A solemn quietness was hanging in the air around the Umba river. Now and then a distance cry from a raven penetrated the sky or a breath of wind would rattle the colourful leaves of birches and aspen. Each time a handful of leaves would drop off and soon – very soon – the winter would march in and wrap the infinite Russian taiga in its white dress. Soon all creatures would have to face the cold and the dark, or retreat to their winter caves. I was once again preparing the retreat from my second home, at the Umba riverside. But I could not pack up my rod before I had visited the Krivetz one last time.
The huge masses of water was thundering into the Junction between the Krivetz and Niezma rivers. From the mighty lake Poncho and 7 kilometres down, the Krivetz is dropping several hundred meters and this part of the Umba has drawn hundreds of salmon-fishermen from all over the world. Up here lies the untouched salmon universe and the true Russian folklore. It is possessing both participants and spectators and will anchor itself deep in your soul. It will fuel your daydreams for years to come and it will give you an irresistibly urge to return – year after year. Umba may seem like a small and forgotten community, but this has not always been so. Through hundreds of years, the Umba was the purveyor of big and fat salmon for the court of the Russian Zars. After the revolution the Umba became an attractive resort for the Party-leaders in the Soviet Union. Less than a decade ago, they where probably walking along the same path, as I do right now – heading for the first holding pool – now known as the Office pool.
A steady flow is passing through the pool securing a perfect swing in your fly. Each cast will make your imagination shoot off and each yard the fly is travelling, will make you expect a powerful pull from a salmon that turns with your fly in its mouth. I finally gain foothold between the slippery rocks and make the first cast. The small fly hits the clear water with a distinct plop and the blue intermediate line is cutting through the shivering surface. Somewhere out there, maybe only a few yards from my feet, the salmon is hovering on its distended fins. In a few moments it may decide to continue upstream. In a few moment it may decide to grab the small fly that penetrates its universe ! Maybe?
In spite of the low water temperature I was still sending my casts very much across the stream, making the fly travel fast and curving through the pool. This strategy has proved to very successful and it has been a quite shocking fact, for some of our guest with miles of salmon-literature behind them. Salmon-fishing is full of tradition and conservatism, but it sometimes pays to break the rules and think for yourself. I was halfway through the pool when I felt a gentle pull in the line. A salmon had reacted and another cast was made to the same spot, but in spite of my attempt to boost the presentation with the rod tip, nothing happened. “Time to change the fly maestro” and when I looked down into the box, I realised my pulse had risen considerably. My hands where dancing to the rhythm of salmon-fever. It had to be something different from the long-winged Red Butt and my fingers automatically sorted out a Black Francis size 8. It seemed like ages before my shooting head was racing in the air again. Same angle and same length of line, but this time a completely different fly – “Lets see if you can put up with this Mr. Salar” ! Slowly the line tightened and I nearly swallowed my tongue, when the deep-sided Bugger turned with the Francis, leaving a huge boil and a splash of water.
I took the salmon something like a micro-second to figure out, that something bad had happened and then everything just went berserk. The fish trashed itself out of the water in a series of uncontrolled jumps and then shot off like a rocket, towards the foaming outlet of the pool. I desperately held on to the rod and luckily the fish decided to turn left at the end of the pool. 50 yards of line was singing and now started the “heaving and giving” part of the game. 20 minutes had passed like nothing, the steady side-pressure had drained the fish considerably and the fight was now coming to the critical phase. After a few half-hearted runs I could finally clamp down my hand around the tail of a big and beautiful creature.
A deep and silver-dressed salmon was now hanging between my cold hands, its sharply curved head was facing upstream and the gills were pumping steadily. This is the prize – a man-made myth – a key that will open doors to the root of your soul. I gradually loosened my grip and with a powerful stroke from its big tail fin, the fish shot off like a grey shadow, into the main stream. My hands released the fish, but it would stay with me – etched to my hard-disk – fuelling my life, for eyes to come.
On my way back through the Forrest I was faced with the first winter-snow. It was time to pack up the last fly-rod and head south. I had made my final cast for a season once again. But I will return to the end of the world like the whooper swans, when the spring-sun is warming up the Taiga again.