Ponoi, Ryabaga Camp - 2011 Season Report.

Frontiers

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Week 1.

For newcomers and veteran anglers alike, Ryabaga camp opened this week for another season of superb salmon angling. The buzz in the big tent at the first dinner could only hint at the excitement that lies in store for the beautiful months ahead. The laughter at the guide and mechanic’s table, the inquisitive tone of new clients, and the recollection of past trips shared by former Ryabaga attendees filled the air on this very special first evening. Victor Sherbovich and nephew Semyon added luster to the atmosphere as we all enjoyed the season’s first toasts with vodka and kharcho soup.

Tireless preparation for the first week of the 2011 salmon season merged with unseasonable conditions to yield a fine week of angling on Ponoi. The presence of birch leaves by May 31 promises great things for this summer’s angling. This year we began with water levels nearly 2 meters below seasonal average on Ponoi. From the very start, fish were taken with floating lines and dry flies. Rumors of a sea-liced fish flooded the camp on night 3 as a bar of silver was landed on the bank by angler Daryl Ewer. This led to great conversation and belief that an early arrival of summer run fish is imminent.

Our week of angling in Ryabaga went off “without a hitch”… well, not exactly; hitched flies and tubes were in order last week due to the low-ish river conditions and rising water temperatures. Floating lines and dry flies offered Ryabaga anglers superb action. Ferocious takes from aggressive fish were the norm for the week. In order to tie the riffle hitch, the angler can use whichever knot normally employed to secure the fly to the leader (i.e. the improved clinch, turle knot, etc). Then, a simple half hitch is dropped around the head of the fly, with the half hitch applied in such a way to ensure that the leader trails off the proper side of the head to make the fly “wake” head-first through the swing. Which side do I hitch? I face the river and hold the fly with eye upstream, then I place the hitch with the line coming off of the bank side. The fly then appears to be swimming out to mid-stream as it is swinging toward shore. This orientation is important because as a fish follows and takes the fly, he often turns back downstream in an attempt to return to his lie with the least energy expenditure. By turning downstream with the fly facing midstream, the salmon will be fairly hooked in the corner of the jaw. This technique also creates a fantastic “V,” generating a lot of “noise” through the swing, all of which has proven irresistible to Ponoi salmon under the current river conditions. Hitch tubes have been developed for this technique as well. The hitch tube has a hole in either side of the plastic tube just behind the head. Threading the tippet through the hole before securing the hook creates the same action for the tube fly as the aforementioned half hitch.

Our team of anglers last week included the Joe and David, paired with Damian and Tony. I couldn’t resist the urge to blast off from the office to join the quartet, and motor up to the Kolmac tent for lunch. Anitoly, Machnev, Barrett (guides) and Isaias (our new resident photographer) prepared a colossal “disco” steak lunch (an Argentine technique of using a disc from a cultivating harrow to roast meat and vegetables over an open fire). Having worked through a bottle of wine, the group was ready to once again cause top-water mayhem on Ponoi salmon… an experience not soon forgotten. Victor, our chief’s father, and Semyon found favorable early-season conditions and dutiful instruction by Ryabaga guides to be instrumental in a very successful first week. Figures for week 1, 2011 exceeded 780 salmon landed. Percentages continue to hold strong: an average of 46 salmon were landed per angler and we anticipate a strong summer run. With flora and fauna documenting the early advent of summer this year, Ponoi promises great results for 2011. Stay tuned for weekly reports throughout the season.

All the best,

Matt Breuer (Ryabaga Camp Manager)
 
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MOB

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Wow,

I can't go to the Ponoi this year, or next. And probably not until the kids are in college.

But I just LOVE the sheer ebullience of this post. I don't care if it's naked self-promotion - the enthusiasm is utterly infectious.

Find a job you love, they say, and you'll never work another day in your life.

Well done to you Matt Breuer.
 

Frontiers

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Opening day, May 29th 2011.

Ponoi guests had a very promising first day landing an average of 12 fish per rod. Top boat had 32 fish for 2 rods. Fish are in great condition and the river is in superb shape. Weather is very pleasant with temperatures in the mid 15C.

Home pool is performing up to its standards with 10+ fish landed the first night plus a couple before breakfast yesterday.

