A new fly fishing frontier of great promise has been quietly developing in the last twenty years, unbeknownst to many. Located virtually at America’s back door, only a few hours by plane from Anchorage, Alaska, Russia’s Far East- immense, mystiqueful and misunderstood, holds a universe of opportunity that has been barely tapped. Most of its hinterlands remain totally unspoiled and unfished, filled with an unsurpassed variety and abundance of species.
And now with the resumption of direct flights from Alaska via Yakutia Airlines, this last great place for angling adventure becomes feasible once more for American travelers. Russia’s entire Far East region becomes more accessible, including the numerous world famous attractions of Primorye, land of the Amur tiger and the world’s largest trout, the Siberian taimen.
Some of the more enterprising and adventurous flyfishing guides, quick to realize the awesome potential of this last frontier of coldwater angling, have been exploring and developing fishing programs over there since the first days of Glasnost. They have dealt with impossible logistics, complicated politics and the totally outdated provincial ways of the locals to create legitimate adventure angling opportunities that are unique in the world of flyfishing. Here’s a quick glance at what’s available for anyone seeking a unique and exciting fly fishing adventure in Russia’s Far East.
Most anglers are now aware that Russia’s Far East has some of the last great virgin conditions for steelhead and trophy rainbow trout fishing in the hundreds of swift, sparkling streams that drain the rugged, volcano-studded coasts of the Kamchatka Peninsula, just west of the Aleutians. It’s everything Alaska was years ago and more, with husky, hungry trout averaging over 20 inches and 4-6 pounds and fall run steelies in excess of 20 pounds. And that’s only the rivers that have been explored; the vast majority haven’t been touched by western anglers. Even the streams accessed by roads and four wheel drive trails offer a definitively higher quality of fishing over anything similar in Alaska and elsewhere.
For someone with a taste for the more exotic, there is unique fishing adventure to be had stalking the mainland for the elusive Siberian taimen (Hucho taimen), the living legends of Russia’s great rivers. These ancient fish achieve the largest size and age of any salmonid, with lengths reputed over seven feet and weights up to 200 lbs. or more! (Try that on your eight weight!) Seriously, they are taken most frequently in deep, fast waters and present an ultimate challenge on a fly, for the most dedicated and skilled followers of the sport. Best fishing so far has been on remote mountain tributaries of the lower Amur River, south and east of Khabarovsk, where several IGFA record fish have been taken, including the All-Tackle World Record, a fish of 94 pounds! A sea-run form is also found there and on Sakhalin Island.
The lenok, Brachymystax lenok, is much easier to find and fish for. Similar in size and coloration to brown trout, it occurs in abundance in all clear flowing rivers of Siberia. It will take a variety of patterns with little hesitation and provides great sport. Both Siberian taimen and lenok are newly recognized sport species by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), with record book entries a distinct possibility and bonus for fly anglers visiting Russia’s Far East region (For the longest time the IGFA All-Tackle Record lenok was from the Khabarovsk region.)
The gorgeous Amur grayling, one of several grayling unique to Siberia, is another exotic found only in Primorye. Much like our arctic grayling, but smaller and more colorful, it has a distinct band of fluorescence down its midsides and brilliant gold bronze shading. It is plentiful and fond of taking flies on the surface just like other grayling. There is another grayling found in Russia’s Far East, in the rivers of Kamchatka. It is very similar to the grayling found in Alaska, and takes flies just as readily. You’ll definitely want to bring that 3 or 4 weight along when you fish Russia’s Far East!
Pacific salmon fishing in Russia is very similar to that in Alaska, with the best fishing found on the lower reaches of the larger clear flowing, coastal streams. The best rivers for king, silver and sockeye salmon are those in southern Kamchatka, which have abundant runs and great flyfishing conditions. There is also a sixth salmon species called a cherry salmon or masu, much like a small sockeye, that is found in the rivers of Primorye, Sakhalin and southwest Kamchatka.
Most fishing programs are tailored for the western angler, with comfortable but certainly not fancy accommodations (even for the upscale lodges), along with hearty meals of freshly prepared local foods and guided fishing every day. Most outfitters and guides use helicopters, boats and all-terrain vehicles to access the fishing; some use rafts and even horses. Their knowledge of local waters and conditions, along with their hospitality and resourcefulness, is truly amazing.
The flyfishing season generally runs from late May into October, but varies from area to area. Like Alaska, Russia’s Far East region is subject to great vagaries of weather, which affect the fishing. Your guide/outfitter will provide updated information and support to help you prepare properly for the trip, but plan on using most of the same high quality gear used for fishing Alaska. Salmon anglers will need 7-10 weight rods; trout and steelheaders 6-8 weight; grayling and lenok are best fished with ultralight gear, 3-5 weight rods, while “hunting” the awesome Siberian taimen demands the stoutest rods and reels- 10 and 11 weight and Spey rods. Your outfitter will provide a list of most useful fly patterns and recommended lines, as well as pertinent information on local conditions.
Useful Links & Resources:
- Alaska – Russian Far East Flights: Direct, non-stop air service between Alaska and Kamchatka.
- Everything You Need to Know About Russian Visas.
- Check Kamchatka Travel Portal. It provides a wealth of information about many local activities, restaurants, hotels, and more.