Fish Bites Man

This once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Kola Peninsula, previously off-limits to foreigners, certainly doesn't come cheap. But for serious anglers, it's the ultimate fishing experience.
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Rynda River
CAST AWAY: The aptly named Rynda Lodge over looks the Rynda River (courtesy, The Northern Rivers Company)

I saw the hit coming, but it still startled me, strong and immediate as the day's gray rain was soft and constant. I'd abandoned that particular cast and was merely reeling in to move to another spot, the fly a skittering afterthought across the surface, when a wave swelled the black river and a gaping mouth emerged to grab my willie gun. But this nine-pound female Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) also grabbed my imagination and left in her wake something more wonderful: the reality of salmon ecology and my part in it.

One of the hundreds of thousands of eggs deposited at least three years prior in the gravel beds of the Litza River four miles inland from the Barents Sea and about 500 feet up in the coastal mountains of the Kola Peninsula in arctic Russia, she was born of fresh water, had survived smolthood, and had grown to adulthood over several winters at sea. She had roamed under the polar ice cap like a lioness on the Serengeti, maybe as far away as Greenland and the Faroe Islands, a single-minded predator eating prawns, smaller fish, and krill. Now she'd cycled back.

Until this moment, I'd been Spey casting dutifully for days, rhythmically arching my line through the air and curling it over in a fluid succession of waves, each crest breaking onto the river unanswered, just rushing river sounds and the whip of tippet.

Atlantic salmon can spend up to seven years at sea, sometimes reaching 40 to 50 pounds and growing to four feet before returning to the river where they were spawned to themselves reproduce, a fresh water/salt water loop known as anadromous migration. They are also iteroparous, meaning they don't die after spawning, and spend the following winter under the frozen water to slip downriver, brown and spent, in the spring, passing that year's ocean-fresh fish as they move up.

My fish ran and jumped and sandbagged for about ten minutes, flashing silver and fanning her dark dorsal fin and powerful tail, until trusty Andrey, the Russian guide, netted her on a reckless charge to shore. Her belly distended with eggs and her scales bright silver and speckled with sea lice, sure signs of a recent return from sea, my torpedo of a fish was bursting with purpose, motion made manifest. Clearly as much a part of the river as the water itself or of the ocean as the daily tidal surge, she belonged to this wilderness in a way that my genes can only distantly remember.

Even though I caused her a frantic episode, my fish stilled something in me. I released her to the river, joining in her conservation and perhaps in my own. I belong to a fish.

Published: 7 Apr 2008 | Last Updated: 17 May 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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