We are all very excited and looking forward to another successful season. More to come, stay tuned.
 
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Frontiers

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Summer in Spring?

Week 2.

This week, Ryabaga Camp was baked by sunshine and unseasonable temperatures reaching into the mid 30’s. Head Guide Max was unable to recall a season on Ponoi (68° North latitude) during which a river swim was possible by week two of the salmon season. Although temperatures and conditions were unusually warm, the Ponoi once more did not falter in giving up salmon as reward for a well-presented fly.

A distinctive sound around camp is the mix of conversation, handshakes, and greetings that mark the reunion of Ryabaga staff with familiar anglers each Saturday afternoon at the helicopter pad. Guests are always ardently interested in hearing the tales of mischief and adventure had throughout the winter months by the staff, but perhaps a bit more interested in tearing into their suitcases to don waders, boots, and jackets; it always seems that within minutes of arrival, guests rig up a rod and hightail it to the Home Pool for first crack at the week’s salmon. Fully embodying this philosophy are our friends Dominic, Adrian, Peter, Howard, and Pat to name a few – these guys were knee-deep in the Home Pool before the helicopter rotors had fully stopped turning. Having found heaven beneath our canopy of birch leaves, these fellows were unwilling to let a stray moment slip past.

In an attempt to breach the edges of the unknown, and undaunted by the potential of a long and rigorous day, Peter and Ueli mandated Big Dan to take them up the Purnache for a bit of single-handed rod salmon angling. After a few hours of thrashing about and landing a few grilse and salmon, the two were drawn back to the Ponoi by its inspiring call; I suppose that any true angler knows that in Ponoi lays a salmon fishery that, once tasted, cannot be abandoned for long. With what Peter described as a “lean” day, he continued to press on with a small hitched-tube, casting with tenacity and concentration through the day’s far reaches. As his time waned and interest began to ebb, Big Dan turned to Peter, and told him to maintain tension and relax. A surge behind the waking tube drew the attention of both guide and angler. In one swoop the salmon fanned his mighty tail, took to the air, and descended on the fly with voracity. The fight was on! Peter held on to apply just the right amount of pressure. Big Dan freed his boat “Lada 4x4,” from the confining hold of the 60-pound anchor and 40 meters of scope in order to chase down and land the mighty salmon. Guide and angler joined together to forge a lifetime memory, as evidenced by a 21 pound salmon heaving in the net, perfect in every way.

I was greeted early Wednesday morning by Howard as he crossed the courtyard of the camp from tent 16 on his way to the office in very a sandy, squeaky set of “Crocs.” Grinning like the Cheshire cat, he reported the news of a 22-pound salmon landed moments before on the Home Pool. Of course the first question out of my mouth was, “Did you get a photo?” His reputation as a seasoned angler in Ryabaga lends credibility to his claim, and he has done battle with innumerable numbers of Ponoi salmon… he also explained that his calls for assistance went unheard, or perhaps ignored, by an understandably jealous downstream angler.

Ryabaga was serenaded at week’s end by Ueli and his hunting horn. The guests cordially accepted the invitation to the Guest House where all toasted the successes of the week: 765 salmon landed in total, pleasant fishing conditions, fantastic top-water action, excellent dining, Howard’s unfaltering ability to recount hilarious jokes, yarns, and tall tales. Good times were had by all!

The Home Pool this week was just about as hot as the weather. 32 salmon were landed on the first night, with an overall count of 110 fish caught in Home Pool over the entirety of week 2. Simon and John along with Adrian and Pat spent countless hours working from the head at the Ryabaga mouth to the tail at the moorage… not in my tenure on Ponoi have I seen such results from the Home Pool.

Isaias Miciu, professional photographer joins us this year. His home, from early childhood, in Argentinean Patagonia, San Martin de Los Andes, provided the perfect canvas in which to hone his artistic bag of tricks. The images he produces are sharp, crisp, warm, descriptive, and each with pizzazz and flare. Isaias is producing fantastic compilations of photos on a daily basis. His work can be viewed weekly on the Ponoi website www.ponoiriver.com.

