So you’ve succumbed to the stories and reports of the fantastic fly fishing and booked a trip to Kamchatka, or maybe you’re embarking on a journey to a similarly remote fishing destination. Do you have everything you need? We can help.
Packing for such an adventure can be a daunting and intimidating task. By now, you probably have received a mile long packing list of items that you may or may not need. It is very easy to overpack, and minimalists, in an attempt to shed some frivolous pounds, often skip a few necessities. The last thing you want to do is forget a key item that could put a damper in you trip, so here are a few things that are “must haves” when en route to the Motherland and similar locations around the globe.
#1 Dry Bags/Waterproof Camera Gear
As fisherman, we all have one thing in common: we are always around water. At any point in your travels you are susceptible to rain encounters, and on some float trips, your bag may find itself resting at the bottom of a self bailing raft. A soaked sleeping bag or a waterlogged camera full of priceless multimedia memories is a sure way to put a damper in your fun. Waterproof is the only way to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you. Here are some items that will keep your belongings dry and properly functioning.
This duffel is the perfect item to pack all of your necessities into one easy to carry bag. It fits all 4 piece single-hand rod tubes, and can even accommodate 13′ 4 piece spey rod tubes.. Never again will you have to worry about opening your bag to find that your nice fluffy, down sleeping bag has become water logged from resting at the bottom of the boat or weathering a rainstorm.
From fishing for the Kundzha of Kamchatka to chasing California Steelhead, this bag is with us every day. It works great as a dry bag in the drift boat or as a carry-on it transit to camp. Either way you can be sure that all of your belongings will be dry when you reach your destination. The strap system on this bag is extremely comfortable and bears a heavy load with ease. Water bottle holders on either side ensure you stay hydrated. This spacious pack with the roll top closure is much less expensive than its’ zippered cousins.
Olympus TG-4 16 MP Waterproof Digital Camera $350
The clearest, most compact, waterproof camera we have seen. Countless cameras have been reduced to nothing more than a paper weight and the memories inside have been lost forever by a simple dunk in a river or a pocket filled with rain, but this camera will help your documentation of the trip of a lifetime make it safely home with you.
For the photographer that has more of an investment to protect, check out these cases. They’re fully waterproof and lockable. This is what we use to protect the thousands of dollars we have in camera equipment. The are a few different sizes and ways you can customize the inside to fit all of your camera gear. I have mine setups so that all of my extra batteries, chargers, lenses, and filters fit into the same box as my camera body. This is a must have for the serious fly fishing photographer. We highly recommend the brighter colors available as they are less apt to be left on a gravel bar after a shoot or wonder off in an airport somewhere along the line.
#2 Mice & Hooks
One of the most used and often effective patterns in the rivers of Kamchatka is the mouse; however, not all mice are created equal. Many are tied with other species in mind, such as bass, pike, and other large mouthed creatures, and such flies come adorned with very large hooks with extra wide gaps. While these are great for warm water specimens, they can do great harm to the soft palate of a rainbow trout and can even kill them. I often tell people, “what do you think a mouse does when inside the mouth of a rainbow trout?” Do you think it goes down the gullet without a fight? The claws and teeth of a mouse can wreak havoc on the inside of a trout, so more often that not these rainbows hammer the fly hard in an effort to kill or at least stun its’ prey. The larger fish with their oversized mouths often go for the one time approach with the attitude that a mouse can do all it wants from the inside of my belly. When this happens to a fly with an oversized hook, the result is often a gill hooked, bleeding fish destined for death. In short, there is no room for wide gap hooks, and when I am guiding I insist that the only patterns used have upturned hooks such as the Morrish 2.0 and the favorite, Mr. Hankey. Don’t even bother bringing the others, or else you will have an angry guide on your hands and even worse, dead rainbows.
For those of you who do not know, there is a trick for those rare moments when a fly has been lodged in a particularly sensitive location in the mouth. The back of the throat is one of the most delicate parts of a trouts anatomy and it contains one of the highest concentrations of blood in its body. Probing around in an attempt to retrieve your fly worth a few dollars can be all that a trout can handle before it goes belly up. In an effort to save the fish you can simply cut the tippet as close to the fly as possible without doing further damage to the fish. Some would argue that this may not work, especially when considering the bulk of a fly tied of foam and fur, like a mouse. Well let me tell you, it works. One of our good friends and fellow guide in Russia once witnessed a particularly large trout come to hand with very little more than a head shake. Upon landing the fish and preparing it for release by removing the hook, he found that the fish had been not even hooked in the mouth, but in the ear of a previously consumed mouse that had been cut off by another angler. The fish was not only okay, but he was prepared to eat another mouse. How’s that for an aggressive fish!
