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.