I know from ample experience that when traveling coach-class, jockeying for overhead compartment space and sufficient legroom can prove a maddening experience. To add insult to injury, coach riders must peer forward as the Platinum, Elite, and VIP travellers stow overstuffed “fair share” wheelie bags, sip chilled champagne, and are tucked lovingly into their cushy seats by well-heeled stewards and stewardesses. My time in the trenches, crammed into a coach seat while sniveling over my allotment of salted peanuts, affirms for me the fact that we should all at times be afforded the privilege of first class. Which is why, in Ryabaga Camp, guests are treated as the elite travelers and anglers that they are. The Platinum Package is what we serve up here on Ponoi.
I must say that Ponoi guests got the full treatment in this the first week of the 2012 season! Though high-ish water prevailed this past week, the river showed its truest colors, and guides and anglers boasted an astounding 876 salmon! Even with a sharp rise in water level due to heavy rains mid-week, the fishing never faltered. Water temps started in the low double digits and dropped to 7 degrees C through the week, indicating that we have yet to see the river in peak form. Despite the early conditions, the Ponoi produced a bounty of salmon.
The first week of the season is often somewhat frenetic for the management team, but despite my brimming schedule, I could not refuse the request of Joe Monro and Billy Pickard that I serve as their guide on Friday. In my day on the water, I was fortunate to revisit the reason why I love this place so much: wonderful guests, astounding solitude, service and cuisine to die for, and a river that literally teems with fish. It was with much gratitude that I spent a memorable day with Joe and Billy, afforded in large part by the willing and capable assistance of Ryabaga’s new hostess, Jess McGlothlin. Jess has taken to her position like a natural, and is proving a skilled hand at assisting in the management of operations on the ground in Ryabaga. She has done a fantastic job interfacing with clients, guides, and staff alike in her very first week on Kola.
Whilst fishing in Hallway, Billy Pickard landed a fantastic fish of 17 pounds, closely resembling a fresh autumn fish, even though it clearly overwintered under the ice. Billy lost another large fish that same day, and he will certainly seek its equal next year, promising to try his hand at the Autumn run. Again, guides observed remarkable colour and quality in over-wintered fish, indicating that Ponoi salmon stocks are, as assumed, growing stronger by the year.
Once again, guides looked to their chief Max Mamaev in dialing in fly choice for the week. Hitched tubes did some damage on the swing, and the woolly “Max Tube” proved the pattern of choice, in larger sizes with higher profile dressings. Yellow and orange bucktail, tinsel bodies over copper tubes, and a bit of palmered black rabbit at the neck and throat were the key ingredients for success, and the early season fish hit them hard. Off river, the tenor in camp was equally bright and exciting. All on hand bore witness to the culinary mastery of Chef Alex Cataldi, who delighted guests, guides and staff with a catalog of dishes fit for royalty. We on staff best all watch our waistlines if Alex continues at this rate. Marina, Ryabaga’s new barmaid, did an exemplary job in setting a festive tone in the big tent, serving drinks and introducing guests to the ancient Incan game of ‘Perudo’. Not to be outdone, guides and guests (mosty from the UK this week) allowed Marina in on the subtleties of ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’, and some spirited games kept the Big Tent ablaze in good will late into the arctic night.
The mechanic team for 2012 is led by the indomitable Sergei Zhurin, and Ryabaga regulars Genia and Sasha. These gentlemen have been joined by the capable Yuri Varakan and Alexei Sidenko, and the entire team has been hard at work refining the varied tools in Ryabaga’s quiver. One of new boats in the fleet, Salmon Leaper, was fitted with a custom transom designed by Sergei Bistrov and fabricated by Alexei Sidenko, and finished with fantastic new four-stroke Mercury 40 HP engine. This re-configuration allowed me to make the trip to Kolmac and back on one 6-gallon running tank, a testament to the dedication of green initiatives and conservation that are so important to our experience on Ponoi. The skill of the mechanic team is highlighted by exemplary work ethic, knowledge, and prodigious strength. The team was instrumental in the successful completion of a seamless camp set up and the arrival at “all systems go”.
After this first week of guests, inspection of Ryabaga shows a camp fit for the most discriminating angler, gourmand, world traveller, or aesthete. Ryabaga anglers are indeed afforded the Platinum Package, as they continue to add the record books, making history in the world of Atlantic salmon angling. We look forward to the arrival of all guests, and the opportunity to provide the experience of a lifetime upon and alongside the greatest salmon river in the world…
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