Fishing The Bystraya River with a fly.
Experiences from Nigel Stevens - 8 day trip August 2001Introduction
I have set out below those items that I found useful in my first sojourn into this amazing wilderness. The river is almost untouched by fly-fishermen - the guides remember a Frenchman who tried it a few years back! This is by no means a definitive list or one that cannot be improved. If you use it and find better ways when you fish the river - let Lost World know and they will edit or appendix this page.
Wide swiftly flowing in upper reaches as highland rivers (sim. upper Tay and Spey but with tens upon thousands of fish!) Lower regions slower and deeper and form a delta close to the mouth.
Wadeable with caution (good staff and life jacket essential) flow can be very strong. See note on waders later.
Fed by melt water and run off form the volcanic watershed. There are many active volcanoes and glaciers in this system. Moisture from Pacific precipitates on mountains - typical maritime climate in Petropavlovsk and surroundings.
Basalt and volcanic sand on bed. Soft water, excellent water clarity, water is claimed to be drinkable by guides and they do so all the time but take Giardia cure in case (advice from American physician). Some side streams entering are clearer than any chalk stream I have fished. (Hampshire Wylie, Dorset Wey close to source).
Good insect fauna - mostly stoneflies (Plecoptera) that I was unable to identify. Some olives (Ephemeroptera, I guess) and also many caddis in the late afternoon (Trichoptera).
Little if any macrophytic plant growth but subject to algal bloom in sunny weather. This can become irritating but does little to impare fishing. Guides will advise of tricks to overcome this. Flies pick up much less that spinner lower reaches slower a little like the Wye at Symond's Yat.
The River first becomes fishable in May. Waters rise and flood ad the June melts gets underway, best fishing late June and early July Deteriorates a little in August although best weather. Fishing looks up again in September but the weather can become cold and October may bring substantial snowfall. Although the weather I experienced was warm 18 - 30 by day, guides tell me this was exceptional and rain each day is more normal.
Fishing styles and techniques
Please note that fly-fishing is not the norm on this river. Expect to be a total novelty to any passing angler who may wish to see you cast, look at your tackle and flies etc. The guides I had were fascinated and one did have a fly rod and was very eager to learn how to use it and received some second rate casting tuition throughout the trip. He caught his first fish and then his first salmon on the fly in the space of two days.
The locals bait fish those parts of the river that are reachable by road (only 2 places during the 8 days that I fished.)
The guides will spin from the raft as it floats down the river using a 20g Atomic lure (rather like a large fat Toby) the treble is replaced with a single hook. I don't know why. They also use a low-density flat-faced plug that they call a wobbler for the Rainbow trout. (I fished with a measure of success with silver and copper Mepps no 4 when unable to fly fish and a Red Flying condom for the deep holes.)
Most of the river is perfect Fly water - the sort that only ever appears on the front of shortcake tins! The guides found it hard to understand at first that it was impossible for me to present a fly to a fish swimming against a fast current while we are drifting by.
Presenting the spinner like this is fine (and you will need to cover a lot of kilometres in the raft so you need to be prepared to observe a lot of spectacular volcanic scenery or give it a go with a spinner at times. Angry 15 kilo King salmon on a light spinning rig are immense fun if indeed they don't burn out the clutch on your reel!).
When the guides understand what you want from you trip, will stop the raft at the likely good fly water - let you fish it down and drift down to collect you. I am certain that in a year or two they will be as good as any Scottish ghillie at putting you onto good taking lies for the salmon.
Fish to catch
King Salmon - run big in this river - up to 40 kilo (rather small submarines)
Pink Salmon - run to about 5 kilos
Chum Salmon - run to about 7 kilos
Silver Salmon - I didn't see or catch any but they are here to catch earlier in the year
Red Salmon - run later in the year.
Rainbow Trout - run to 3 or 4 Kilos (totally amazing - bars of silver - guides tell me they run to the sea.)
Mountain Trout - up to 2 kilos I'm not sure how big these guys can get in this river but there (Artic Char) are large numbers present and they will take the fly well
Kundzha - medium size spotty trout. Saw small ones in lower reaches - up to a kilo
Double handed rod was useful but not essential. Some casting was against cliff and needed Spey cast. If you're a casting fiend and can manage a snake roll in any wind then dispense with the double hander.
