News from Above the Arctic Circle

Yes, yes, it’s been a while; I know. But sometimes it seems like between all the getting onto and off of planes, and into and out of boats, there just really isn’t much time to even write! Oh well. It is what it is. Over the past couple of weeks though there have been a few too many awesome adventures for me to fail in their relation (or, that is, in their relation to my relations). So from this desk where I am seated currently in the town of Naberezhnye Chelny, just West of the Urals, I will describe a recent trip that took me fishing up above the Arctic Circle.  This was in fact, by far, the furthest North that I have been yet in my life. And even closer to the North pole than I got to its southern brother when I landed in Ushuaia, which some of you may remember from the beginning of that long walk back in 2007. But after flying into Murmansk last week, and then driving NE from there another three or so hours, in the end I landed at 69° 3’33″ N, which, let me tell you, is up there. To reach this same latitude in Alaska you’ve got to get way north of the Brooks Range, like, right up into polar bear country.  My destination was Belousiha Lodge, an Atlantic Salmon operation on the Belousiha river, that had invited me up to have a look so that we might consider adding them to our soon to be published Hemispheres Unlimited catalog (look for a post on that upcoming project launch sometime in the next couple of months). I’d been invited up by the editor of Russian Fly Fishing Magazine, Gennady Zarkov, who I had guided down in Rio Pico several years ago and have stayed in touch with since and even written a few articles for here and there. He had been telling me about this lodge for a while, it being one of the few on the Kola that do not require a helicopter flight to access, and yet at the same time controlling the entirety of one of the best rivers in the area. So I thought since I had the time this year I had better get up there and have a look around.
Khadizhat was along on this journey as well, which was nice, since my Russian is unfortunately still far worse than basic and even though the guides at the lodge spoke good English I still had to get there. Get there we did though; and upon arrival we were welcomed warmly by the lodge owner and a very friendly, mostly English speaking staff. The lodge itself somewhat reminds me of Laguna Verde, the place I have been working with for years on Lago Strobel, simple, yet within the context of its spectacular surroundings really quite luxurious and exactly what is called for. Guests sleep in individual two-bed cabins, each with its own woodstove, and also have 24 hour access to the dining room, bathhouse, and sauna, all of which are exceptionally well built and offer amazing views of the valley and river below. We actually got in pretty late, only a couple of hours before dinner was to be served, but those who know me well won’t be surprised that I couldn’t wait, and twenty or so minutes later I was hiking down the canyon with Max, one of the lodge’s younger guides.  And well, it didn’t take long before I was hooked up solid and jogging…The Belousiha is a neat piece of water, with highly varied, classic structure and spectacular surroundings. It flows down from the high country where a couple of lakes form its source, and then into the Voronya River, which in turn enters the Barents Sea just a short distance further North. And it is full, even in August, of Atlantic Salmon. It didn’t take me long at all to get into fish, but it took a bit longer for me to get used to the idea that I was going after them with a five weight.  Salmo salar is really just such a classic fish. Everything from their perfect lines, to their anadromous lifestyles, to the way that their behavior in the rivers changes so drastically from month to month as they play out their yearly freshwater dance. It’s just an awesome species. And I’m into that. But seriously, a five weight? Max just nods. Apparently they fish eights in May and June, and sevens in July, but by August its five weights, twelve foot leaders, and, well, by my standards at least, tiny, tiny little flies…. Ok. I nod. As you can see from the photos though, I also managed to make it work. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Over the rest of the week I explored all the way upstream to the river’s source, and downstream to its confluence with the Voronya, and swung cute little jungle-cock-eyed fully-dressed salmon flies above the noses of fish after fish along the way.  In addition to the Atlantics I also caught my first ever grayling, which was really cool, and discovered that pink salmon, of all things, had been moved here from Kamchatka during the Soviet period! Why? Well, we don’t ask. In the meantime I also saw a ton of awesome country and interesting animals including moose, bears, and mink, plus a really surprising find – the Moor Frog! Who would ever have thought there were amphibians living this far North? Khadizhat actually found this little fellow, and according to what I have learned since she photographed him, they even hibernate somehow through the winters, living several years in their adult form as frogs! Along the way we also gathered and ate a huge variety of wild growing berries and edible mushrooms. The quantity of naturally occurring food throughout the summer months up there is literally astounding. Crowberries, blueberries, cloudberries, lingonberries,.. the list goes on and on, and the mushrooms are quite simply, everywhere.  And you gotta Love a girl who will be out flyfishing in the rain: And on the subject of mushrooms, (edibility in this case debatable), I also encountered my first ever Amanita muscaria, probably the most classic looking mushroom on earth, and also a powerful entheogen with a long and rich history of shamanic use. You simply cannot imagine my delight at having finally come across these amazing little fungi. Last summer I spent many a night sitting around the campfires in Kamchatka discussing Koryak religious practices with Velodya, our native guide, and he told me long and wonderful histories of his peoples’ use of the A. muscaria medicine (known to the Koryaks as “wapac”), as well as how it came to exist on Earth in the first place, having been spat onto the planet’s surface by their deity Vahiyinin (which literally means “Existence”) and then spread around the globe by a Raven who had discovered the mushroom’s powers after it helped him carry an entire whale back to his nest. The species is in fact widely ranging now, and is thought to have been used by lots of different cultures for a wide variety of purposes: all the way from being the pre-battle wind up meal of the Viking berserkers, to having been the “Soma” so widely mentioned throughout the Rig Veda of India, even to being perhaps the origin of the legend of Santa Claus and his red suit and reindeer which has carried itself so deftly into modern western culture today. So, really cool to have seen and been able to photograph this amazing mushroom.  But alas, now it’s back to the ol’ desk job for a while, putting everything together for the Hemispheres project I mentioned at the outset of this post. In the meantime though, everybody send me their news; I would love to hear from each and every one of you! And in the meantime, if anyone is interested in visiting this awesome destination, just drop me a line and I’ll get on it right away!  Otherwise, here’s a few more pictures:

I dare you to translate this word

Humpies?  Really?

Pairing up for the spawn

The numbers of the North

Yes, this is me in my element

And a final parting thought…

And Another Season Ends in Argentina

Well folks,… the fishing season down here,… has officially ended.   And as is always the case after such an event, the non-fishing season,… has fishily begun.  Yes.  Fishily indeed.  It was a great summer overall, low water notwithstanding.  And from the look of the rain and snowfall surrounding this writer’s current point of view here at the big bay window in Trevelin (I know it’s early, but just in the last 24 hours we’ve had over five inches) things are going to be back to normal levels in no time and we’re likely to have plenty of water for next summer. Rance and Travis had some photographers down in March and so I showed them around the Tres Valles venue, which turned out to be a lot of fun.  These are good friends of mine, and also the owners of Patagonia River Guides, whose programs at Estancia Tres Valles and in Trevelin, as well as up in the San Martin/Junin de los Andes region all appear in the Patagonia Unlimited catalogue.  Austin Trayser, Matt Jones, Rance Rathie, Guillermina Etchebarne, and Khadizhat and I had a great time of it those days, fishing and rowing and hiking and setting up shot after shot after shot.   And in the process I even ended up convincing Marcelo Acevedo (one of Rance’s auxiliars and a neighbor of mine from back in the Rio Pico days) of all people that my fishing Icaros actually work.  He had challenged me to try one, in fact, while Rance was nymphing the juncos bank one day as we waited on the lunch truck.  Bright sun, no wind, and no bite happening whatsoever – these were the conditions, that is until the last note of my Icaro – then Wham!  Rod went up and it was on!    Pretty cool really.  “Ahora te creo” Marcello said, “Ahora te creo”.  Other highlights of these few days were my own thirty inch brown, pictured here and now also on the homepage slideshow of Rance and Travis’ website, a lot of really good lunches, and a lot of just kind of lying around in the tall grass looking up at clouds while Austin and Matt messed with the cameras getting set up for a shot.  After the shoot we had several more very nice groups, including my last of the season which was really made up more of friends than clients – Matt Branton and his father Allen.  Even Negra got to tag along on this week’s worth of wading, boating, and getting hooked in the face, although she mostly just got tangled in the stripping.  Matti apparently has a thing about my face; at one point while I was netting a big rainbow for him on Lago Tres he spat Copenhagen all the way across it, and at another point down on La Panisa he buried the size #2 hook of his Great Pumpkin (a big orange articulated streamer fly) in it on his back cast.  God Love the guy though, he did keep catching hogs, and even rowed the boat sometimes!  Once it was over though it was over, and I had to accept that the hour had come to shift gears.  Luckily, there were apples.  Lots and lots of apples. When Trevelin was first settled by the Welsh in the 1880’s they brought more than a couple of apple trees.  At that time the farms which were being developed here were all producing wheat, not cattle, and once the mills were constructed the flour being produced in our region even began to win world fairs.  Once the population began to come in off the estancias and center up more in town though, the apple trees just kind of got left out on the old homesteads.  And since those same old homesteads are the kinds of places I usually hunt quail in the fall, I run across these trees quite often.  So Khadizhat and Caetano (a most excellent neighbor from across the way) went out gathering them, and have been eating and cooking and drying and juicing them ever since.  Khadizhat makes pies and cakes, I make apple sauce and cider, and we’ve both been dehydrating and juicing the living Dickens out of them to the point that I honestly wonder if one might not overdose on apple with such practices.  Alas though, the things are apparently healthy, in whatever quantity, and with the stores that now exist here it looks like we’ll be eating them still for a good long while.  In truth though we’re actually just now getting back to the processing of the harvest that got stashed beneath the stairs, since it got interrupted for a bit with a trip to the Amazon in Peru.  