A description of our Grand Varzuga stretch, by Kola / Varzuga veteran Philip Bowden Smith. UK.

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To our many Varzuga guests travelling with us to Grand Varzuga in 2012 – Print out this very detailed description and bring it with you for your upcoming trip to Salmon Heaven.

1. The camp down.

The camp sits above a small lagoon. Before the camp was sited there (originally a tented camp on the N. bank) the run 50 yds above and 50 yds or so below used to be a good holding area, but with the advent of boats it ceased to be productive.

About 150 yds below the camp the river divides around an attractive island ( a paradise for Trollius – yellow globe flowers). In the days of a tented camp with no boats one of the most desirable areas was the left side of the island (Hot Rock / Face Pool). One morning before breakfast I raised over 20 fish but only landed 3 ! Generally, the height of the water allowed wading across to the island at its upper point and  the r.h. side of the island is wonderful to fish from the island. On the way down to the fantastic corner pool (Upper Layby) there used to be a single submerged rock (as I recall the only one)  which invariably had a fish lying close to it. The river passes a lagoon on the far bank and turns left. There is a rock bluff on the far bank with a lot of quartz in it. The 10ms above it at lower flows was mustard where the water builds before spilling into the pool below (Lower Layby). This lower pool was also productive, particularly around a single rock near the left bank before it spills into the run below. This also produced fish but the best bit was where a small stream of water enters from the left branch of the river above Little Island; from there to the end of the islet was always good.

There is then a stretch of about 150m which is wide and shallow before the river turns slightly to the right and enters what we called Lake Pool; forget Burke’s Run – we never found it. When the water was high we used to catch fish all the way down the right bank; there are lots of rocks quite close to the bank and these seemed to hold fish. About 150ms downstream the bulk of the current comes to the right bank and there are some large rocks in the river; this again is a good spot before it spills into Dream Pool.

Dream Pool extends to the mouth of the Kichisara River (right bank). In the early days this pool and the two below – Kichisara Run and Kichisara Pool (opposite top of the island)- used to be excellent. But latterly tailed off. Dream Pool used to have a large rock in the middle of the upper section which was wiped out by the ice. Whether its demise or boats changed everything I don’t know but the very top of Dream close into the left bank remained very good. It used to fish well all the way down to where some water spills around the island

In the early days the Kichisara Run (basically the tail of Dream) fished really well from the top of the island on the left bank and from Kichisara River down on the right bank. The same applied to the Kichisara Pool. We also caught the occasional fish in the mouth of Kichisara river.

There is then a long dead flat of about 200m before Birch Islands (Upper and Lower). The bulk of the river goes down the left branch although we did occasionally pick up the odd fish in the right branch in high water. The smooth glide into the divide, although shallow used to be very productive. You have to wade out and upstream from the top of Upper Birch Island if possible casting to the far bank. The fish used to lie in and around the submerged rocks in water less than half a metre deep. The first 50m was the best. About 60m down the pool there was a hot spot on the left bank between the bank and some rocks in the middle of the river. Below that until the top of the Lower Birch Island was dead. This next section where the river turns left and loops around the lower island to the confluence is a lovely and potentially productive bit. Fish it from the left bank of the island; start high up off the little gravel bar casting right to the far bank. Wading down is normally OK but beware, the water just below the gravel bar gets quite deep.

The next long pool (Lower Birch Pool / Two Dogs) can be fantastic right from the glide into it on the left bank down to the large rock and 20m below. This can be fished from both banks but  best from thr right bank; start casting from the tail of the island.

Below this  is a very long flat section (The Loch) – dangerous with boats in low water due to numerous just-submerged rocks which are very difficult to see. Eventually the river does a slow turn to the left and then to the right and picks up a little speed. This area (or the main pool) we called Holden’s Hole. We found this variable, but when fish were there it could be great. The fishing can start where the river picks up speed but needs highish water; the fish lying quite close into the right bank. Below this is a wide, rather difficult and characterless pool which only yielded the rare fish. The river now becomes more ripply before turning right into the main pool. The 50m above and the first 50m of the main pool can give good sport, as can the last 50m which is quite deep and easily fished from the grassy bank with the land-locked lagoon behind.

Between here and Poacher’s Hut there are one or two broken bits of water, which doubtless hold fish as we did pick up the occasional one in Seelyama, but Poacher’s Hut (Little Hut) is a seriously good pool and pretty easy to read too. It can be fished from both banks but he right bank is far easier and better. You need to start fishing just upstream of the rock bar where the river starts to narrow and fish down as far as the current allows (about 50m below the hut).

The stretch below has movement and looks OK but was never much good.

Pana Junction – only if fish were late reaching the camp- but could be very rewarding. We picked up fish all the way down the left bank starting about 50m above the confluence of the two rivers and all the way down the main river for about 200m. The most productive spot however was on the right bank bend where the Pana joins the main river (an amazing deposit for dead mussels and a favoured camping spot). In low water you can wade almost anywhere down the main river and this could be good. If noone is looking a short hike up the Pana to fish the last long pool was always worthwhile – beautiful fly water and the river much clearer than the Varzuga and also very rarely fished by Pana Camp.

2.Camp Upstream

The long wide stretch directly above camp used to hold the occasional fish close in to the left bank. There is one place not far above and opposite the camp which can be good fun. As the water drops an islet appears with a narrow deep channel behind it. Fish do hold there sometimes toward the lower end and it is exciting if you hook one.

