Kamchatka: Fishing the Savan

Fishing on the Savan river on the Kamchatka Peninsula is truly about being immersed in the ecosystem of the river.

We drove down bumpy gravel roads, where we were then dropped off at the edge of a grassy field, and, when given the signal, approached a house-sized helicopter. Bags, people, and a dog piled in, filling up the spacious cabin. We took off, shaking as the propellers churned and leaving behind a series of wooden sheds that quickly turned into tiny dots below. A container of gasoline leaked somewhere in the aircraft and the smell filled the space. I started to feel nauseous five minutes into the forty minutes trip.

Throughout the flight we were glued to the small round windows, mystified by the varying shades of green below portioned into large swaths of land by meandering rivers. We all freaked out at the first bear sighting, crowding around each other and pointing. In the next thirty minutes, the cities disappeared and we continued to see bears all along the way. The helicopter is gnarly, the land is wild, the bears are plenty and this was already proving to be an incredible place and an amazing adventure.

Day one of our journey on the Savan River in Kamchatka continued with landing on the riverbank, unloading tents and food, and then laying on top of our bags as the helicopter pilot took off with a wave. We were more than 150 kilometers from the nearest town – basically very far from civilization. We left our tents for later and began to construct our fishing poles and then followed our fishing guide, Dima, upriver.

I pull in a 20-inch rainbow trout and I am ecstatic.

Dima looks at our rods and suggests that we use streamers to fish, instead of the mouse shaped “flies” that we expected to use. The streamers are heavier, they move underwater instead of floating on top and are meant to attract trout in deeper water. We are a little awkward in our first casts, figuring out how to share the river, how to recognize the “buckets” or deeper pools where the fish are most likely to be. A huge salmon jumps at my fly, the first I’ve ever seen in a river and I can’t help but stumble backwards, startled. At the time, Mark, our crew and the guides are out of eyesight. I likely spent the next few minutes reminding myself aloud, “it’s just a fish” and continuing to cast in the area, though I realize my hands are actually trembling and I can hear my heartbeat. I think I was more afraid to catch the fish than not to. After a few more casts I wander back around the corner to my guides and try to explain that this river is obviously filled with sea monsters not fish, they laugh and translate into Russian for our older guide, Anatoli, who doesn’t speak English.

Not long after, Mark has a fish on, the first fish of the trip and we are excited. Everyone is milling around and I have a GoPro under the water trying to capture the moment. Kamchatka is the spawning grounds for over 25% of the world’s salmon. The rivers are epic and varied. In some areas, the Savan is ankle high and in others I’m wading in to my navel, wary to go any further. That first day I hook into a tree branch and the bottom of the river before I hook into any fish.

Eventually though I have a fish on and as I reel it in it jumps and Dima says, “It’s a rainbow, a big one.” I reel it in, learning to keep the tip of the rod up, let the fish run when it wants to and slowly backing up into shallower water, so it’s easier to try to get the fish into the net. I pull in a 20-inch rainbow trout and I am ecstatic, we take a quick picture and then release the trout back into the water. The games have begun.

After a few hours, we head back to set up camp and eat dinner. On the river, we have early nights and early mornings so sunset pretty much means bedtime. The routine begins in earnest on Day 2. Wake up, pack up, load rafts and climb aboard. We stop to fish choppy water in the middle, deep water on the sides of islands and under overhanging trees along the riverbanks.

I looked down below and hoped that someday I’d be able to come back.

That first morning, like most mornings to come, we saw our first bear, peeking out from a nearby island, before it was even time for lunch. The bears tend to hardly notice us, swatting at the salmon in the water near the shore. The bear pauses long enough to look our way. Long enough for me to get a good view of the large claws doing the swiping, but then turns its attention back to the task at hand: lunch.

Being on the river is truly being immersed in the ecosystem of a river; the salmon are swimming upriver to spawn, the bears are fishing the salmon, the trout are following the salmon to eat their eggs and we are there to fish the trout. Standing fifty meters from a bear is something I never thought I’d do.

When we eventually flew out of the Savan a week later, after some brilliant catches, great food, even better vodka, and a new love of fishing, I looked down below and hoped that someday I’d be able to come back.

Faith BriggsFaith Briggs is an avid runner and documentary film maker from Brooklyn, New York. She’s passionate about sharing contemporary stories from diverse communities and can always be found with her camera, whether in the photographer’s pit during New York’s fashion week or in the cloud forests in Honduras. She lives by the motto #goodvibesonly and loves to show that women and girls, quite literally, run the world. You can follow Faith’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram