Russian Salmon, American Expeditions, Flats Flies
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“One cast can change your day…maybe your life”
Quotation from: Steffen Juhl—Salmon Junkies
Story by: Marcy Stone
Photos by: Josh Linn & Marcy Stone
The salmon lodge on the Umba.
I will most certainly take the word “maybe” out of that quote.
Never have I believed in a quote about fishing more than this one.
Partly because I had read it over and over again while researching my
newest fishing adventure, a 6,500 mile journey to Umba River, in arctic Russia, northeast of Finland .
In the end it felt like a last minute journey even though it was
7-years in the planning. I
can’t even really recall how it all started, except that Josh Linn mentioned
two months before we left Oregon for Murmansk how he was thinking
hosting a trip to Russia, and that he had been eye-balling the Kola, peninsula as the destination. We had talked about Atlantic Salmon fishing for years, tossing the idea
around, almost believing that we may
never have the money to do it—and even eastern Canada seemed out of our range.
This time it was different. This time the idea had legs. We were going
to Russia. I am always up for travel. "A rolling stone gathers no moss!",another
Did we speak any Russian? Of course --we knew three words by the time we touched down in St. Petersburg:“Spasiba” (Thank you), “Da” (Yes), and “Nyet” (No)
.By the end of our trip, we added one more word to the line-up: “Nostrovia!” (Cheers!)
The actual travel time to get to our destination made the Umba River feel, quite literally, “a world away”, and the experiences there made us realize just how different our worlds are. It is one thing to travel to Mexico or Singapore, two English speaking locations that I have personally spent many weeks in, and an entirely other experience when the country you are now traveling to has, almost literally, been born again just 20 years ago and the language is nothing like your native tongue.
It was time to put our American ego in our back pocket and I was comforted to know that I was not traveling alone…
wetravelled 32 hours one way! Josh and I toughed out boring customs lines, the Cyrillic alphabet, bacon flavored potato chips (okay, that wasn’t so tough), instant coffee (no Starbucks?), waiting for shuttles that drove 30 feet to drop you off from the terminal to the next plane (still don’t understand that one), baggage weight overage fees, hours of layovers, 3 currency exchanges (due to a layover in Frankfurt), lots of cigarette smoke, and a five hour bus ride from Murmansk to the Umba River Lodge!
A month earlier, Josh and I had begun to research
the gear required for such an excursion. It was cool to find that we
needed exactly the kind of gear that we already local rivers, such as
the Deschutes and Sandy Rivers:
floating Scandinavian lines, Skagit heads, Polyleaders, sink tips
and small to medium sized flies.
However, for expected salmon up to 30-pounds, we took our
Deschutes gear to another level.
20# Maxima for tippet instead of the usual 10-12#, 13’0 8/9
weight rods for our 11’0 and 12’6” 5 weights, and our Nautilus and Hardy
reels made the cut. The rods that we fished the most were the
G. Loomis NRX 13’0 8/9 and the
G. Loomis Stinger, 13’0 8/9, both were easily able to
handle the assortment of sink tips, Polyleaders, and Skagit heads that
we stashed in our kits. I chose
Rio’s Steelhead Scandi for my go to Scandinavian line.
We had never fished this type of water or specie before and
thought we’d better to be ready for all possible fishing situations.
Marcy dressed for cold weather salmon fishing.
The Umba River, and its tributary, the Krivetz, are located on the south coast of the Kola Peninsula, in the Murmansk province of Russia. Our trip was during the last week of the runs of Atlantic Salmon they call “Osenka” salmon. The allure of these fish at this time in this region is the fact that they come in pristine and ready to winter over, not spawning until the following season before the freeze . Therefore, these salmon are big and fat, making the chance of hooking up a 15-30# salmon much more likely!
Exhausted, yet awake with excitement, we arrived to
the lodge at around 5am.
As it was completely dark at that time, we could not see much of
the lay of the land or our home for the next 7 days.
It was all still a mystery.
There were altogether 8 of us fishermen traveling together, yet
Josh and I were the only two that had flown out of St. Petersburg--all
of the others had flown out of Moscow and had already met for the most
part. I have to say
that everyone in our group was someone with whom I would have the honor
of fishing with on any river in any part of the world.
