I have just returned from the River Umba on the south coast of the Kola Peninsula. I fished it in the late 90s for a number of years in June and July but I had always wanted to fish it in the autumn. The Umba got bad press when the Loop boys pulled out in the mid 2000s – there was increased poaching activity and the catches became very inconsistent. It was also known as “that river with big grayling”.

Well some things have changed and others have not – firstly the road from Murmansk to Umba has improved enormously so it now only takes four hours opposed to five and a half. The four hours included a 20 minute pit stop in the great metropolis of Kandalasha on the route out where a welcome can of Carlsberg was produced followed by a not so welcome plastic beaker of Russian Brandy! Our driver was done for speeding on the way back and that also took 20 minutes to sort out. One of the major pluses about Umba is you don’t need to pay for expensive Choppers.

The Russian proprietors have got the message about poaching and now employ a private security firm to patrol the river. They have also built a Lodge above the mouth of the river for Russian anglers and they can keep an eye on any suspicious activity in the environs. Paying Russian fishermen tend to be happy catching a couple of fish a day and they are not too bothered if it is a salmon, pike, trout or grayling! It is more about the party and there is no finer lodge than the upstream Umba Lodge to have one in. The lodge is comfortable with single and twin bedrooms with ensuite shower, loo and basin. There is electric light and heating, satellite TV and sadly both mobiles and blackberries work. The food was excellent and a roaring log fire was most welcome after a day’s hard graft on the river.

You are never going to catch Varzuga-like numbers of fish at Umba but one is going there for the quality of fish and the beauty of the scenery. The week before us saw 59 fish landed to five rods. My party of five caught 50 for our week with one of the rods missing two days. 80% of the fish were spanking fresh with sealice on, and the biggest were around 20 pounds. The majority of fish were between 12 and 16 pounds with a fair number lost in the powerful Krivetz tributary.

The Krivetz is serious off road territory and you have to walk upto 35 minutes to reach some pools. It is a great programme for those who like to work for their fish. Some days you may blank but others you may catch four bars of silver and they can be a serious handful in this powerful section of the system. The scenery in the autumn was more stunning than I was expecting with the aspens, rowans and birches all turning at the same time. Most of the migratory birds had left for warmer climes but the white-tailed eagle was much in evidence along with some extremely fresh bear droppings!

The Umba is not for everybody but it is a comparatively cheap way of fishing in Russia for those who like comfort along with a bit of adventure. You are certainly unlikely to catch ten to fifteen fresh autumn fish back in the UK to your own rod for less than £3,000. And yes- you will catch a large number of grayling and some may be as big as three pounds! All in all a great trip and well worth considering for 2010.

Travel from the UK via St Petersberg to Murmansk (modern Boeing aircraft) or via Moscow is certainly cheaper (c. £550) than the Helsinki Finnair charter at $1,400. On the return leg I had time to visit the Catherine Palace and have lunch in the Tower restaurant which is a great spot 20 minutes from the Airport.