Ponoi 2019 End of Season Report

Steve Estela's end of season report on Ryabaga Camp, Ponoi

Following a smooth winter that was marked by an average snowfall, the Kola Peninsula was shaping up nicely as the 2019 Ryabaga salmon season approached. Early May saw the arrival of our first group of mechanics who reported a nice clean camp, very little snow left on the ground, and a river that was opening quickly despite that there was some residual ice on the banks. A period of road maintenance, boat preparation and launching, and numerous little tasks in and around Ryabaga filled the days before the first lucky anglers arrived to kick off the 2019 season. When those anglers did indeed land in Ryabaga, the camp was in tip-top shape.

Spring settled in over those first few weeks. The sun was out and temperatures in the mid-teens made fishing very enjoyable. It seemed that both Ponoi salmon and Ponoi anglers were quite happy!

Then the weather set in…

Over the first days of June, we started to see some unusual fronts arriving seemingly out of nowhere. Strong winds, the occasional snow, and significant rains arrived with regularity, changing the composition of the river and making the fishing quite challenging. I cannot say that there have been many times when we have seen snow flying sideways in camp on June 15th. Guides and guests were undaunted, though, and all did a fantastic job of pursuing the elusive salmon despite rising, dropping, and off-colored water. Due to persistence, clever guide work, and at times utter faith, the first several weeks of the season passed with catches ranging from 22 to 35 fish per rod per week, and an average of 25 fish per rod for the first 7 weeks of the season.

The 2019 Summer Run arrived with a vengeance. The run of salmon was strong, both in number and size of fish, and we all breathed a bit easier knowing the fish were still responding to their natural calling despite the inclement weather. On account of the steady rains that we saw through the first half of the season, we left camp for the Summer Break with the river at the same flow we had found it at 2 months earlier having had some very good late June and July weeks.

The Summer Break arrived and allowed us a short window to work on new facilities, upgrades, roads, cabins, and all behind-the-scenes hardware. Ryabaga is in a constant state of improvement: a complete Big Tent renovation was undertaken, as was the installation of a proper bar, a new tackle room and storage, and myriad of other small enhancements. By the end of the Break, the camp was ready to welcome back guests in style.

With the start of the Second Half, we were pleased to show guests a new, state-of-the-art, 14 pax (4 groups of 2 guests + 1 guide) Hovercraft! This vessel proved a great addition to the program, allowing our guests to reach the bottom beats in comfort while sharing stories and enjoying a beer or coffee in transit.

With the arrival of Fall, certain anxiety and expectation settle over the Ponoi as we wait to see what the mighty Fall Run might hold. Following the Summer Break, we hosted two weeks of Finnish guests who proved incredibly eager to learn about and enjoy Ryabaga. As the second half began, the tail of the Summer Run was still coming through Ryabaga waters. A nice level made for a good start, and we were hopeful that greater stability in the weather conditions might last.

The last week of August saw PRC Owner Ilya Sherbovich hosting the much-anticipated “Friends and Family Week”. This week is always a delight, as it is a time when two or sometimes three generations of fly anglers can share a week fishing our waters. It was a pleasure to see 12 and 13-year-old kids receiving daily awards for the most and the biggest salmon, and of course the coveted “Outstanding Achievement” medals! The future of the sport was alive and well in Ryabaga this summer, not only during this special “Friends and Family Week” but also throughout the season!

The Annual Poker Ponoi Cup took over the Big Tent. After several well-played hands, the 1st Prize went to Matthew Solon, who proved that he is not only a skillful guide but also a very strong Poker player!

The first of 2019’s bright, sea-liced, fall-run salmon started showing up in Ryabaga water accompanied by some more unwelcome weather! Wind, wind, and more wind made things challenging; by this point in the season, we had lost 8 to 10 days to dirty water and unbearable winds!

As the Fall Run progressed, the fish arrived in greater number. Some of our most seasoned guides were overheard saying that the number of bright fish showing was ridiculous! The only problem lay in catching them. As days passed, patience, skill, and knowledge of the river started to pay off, and our catches grew daily. Some nice, deep, fat salmon began to cooperate, and lots of happy faces were seen at the Big Tent bar!

Late September is when we welcome our Ponoi River Club friends. The Ponoi River Club week is a different week in many ways, as anglers fish singly in boats, enjoy very long lunches, and focus wholly on having fun both on and off the water. As luck would have it, it was during this annual Ponoi River Club Week that Mr. Badweather showed up again, and the conditions became challenging, to say the least. With cold mornings, heavy rains, and some snow and hail, the weather was a distinct challenge. The group did not give up, however, and all in camp had an enjoyable week.

Every angler has heard the adage “you should have come a week later…”. This sentiment proved itself out, as conditions turned a full 180 degrees on the Sunday following the Ponoi River Club week (one day later) and following that day the Ponoi revealed its true colors. Through the very last day of the 2019 season, the Ponoi has been at its very best, much to the delight of every angler that had the chance to cast a fly! Each day ended with stories of strong fights, lost fish, and the beauties that were landed. Fish that were above average in size were seen daily, to everyone’s delight. The 2019 Fall Run was indeed a strong one.

With the suspicion that we might be ending our fishing too early this year, we decided to extend the season one more week into October. What a great week we had! Thanks to the en-suite cabins, our guests were entirely comfortable as winter approached, and the fish continued to run. We had a great final week, with 95% of the landed fish being bright fall-runners. Any concerns we had about season extension were dismissed when a 25 lb. sea-liced fish was landed on the very last fishing day of the 2019 season. With this proof that a healthy population of salmon is heading upriver to perpetuate our salmon stocks, we are excited to think what the spring of 2020 will bring!

The 2019 Ponoi salmon season will certainly be remembered as a challenging one, largely on account of uncooperative weather. Our catch statistics, however, were offset by the resolute positivity and dedication of both our anglers and our staff. Fortunately, our guests, guides, and staff realize that part of the beauty of fishing the remote north is its very unpredictability. With that in mind, I would like to thank all of the Ponoi staff on behalf of AST for looking after our guests in such a warm and professional manner. It is a significant responsibility and a significant honor to ensure that guests always receive the very best treatment while visiting Ryabaga Camp. Providing a sublime experience is something we all take great pride in.

I must offer many thanks to the Frontiers UK and US offices, the Murmansk Office Staff, and every single member of this great team. You are what makes Ryabaga, and fishing the Ponoi, so unique.

A special thanks, of course, goes to our tireless supporter Ilya Sherbovich. His unwavering care for the river and its salmon, as well as the Ryabaga guests and staff, is remarkable.

I must again thank my family as well. It is they who keep me motivated and support my passion, allowing me to do what I love.

Best wishes to all; tight lines and see you soon!

Steve Estela


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