Expectations vs reality. Atlantic salmon season 2021. September - October
Chavanga river - Kola Peninsula
This time I decided not to engage in the creation of theories about Atlantic salmon fishing and fishermen, but simply to talk about how the Autumn season 2021 was on Chavanga River.
Our salmon season this 2021 came out slightly better than 2020. Nevertheless, until the end of the summer it was not clear how good or bad Autumn will be, the second half of the salmon fishing season on the Kola Peninsula.
We were returning from a short vacation, three of us, me and my sons. We have long ago discussed everything that might interest us in the upcoming Autumns weeks, so we ourselves did not start talking about fishing or salmon, and so on. But we had to answer the questions of our dear guests and so far, we could only speculate about what happened and how it happened in the past autumns on the river and in the sea by the river Chavanga.
From the important news to which we should pay attention, there were news about an unusually large entry of pink salmon into the rivers of the Kola Peninsula. How big - we have not yet imagined, but some kind of record move from the words of local residents. We were not very worried about this, since every second year pink salmon are plenty in masses in all local rivers. Even the largest pink salmon move in a year 2019 did not greatly affect the salmon fishing results. Somehow there was even an opinion that years favorable for pink salmon are just as good for Atlantic salmon. At least the salmon catches in the pink salmon years were relatively successful, not bad.
On our arrival to Chavanga, while were crossing Chavanga river by truck and in general, the situation did not look alarming or critical. As always, we were more interested in the question - what is the water level in the river? The water level is such a starting point for all further discussion of salmon and its fishing. Unfortunately or fortunately, the water level does not really affect the end result of fishing. As always and everywhere, for some anglers low water is just a defeat, for others it is a lucky chance to have a good week. For me personally, low water gives a chance to fish salmon very delicately, with an understanding of all the details and trifles. My eldest son George, on the contrary, loves high strong water, although he copes with any situation and is able to find a way out without any problems. Therefore, in our circle we do not often discuss purely technical problems of fishing, we deal with problems as they arise. Everything that can happen on the river has already happened more than once. Usually more questions arise are purely practical, who and where to go along the river, when is it better to take caterpillar to mid and upper parts of the river and how to change pools more efficiently.
In such a mood, I went out to the bank of Chavanga in the evening on the day of arrival. The sun was still quite high, it was light and it was possible to walk along the pools nearest to the lodge to assess the situation and make a fishing plan for the first day.
The water level in the river was indeed below average. The estuary of the river was all studded with tops of stones, numerous stones and boulders were also visible in the river delta. I walked along the river. Here, 200-300 meters from the mouth, the current slowed down and there was already enough water. Sometimes, in previous years, the water level was even lower, I could definitely judge this by some noticeable points. For example, many anglers remember Pantaloni pool. In dry seasons, water flows mainly from the right sleeve, the left one loses its significance, and the central sleeve sometimes becomes dry. Now the water was running along all three branches, although indeed, the left side of the stream looked frankly weak and shallow. But I did not notice anything critical.
Unless the unusually clear water, devoid of any tea shade, confused, it was rather unusual for the fall. I remember only one season here on Chavanga, when the water completely lost its reddish, peaty hue. This happened after an unusually dry summer. But that was many years ago, and the water level was then noticeably higher.
On my way back home to the lodge, I was thinking about the approximate tactics of fishing for salmon in such clear and low water. There is salmon in the river, even in the first pools several silver fish jumped out of the water. So there shouldn't be any surprises.
The plan for the morning was simple - splitting into 3 groups, disperse along the river and assess the situation on the lower 4 km of the river. In autumn, this close to the sea area provides quick information on where the fish concentrate and how they react to the fly. There are waterfalls, pits, rifts and wide stretches, so you can get a general impression of how the salmon move and what places they prefer to stay. We start each season with this elementary task.
The water in the river was clear and colorless. The bodies of dead pink salmon lay along the banks and at the bottom. There were many dead fish on the shallows, from where the water receded and in places with a weak current. Sometimes the bottom was strewn with orange salmon eggs. The banks and grass were trampled by bears, who left traces of their lunch everywhere.