No new country mind you, just some more of the same ol’ same ol’ with our friends up there in the jungle, but this time also a lot more water than we are used to.  The river herself, which off the banks of our usual camp is already a mile and a half wide and normally a hundred and twenty or so feet deep, had come up thirty-plus feet above even her hundred year high-water mark, which totally flooded us out.  It’s truly hard to explain the scale of this river.  Actually, even for a guy like me who spends more days than not on a river of some sort or another, it is hard to even comprehend the Amazon’s scale, much less explain it.  Just to give it a try though for my North American friends who have never been there, we’re talking about a river that is over ten times the size of the MississippiThe area of the watershed itself encompasses more than 40% of the continent of South America.  I mean, seriously.  This is a RIVER.  And for folks like myself the fact that it is home to over two thousand five hundred known species of fish, a total greater than that of the entire Atlantic Ocean, is also of significant interest. Some ichthyologists even estimate that the actual total, if we get to know it, will likely be over six thousand. But anyway, I could go on for hours here…  Our usual camp, as I said, was flooded, and so we traveled inland to one of the old camps that I have spent a lot of time at over the years, and in fact even harvested plants from the property herself that we had been watching grow for a very long time. Plus we spent time in Iquitos proper, and took some nice photos as usual of the stray dogs and locals, not to mention my old adopted son Charlie, the monkey of Belen, who Sunay and I bought/adopted last year.  It was a great trip overall though, and now we are back in Trevelin and looking out at the snow capped and rapidly whitening Andes and wondering what happens next.  So in other words the question now,….

The tipping point of summer

So, I woke up this morning, and as I made my coffee and stared out the big bay window at the Andes, the sun that began to hit them from its rising in the East showed a definite skew towards the wavelengths of autumn. I know there will probably be another shift, some Indian summer, maybe even a couple weeks of the return to yellow and green wavelengths, but in the end it must be recognized that the thing has definitely started. Fall is coming. And soon enough the world will be red and orange again, for a while. This summer has been awesome in so many ways. On the work front I’ve had a good mix of the old reliable clients that come down pretty much every year, and a bunch of new folks that have turned out to be very welcome editions to the crew. The fishing has been very good as well, with the only hitch in our git-a-long being that water levels did not quite stay where they were predicted to, and many of our streams and rivers are running quite low. Hopefully though my perception of the impending autumn also means rain to come down at this level and snow up above, which should have things flowing right again in no time. In between the groups down at Tres Valles I’ve been working on the house a lot. As with most projects of this type you get done with 90% of it in a matter of months, and then the last ten percent takes ten times that long. All the little detail and finish work. I learned this lesson with a mahogany driftboat project years ago, and have found it to be the same with anything involving woodworking ever since. The whole thing is coming along quite nicely though, and I expect to have her finished before the season ends in May. Khadizhat is back down from her recent trip to Russia as well, and we’ve been out picking up all kinds of wild fruit for the kitchen as well as doing some impromptu instructional on general bushcraft such as changing Hilux tires and rowing in heavy winds. All fun stuff though. And in the meantime between groups I have been getting out to fish a bit both with Khadizhat and my new friend Matt Branton (not to mention Negra) on some waters that require long walk ins with the backpack and the tent, which is the kind of time I most enjoy passing in this world. So everyone send me an email now and let me know how things are going wherever you are in the world; I look forward to hearing from you soon!

