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Memoirs of a Fisherman

The Never Fished Rivers of the Kamchatka Peninsula

Kamchatka, Russia

The mouse pattern dry fly lands perfectly near the bank on the opposite side of the river I am wading in; I begin to strip the line towards me quickly and the mouse skitters across the surface of the water.  About halfway across the narrow river, the massive rainbow trout attacks it with voracity and precision… I set the hook and the battle ensues!  This 20” rainbow trout, like most in the Sedanka River, has probably never seen a fly before, let alone felt a hook in its lip; as a result, the fish are hyper-aggressive towards flies and fight much harder than fish that’ve been handled and released dozens of times before.  As I release the trout (catch and release is standard practice here) and watch him swim back into the river, I stop and take in the moment.  I look around me, not a single other fisherman, no boats, no planes flying above, no jet streams:  only pristine wild untouched wilderness.  This is the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia.    Kamchatka is the mother of all wilderness fly fishing regions, wildly attractive to those anglers with the desire for extra adventure in their souls. It is not the most “polished” of locales, nor is it the easiest to get to, but there is no place left in the world that is as pure, as in-tact, or as unexplored. Period.  There are rivers on this peninsula that have never been fished by man, which makes this trip all the more an adventure! It is hard to exaggerate the fishing, which is every bit as memorable as the rivers these Russian rainbows call home. 

I am fishing with my Uncle Gary, who is traveling to the Kamchatka Peninsula for his 3rd time, and we are float fishing the Sedanka River.  My uncle always said that trout fishing in Kamchatka was like “fishing in Alaska 40 years ago”, an indication of how the fishing was in Alaska before it was discovered. The Sedanka is a pure spring creek, with sections likened to what the Henry’s Fork (a tributary river in Idaho) must have been like two hundred years ago. 

To get to the fishing rivers, I traveled from Houston to Anchorage, AK, and then connected on to Petropavlovsk, the capital of Kamchatka, where upon arrival we were transferred to the heliport, about 15-20 minutes away from the airport to board the Mi8 helicopter.  The journey on the Mi8, among the safest flying machines in the sky, allows anglers to reach places with no public access.  The flight, which lasted about 45-60 minutes, took us upstream where we quickly unloaded, unpacked, geared up, and immediately started fishing!  

In total, Gary and I spent 2 weeks fishing Kamchatka, with half of that time fishing on the Sedanka.  The other week was an unbelievable wilderness float trip on the Turusheva, a tributary of the Sedanka.  The wilderness trip was always a favorite of my uncle’s and was the most intimate way to encounter the last true wooded wilderness on earth.  These expeditions are based around a schedule of floating and fishing each day, typically covering 25-30 river miles during the course of a 5-day adventure. The boats were used purely for transportation, with all of the fishing done on foot.  At the end of the day, the guides would pick a spot along the river to set up camp for the evening.  Oh, and if anyone wanted to take a bath, the cold mountain river was all yours!

All in all, our fishing adventure to Kamchatka was nothing short of amazing!  On an average day, we would catch 20 plus 20” Rainbows and many in the 18-20” range:  most certainly the quantity and quality of rainbows was second to none! 

Chile, Patagonia

The sun was setting over the snowcapped mountains as our plane touched down in Balmeceda, Coyhaique, in Southern Chile.  The plane braked quickly on the short single runway and then came to an abrupt stop.  Another great fishing adventure was about to begin - this time on the Rio Picacho, nestled in the Andes Mountains of Patagonia Chile.  We would be fly fishing from a boat, as opposed to wade fishing, on this larger, fast-moving river, searching for the indigenous resident Brown and Rainbow Trout.  The trout were eager to investigate any fly similar to large terrestrials, including beetles, spiders, mice, and anything else that would have been potentially falling off of a cliff! Our fishing, for the most part, was not spectacular; however, the fish we did catch were feisty and hard fighters! 

The Dragonfly Lodge, our rustic accommodations, was located on the river and was absolutely stunning! Nestled in the Andes Mountains, the lodge was an architectural masterpiece forged of stone, steel, glass and local timber. To get there, we traveled from Houston to Santiago, Chile, and then on to Balmeceda, Coyhaique.  We were greeted by our lodge host, who picked us up directly at the airport and traveled to the launch site on the river.  From there it was about an hour or so upriver to the lodge!

Langara Island, British Columbia

A third fishing adventure would take Gary and I to Langara Island, a tiny Island that is the farthest north island of the Haida Gwaii Archipelago on the north coast of British Columbia, Canada.  On the fishing docket:  King Salmon (called Spring Salmon or Chinooks here in BC), Coho Salmon (also called Silver Salmon) and Halibut.  The salmon, which were migrating to rivers all along the west coast from Southeast Alaska to northern California, surrounded the island looking for bait fish; conversely, the halibut were farther out in the deeper waters, some 150’ deep.  Along with the amazing troll fishing each day, we were extremely fortunate to see Humpback whales occasionally rising to the surface!  

Sea Lions were also ubiquitous on the Island rocks and the shallower waters, and in fact, I gained a massive amount of respect for these animals.  These sneaky sea lions can swim upwards to 30 MPH, and they have learned that a hooked fish is an easy meal!  On one occasion, my uncle was reeling in a massive Spring salmon. I spotted a sea lion in the waters about 75 yards away looking at us, he then popped his head under the water and in no time, he was swimming under our boat going directly towards Gary’s  hooked Salmon!  Suddenly, BAM the force of the sea lion grabbing the fish broke my uncle’s fishing lion instantly, which sent him into a tirade of expletives!  

Our accommodations, at the Langara Island Lodge, were nothing short of magnificent!  The lodge was situated high on a scenic bluff atop the island, surrounded by Haida Gwaii’s ancient rainforest and abundant waters.  From the docks below, we rode through the forest in a unique tram that took us straight to the lodge.  At times, we could see a Bald Eagle or Raven sitting in a nearby tree keeping a close eye on our journey up the mountain to the lodge.  

Our travels took us from Houston to Seattle, where we drove to Vancouver.  From here, the lodge transported us to Haida Gwaii where we transferred by helicopter over to the lodge dock. 

Thanks to Justin at The Fly Shop for helping create these memories. 

In Memory of GMH.

"My uncle always said that trout fishing in Kamchatka was like 'fishing in Alaska 40 years ago'".

  • Fly fishing on the Rio Picacho, nestled in the Andes Mountains of Patagonia, Chile
  • Fishing for King and Coho Salmon and Halibut off Langara Island, BC
  • Boarding the Mi8 helicopter in Petropavlovsk with destination to the fishing rivers.
  • "Uncle Gary" fishing his beloved Kamchatka.
  • "Uncle Gary" fishing his beloved Kamchatka.
  • Rainbow Trout fishing in Patagonia, Chile
  • Beloved Kamchatka
  • Kamchatka by helicopter