Around-the-world trip turns into fishy ordeal
By Charlie Meyers, Denver Post Outdoor Editor
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Given benefit of time passing, Nigel Pashley can look upon his fishing trip to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula with something bordering on dispassion. When the mood is right, he even might reflect on the bizarre events that carried him an extra halfway around the world as a point of interest, the way a man might examine his own ear were he to find it floating in a pickle jar.
But it took awhile.
All Pashley, a Denver surgeon with a weakness for fishing and wild places, ever wanted was to catch a few steelhead amid the exotic circumstances of a place that during the past dozen years has emerged as one of the world's most desirable angling destinations.
Kamchatka, an 800-mile-long peninsula wedged out from the mainland of far eastern Siberia between the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, is to present-day trout and salmon enthusiasts what Alaska must have been during the early part of the past century.
Fantastic populations of salmon, steelhead and trout - an enlarged mirror image of what one finds in Alaska and British Columbia on the opposite side of the northern Pacific rim - join with the mystique of active volcanoes and the fascination of a peeking beyond what formerly was the Iron Curtain to form an uncommon angling adventure.
Along with several other Americans, Pashley paid roughly $6,000 for a trip sponsored by the Portland-based Wild Salmon Center that featured six days of fishing for steelhead on the Utolok River on Kamchatka's upper northwest coast. The Center uses angler revenues as a basis for projects designed to lead Russian officials, sometimes kicking and screaming, toward a protocol of conservation. Save for a certain amount of poaching, angling pressure remains minimal.
That the trip also included an exceptional amount of travel, by jet from Denver to Seattle to Anchorage to the Kamchatka center of Petropavlovsk and then on a 4 1/2-hour helicopter jaunt to the river, only added to the adventure - or so Pashley thought.
The first inkling things might not be quite right came with the rain that followed them to camp. After 12 hours of downpour, the Utolok, which traces an intricately braided channel through unsettled tundra, turned the color of hot chocolate.
Fishing in the murk, Pashley hooked a couple of steelhead during the first two days, landing one. Then the commissar arrived.
"This fisheries officer came to our camp by boat in the company of two armed men, all in a belligerent state," Pashley recounted. "He asked, 'How many steelhead you catch? Two? Hah. I kill 800.' He gestured toward the mouth of the river, where I presumed he had set nets. They're still dealing with a lot of problems in their conservation efforts."
But the real crunch didn't come until the end of the week, when the helicopter crew announced they wouldn't fly back to Petropavlovsk at the scheduled time because of bad weather.
"This meant we'd miss the once-a-week flight back to Anchorage. Worse, we couldn't even stay on the river to fish because the permits are strictly allocated months in advance."
With his appointment calendar spinning wildly, Pashley opted to fly nine time zones west to Moscow, then catch a direct flight back to Seattle. That's when he became intimately equated with the problems of Russian air travel. Following a running dispute with Aeroflot managers that resulted in an additional $1,560 payment, he found himself sitting behind a very large Russian man and an even larger woman.
"They began guzzling wine glasses of vodka topped off by cognac. Then the man began pawing and fondling the woman, just before he threw up all over himself. You can imagine the smell for the next nine hours of the flight."
Arriving in Seattle, Pashley waited more than two hours for his luggage to be off-loaded to clear customs, causing a missed flight to Denver. When he finally arrived, he had been up 39 hours without a break.
"I always wanted to go around the world, just not this trip," he said. "Meanwhile my office was going crazy. They had to cancel 12 surgeries and 40 appointments with patients."
Apart from what might be termed a mixed experience, Pashley's net return was a single steelhead of 17 pounds.
"Based on dollars per pound, it's not a trip I'd recommend. Besides, it was raining so hard, I didn't even get a picture."
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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