AFTM 9/10 rod - I used an American light sea game rod 9 foot. Was excellent with the salmon around the 5 - 8 kilo mark especially in the heavier water when they made a bid for freedom. A rod with some backbone is essential here. I also used this for the larger rainbow trout with good effect.
AFTM 4/6 rod - something that is light and pleasant to cast upstream dry fly in the afternoon for mountain trout.
Anything you like really. Lighter the better - less excess baggage to pay.
Spinning Reel (Fixed Spool or Multiplier)
This must be well serviced and have a very good drag. King salmon are very powerful fish and take a long time to stop on a spinning kit loaded with 12lb line. They will burn out clutches on badly adjusted or serviced reels. You may well lose a fish of a lifetime. In Alaska many fishermen will not use fixed spools for this reason. The use a small multiplier such as an ABU 6000
I did not need to use a full hi density sink.
Take a nice floater for the dry fly for trout. I didn't get the salmon to look at the dry fly as I have done on the Kola
Rocks and sand note
Char Connemara Blacks, Sooty olives and Peacock Spiders worked for me but I didn't honestly try much else.
As for the dry flies - I only caught one rainbow on a dry - Adams, Wickham's, Ginger Quill, small Grey Drakes all caught.
Mepps worked very well indeed. Size 4 was the most effective. On dull days the silver worked best and on sunny days the copper performed much better.
The guides will use Toby equivalents but I had little success with these.
Flying Condoms of different weights are very useful for fishing the deeper holes.
If the water has a lot of algae present, put an additional clip swivel 3 feet from your spinner with the clip dangling - not attached to the line at the rod end. This will collect any weed that collects on the line as you retrieve and prevents it from ending up on the spinner. The guides tie a small treble hook in the same position but I got this snagged in things.
Your guides will not bring a net and they will expect you to land your own fish unless you ask them to help. A small hand net would be very useful and in my view a tailer is essential. These take up little space, can land a 20 kilo fish with ease and are much easier to use in overgrown and restricted spaces, as you will find on the raft. (I appreciate it can cause damage to the wrist of a fish about to be landed but you can't always beach the fish and look at a picture of a 25 kilo king before you think about how to hand tail it!)
Clothing and General Equipment
This will make the difference between enjoying magnificent fishing and simply coping with the climate. There is no facility to get spare or dry clothes you must take everything with you. The key points are lightweight, rapid drying, warm and waterproof. But above all they must be mosquito proof.
My choice - I chose Paremo pullover tops - no buttons or zips, very light very warm and breathable but can be worn in very hot conditions if pile reversed. They will dry on you very quickly if you get them wet. I suspect any polartec type material fleece tops would suffice.
Lycra type cycle bottoms/ track suit bottoms were useful underneath breathable waders. Mosquitoes can bite through these but the stretch material does make answering the call of nature easier if you just lower the front of your chest waders. (Mosquitoes will bite any exposed parts very quickly and you don't want to get repellent here!)
Chest waders are essential if you are going to fish the best parts of the river. Neoprene would be necessary early and late in the season but Gore-Tex or similar is first class in July/August. Felt soled wading boots are very good in the water but can be lethal trying to climb the steep grassy banks out of the river.
If your waders are comfortable you can put them on first thing in the morning and take them off when you go to bed. They are mossy proof. And if you have stocking foot waders you can wear them inside the tent without damaging the floor. A zip bag to put these in is also very useful.
Socks and underwear are your choice.
A good jacket is essential. A short breathable wading jacket will do the job over a fishing waistcoat to take all your bits and pieces. I don't have an inflatable fishing vest so I use an inflatable life jacket over the top. Take a spare canister just in case - put it inside a metal fly box and put it in your luggage. Some airlines will try to take them off of you - Finnair is one - even thought they are the same as the canisters in the jackets on the aeroplane.
These bits will enable you to withstand occasional torrential rain and persistent drizzle that you might be unlucky enough to encounter. Tip put three or four pairs of latex procedure gloves in your kit. If it rains hard, put them on. The rain and water from the line will wash the repellent off your hands and then you will get bitten. The latex gloves will prevent this and if a peaked fishing cap - your favorite one that you've had since you were a lad.
