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Russia: Moscow and Kamchatka Expedition - August 2007

Moscow

Moscow

Exploratory

Exploratory Floats

Sedanka

Sedanka

Petropavlovsk

Petropavlovsk

In May of 2007, Mike Michalak owner of The Fly Shop in Redding, California invited me to join his party of six Americans who had been planning a fly-fishing expedition for the past two years to the beautiful wilderness area of the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia. Kamchatka is in the eastern most province of Russia, across the Bering Straights from Alaska. The region was open to fly-fishing and hunting in the mid-nineties, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Before that it was seen as a strategic buffer zone in the defense of the USSR and was off-limits to travel and was primarily the provence of reindeer herders, trappers, and the military. It is a vast wilderness area about the size of California and it is one of the last frontiers remaining on the planet. Travel in Kamchatka is limited to one dirt road linking Petropavlovsk in the south to a northeastern seaport. Almost all other travel is limited to privately owned Cold War vintage m-8 helicopters.

The photographs on this page were taken by members of our fishing expedition. They include a short pictorial tour of Red Square in Moscow; a set of pictures from two exploratory float trips down rivers that had never been floated before and had only been fished by indigenous first-nation people, trappers and hunters; a set of pictures taken during the group's four-day stay at a permanent camp on the Sedanka River; and a brief photo-journal of our passage to Petropavlovsk for the return flight home.

A Westerner visiting Red Square can't help but recall the May Day parades that were featured on news programs during the Cold War. That was a day in which the leadership of the Soviet Union stood above the Square viewing troops, missiles, and other military might; thereby displaying their strength to the world. It was also a day in which one could see who was in favor with the leadership of the Kremlin by their position on the reviewing platform. Today's peaceful walk on the Square is a far cry from the mood provoked by those haunting decades of mutually-assured destruction. Many other building are within the Kremlin walls, including the stunning St. Basil's Cathedrals, the Spasskaya Tower, the Kremlin Senate Building, and several other cathedrals and churches. The Armory within the Kremlin walls, which contains the historical treasures of Russia, is also a popular destination.

Due to unreliable flights from Alaska to Kamchatka this year, our group had to fly a jet liner from the US to Moscow (12 1/2 hours), another jet from Moscow to Petropavlovsk (8 hours), and finally a jet helicopter north to Esso and then to our fishing destination in the wilderness (3 more hours). It was quite an ordeal, but made somewhat less anxiety provoking due to the fact that the helicopter mechanic that certifies the craft for each take-off accompanies the flight.

Our party of six fishermen, three guides (two Russian, one American), and a cooking-camp crew of two Russians floated seven days on the first virgin river, four days on the second, and finished our expedition in a set-camp on the Sedanka River in northwestern Kamchatka. Helicopters dropped us into each of these destinations and picked us up at the end of our stays. We had fantastic fishing with Rainbow Trout up to five pounds caught almost every day. Other fish were caught (spawning salmon, local Kundzha, and Dolly Varden), but the Rainbows were the sports-fish of choice.

Kamchatka lived up to the indigenous origins of its name, which means Ring of Fire. We were constantly in view of majestic volcanoes, some of which are still active. This is a region where indigenous people still herd reindeer and hunters and trappers are active. Its wilderness also boasts the largest Brown Bear in the world, which can grow as large as a ton and can stand up to 15 feet. Each year the big bear migrate to the rivers in search of Salmon, which they gorge upon in preparation for their long winter hibernation. They were, for the most part, afraid of humans and most ran away before we were able to see them.

This was a wonderful experience that left me respectful of the Russian people, appreciative of the new friends that I had made, dreaming of the great fly-fishing and nature adventure that I enjoyed, and longing to go back.

Gary Bacon -- August 2007