The fishing area has noticeably decreased, many pools turned into a series of small pits or depressions among the stones. The stream of water unmistakably indicated the path in which the fish could move. I had to fish very carefully. In clear and shallow water, Atlantic salmon was shy and disappeared at the first inaccurate casts. It was funny to watch a large fish rushing about in shallow water in panic. Sometimes, on the contrary, standing in silence, you see another salmon glittering with silver going up literally a meter from your feet. Some salmon were impressive in size. Under the rays of the low autumn sun, flying out of the water for a second, the fish sparkled with a silver side and disappeared into the water.
There was fish all over the site. The first salmon caught in the morning exceeded 7 kg. The mood was great. Despite the low water level, some of the pools were quite large and it was possible to stop here for a long time, go through them several times. We saw a lot of fish at the entrances and exits of the pits and rapids. The fish were actively coming out of the sea upstream of the river.
The decision on the tactics and technique of fishing was also in sight. Light tackle of 7/8 class, one-handed rod or switch, floating line and very elegant presentation of fly at individual points. All the heavy things had to be removed. The flies on the metal tubes often caught the algae that covered the bottom stones. After careless or inaccurate casts, it was necessary to draw out bundles of gray-green ooze. Technically, fishing was not easy, but it has long been known, common for the autumn season.
Only one thing alarmed. With an abundance of fish, we had only a few bites during the day. The water temperature was comfortable, 7 degrees Celsius. We checked different pools with fresh and already standing fish in the river. Changed fishing technique and changed flies. The result was not impressive. In the evening, at the table, we exchanged impressions and most often talked about how salmon jump over our lines or jump out under the tip of a fishing rod. It was fascinating!
In the following days, little changed, there were a lot of fish, but they reacted extremely sluggishly to the fly. Sometimes something changed and bites followed one after another. Our joy was brief. Pool calmed down and in the following days nothing happened on it.
Gradually, we found several pools where we received regular bites. More precisely, these were the entrances to the pool or plums from the pool, places where fresh fish willingly stopped for a long time. Unfortunately, the size of these passages was quite small, so we were content with 1-2 fish caught. Then there was a pause. The salmon that went further into the pool seemed to disappear, only the jumping of the silver fish reminded us that they were still here.
The impression is that the fish is simply not active. With a low water level and high transparency, salmon are too cautious, limited in movement and do not risk chasing flies.
A week passed, the sky was clear as on the first day. I changed my theory that a stable water level is productive for fishing. We decided that the water level is not important, but its dynamics is important. We were all waiting for the autumn rain, hoping for a change.
Over the next week, the situation remained roughly the same. Low clear water with a comfortable temperature within 6-7 degrees, stable weather and consistently low interest of salmon to the fly. The impression was that we had the greatest chance of catching fish in the areas with the fastest current on the main river bed. Only at such a point the fish grabs the fly, but absolutely ignores it 2 meters above or below the river. Some kind of perverted version of summer fishing in warm water. Therefore, 2 variants of tactics have become popular - a long and steadily fishing in the rocks on the pools of the lower section of the river, waiting for fresh fish. And the second option is to quickly move around the territory and fish at all interesting points. The first option gave fish, but emotionally it was difficult fishing for us. We are not used to standing for hours on 1 or 2 pools waiting for a bite. The second option was also successful, but required significant physical costs. Therefore, a combination of these two tactics was the best option. At the request of the anglers, we changed the composition of the groups and the program of the day, and also used the all-terrain vehicle to increase the fishing distance and reduce physical activity.
But the question about the strange behavior of the salmon has not gone anywhere. We could not understand the reason for his selectivity in the choice of resting places and reaction to flies. Once again, we thought about how to combine the presence of salmon in all parts of the river with its concentration only in certain parts of the pools and over selectivity in attacks on the fly.
Perhaps the hint came from a telephone conversation with an ichthyologist. In the conversation, we touched on the fact of the unusually large number of pink salmon and the effect of this phenomenon on the state of salmon in the river.
They talked about the unusually high bacterial pollution of all the rivers of the Kola Peninsula.