Walking up the left bank there is an awkward rock bluff to negotiate. Above this, on a long bend, are the Tyuvenga Rapids at the head of which is the pool proper. This is fast and deepish water (a small part of the main river comes in at this point). Although unfishable in high water, when the river fines down the top 100m were some of the best anywhere. There are calmer patches down the main rapids which hold fish in lower water. These are best fished from the left bank. The slacker water at the end of the rapids is best fished from the right bank.

Above Tyuvenga the river becomes very wide and there is a huge smooth rock not far above the Tyuvenga Pool. This is Hippo Rock. From this rock right down to the tail of the V is a wonderful bit to fish from the right bank. Take care though – the bank is dodgy and the water deep and fast. When walking further up the left bank you come to a lagoon – hence the name Lagoon Pool. Under normal conditions this can be waded, but keep out as far as possible in the main river as there are hellish rocks in the neck of the lagoon. Directly opposite this lagoon are 3 large rocks sticking out of the water. This is basically the middle of the Lagoon Pool. The pool is best fished from the left bank and you need to start fishing fairly high up and wade out so that you end up wading down about a third the way across the river casting as far across as possible. This is great water to fish and can be very productive. There is a rock ledge about 30m above the big rocks near the far bank and from there down to well below them (depending on river height) is where the action is hottest. It is also well worthwhile doing a few casts towards your own bank as you approach the rocks; the channel between you and the shore gets deeper. In high water the fish do lie right down both the left and right banks well below the big rocks

Heading up river, the next pool is the Pillars of Hercules – one of the largest and deepest pools on Upper Varzuga. It can be fished from both banks but in my experience far better from the right bank starting at the rock buttresses right down to the tail and rough water.

Climbing up and over the pillars the river widens out and there is a long pretty flat section with 4 reasonably defined pools known as the Four Apostles. There were various opinions as to whether Matthew was the top or the bottom pool – I always thought it to be the top. So, assuming this, John is the first you come to and, in my book, the best of the four. It has a double run into it; both fish well from the respective banks but, generally the pool is better fished from the left bank. About 25m from the top of the run, and about where the 2 currents converge there are a few submerged rocks; this was always a likely spot as was the rest of the pool until the current dies.

The other Apostles vary enormously with the height of the water being very wide and generally shallow. I always found the heads and outflows of these pools the most likely spots.

The next pool you come to is the Banya Pool just below Banya Island. This pool, although not big, was one of our favourites. Because of the rapids above it seemed to hold fish on a regular basis. It is better fished from the left bank; wade across the flow coming round the island and start right at the main inflow. There is a large submerged (usually) rock a cast’s length downstream in the middle of the river opposite the rocks on the left bank; roll your fly in front of / around / over / behind this rock and one nearly always raised something. This pool only fishes well for about 30 – 40m

The rough water section above and adjacent to Banya Island is too fast in high water, but in low water can be magic to fish as fish can lie in almost any little pocket. I prefer to fish this from the right bank, particularly the top part. The wide V inflow at the very top from the wide flat above invariably holds fish but is very difficult to fish from either bank as it is too deep to wade.

The next large pool upstream, Cascades, always looks great but we only ever caught fish right at the top

The whole of the next 100m or so upstream to the next flat, which we called Bear’s Lair can be great fun. It can be challenging with all the rocks and cross currents and fishable from both banks. The glide above leading into the rough water can also hold fish.

The river now does a long r.h. turn (looking upstream) into an area we called Leaf Pool – not Choppy Bend. Basically this is avery long broken run. If the fish are in residence it can be very productive and an exciting bit of water to fish; however it does need lowish water. You need to start at the very top just above where the broken water starts as fish can lie close in to the left bank by the first rocks. You can fish all the various runs until the current dies. Again this fishes best in lowish water and one can wade all the way down casting right to the far bank where the fish tend to lie – all this fishing from the left bank for preference.

The long section above Leaf to Mike’s Pool is generally very flat and is the best part of an hour’s walk. Your map shows Rory’s Reach as a pool, but we were never able to identify it on the ground. However, there are two places en route where there is good current and fish do hold there; the first is where the river narrows between two flatish rocky outcrops. It is not easy to fish, but I have caught the odd fish there. The next, after another long flat, is quite a nice well defined pool with the main current projecting slightly onto the left bank. The fish tend to lie on the edge of the far side current

After another not quite so long flat you come to what is the tail of Mike’s Pool dotted with large rocks and the current starts to pick up speed. This is a very long and deepish pool with a lovely long run into it from yet another flat bend. This is undoubtedly a major holding pool for the upper river as, for quite a long way above, there is very little true holding water. As a consequence it fishes best in lowish water; certainly when I fished it on my last day on Upper Varzuga it was quite low and I landed 28 fish from that one pool – in fact I never fished all of it. The pool can be fished from either bank, although it fishes better from the left bank. The only problem being that the fish tend to lie nearer the right bank and the wading out and back from the left bank is tedious. Most of the fish tend to lie in the main part of the pool but can be had all the way from the very top depending on water height. Except in high water it is possible to cross the river above the top run.

Enjoy your trip to Grand Varzuga and Tight lines

Philip Bowden Smith


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