Another rule that many guests fail to adhere to is the pinched barbs rule. It is mandatory that all guests use a pair of forceps to pinch down the barbs of their hooks, zero exceptions! We use this rule in every aspect of our guiding. Rogue wind gusts, bad cast, and the unexpected can happen at any point, and barbless hooks could be the difference between saving an eye or losing your sight for the rest of your life. For this reason, you’ll never see us fishing without a pair of polarized sunglasses.
#3 Polarized Sunglasses
Arguably the most valuable piece of equipment one can bring on any fishing trip. Not only do they cut the glare that conceals the location of many fish or the fish themselves, but they also protect our eyes. As mentioned above, not a day goes by where we are without them. It’s astonishing how many of our guests show up without the proper eye protection, and if there’s anything you can take away from this post, this is it. Invest in a quality pair of glasses and become a better angler.
Not all sunglasses are created equal, and it is very important that you invest in a pair with proper ultra-violet (UV) blocking qualities. Brands such as Costa Del Mar, Smith, and Maui Jim offer the protection your eyes need on and off the water. Many inferior products often lead your brain to think that they’re being protected, while your dilated pupil allows harmful rays to burn your retina. Do your eyes a favor, and invest in the best glasses your wallet can buy. We use Costa Del Mar sunglasses every day; they offer the best in UV blockage, they use high contrast lenses, and are extremely durable. They are the best polarized glasses money can buy.
There are 2 types of polarized sunglasses to consider when investing in you vision: glass, and plastic. Plastic is a lighter, more price conscious option, while glass is more durable, clear, and optically correct. Sure glass is more expensive but you’ll find that such lenses will last years longer than the high quality plastic.
The Costa Del Mar 580 lenses are the clearest, lightest, most durable lenses we have ever used and there are two that we would highly recommend: Green Mirror Copper and Sunrise. The Green Mirror lens is a high quality everyday driver that we use in virtually all light conditions. The high contrast this lens offers allows your eye to see better on the water, highlighting natural tones and is great for sight fishing. It’s amazing how fish stand out with of pair of these glasses on. The other tint that we cannot live without is the Sunrise, which is great for those low-light, cloudy or rainy days where utilizing the available light is paramount in the spotting of fish and underwater structure. Become a better fisherman by investing in the best eyewear you can.
#4 Coping with Skeeters and the Sun
One question we constantly get about traveling to Russia or the Alaskan Bush is “How are the bugs?” While the last few years have been quite mild, the amount of bugs can be staggering, having you running for cover if you’re not prepared. Good mosquito repellent is gold in such places and the guides often hoard such gifts at the end of the week. There is no place for flowery scented varieties that are kid friendly. When you want them to go away, you better have the good stuff.
100% DEET has been a staple for decades and until recently has been the only option to consider. It is without question the most effective bug deterrent on the market and I wouldn’t even think about leaving a bottle out of my packing list. We have seen many flylines, sunglasses, and other plastic items get melted by such products and it is important to apply properly and sparingly. A couple sprays on the back of your hands should be enough to coat your wrists, neck, and face areas. Don’t forget those sneaky areas like your temples and chin. Also, a quick spray to the under-side of your hat brim can be enough to keep the bugs out of your face. Remember to alway avoid the mouth and eye areas as this product is toxic, and always remove your sunglasses before applying.
There is another product out there known as Picaridin that will not melt plastics, but the application process above is good to adhere to, as this is also a chemical that is not good to inhale or ingest. You may have to look a little harder, but you can more than likely find some at your nearest sporting goods store. While not as potent as DEET, Picaridin is a friendlier option when the swarms are light.
We have had some guests who suffer much worse allergic reactions to mosquitos, resulting in long lasting swelling and days worth of painful bites. These guys took every step possible to keep these flying vampires from ruining their trip, including head nets (which when they are really bad could be a life saver) and clothes soaked in Permethrin, a chemical used to wash into your clothes, giving protection that last for multiple washes. It doesn’t keep them away from you, but what it does do is keeps them from biting through the back of your shirt while you’re tying on a new fly or landing a fish. Simms Fishing Products offers a few BugStopper shirts and pants made with fabric that is impregnated with a similar technology that has proved it’s value on and off the water, time and time again, especially while turning wrenches on motors or filling gas tanks. They love to get you when your guard is down. We have seen these products work their magic first hand…the land briefly and then fly away.
Being on the water means that you are often dealing with two suns, the obvious one in the sky and the reflection of it off the surface of the water. Sun protection is often over looked and should always be included in your fishing bag. Be sure to invest in a high quality sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB blockers. These ultra-violet rays can not only cause skin cancer, but they can also lead to wrinkles and signs of early aging. We are fans of function over fashion, but this is one product that encompasses both fronts. Many dermatologists we have had the pleasure of having in our boat have said use zinc or quality brands like Neutrogena. It may be a little more pricey, but it will protect your skin better than any other product. We spend far too many days under the sun to use anything else but the best. We use Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch, because it doesn’t leave our hands greasy with slippery oar handles or a loose grip on our fly rod. Be sure to throw in a few tubes of sun blocking chopstick into your bag as well. I always have one in the front pocket of my waders.