Dead pink salmon in dry weather and low water levels changed the qualitative composition of the water. Despite the apparent purity and transparency, the water in the river was not very good for salmon. Based on our results, the water quality affected the behavior of salmon, trout and even grayling. If we were not mistaken in our guesses, then the situation has now become qualitatively different. Although, the solution now should be standard - heavy rain and rising water levels. Every year, autumn rains lead to a rise in water and the shores are cleared of summer layers, animal tracks and imprints of fishing boots on the sand. Now we were also expecting rain and hoping for a change in the behavior of the fish.
Autumn rains are a must-have for northern fall. Sooner or later, they happen. In September or October, the river always becomes full-flowing. Pebble spits disappear, shoals on which pink salmon spawned disappear, stones tips disappear. The current becomes full, and the river covers the entire space from one bank to the other. Typically, this is the time of the most active movement of salmon from the sea into the river happens. At such moments, not only sea salmon is active, but the fish that has appeared in the river since the beginning of autumn and has not yet been seen or reacted to our flies. As a rule, this time is the peak of the autumn salmon season.
You can get your two-handed rods and solid flies, bigger and heavier. There are much more places for fishing. Each standard pool no longer consists of separate points, but merges into one monolithic space, where a bite can be expected anywhere and on any cast. Technically, fishing becomes easier. The fish is not so sensitive to the quality of casting and presentation. It is already difficult to destroy a pool in 2-3 unsuccessful casts. Water flow forgives our bad casts and results go up!
This is the usual situation to which we are accustomed and for which we are ready. In reality, almost everything was so. With a few exceptions. Rising water began to clear the banks and backwaters from thousands of dead pink salmon and their remains. In my opinion, this led to a further deterioration of the water quality in the river. On the pools, where there should be a usual accumulation of salmon, we did not notice any revival - jumps, circles on the water and splashes. The fish only occasionally showed up on the surface and behaved cautiously. Localized fish most often ignored flies, although they had plenty to choose from. In the evenings, we made a small list of successful options, but the next day we had to start all over again. It was clear that the fly was not the issue, and the sluggish reaction of the salmon to the fly was determined by some other factors.
Surprisingly, most often the fish were caught in the same places, at the same meters, as a week or two ago. Some pools didn’t work at all, others were constantly producing. Changing floating tackles to intermediate and trying to present closer to the bottom had no visible effect.
It became noticeably colder. The air temperature dropped to 0-6 degrees by mid-October. The temperature of the water also dropped. We still randomly caught some fish, but their size no longer exceeded 3-3.5 kg. Salmon with a slight gray-violet tinge on the back began to appear. This indicated that with a decrease in water temperature, slightly colored fish, which stood in the river for 2-3 or even 4 weeks were the active ones instead of fresh fish. But the large silver fish disappeared from the catches. Either with the onset of the cold they became very cautious and passive, or maybe they went to the upper parts of the river.
Several times we took our famous all-terrain vehicle quite high up the river. My sons group climbed up to the waterfall. Unfortunately, we were not able to find the pools where the large fresh fish stopped. I had to spend the remaining days of the season on wintering pools, where fish had already accumulated. There was a sufficient amount of them, but overall fishing situation was getting worse and worse. Although it is purely psychologically easier to catch, seeing that there is fish, even if it bites completely differently than we wanted. Well, returning home, we always searched the area near the lodge, where one or two fish were always found among the waterfalls. At the end of the day, it always worked well for the team and brought relief after a hard day. It was interesting for me to compare our results over several seasons. I have the catching records from 2019 and I had a quick look in the evening. It was a little odd to see double-digit daily catches written in ink, over a hundred per week per team. That fall, I wrote a lot and willingly, even recorded fish that left the hook. It was a pleasure to take notes :)
Now fresh records were short and dry, we were happy with every fish, but there was no point in recording all the details. We could not find the reason for such difficult fishing, and we could not find a way to persuade these fish to play with us.
The next day it started to snow. There was no ice yet, but the snow was collecting in lumps on the surface and interfered with fishing. At night we admired the northern lights. It was clear that it was time to get ready for home, we had already stretched out the season. Next year 2022 will be without pink salmon. For the first time, we are actually happy about that.