View from the guide’s seatMatt and I on the little secret streamMore berry picking on the way to BolsonEvery girl should know how to change a tireAnd row a boat…Chess match after dinnerLittle dry fly guys still do it for me tooEspecially on my back-country secret streamsLago 3 has been fishing really well this yearWhich makes me a happy camperSo here’s a sunset, over and out.

Homecoming, censorship, and some very strange search trails…

Folks it had been a long time since I’d last seen my dog, but she was waiting for me when I landed at good old Esquel airport under sunny skies with light wind, as always, from the West. Patagonia! It had been too long. Eleven months I was away, and those of you who follow this blog can imagine from the travels undertaken in that time that it felt like much, much longer than it was. But here I was, and just in time to start the season. So far it’s been awesome. Plenty of water, and plenty of fish – just the way I like it. So far I’ve been mostly down in Rio Pico, guiding on all the waters around Tres Valles since a lot of my programs are running out of that lodge at present, and we’ve had an awesome bunch of clients and awesome fishing (not to mention some good old fashioned days on horseback). A bit of an odd cold snap in December and early January but that is not necessarily a bad thing, and the weather has ameliorated itself now anyway into the usual sunny skies and pretty light, so everyone is happy. This next item is pretty funny: I’ve been censored in Russia. Like, for real. I sent Khadizhat (who is in Russia at the moment) the link to that recent Itinerant Angler Podcast I did and when she tried to pull it up she got this: Says it’s pretty common there. But I was impressed! With myself, that is. If Putin feels threatened by my fishing prowess, it must be even greater than I thought it was. And so, I am out on the water almost every single day pulling on the oars and netting trout, and there’s not much else to tell. Sounds like a good time for another edition of the good old “Weird searches from Google Analytics reports that apparently landed people here on the blog” Enjoy!

I’m just a little bit fishy”– Well, I hope not! I hope I’m a lot fishy. I mean, it’s my job. Actually, I am a lot fishy, but not in any of the ways these weird searches below seem to be pointing to.

Afghanistan Trout Fishing” – I have heard that there were trout there, but if you are looking for an expert, I’ve not been yet.

عکسهای طالبان افغانستان” – Which means, according to Google translate – “Afghan Taliban Photography” – Seriously? Where is this stuff coming from? Between getting banned from the internet in Russia and this kind of searches popping up on the NSA’s data crawlers, I’m going to have black helicopters following me around any minute now.

Justin Witt, ok” – There we go! Please forward directly to NSA…

Before preparing a tea” – Before preparing a tea,… before preparing a tea… Well, I say go fishing. Before, after. Heck, tea is just as good streamside as it is at home anyway.

Adult video underwater handstand” – Oh boy. Here we go again.

You’d tube animal sex” – I guess these people actually do exist (I apologize if you are one of them). It looks like they just sit around all day in some dark little cubicle or basement and look up the weirdest things they can think of, which is usually pretty weird, and then somehow end up on my blog instead. Hopefully though at that point they see the light, walk outside, take the straightest line possible to a fly shop, and become born again into a world that makes some kind of sense.

Wrestling fetish underwater” – Is there seriously content on my blog that could somehow have led to this?

Testicle Castrating Mom Fetish Story” – Laughing too hard to type again…

Now everybody write me back and let me know how you are doing; I am headed back down to the estancia tomorrow but have internet almost every night; and I hope to hear from you soon!