The group ended up seeming like a fishing “Olympics”—there were 2
Germans, 2 French, 2 Danes, and 2 Americans—and at the end of the day or
during our hour lunch break, we would compare fish numbers, the lucky
flies that worked and gear set-ups that were successful.
We all had so much in common as fishermen and as people.
Our camp manager, Jan Delaporte, provided us with a
democratic organization of how we were to rotate runs each day, assigned
us our guide, gave us hints and tips, drew us maps of how to wade the
more difficult banks, and made sure that all of our daily needs were
met. That first day he explained to us the “20# club”; hook and land a
salmon of 20# or more and the lucky angler would not only get the glory
of hooking a big fish, but would receive a special Salmon Junkies cap
with “20# Club” stitched onto the bill, sign their name on a wooden
salmon cut-out that hung on the lodge wall, and toast to their catch
with a big shot of vodka at dinner that evening! That definitely led me to
feel more of a competitive edge to my fishing—something I normally try
to stay away from. But,
hell, I was on vacation--a time to abandon all normal behavior!
Jan is a Creative Director in Germany and was the other photojournalist in our group. He and Josh had fun documenting the beauty and fun of our week together. After dinner, the four of us ended up being the last ones to bed, often sharing some distilled beverage while discussing fly tying, marketing, or photography. There was always a lot of laughter those evenings! French angler, Pierre Martini, brought his father, also named Pierre, to the Umba. Those two were as crazy for fishing as we were and had a great sense of humor as well. They were great salmon anglers and have traveled all over the world in fishy pursuits.
I believe that is was Peter Rask, however, who was
the winner on the Umba as far as numbers were concerned.
We were entertained by his stories and singing and charmed by his
unique laughter. I can
honestly say that our group that week was the most fun I have ever had
with people whom I had never met before and, at the risk of sounding
trite, it was magical!
That first morning on the Umba was gorgeous! Now in the early morning light we got a perfect glimpse of the river and the tundra that surrounded us. Aspen and birch trees wearing their fall colors, crisp, cold air, clearing skies, and a sun that never rose much higher than the horizon the entire week of fishing. It was all new yet so familiar to steelhead fishing in Oregon. I remember wondering when that moment would come where it really felt different to us….
We wandered around the lodge and admired its construction and layout. One wing held the guest rooms and the other, the kitchen and service people/guides’ quarters.
Built in 2000 on the banks of the productive Home
Pool, the lodge is made entirely from local timber.
My most favorite spot within the lodge was, besides my bed, the
dining area and the tree that “grew” out from the middle of the dining
table—I looked up at it at every meal.
My eyes would automatically be drawn up to its branches that
reached out high above our new family of friends as we ate and drank,
and to the red and green 20# Club hat that hung up high out of anyone’s
reach. That hat called to
me every day, reminding me of the chance that any one of us had to catch
a big one! It was a minute
reakfast was the best meal
of the day, if only for its consistent variety of flavors.
Fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, crisp breads, bread
for toast, freshly made crepes with assorted jams, crèmes, and syrups,
ham, bacon (not smoked, as that is not a common method in Russia, even
for salmon!), muesli, cereal, milk, strong coffee, orange juice,
omelette, and fruit awaited us every morning without fail.
Midday, lunch would be served hot in the lodge or river-side,
depending on where we were fishing that day.
Usually a hot soup to start, followed by a full plate of beef,
chicken or fish, potato or rice, and a small dessert.
Oftentimes, Josh and I would enjoy a bottle of wine or a beer
with lunch. Refreshed, we’d
then continue to fish until dusk—dinner was prompt at 7pm, after a small
cocktail hour to warm up by the fire.
A different appetizer was served each evening, a main course--similar to
lunch, and then a dessert followed.
As was expected, our plates were heavy on protein and
starch—perfect food for hungry, hard working fishermen. We never went to
Josh and I were paired up for the week with our
guide, Farit. He was to be
our guide for the entire week, and he was as reliable as the sunrise!
Of course, there was a language barrier at first, and a little
shyness, but I think the three of us bonded quickly over an infinite
number of cups of instant coffee, sweetened with milk and sugar,
accompanied by coffee biscuit cookies.
Somehow, Farit always sensed the need for a coffee break just
when I needed it most! We
learned that he was from Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked
country, which seemed both ironic and yet expected that he would love
his job of guiding this huge river.
