beneath the ice, ensuring the ongoing success of Ponoi anglers.

Tight Lines,

Agustin C. Lo Greco

Ryabaga Camp Manager

A Special Time of Year

Week 18 Report

As Autumn comes to an end on the Kola Peninsula, the weather and the trees let us know that winter is not far off. In Ryabaga the days are growing shorter, the nights are growing colder, and the birch trees are dropping their many golden leaves into the river. Flocks of trumpeter swans and geese are flying south, and the permanent residents of the region are preparing for the long Russian winter to come.

This past week, the Ponoi came into fine shape as increasingly stable and seasonally typical conditions made the salmon a good deal more active, and the Fall Run reached a pinnacle. The group of anglers that visited Ryabaga this week hailed from the UK, USA, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Russia, and Zimbabwe, and gladly they had a chance to experience a typical fall week of fishing on the Ponoi. Fresh, sea-liced Osenkas were caught in number from Tomba up to Purnache, much to the delight of guides and anglers alike.

This week fishing was impacted by the fact that the Purnache River, Ponoi’s largest tributary, was 1ºc warmer than the main river. This temperature differential kept most of the fish from running past the mouth of the Purnache. The beat rotation was adjusted to ensure that all anglers had the best opportunities to catch fresh fish throughout the week. Though the water was warmer below the Purnache mouth it remained around 4ºc, which is colder than usual for this time of the season. For this reason most of the fish were taken on the edges, up against the banks, and in shallow areas around gravel bars in rather slow water. The takes tended to be soft and slow, but once the connection was established it was off to the races.

Michael G. and his guide Max Kantor managed to hook a great fish that took them on a memorable 400-yard ride downstream, forcing them to lift anchor and give chase. Finally, after a stunning performance by fish, angler, and guide team, the salmon was netted. It proved to be a gorgeous fish that tipped the scale at the 21 lb. mark. Yuri B. and his guide Nick Sigov also hooked an unbelievably broad-shoulder Osenka, and once again there was nothing to do but give chase and hope that the fish would stop before getting into the next whitewater section. The fish was initially hooked at the top of Falls Creek gravel bar, and the duo netted this beauty just below the mouth of the Falls Creek. This long, exciting ride ended with a 20 lb. fresh sea-liced fish in the net.

There were many battles this week in which the fish proved to be victorious. Paul C. hooked a fish that never stopped running, and when the backing was almost gone and the pressure on the reel drag was at a maximum, matters became dire. Despite that the boat moved downstream in an attempt to keep up with this fish, the hook at length came detached and the connection was lost. It is often surprising this time of year to note how remarkably powerful a 14 or 15 lb. fish can prove to be. The Osenkas have a power to weight ratio like no other salmon, and each time the line goes tight the angler has to be ready for an incredible battle.

By the time the week came to an end, Ryabaga anglers had landed an average of 15 fish per rod, 83% being bright fish, and 54% being multiple sea-winter fish. It was truly a fantastic week, and with two more weeks ahead of us in the season the fishing just keeps getting better. It is an exciting time in Ryabaga, not only because we are looking forward to what lies in store for the coming weeks, but also because this final push of large fish foreshadows what we might see in the river next spring. It is a pleasure to see the river in spectacular shape, and a joy to see the Fall Run at its finest.

On behalf of all the Ryabaga team, farewell and see you soon.

Agustin C. Lo Greco

Ryabaga Camp Manager