The Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of Russia, is famous for its salmon fishing rivers. Almost all of the peninsula is inside the Arctic Circle; to the east and the south it is bordered by the White Sea, while on the northern coast is the Barents Sea. The only city of any significance in this area is Murmansk, with a population of just over 300,000 people. To fish the Kola rivers you will almost certainly fly in to Murmansk, from where the rest of the journey is by helicopter.
At just over 250 km long the Varzuga is the largest river on the southern part of the Kola Peninsula. It is also the most productive, with an annual catch (and release) in excess of 10,000 salmon. The Varzuga freezes over in October and remains under ice until late A|pril or early May, so the season is inevitably a short one. Getting to this part of Russia is a challenge: it entails a one and a half hour helicopter journey from Murmansk, mainly over remote and uninhabited tundra.
The lower Varzuga River
This is a very prolific grilse river, with most fish in the 5 to 7 lb region and just the occasional double-figure fish. Despite the difficult journey, we would most strongly recommend it to anyone new to salmon fishing; it's a great place to learn a lot very quickly. (Incidentally, our introductory Guide to Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing is available online, and of course we recommend it unreservedly if not altogether impartially!)
To fish the Varzuga you have to brave a two-hour
journey in an old Russian military helicopter
A double-handed rod of at least 13 ft and preferably 15 ft is needed to cover the water effectively on this big river, and a sink-tip and a fast-sinking line are essential except in very low-water conditions.
You don't go all the way to the Kola Peninsula just to fish for trout and grayling, but if you do decide to take time off from salmon fishing then an AFTM #6 rod and floating line will be useful. THe trout and grayling that we caught were around the pound mark. There are also sea trout in the river - we caught two or three averaging around 2 lbs - and if you do get a chance to fish the first sea pool or the tidally influenced stretch just upstream then you could reasonably expect to find quite a few sea trout on your salmon line.
The Varzuga is one of the few rivers where you can reasonably expect to catch 5 to 10 salmon in a day (although blanks are not entirely unknown) and salmon fishing expert Michael Evans has caught as many as 50 salmon in a single day there. We really love this river, which gave us between 20 and 40 fish each for just five days fishing.
The Kitsa, a largish river by UK standards, is a tributary of the mighty Varzuga River. Being lake fed, it runs cololer but clears earlier than the main Varzuga, which it meets close to the sea. Much more a pool-and-riffle river than the Varzuga, the Kitsa is typically 30 to 40 yards wide.
This is a another prolific grilse river, with most fish in the 5 to 7 lb region and just the occasional double-figure fish. We would most strongly commend it to anyone new to salmon fishing; it's a great place to learn a lot very quickly. (Incidentally, our introductory Guide to Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing is available online, and of course we recommend it unreservedly if not altogether impartially!)
Early in the season you really need a double-handed rod at least 13 ft long, but as the river drops more of the water can be covered with a single hander. A sink-tip and a fast-sinking line are essential except in very low-water conditions.
This is a river where, if you are there when the fish are running, you can reasonably expect to catch several salmon per day. There are plenty of places where the wading is easy, so if you haven't mastered spey casting you are still in with every chance of great success on the Kitsa.