Farit entertained us with guide stories, names for local animals,
and some things about the area as far as fishing conservation is
concerned. They are very
much into the success of the fish that inhabit the Umba and its
tributaries, and all of the
fishing that we did was catch and release.
The Umba is quite large in many areas, and narrow
in others .A lot of it
reminded me of the Clearwater as the current meanders over such a wide
berth at many points. The
other river that we fished, the Krivetz, is a fast and hard to wade
river, similar to the Deschutes.
Lots of round, smooth, slippery rocks here, or as Farit called
them, “stones”. I have to
admit, for the week, nearly 80% of our fishing was done out of the boat
in the middle of the Umba.
Our guide would throw out a grappling hook with 20 yards of rope
and would gradually
let out a few feet at a time until we were done with the run.
Josh and I would rotate casting positions at every beat,
casting simultaneously from either the bow or from the stern.
I got really good at my snake roll cast on this trip, while avoiding our boat’s 60hp Mercury motor. About the third day in, I wished that
I had been counting my casts—we had never made so many casts in one day
as we had here in Russia.
It was a test of endurance and patience.
On our first day out, Josh landed the first salmon of the trip,
fresh with lots sea lice (still with their tails on!), about 12#.
It was awe inspiring, and I hit him hard with questions like,
“How’d it take? Did it take like a steelhead?
How did it feel?
Where in the swing did it grab?”.
Josh gets the "Skunk" off the boat.
The way we were instructed from our guide was, after a mend
towards the bank, to strip the fly if there was no current, or to not
strip if the fly came across on its own at a slow and steady pace.
Salmon like to take a fly that is moving quicker than a typical
steelhead swing. Now we all
know there are exceptions in either specie, but this is generally the
rule. The trick is to make
the fly move at a smooth, consistent speed, and this is where your skill
is involved. Having neither
fished this way nor for this type of fish,
Josh and I experimented amidst our hundreds of daily casts for
the perfect swing that we thought would work.
Farit would give us tips on fishing a run—“Good cast” meant a
long, far cast. That was
easy…the difficulty was in trying to figure out at what speed was right
for getting the salmon to grab.
It was cold, so we had to slow it down and keep it low, but not
too slow, or the salmon wouldn’t be interested.
This required a lot of careful, deliberate mending. By the second
day, and with only the one fish landed for “The Americans”, Josh and I
were perplexed. We had one,
while the Germans and the French had already landed a few fish, two
of them getting into the 20# club.
Being the low rod for the day definitely made for more
self-analyzation! We were
fishing a rising river—it had been below average upon our arrival, but
slowly the water rose, until we could no longer see the sandy beach
where our boat pulled in every evening.
That evening, we were told that this week was very unseasonable
as far as the river level and catch rate.
"So…it wasn’t just us then",
we thought. Whew!
The pressure was lessened…
On our the third day I finally hooked up three
times in one pool and lost all three!
Farit looked puzzled and even made me pull my fly in so that he
could check the hook’s sharpness; it passed the test.
Will I ever land a salmon?
I actually had one pull line off of my Hardy Bougle before it
popped off. It wasn’t
until the fourth day that I finally landed one bright, 3# fresh Atlantic
Salmon just in front of the lodge at Home Pool.
I was finally on the board!
Farit’s reaction was to net the fish and then prompt a firm
handshake for the capture. I was so excited that I felt like hugging
him, but restrained myself .
Every day began and ended roughly the same:
breakfast at 8am, then meet at the boats, ready to fish by 9am.
Fish until lunch at one o’clock. Get back out there at 2pm and
fish until dusk, be back and ready for dinner at 7pm.
That translates into roughly 9 hours of fishing, and what felt
like thousands of casts. It
was as if I had started over in my fishing career.
Josh and I became more determined every day to keep our spirits
up (and in our glass!).
Even on days that we hadn’t hooked up, we would still take out the flask
of Whiskey and share a toast with Farit—to celebrate our camaraderie and
the hope of future salmon hookups.
That evening of my first salmon, Jan our camp
manager made a special announcement for my first salmon ever and I was
awarded a shot of vodka at dinner!
