Book Review – Trails in a Wild Frontier

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Pioneer Fly Fishing in Russia

We all know that Christopher Columbus explored America in 1492, but for international fly fishermen it might be more relevant that it was American Lee Hartman who explored modern fly fishing in Russia – an especially at the Kola Peninsula – almost 500 years later. Lee has now written a highly interesting book about his pioneer travels.

It was the last communist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev and his principles of glasnost and perestroika which made this new adventurous fishing possible in the late 1980’s.

Typically for those dramatic years Lee describes how he and his four friends started being stranded in Moscow with its empty shops and reeking Lada cars – So the scene is set from the beginning!

Their first expedition goes to distant River Klundiudai, a major tributary to the enormous River Lena, one of the largest river systems in the world. They catch a lot of lenoks and limbas (local specimens of trout and char) especially on floating muddler mice. Unfortunately they fail to hit their main target, the mighty taimen (a close relative to the European huchen or Donube salmon) because of severe low water conditions. And in a remote village a young Russian girl invites Lee to marry her and this does not leave his feelings untouched – almost love at first sight…

In the following chapters we join Hartman & Co. on new adventurous travels to the very remote Mongolian border and even to Kamchatka where the steelhead and the various species of pacific salmon reigns (similar to Alaska and British Columbia at the other side of the Bering’s Strait).

But possibly the most interesting part of the book for readers of this website may be his varied experiences from the then virgin salmon rivers at the now world famous Kola Peninsula. Here well known River Umba has a major role in Lee’s book. At Umba Lee experienced “umbalivable” fishing and here he met another fishing star: Young and eager (and now legendary) Nick Podolsky from the nearby Umba Village at the mouth of the river.

He also gives exiting reports with lots of details from other famous Kola rivers: Varzuga, Varzina and Rynda and we learn about warlike episodes between western operators to get the fishing rights at the best rivers – where American Bill Davies plays an unflattering role.

Unfortunately this splendid and well written book does not have a happy ending. Qua his many talents Nick Podolsky in the meantime advanced to become Russian Campmanager at Umba where he and his staff of top guides were highly respected. And besides Nick was renowned among fly fishermen almost world wide for his masterly carved and artful colored replicas of salmon, sea trout, grayling, char, brook trout, pike and perch etc. – You name it!

A beautiful summer day in 2013 Nick and his friend Sergei were shot down and killed by an maniac while establishing a camp for youngsters interested in the local environment protection. A absurd and painful loss of a highly skilled fisherman, a loyal partner and first of all a great friend for all of us who were privileged to know him.

Lee Hartman: Trails in a Wild Frontier

227 pages – Photo illustrated

Published by the author 2014

Book review by Orla Bertram Nielsen