I’ve been fishing for the big Atlantic salmon of Northern Russia’s Yokanga River for 20 years. Swinging flies for these magnificent fish is one of the highlights of my fly-fishing year, and over the years, I’ve honed my approach to get the very best from this special fishery. The Yokanga is typical of the rivers of Russia’s Northern Kola Peninsula – a shallow, boulder-studded maelstrom that tumbles chaotically from pool to pool. Its monstrous salmon can be hiding almost anywhere, and packing the right kit, and especially the right RIO fly-lines, is crucial if you want to get the best out of this spectacular river.
Skagit lines are frowned upon as being crude by many Atlantic salmon purists, but in the brutal hurly-burly of the Yokanga’s early season, they are functional, efficient items of kit that get the job done, no matter how heavy that tungsten tube fly is, or how savage that Siberian easterly is blowing. While the Skagit Max Launch can put your fly way out across the wide waters of the Home Pool, they are also physically short. This means that they are great lines for fishing at close range, which is often the way to go in high water, when the fish will hug the soft water close to the bank.
I favour the RIO Skagit Max Launch in 700 grains, and if the water is cold, those RIO Long MOW tips get my fly down and fishing immediately in the small mirrors and pockets that often produce a big fish. In most places the river is shallow, and the floating head will allow you to swing over the top of mid-river boulders, mending and lifting the thick belly of the Max Launch to ease your fly into slots in amongst the rocks.
Heavily weighted tube flies like brass or tungsten German Snaeldas and bottle-tube Templedogs will also help to get themselves into a big fish’s eye-line before the river’s brutal currents whisk them away, and the Skagit Max Launch makes casting them accurately absolute child’s play. The Max Launch’s big thick belly is also easy to mend upstream to slow the fly’s progress and keep it in the zone for just a little longer.
I keep a Scandi Body head and a set of 15’ tapered sink tips in the “Headcase”, for throwing smaller flies in lower water and wind conditions. Things can change quickly on the Kola. However, make sure that your fly is turning over consistently. The Skagit will almost always do that efficiently, and regardless of aesthetics, it is often my first choice in wilder early season conditions.
As we start to move into autumn, the fish colour up and get aggressive prior to spawning. After the long summer, the river can remain low, and often a full floating Scandi line and a long tapered leader is all you need, with a range of small weighted and unweighted frances flies in red and black will let you control presentation in the various depth s of what is predominantly skinny water. Use a big upstream mend to slow down the presentation and make your fly hover tantalisingly across the nose of those big, resident fish. If the late-season rains lift the river, switch back to the Skagit Max Launch, and present bigger versions of the Frances in the higher, colder water.
Round out your kit with a small wallet of tube flies, a box of super-tough Ken Sawada Tube fly Double Hooks and some dressed doubles, and a small waterproof rucksack which will store some spare kit and a few warm layers in case the weather turns nasty, as it often does on the Kola. A tough pair of chest waders and a good, solid folding wading staff are both essential for staying safe and dry. Stay warm, stay safe and you will be able to concentrate on the fishing.
Act on your hunches: look hard for those little holding slots, change lines and tips whenever your instincts tell you to, and above all, be lucky. You might just get to put your hands on one of the Yokanga’s magnificent trophy salmon. If you do so, you won’t forget it, believe me.