One shot apparently wasn’t enough and Pierre ended up buying a
bottle for the table. I
graciously accepted the refills and Josh and I stayed up late that night
with Peter and the Germans…there were rumors of a second bottle of vodka
In our post vodka haze the following morning, Josh
and I were slated to fish the Krivetz River.
We had done this once before, but the wind blew so hard that day
and the rains came in so fiercely that it was impossible to make any
productive casts and we were fishless that day.
A day of fishing this Umba tributary has a different schedule
than fishing below. We
motor up to where the rivers meet and tie up the boat.
Then, we hike for about 45 minutes to the highest pool and fish
our way back down to the boat.
Lunch is done riverside under a sturdy shelter, and fishing is
done from the bank.
The sun was shining right into our eyes that afternoon as we fished some juicy looking lies up in Golden Pool. It had a lot of structure and currents that, to these two steelhead fishermen, looked very familiar, and, therefore, promising. Without any luck, Farit waved me over while Josh continued fishing downstream. I had no idea what he had planned—maybe another coffee break?
He told me that we were going to “troll for
Did he say what I thought he
said? Troll? With a fly?
I hesitated for a bit as he motioned me to a tiny rowboat
that is forever parked at this run.
I was seriously confused—I had only ever fly fished, and,
although I knew what trolling was by definition, I associated it with
conventional fishing and didn’t want any part of it.
I am a fly fisherman and I swing flies!
Putting all judgments aside, I thought,
What the hell, I’m on vacation in
Russia! and got into the front of the boat—I could tell that Josh
thought we were simply headed to the other side of the river at that
point and I didn’t want to yell out to him that I was about to go
trolling for salmon!
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that all I did was pull about 20 feet of running line off of my reel and made a single spey cast to straighten it out and immediately the fly came to a halt! GRAB!I set the hook on him, lifting my rod tip up (something I had little faith in as a steelhead fisherman, but I obeyed my guide). Farit was beside himself and kept asking me if I was stuck on the rock out below us and I kept telling him that I had a fish on. He absolutely didn’t believe me and it took two more times of him asking and my rod bending deeper and deeper before he ferociously started rowing the boat back to the bank to which we had just taken off from only 20 feet earlier. It was unbelievable, to say the least. ONE cast. Sitting on my ass in a boat!
I stood up, stepped out of the tiny vessel, and
began walking downriver--this fish was BIG, and it was leaving the pool.
I was at its mercy as he took me lower and lower, through rocks,
in a motion I can only describe as “submarining”: staying deep and
moving slowly, hard, heavy, in one direction—away from me!
Josh got the camera out and was taking lots of
pictures and some video.
Farit readied the net as he helped me over rocks and through slippery
river algae, reminding to keep my ”tip up”.
I trusted my gear and knot tying abilities as I stood my ground
against this heavy beast.
He wasn’t giving up easily, and as Farit looked at me and said, “Big
fish!”, adrenaline and 7 years of steelhead fighting skills took over as
I held on. As soon as the
net was under my prize I ran over to see what had given me the most
exciting 24 minutes of my life—a bright, beautiful 26# Atlantic Salmon!
Assured that it was in the net, I began literally jumping up and
down, yelling “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!” !
Ask Josh—he saw it all.
Farit reached out to me for his classic handshake and I shook it
as vigorously as I could—then gave him a big hug!
Marcy & Farit with her largest salmon.
I was shaking so much it was hard for me to hold this big buck up and I could tell that Farit was as excited as I was--he didn’t want to let go of it either! Josh was able to take only a few pictures of us before we released him back into the dark, silvery water. I could only stand there, trying to absorb what had just happened. I felt my face smiling so hard I though that I was going to be disfigured—I think I smiled a new wrinkle into my face that day! I couldn’t even eat lunch, I was so emotional! As I sat there, another wave of excitement came over me as I realized that I had caught that fish on a fly that I tied just for the trip—an Irish salmon pattern called “Peaty Man”.
It was a pattern that I had randomly picked out of
hundreds of patterns in a book by Chris Mann called, “The Complete
Illustrated Directory of Salmon and Steelhead Flies”.
I had tied only ONE of them, and had nearly
forgotten to fish it until a text came through from my friend and
work/fishing buddy, Travis Johnson, that morning:
“Did you fish the Peaty Man yet?” : a message from thousands of
miles away in a text to the Russian tundra that somehow reached me.
