Known as “one of the last great unspoiled natural wonders of our world” fishing in Kamchatka is at the top of many a fly fishing bucket list. This account from recent visitors to the area report back that the experience did not disappoint.
Fishing in Kamchatka is unique due to its remote location. It’s also because of how you get there, and the size, quantity and quality of the fishery. With terrain resembling that of Alaska, Kamchatka is located 6,000 miles from Moscow. It was only opened to foreigners and nonresident Russians in the early 90’s. If you’re an avid fly fisher you are likely aware of this destination. And it is probably on your list of places to fish before you die.
Father and son team, Mike and Graye Parnell recently headed to this unusual destination with The Best of Kamchatka. Now, read on to discover whether or not the area lived up to the hype.
Getting to Kamchatka
Getting there may be your biggest challenge – especially if you don’t enjoy flying. Russia has restrictive travel rules and required visas can take around three months to obtain. Until last year, you could fly direct from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk and then take a 4-hour helicopter ride to camp. That flight has been temporarily suspended and forced Mike and Graye to find a workaround to reach their destination.
Beginning in San Francisco, their plan was to head to Seoul, Korea and then to Vladivostok before finally landing in Petropavlovsk – a day and a half of travel. Unfortunately, their flight from San Francisco was canceled, forcing them to take a different route. Traveling through Osaka they finally landing just in time to catch the helicopter to their fishing destination. Mike suggests allowing for two full days of travel to reach Kamchatka. He also recommends building in an extra day to account for possible flight delays. The helicopter only flies in and out of camp once a week. And Uber won’t be an option if you miss it.
Russian land is leased on 50-100 year terms. The owner of the land Mike and Graye fished on is an ex-KGB officer who was given the lease, likely in recognition of his service to his country. The territory consists of about 2,000-3,000 square miles of unbelievable, untouched wilderness. If you’re determined to do some fishing in Kamchatka, the journey will be well worth it.
The Fly Fishing…
Once you’re at camp, also known as Two Yurt Lodge, the most difficult part of your day will be deciding what you want to catch and where you want to catch it. Do you want big fish, a spot that’s easier to wade in, or maybe a small spring with great dry fly fishing…there are so many options and all are just a quick helicopter ride away. Rainbow Trout and Kunga are the two most widely caught species. If you’re unfamiliar with Kunga, it is a type of brown trout, adorned with silver dollar sized bright, white spots.
“My daughter, youngest son, and I fish the Bighorn River [in Montana],” says Mike. “At any given time you’ll probably see 3-5 other drift boats with 2-3 anglers in each one. All day. There are probably 200-300 anglers every day on 13 miles of [the Bighorn] river. In Kamchatka there were 2 guides and 3 anglers. All day. Every day. And that was it. It’s just thousands of miles to fish, and no one, anywhere.”
As a result, some days they would find themselves fishing in Kamchatka, alone on a channel, for 1-2 hours. One of Mike’s highlights was catching his first-ever fish on a mouse pattern while dry fishing. Graye’s highlight was his largest catch of the trip: a 30” long (20” in circumference) Rainbow Trout, apparently not unusual in those parts.
Although Bighorn Sheep, deer, and moose can be seen in Kamchatka, the real treasure is the brown bear that seem as plentiful as the fish. One afternoon, Mike and Graye trekked down to a 10 ft high platform on the river that was made from local trees and branches – specifically designed for bear-watching. On the way down, they found themselves 30 yards away from a bear her two cubs and slowly backed away, armed only with some pepper spray in the Pod of Mike’s Paxis Twin Lakes backpack.
From the platform, 20+ brown bear could be seen on the river catching and eating fish. At one point they had to wait for a bear to finish its meal as it had camped out under the ladder to the platform. A special breed of bear dog protects the camp at night and will bark and nip at bear if they come too close.
And speaking of the Paxis Twin Lakes…let’s just say it turned heads. Mike was stopped numerous times in six different airports to demonstrate Paxis’ innovative swing. Travelers watched him retrieve his travel documents from his Paxis backpack and offered cash to buy it right off his back! On the first day at fish camp he met two men (sponsored by a backpack company we won’t mention) who saw him swing his Pod to the front to change out a fly…and they went crazy! Both men ended up borrowing his Paxis for a day (don’t worry, guys…we won’t tell on you).
If you desire spa-like amenities, fishing in Kamchatka may not be your cup of tea. While your main mode of transportation will be a helicopter, the aircraft are older and consist of antique-looking navigation devices, although mechanics run daily checks and are onboard during most flights changing gear in and out. Moreover, the pilots will happily take you to multiple fishing spots throughout the day and will even drop off your lunch.
The accommodations consist of simple cabins and rustic outhouses but also a bathhouse heated by the geothermal springs created by over 100 volcanoes in the area, many of them still active. At night, Russian dishes are masterfully created by a local cook and the Vodka flows freely, along with plenty of toasting. Furthermore, this fall they will be adding an additional kitchen and dining facility on the property.
To Russia, With Love
One of the most surprising parts of the trip for Mike was witnessing the humor Russians have regarding the political relationship between Russia and the United States. “The people were amazing,” says Mike. “The average Russian citizen loves the United States and frequently joke about our politics.”
Another interesting fact is that the camp is required to have an equal number of Russian and foreign guides. Apparently, a Russian fly fisher is extremely difficult to find, and attracting a local guide is very rare. Mike and Graye’s guide was originally a helicopter mechanic who became interested in fly fishing and eventually became a guide. Very few Russians actually visit Kamchatka to fish. If it’s on your Bucket List, Mike and Graye highly suggest moving it to the top of the list. In short, make sure you find the opportunity to experience this rarely visited, natural wonder.