Ponoi River; A Day In Autumn

The leaves have now fallen from the birch trees and each morning has a has a cold bite to it. Unhooking my waders from the peg outside where I have stupidly left them, I see they have gathered a sheet of ice overnight. My wading boots are also frozen solid. While thawing my boots with hot water I take comfort in knowing I am fishing Hallway, a beat that has produced many great moments over the season.

Ponoi River, Atlantic Salmon, Russia, Aardvark McLeod

Now covered in an amour of Gore-Tex I amble down to the dock with Big Dan, a Russian and fellow guide who to those that know him calls himself Big Danger, ridiculous, I know. Although cold the day looks good and it shouldn’t be long before the low autumn light burns through mist that now clings to the river. Onboard Shere Khan I prepare the fuel tanks then start the engine, leaving it to rumble to warm up. Looking up the wooden planks I see Alistair walking down, he is an experienced salmon fisherman and will be joining me for the day.

After the initial greetings and how dos we organise and stow our kit ready for the fifteen minute drive upstream to Hallway. Alistair is sitting on a on the floor perched on a cushion with his hood up to sheltering from the bitter wind caused by the speed of the boat. I am not sheltered but stood up and facing forward, the wind bites as it hits my skin. With the journey being short this pain doesn’t last long and soon after stopping my cheeks and lips get the opportunity to defrost.

Ponoi River, Atlantic Salmon, Russia, Aardvark McLeod

Given it is now late September and each night the temperature is falling below zero the water is not surprisingly cold. Many of the broad shouldered Osenka’s that the Ponoi is known for have now entered the system and are now holding in deep slow water to ready themselves for the winter ahead. Finding the right speed of water at a suitable depth is the key to success at this point in the season.

Being an experienced salmon fisherman Alistair is well aware that this is not the time for a full floater, so it takes not time to convince him we need to fish deep. The first drop of the day is on the river left side of an area called the Wheel, this is a large mass of even current that draws between granite cliffs on one bank and a shallower slip on the other. I have anchored Shere Khan just off the main current in the smoother water that looks lightly to hold fish.

Ponoi River, Atlantic Salmon, Russia, Aardvark McLeod

Trying to feed rope through the pully is becoming increasingly annoying, the rope is being a pig as it is still frozen solid. Slowly the boat creeps down the channel. Alistair is pinging out a good line with his sink four and his orange and yellow Ponoi Nail is carefully surveying the water on both sides of the boat. This gentle rhythm continues for another half an hour before much of the rope is finished. Empty handed and still with a mass of water to cover I start the engine and pull in the sixty meters of rope let out.

With more warmth now in the air and still with time on our side we are both confident some good fishing will be had. Driving through the fast water at the top of the Wheel the boat arks right into the long straight that leads to Tent Point. This is what we call a banker, the one drop on the beat you are most confident will catch fish. To keep the relaxed mood it is always great to get the ball rolling early in the day and I am hoping Tent Point will provide to goods.

Ponoi River, Atlantic Salmon, Russia, Aardvark McLeod

Soon after dropping anchor I watch a gentle pluck on Alistair’s line, keeping the rod low and line clamped he waits patiently for further commitment…..nothing. Sending another cast we hold our breath in hope. With the line now upstream of where the fish has just taken Alistair strips gently to increase the speed of the swing. This time the pluck turns to draw and the line eases tight. The bend caused by raising the rod slowly confirms it is a good fish and not a grilse. Slowly and powerfully the salmon pulls line downstream. I watch the 14ft rod buckle into the cork with satisfaction, knowing my banker, Tent Point has done its trick. After ten minutes of going back and forth, twelve pounds of coin silver sits quietly in the net.

Now both relaxed, Alistair and I chat the morning away as he continues to fish well and with confidence. The salmon play their part in allowing us a steady stream of action up to lunch. With the boat beached and anchor placed behind a rock, we wander up a small path lined with stunted silver birch trees to our lunch tent. While sipping on wild mushroom soup we both embrace the heat of the wood burning stove and reminisce on the six bright fish Alistair has landed.

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Having covered much of the best water that the upstream part of Hallway has to offer, I decide to drive five minutes downstream to the top of the gravel bar. Although not as deep as the water surrounding Tent Point the current has a good speed and looks fishy. Sticking with the sink four we dissect the area with a series of fruitless drops. The lack of action gives enough evidence to suggest moving is a good idea. Unfished and looking good, Cuban Disco seems the logical choice. Cuban Disco is the mass of water that draws from downstream of the gravel bar, subtle currents expose the structure that lurks beneath.

We pinball from one drop to another, covering each channel and line of features in a bid to find fish. The effort produces a six pound shiny grilse, although welcome we are hoping to round the day off in style. After fishing through another twenty meters of water without luck I lift the anchor to reposition Shere Khan below a submerged line of boulders.

On dropping the anchor I am surprised to find how deep the water is. I had never fished the drop before and always chosing the water closer to the middle of the river. Still casting smoothly Alistair alternates between sides, methodically covering the water with ease.

Ponoi River, Atlantic Salmon, Russia, Aardvark McLeod

I continue to let the rope slide after swing, helping Alistair to cover fresh ground. As his line settles onto the dangle, I prepare to feed rope once again, only to stop to the call of hold on. Locking the rope off, I stand to watch the line tighten ever so slowly. Once firm, Alistair lifts into the bulk of the fish, it replies by moving upstream with purpose, slowly drawing line from his clicking reel. Then arching the to the right the salmon moves into faster water and tears downstream. With the reel singing and backing now showing we are losing this fight, running to the bow I prepare to drop the anchor and follow. Before committing I see Alistair has been able to turn the fish and begin to get some form of control. Despite other powerful runs we seem to have the upper hand and after a further fifteen minutes of uncertainty a seventeen pound cock fish slips into the net.  

The last twenty minutes we use to chat, relax, and appreciate a great day on an extraordinary river. Driving back, the cold still bits my skin, but it seems less painful than earlier. Helping, is the success of the day, the thought of a hot sauna and knowing that tonight, there will be vodka on the guides table.

If you would like more information then please do not hesitate to contact Olly Thompson or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.