Some fisherman have adopted another approach to keeping the sun from baking their skin, using protective layers of clothing, rather than topical sunscreens. Simms offers a sun blocking option they call a Sungaiter that is worn over the face, ears, and neck, and they even have the BugStopper Sungaiter with Insect Shield® technology that even the toughest of mosquitos won’t bite through, while giving you a UPF50 rating of sun protection. Pretty cool if you ask us. Looking to keep your hands from getting fried? Check out the BugStopper Sunglove. For searing sun and biting bugs these half-finger gloves pack UPF50 protection and proven Insect Shield® technology.
Click here to shop a complete list of Simms Fishing Products that offer this double dose of protection.
This section may not apply to you, but some would consider it a major issue if there was no alcohol in their fishing camp. Well, rest assured that the Russian guide community is there to look out for you.
Vodka is to Russia as Apple Pie is to America…or perhaps Bourbon would be a better example. Either was you can bet that there will be vodka available for purchase at each and every camp, but it’s always a good idea to at least check with your booking agent to ensure that there will be enough waiting for you there. Don’t be surprised if there is a shortage or lack of ice, and in most cases don’t ask for a chilled bottle. It is customary for vodka to be imbibed at a room temperature in shot form. There is an art to tasting vodka, much like tequila with lime and salt. First a deep breath, down goes the shot, insert some sort of food, swallow, and exhale. Popular food items vary on individual taste, but apples, oranges, fresh greens, cured pork fat, candy, and just about anything edible can be used. Try this the next time you have a taste of your favorite spirit, and you just might be surprised how great it tastes. You can forgo the food side of things if you prefer. I think that might be a vodka specific thing.
I encourage you to delve into the culture of Russia and give vodka a go, but for some that just won’t cut it. If you plan on bringing your own brand, you can always stop at a duty free shop along the way and pick up a bottle or two of the old reliable, but some are very specific as to what kind of alcohol they want. For such times it is necessary to get rid of the glass bottle and adopt a different vessel, one that is plastic or aluminum. Plastic options such as Nalgene Bottles work great, but they retain the flavor of the booze you put in them. A better mousetrap that we prefer to use are those made by Klean Kanteen out of Chico, CA. They’re aluminum so they don’t taste like the last trips Tanqueray you used to make those Gin & Tonics and they are durable, so you can be sure your drink makes it safely to the lodge and your sleeping bag doesn’t smell like a distillery. No matter the receptacle, be certain you duct tape the lid on tight so it doesn’t loosen mid-flight.
The word for beer in Russian is Pivo, and for those beer drinkers out there, the Kamchatka natives are on your side. Vodka is a staple, but when the weather gets too warm, they have a hard time drinking anything but beer. You can typically buy a variety of beers in camp for around $5-10 per 16oz. can (river prices can run high), some local and some from Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic. Remember how we were talking about how ice is limited if available at all, well refrigeration is on the same level. Don’t go into camp and have hopes of an ice cold 12 pack waiting for you. A good trick to combat this issue is a mesh bag that can be tied off to a boat or on the bank where your cans can be cooled to at least around 40 degrees. That’ll be sure to make your mountains blue.
#6 Electric Converter
As with most international destination, the electrical outlets of Russia are a bit different that the ones we have in the United States. If you plan on charging your phone, camera, iPad, etc., it is necessary that you have the correct converter. There are many options out there and if you do enough traveling it may be a good idea for you to purchase a one-sized-fits-all model; however, we have seen some outlets that don’t receive these always that well. I would always bring a second option if electricity is important in your trip. Whatever the model you bring, be sure that it is compatible with all Europlug outlets.
Remember: some trips may not offer electricity every night as generators sometimes act up or other more important use of it may be needed. Bring spare batteries for your camera equipment and leave town fully charged if you can.
#7 Flash Drive
It’s almost impossible to consider a fly fishing trip of a lifetime without proper photographical documentation, and nearly everyone involved these days carries a minimum of one camera, not to mention a GoPro. And since being a fly fishing guide overlaps so well with photography, virtually every accomplished guide has an affinity for taking photos or is a professional to one degree or another. This doesn’t mean leave your camera equipment at home, expecting that you will have your very own personal photographer with you at all times, but it does mean that there may be some other moments captured that you would like to have a copy of. Sure email is a great option to share and receive photos of the trips, but waiting for your guides season to end can seem like an eternity, and I’ll be the first to say that when I get home after a 3-4 month season without technology and modern communication, the last thing I want to do is sit down at my computer and diligently answer my emails and send out photos. Long story short, don’t wait until getting home to ask for the images. I bring my laptop everywhere, so that I have a place to process and store the photos I take during the trip and am more than happy to share my images with my guests. Be sure to bring a flash drive.