They're good enough to anastamose an artery, they're certainly good enough to tie on a fly and cast a line.
Sleeping bag and Thermal Mat
I hate sleeping in other people's bags. You can hire bags in Kamchatka but... July and August a 3-season bag is fine - I prefer down but pile or synthetic fibre is better if you get it wet. If you go in September October or in May a good 4 season bag mountain bag is essential. It can get very cold indeed. I would also take your own karrimat type thing. Get a thick one, the ground is rocky and insulation is always a good thing.
Washing Kit - Wet wipes are a lifesaver. You can get them in a re-sealable bag now and a pack of 40 will last a week or more. You can strip off inside your tent and wash all over with these. You dry off in no time and feel refreshed and clean afterwards. There are no exposed bits outside to get bitten. You can burn the rubbish afterwards on the fire. Use as loo roll as well. (Make sure that you respray with repellent before you go out.)
Towel - you can now buy tiny micro fleece towels. They are very small, highly absorbent and work brilliantly. I would recommend that you take a look. They take up very little space and don't sit wet in the bottom of your bag.
Any DEET product seems to work if you can take strong DEET. It makes some people sick. You will be using a lot of this so check it out before you go. The organic repellent that worked fairly well in Cornwall and Dorset was completely ineffective on these bugs. By all means try your own favorite on out but take DEET in case (Jungle formula 35%, OFF 35%, Jungle Formula extra strong 50%. Expedition Plus 35%). They all seem to come as rub on oil, pump spray or roll on. I find pump spray best as you normally find you need an extra squirt just when you sit down to eat. You can have a quick spray without getting it all you're your hands and transferring it onto your food. Please read the instructions on the bottle carefully.
Most of these chemicals will destroy the surface of any plastic they come into contact with. Don't take expensive fishing glasses unless they have glass lenses and you don't mind the frames going a funny colour.
First aid Kit
Camera and Film (the altitude is high and the weather can be very bright. You may need a filter. My compact camera did not perform well with the high levels of UV).
Travel Bag and Padlock
A soft travel bag is easier to stow in the raft than a suitcase and there is no need to carry the thing far so it performs better than a rucksack. If it is not waterproof line it with a large polythene bag. You still need bags for clothes even if it is waterproof. A padlock and chain are recommended by lost world. I padlocked all of my stuff together while I dozed at Moscow Airport during a very long wait for a connection. (Take some good reading material for the plane - a Russian phrase book might be useful).
Without your rod there is no holiday. Protect your rods and your fishing equipment. I always put my fishing tackle in my hand luggage but I'm paranoid. Rod tubes taped together or a Kiss type rod carrier is excellent - very strong and you can lock it. (I also put my life jacket, staff and wading boots in as well.) They are heavy but it is worth paying an extra £20 on excess baggage for the reassurance. They also have wheels and cam be dragged about easily and wont get crushed by baggage handlers standing on them or wayward Moscow taxi drivers taking you from Sheremetyevo 2 to Sheremetyvo 1.
Note these will have to travel as outsize baggage and infrequently get put on the baggage carousel. In Moscow you will have to go reclaim and ask for your rod box.
Other Fishing bits
Wading Staff - essential - heavily weighted base and lanyard essential. (Make sure that you are well used to wading with a staff before trying it out for the first time in the Bystraya. It is not an easy river to wade. The current is very strong).
Multi-tool (Leatherman) and filleting knife.
Small fishing accessories
Forceps, scissors, floatant, sinkant, fly boxes spinner boxes, head net if midges get bad, priest, leader wallets, spare leader loops, bite indicators if you use them, amadou pad, hook hone, split rings spare trebles for spinners. Spring balance - if you're interested in statistics. Hip flask with good Irish Whisky.
This might sound like an exhaustive list but if you are travelling to the other side of the world to fish it is worth preparing well to get the very best out of the fishing available. If you are careful, it needn't weigh a ton. I took all of this lot and it came to 26 Kilos. I hope that if you're planning a trip to Kamchatka some of this information is useful. If you are stuck and need extra information e-mail Andrew at Lost World and he will forward your query to me.