As we were the last boat into the dock that evening, all of the other sports and guides were on the wooden walkway that leads up to the lodge. Farit had already spoken to the other guides via cell phone with the great news so I was greeted with hugs and handshakes from everyone right away. It was an amazing feeling—everyone was truly happy for me. I felt like I had caught that fish for all of us that day!
I dressed for that evening’s dinner a little
differently than dinners prior.
I dressed like a girl—short skirt, nice sweater, and heeled
boots! I was anticipating
the festivities and they did not disappoint.
I received my 20# club red and green cap, signed my name on the
wooden fish, and took a big shot of Russian vodka!
Jan Delaporte had announced that my fish was only one of three
salmon of that size the entire season, and, not only that, as there are
not many females who fished the rivers there, it was a special occasion
in more ways than one.
I fished differently those last two days on the Umba. I made just as many casts as I had before, and never gave up the chance at hooking another salmon. I was still riding the high and basking in the warmth of the afternoon in Golden Pool. I felt very lucky to have had that fish take my fly. The other experienced salmon anglers told me that it was quite unique for my second salmon to be that large. Sometimes it takes others with more experience to actually have to tell you how special things are. Sometimes you are lucky enough to find it out all on your own.
After we fished the final day, we were to be ready
for our long journey back to Murmansk airport by 11pm that evening, bags
packed. It was
difficult to stay awake, and I had to wake Josh up from his nap when the
bus arrived. We loaded up
into the bus, cold and tired.
As we pulled away, all of the guides ran up to our bus, pounding
on the windows, saying their goodbyes.
The last thing I heard and saw was Farit, in the darkness outside
my bus window, jumping up and down, yelling, “Marcy! Marcy!”
I waved furiously back at him, smiling.
I have, since our trip, made it a point to find
some instant coffee granules at the grocery store,
but it just isn’t
the same as when Farit makes it.
I have been asked by my friends if I would go
again—of course! I look at
it as not a trip to have crossed off of my bucket list, but rather, a
trip to keep on my list to do over and over again!
Who says you have to do something only once?
Member of the 20-pound club.
|Rainbow Trout Memorabilia by American Expedition|
|Shot Glasses||Playing Cards||Coffee Mug|
|Hip Flask||24 OZ. Acrylic Tumbler||Sportsman's Wrist Watch|
We believe that within each of us there is an innate appreciation for and sense of pride in America’s indigenous wildlife. American Expedition shares this appreciation and sense of pride with each and every American by uniquely relating the beauty and magnificence of America’s wildlife to consumers through illustrations, inspirational sayings, and interesting information on meaningful gifts and décor items. The American Expedition Brand commemorates America’s wildlife by creating intellectual and emotional connections between outdoor men and women and each significant wildlife species within America. The phrase American Expedition authentically captures the emotional, intellectual, and visual sensations that are felt while experiencing America’s wildlife in their natural settings. American Expedition gifts and décor items celebrate the magnificence of all of America’s wildlife. They meet an inherent need for people to exhibit their admiration for America’s wildlife in a personal way. They also give people a unique opportunity to share their passion for America’s wildlife with others.
Rainbow Trout are native to nations that border the Pacific Ring of Fire, including our home waters of the Columbia river Basin. Rainbow Trout, including their sea run varieties known as steelhead are icons of the wild Pacific Northwest and are celebrated as one of nature's strongest species of wildlife. They are so revered that they have been transplanted to every continent in the world except Antarctica. That is why we have selected the rainbow trout for this special collection.
Shot Glasses, Rainbow Trout
The Shot Glass Set is a must for any sportsman's cabin, basement bar, or shot glass collection. Each set includes two individually-designed shot glasses packaged in an attractive sturdy gift box. Each individual glass features a unique full-color wildlife illustration on the front and an inspirational nature quote on the back. Features the Quote:
"Since we are unable to change the past or predict the future, it is essential that we make the most of today."
|2SHT-112||American Expedition, Shot Glasses||Rainbow Trout||$7.95||SALE ENDED|
Rainbow Trout 6
oz. Hip Flask
These Stainless Steel Hip Flasks are a great men's gift. Each flask measures 3 3/4" x 4 1/2" and has a capacity of six ounces. They are packaged in a formed felt insert and placed in an attractive sturdy gift box along with a small funnel, used for filling the flask. Features the Quote:
"The natural beauty found in nature is a wellspring of inspiration that will never run dry.”
|STFL-112||American Expedition, Whisky Flask||Rainbow Trout||$9.95||SALE ENDED|
Rainbow Trout Playing Cards
These Playing Cards are poker-Motifd decks with standard playing card faces and a full-color Rainbow Trout illustration on the back of each card. Interesting wildlife information is featured on the back of each deck's box.
