Unlocking Salmon Fishing Secrets on the River Varzina, Russia

Unlocking Salmon Fishing Secrets on the River Varzina, Russia

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Varzina Secrets

It began over two years ago during a conversation about fishing (as you do) with Steve Hunt at Sportfish Winforton whilst purchasing some tackle. Would I be interested in fishing on the Kola Peninsula in the future? The answer was “YES” and two years later it came to fruition. Ours would be a walking trip with no helicopter drops, in an early part of the River Varzina season in June.

My name’s Stuart (a Sportfish customer), and I must confess to embarking out as the least experienced salmon angler in our party. Fifty years of trout fishing alone does not constitute enough to successfully survive a week on the Varzina. I had however, been swishing hopefully with a 15 footer on the River Usk for a season (overhead only) but no salmon had accepted my offerings. A few lessons had produced a moderate performance with double and single spey casts, and I was hopeful that with a good run of salmon in the river, even this novice would stand the chance of a fish. I tooled myself up with what I thought were appropriate flies and other items of gear.

The big day arrived after a convivial and costly meeting (a gallon of Finnish lager is expensive) in the Hilton Helsinki with other 6 anglers in the group. Sean Clark, from Farlows, knows the place back to front having guided on the Varzina for a number years, and is a highly regarded and qualified casting instructor.

Varzina Lodge

We arrived at Varzina Lodge by helicopter to a warm Russian welcome. Situated with a superb view of the river, the lodge was atmospheric and cosy with a bar, dining room and tackle shop (understandably very expensive so I would recommend a long talk with the Sportfish guys about kit before leaving). The twin lodges were cosy with a wood burner which was lit prior to return from the river on colder evenings, the temperature varied from 26°C to 2° C during our week. I was sharing with Steve who knows fly fishing tackle and clothing inside out – in fact I wish I had consulted him more before departure. Prior to fishing, Sean thought my rod and line would be unbalanced and lent me his Sage 15ft TCX for the week which was a revelation.

Landing a Varzina Salmon
Landing a Varzina Salmon!

We were allocated Alexei, the head guide as ours for the week; he was a charming, knowledgeable and extremely patient guide, who spent more time with me due to my lack of experience, suggesting lines, flies and likely lies. On our first morning on Penka, a Varzina tributary, Steve caught an 18lb salmon within the first hour. Half an hour later whilst Alexei was showing Steve another likely lie it happened…My first take on a salmon fly rod and a Varzina fish with attitude tore off downstream with about 150 yards of backing. Ten minutes later a 10lb silver torpedo covered in tide lice was safely in the net when the Snaelda hook fell out of its mouth. I was so thrilled… my first fly caught salmon, cue the occasional photograph! I then caught a brownie approaching 4lb (another photograph), and then a twig. Alexei drily enquired: “another photograph?”

Back at the lodge that evening my first fly caught salmon was toasted by all. I was presented with a Varzina Fly Cap, and was required to eat a salmon scale with a piece of lemon, and down a large vodka shot with a Varzina Ist Atlantic salmon pin nestling in the glass. It was a moment I will always treasure.

My casting was adequate in smaller pools and runs but found a little wanting on the larger ones. Cue Sean, who gave me an impromptu lesson for 15 minutes. I say 15 minutes but he is a very amusing man who had me in stitches most of the time, so the truth is that in 10 minutes concentrating he produced a huge improvement in my single spey casting. On another occasion he taught me to snake roll well off my wrong shoulder in 5 minutes! He is a very gifted tutor.

Alexi the fishing guide
Me & Alexi, the guide

Osmosing all this information from Sean, Steve, Alexei and other anglers meant I learnt more in a week than I could have in 10 years of trial and error at home. The upshot was that I ended the week with salmon of 18, 13, and 10lbs. As the weather changed from 26°C to 2°C with commensurate drop in water temperature in our week the fish were at times intransigent. This led to a lower than expected catch for the week and only one rod bettered my total. I am very aware that lady luck played her part, that I was coached superbly in both river craft and casting.

I have experienced a vertical learning curve. I went to Varzina as a trout man and feel I returned as a fully fledged salmon fly fisherman. My thanks to all involved. Would I do it again? You bet!

Dusk at River Varzina

One foot note: The vagaries of the weather grounded our helicopter return for 4 hours and our connecting flight was missed. We stayed in Murmansk overnight but Mat at Fly Odyssey had organised and rebooked our flights within a couple of hours. We returned home only 18 hours late having flown from Murmansk to St Petersburg then via Moscow to London. Logistics organisation of the highest order, it was adventure in itself.

If you would like to experience a truly magical Russian salmon fishing experience on the unspoilt Kola Peninsula, this Sportfish & Farlows hosted week will be running again in early June 2014. Experienced or not please contact Steve to discuss the possibilities.

Trip Information

My Gear for the Week

Hope you enjoyed my River Varzina diary and found it useful, it was a fantastic trip… please leave your comments below – it’s great to share & chat! You can also share with all your friends via the social sharing buttons below.

Thanks for reading – Stuart Macoustra, Sportfish Customer



  1. hi stuart, not long till we go. looking forward to it. I hope your getting a lot of practice like me, if the river ever gets right. see you soon shaun.

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