A flash drive is data storage device that plugs into a USB port on the side of todays laptops and is a great way to bring the images you want home with you. Think of them as the modern floppy disk. They are small and very lightweight and come is a variety of memory capacities from hundreds of megabytes (MB) up to 2 terabytes (TB). Considering that most high definition image files are typically around 5-10 MB, a few hundred photos of the trip could eat up a lot of space very quickly. Be sure you bring one that has enough capacity for the images and/or videos you think you’ll need. The drives are relatively inexpensive these days and I would looking into one between 8 and 64GB.
Be sure that the one you purchase is compatible with your laptop. There are a few different varieties available and some slightly older computers will not support the newest generations (USB 3.0). When in doubt, the USB 2.0 versions will work with almost all modern models, but do your homework.
#8 Travel Insurance/Passport Copies
Whenever traveling there are a myriad of things that can go wrong that no amount of money in the world can change: delayed flights, inclement weather, theft, etc. A little hiccup can translate into a large loss in a hurry. Travel insurance can save you money if the helicopter is not able to fly into camp or recover the cost of being rerouted on your flight home. Ask your travel agent for more information.
Losing your passport can translate into a big deal, turning your return home into a bit of a challenge. I make sure that in all of my bags there is a photocopy of my passport, just in case the worst becomes reality. Be prepared for the unexpected and though unexpectedly inconvenient, those mishaps will have as little of an influence in your travels as possible.
#9 Miscellaneous Fishing Gear
Here are a few small fishing tackle pieces that I wouldn’t dare travel without. Most of these I have in the front pocket of my waders every single day.
Durable, abrasion-resistant, and inexpensive. There is not a time when you will find me without a spool or two of Maxima 12 or 15lb. From steelhead to streamers, Maxima is a necessity.
Jumping out of jet boats, trudging through dense forests, and fending off grizzly bears is hard on waders, and the unexpected hole in the waders is a possibility. Fortunately the good people at Loon Fishing Products have a product to combat this issue. Apply in the shade and it cures in the sun. The process takes seconds. Yet another product that is always in my waders
Gremlin Removable Split Shot ($Cheap!)
Floating lines are standard fare for the rivers and streams of Kamchatka, but sometimes you need to get you fly a little deeper, or perhaps that spun deer hair headed fly just won’t sink. For that reason, I wouldn’t be caught dead without a pack in my waders. I like to carry the removable BB and 3/0 sizes.
It’s difficult to fly fish without a fly rod. Rugged destinations tend to be tough on equipment, and I’ve have seen my fair share of broken rods on and off the water. Why do you think they come with such great warranties? Always plan on rod breakage and carry at a very minimum 1 or 2 spare rods. Scott Fly Rods A4 series make for some fantastic options that are inexpensive, but be careful, it’s smooth action a lightweight feel just might make it into the starting position.
#10 Coffee & Hot Sauce
This is for the people who cannot function without a hot cup of joe in the morning or a little heat in their Cheerios. Hot water, instant coffee, and tea are about all you’ll find at the breakfast table and I’m making no promises that there’ll be a coffee maker or french press. One thing is for sure, you can always make room for your favorite roast in your bag, but make sure that it is already ground. Some die hard coffee drinkers have packed plastic french presses, but cowboy coffee can always be a back up plan.
Another great option that I have seen work well and have tested myself are the single serving instant packets. Some are made by companies like Starbucks and Pete’s, but one of my favorites is made by Trader Joe’s. The great thing about their packets is that they come with powdered creamer inside. Sometimes cream is available, but on the odd occasion it is not, Trader Joe’s has you covered.
Russian food is actually quite delicious with common themes of fish, dill, and savory meats. Cucumber, tomato, and onion salads are on the table almost every day, and the Russians are professional soup makers. I’ve heard the food described as bland, but I disagree completely. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try something different in your travels. There are some chili sauces to be enjoyed there, but they are much sweeter than the often vinegary spicy condiments that we have in the U.S. If you are a fan of spice in your foods, then I would urge you to bring along a bottle of your favorite and share it with the group.
The Secret Ingredient…Sssshhhh!!!
One of the best aspects of adventure travel with a fly rod is the ultimate connection, the most unconnected to modern communication possible. No Wifi, no emails, no text messages, no business, no board meetings, no obligations, no reservations, no uber, no tee times, no dropping the kids off at school…just fishing and the way it was meant to be enjoyed. And so we end with one of the greatest bits of information this blog has to offer: acknowledge the lack of modern multimedia and cherish the times where you are expected to not perform.
Live in the present and have a great trip!
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