I managed this week to duck out for a short angling session with Managing Director Steve Estela. Landing several fish each, and Steve a 17 pounder, reaffirmed what we already know: the Ponoi is truly a special place, and cannot be equaled by any other angling locale in the world. With great anticipation of the summer run to come, I bid you all farewell. Until I see you on the Ponoi, be well, make good casts, and keep in touch.

All the Best,

Matt Breuer
 

Frontiers

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Geez

Week 3.

When I awoke, it was 0645, and my first words were “Oh, jeez”. I was up like a shot and out of bed, wriggling into my Carhartts. I pulled on a jacket and sprinted through the office door to tent 3, that of Ian. He rolled over and said, “good morning Matt, thank you.” It sounded as if Ian was a bit foggier than he’d been the previous morning, and with this just the third morning of the week, I wondered if Ian was showing the test of time or just the effects of late conversation and some wine in the Big Tent. I quickly saw to my work of laying a fire of fir kindling and well-seasoned rounds that crackled and popped as they swept a wave of smoke-scented warmth through tent. My morning was proceeding according to schedule as I rounded the camp, lighting a fire in each of the tent stoves. Then, as usual, I made my way to the kitchen where all was dark and devoid of human inhabitation… livid, I began to hunt down the tardy members of the chef team… only then did I decide to glance at my watch. With some confusion, I realized that I had managed to begin the day at 0445 hrs rather than 0645! In light of my error, the consensus among the guests at breakfast was that management should continue to light fires at 0500… an occurrence that will remain completely outside the realm of possibility!

Week three was a great success, particularly for one very special member of the party; Charles, age 10, and his father Francois enjoyed their first trip to Ryabaga. Any trip to Ponoi is the origin of lifelong memories, but I am sure Charles will never forget the ceremony given by Ian Irvine, commemorating the remarkable fact that he, Charles, was the top rod for the week! Having caught the largest salmon (19 pounds) of the week, Charles bested anglers of innumerable years, and all of those seasoned salmon fishers. I can envision Charles addressing the clients in the Big Tent in the year 2035, glass raised, recounting the first trip he made with his father to Ponoi back in the year 2011, and the impact the experience had on his fly fishing career.

Conditions on Ponoi were back to usual for the second week in June, after the unusually hot days experienced during our second week. High temps for the week never exceeded 15° C, and water temps steadied in the high single to low double-digit range. Overcast skies were predominant through the week, affording light conditions preferred by experienced fishers. Moreover, the first summer run salmon appeared in the middle of week three of the 2011 season. Guests Paul and Pierre had confirmed catches of summer salmon, and Pierre landed 2 summer-run fish in Home Pool on Thursday evening. Apparently, landing double-digit numbers of fish wasn’t enough for Pierre during his guided day, and feeling the need to press on and find a few more fish, he made his way down the Home Pool. He was casting with finesse, each methodical cast unfurling with a touch of aft wind that contributed a smooth rollover and consequential quiet presentation. With his line tight and true, tension overcame the entire system, and Pierre slowly raised his rod to play a fine fish (and one particularly incensed at having taken Pierre’s offering). Once subdued, the fine chrome specimen lay docile at the river’s edge, having conceded the fight as if aware of his captor’s intention of setting him free. The 13 pound fish, revived, snout up-current, was then released to make his way back to his lie.

In all, 611 salmon were landed this week, an average of nearly 42 fish per rod. On weeks such as this, at times with the help of young men such as Charles, I am reminded of the privilege of working and living alongside what remains the finest salmon river in the world. Only on such a magical piece of water can a ten-year-old boy make his debut and catch fish after fish, claiming top rod with a 19 pounder… what a special river.

This week we were joined by Nick Reygaert of Gin Clear Productions. Nick is making his way through Ryabaga and the Ponoi River with high-tech digital camera equipment with which he will produce a thrilling, high-quality DVD highlighting all that Ponoi has to offer salmon anglers: guides, equipment, accommodations, and world class angling. It is our hope that this material will allow Ponoi anglers to see, in near-living colour, the spectacular beauty of the river and the fish that lie therein. More to come on the project as production progresses!

Stay tuned for more reports of the summer runners…

All the Best,

Matt Breuer
 
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Frontiers

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Week 4.

The Windows.