Features the Quote:
“The difference between an ordinary experience and an exceptional one is in the details noticed along the way.”
|PCRD-112||American Expedition, Playing Cards||Rainbow Trout||$3.95||SALE ENDED|
Rainbow Trout Acrylic
The Insulated Acrylic Tumbler has become one of the hottest items in the gift industry. However, consumers have found that the standard 16-ounce capacity is too small to accommodate their beverage along with ice, so we have developed our series in a more effective 24-ounce Motif. It’s the same great item with the right capacity! Each tumbler includes a screw-on lid and sturdy reusable acrylic straw. Made of BPA free, FDA approved food grade plastic. Includes straw and leak-proof lid. For use with cold beverages only. Not for use by children under three years of age.
Features the Quote:
"Continue your journey beyond the things you already know, as new opportunities lie just around the bend."
|ST24-112||American Expedition, 24 oz. Acrylic Tumbler||Rainbow Trout||$18.95||SALE ENDED|
Stainless Steel Coffee Mug
Our insulated Stainless Steel Coffee Mugs offer a convenient handle and a spill-proof lid for a more conventional coffee-drinking experience on the go. The mug holds a generous 16 ounces of beverage. Each attractive mug is packaged in a sturdy gift box along with an insert booklet containing illustrations and information profiling each featured animal.
Features the Quote:
"Be gentle enough to follow nature's inspirations and be strong enough to make the world a better place."
|STMG-112||American Expedition, Stainless Steel Coffee Mug||Rainbow Trout||$14.95||SALE ENDED|
Our new Sportsman's Watch features a genuine leather band, a high-quality SEIKO timepiece that is waterproof up to 30 meters, and an inspirational quote engraved on the back. The illustrated watch face also includes a date window. Each watch is packaged in a full-color, jewelry store quality gift box.
Features the Quote:
"Let your passion for adventure be matched only by your thirst for knowledge and understanding.”
|WTCH-112||American Expedition, Sportsman's Watch||Rainbow Trout||$50.95||SALE ENDED|
Photo by Andrew Bennett: Andros South Bonefish Camp, Bahamas.
|Flats flies are for most fish that live on warm saltwater flats. These species might include bonefish, permit, redfish, and also fish that are on the flats seasonally such as bluefish, sea trout, jacks, lady fish, cobia, etc. These flies imitate baitfish, shrimp and crabs, and other closely related organisms.|
Antron Crab, Green
Antron Crab, Murkin
Antron Crab, Sand
Big Bone Altol
Big Bone Andros
Big Bone Gal
Bone Shrimp, Pink
Bone Shrimp, Tan
Bone Shrimp, Tan/Olive
Bone Wigglers, Tan
Bonefish Bitters, Amber
Bonefish Bitters, Olive
Bubble Crab, Orange
Bubble Crab, Tan
Charley, Krystal Shrimp
Christmas Isl. Sp., Orange
Christmas Isl. Sp., Pink
Christmas Is. Sp., Tan
Class 4 Twister, White
Epoxy Mini Puff, White
Fiddler In The Grass, Brown
Fiddler In The Grass, Gray
Fly Tail Shrimp, Tan
Fly Tail Shrimp, White
Glory Shrimp, Pearl/Tan
Hair Shrimp, Tan
Puff Shrimp, Orange
Puff Shrimp, Tan/Orange
Redfish Ration, Amber
Redfish Ration, Bronze
The Hoover, Chartreuse
The Hoover, Tan
Texas Crab/Shrimp, Chart.
Texas Crab/Shrimp, Olive
Twister Shrimp, Pink
Twister Shrimp, Tan
Fish long & prosper,
Mark & Patty