I just read the article on Spey rods on your web site and I think your ideas and recommendations are right on. I have not fished the Grand Varzuga yet, but have fished both the Umba and the Kola. As you well know, I fished the Umba very successfully with my Sage model 7126, which has been quite accurately nicknamed the “Death Star”. It is 12′ – 6″ and rated for a 7 wgt line, although it actually feels a lot more like a true 8 wgt. Along with my Saracione 3-3/4″ Mark IV salmon reel, it really put the hurt on all of the salmon I caught there, including the largest one at 22 pounds. Even my guide was impressed with the way this rod/reel combination handled the salmon.
At the Kola, I fished with a 14′ – rod rated for 8/9 line and I must admit that I tangled with 3 very large salmon and lost the battle with all 3 of them. I did manage to land a 25 pound salmon on there with this rod. When I return to the Kola again, I think the 14′ length was adequate, but I would probably prefer to use a slightly heavier rod, at least one rated for a 9/10 line. I do think that more emphasis should also be placed on the reel when you are faced with the struggle expected from a larger salmon. When I last fished the Kola in 2008, I did not have the luxury of having a Saracione reel and had to rely on a Scierra Reel, which is not a bad reel either; however, if I would have had a Saracione reel, I might have fared better with those 3 larger salmon that I lost. I had one of them very close to the net and the guide estimated it to be in the 15 kilo range or close to 34 or 35 pounds. If I would have been more aggressive with that fish, I might have been luckier and got it in the net, but I let the fish gain a little line and then lost control of it down into the rapids below.
I have not fished the Varzuga yet, but based on the photos I have seen of it, I am sure that a rod in the 12-1/2 foot to 13-1/2 foot range for a 7/8 line would work very well there. It looks like there is plenty of room to let a salmon run there in most areas and the river does not look too treacherous with rapids and such.
Last year I purchased 2 new Burkheimer Rods, a model 7134-4 (13′- 4″ for 7 line) and a model 8142 (14′ – 2″ for 8 line). I fished the 8142 extensively here locally for steelhead last fall and caught a lot of nice steelhead on it up to about 18 pounds. Later in the season I used the 7134 for most of my fishing on the Grande Rhonde River, which as you know is a smaller more friendly river with mostly smaller steelhead. I caught a lot of steelhead on the 7134 up to about 15 pounds and it handled all of them easily. I think that either of these rods would work nicely on the Varzuga River, or the Ponoi, but I would probably not recommend either of them for the Umba or the Kola, mostly because of the size of the larger salmon you would expect in either of these rivers.
As I mentioned above, more emphasis should also be placed on the quality of the reel that is used with any rod you chose to fish with. There are a lot of great reels on the market these days, and almost all of them will work fine for most of the salmon or steelhead we catch on most rivers. But, when the exceptional fish comes along, we should be prepared with the best equipment available to handle the unusual loads that larger fish put on our equipment. I have put all of my Saracione reels to the test on a lot of larger salmon and steelhead and have learned that I can depend on these reels under the most difficult of conditions. I can honestly say that I have not lost a single fish because of a reel problem when using these reels.
As always, I enjoyed ready the article about the rods and just thought I would send my 2 cents worth of thoughts to you.