Any salmon river (and Ponoi is no exception) holds a place where the magical can happen. These magical places, be they specific beats, or runs, or even tiny seams of current, seem to hold for the angler that magical possibility of one great fish; this was the case last Saturday when Bill Young and guide Barrett Mattison found one such fish in “The Windows”. “The Windows” in Kolmac Beat are segments of water that resemble panes of glass. They are perfect holding glides formed by torrents of water breaking around large boulders that are distributed throughout the beat, and these boulders in turn interrupt and intensify the dramatic drop of rapid flow from the mouth of the Kolmac River. It is in these “Windows” that salmon find respite during their long journey from the White Sea to their natal spawning grounds. On the day in question, Barrett anchored the boat within easy striking distance of the current seam just opposite the largest oily pane of glass. Removing the “Bill Young” fly from the stripping guide on his rod, Bill stripped fly line from one of his Stan Bogdan reels, and began to present the fly across the edge of the current seam. A fine cast was followed by a solid take, and as the Bogdan sang the familiar “click out” whine, Barrett kept time with some quick footwork. At the river’s edge, guide and angler reveled in the glory of the fine 23-pound salmon that they held heaving in the net.

“El Disco” found its way to Falls Creek tent for lunch once again this week. A conglomeration of mushrooms, onions, and garlic were accompanied by pieces of beef tenderloin, masterfully prepared and seared to perfection over an open fire by Ponoi “Capitan” Steve Estela. Hailing from Argentina, Steve is no stranger to the finer points of presenting a perfect piece of beef “el disco” style. John, Cheryl, Art and John enjoyed a nice bottle of Red and reminisced about the days when they fished with a younger Steve Estela, the guide of the late 90’s. It is no wonder to me that the reputation, tone, and atmosphere of Ryabaga Camp continually serve to attract repeat attendance from guests and staff alike; no better testament to what a truly special place Ryabaga is.

On the artistic front, Nick of Gin Clear Productions donned a harness this week and proceeded to shoot aerial footage for our DVD production of Ponoi. Piloted by Nikolai Shelkovoi, our Mi8 maneuvered around the RYA airspace for a birds-eye view of the action. From the open door of the helo, many shots were taken while the helicopter was masterfully piloted in “slow-flight,” and with a “forward slip,” an angle by which the shot can be taken out of the personnel door on the helo at a slow air speed with a straight-ahead aspect. Various slow passing shots of anglers fishing from a boat, a boat running upriver, and anglers fishing the Home Pool should add to the action and adventure of the awaited production.

Weather for the week remained hot and fairly dry. The river level is slowly dropping, as rain has been scarce of late. Reports from other rivers on Kola indicate that water levels are low throughout the region, and we are fortunate to be enjoying a bountiful catch in the midst of such complicated conditions. Few rivers can claim such prolific numbers under the low-water circumstances. With summer run salmon continuing to enter the system, I have no doubt that Ponoi will continue to thrive through the midsummer weeks. Further evidence of this claim is a notable fish caught last week by Geir of Norway and guide Dan Podolsky. The ten-pound salmon was landed in Lower Tomba, a “recapture”, meaning previously caught and tagged. What is so special about this recapture is the fact that the fish was tagged by Sergei Prusov in 2006, indicating that this fish is returning to the river for a second time to spawn, an occurrence that is not commonplace in the breeding cycle of the Atlantic salmon.

All in all, we are once again excited to report an abundance of “taking” fish in the system, and an abundance of warmth and hospitality to be found in camp. The beauty of any fishing camp is that, by a few weeks into the season, most of the daily affairs have settled into a nice groove; staff is operating as a well-timed machine, the river is proving itself reliably productive, and guides are confidently putting anglers onto fish. But any camp, and Ryabaga more than most, can surprise throughout the season with a truly remarkable fish; be it a mighty 23 pound cock salmon, or a ‘second-spawn’ summer runner, this river just continues to throw excitement and new experience our way. In the weeks to come, we can be certain that anglers will find themselves enjoying an angling experience of incomparable quality… but so too can we rest assured that the week holds the potential of a truly once-in-a-lifetime salmon experience. With full expectations of the unexpected, we at Ponoi River Company bid you all a fine week!

Sincerely,

Matt Breuer
 
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