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Guide Owen Plair with a first day Ponoi River Atlantic Salmon

If you're not already familiar with Western Russia's Ponoi River (also spelled Ponoy), you should be. The Ponoi is the antithesis of virtually every other Atlantic Salmon river you've heard of. The Ponoi doesn't produce tales of fly fishing for Atlantic Salmon that you're used to, with fishermen in Eastern Canada or the British Isles heading off to the river for a week, casting a billion times, and landing a single fish or counting the success of the trip in tugs. Days on the Ponoi are often measured in dozens of fish caught.

The Ponoi is a pristine river, free of commercial fishing or significant human influence, which flows through the Kola peninsula, eventually dumping into the White Sea almost 800 miles north of Moscow. Getting there isn't easy, and it isn't cheap, but it provides most that visit it a sure-fire bet at the fishing trip of a lifetime.

Want to fish here and see no one else for three days? We thought so.

It's Memorial Day, so we're phoning it in a bit. Still, we're happy to highlight some of our most popular posts of all time. These posts were a big hit when they first went up and have been drawing readers steadily since they were published. Hopefully, that's because they include some useful information or are at least entertaining to read. Otherwise, your guess is as good as ours.


Backcountry Fly Fishing

This short essay serves as an introduction to backcountry fly fishing and why it is worth your trouble to stray from the parking lot at your nearby stream. You can also use the links at the bottom of the article to find all of our other backcountry fly fishing related content. There's more to come this spring and summer, as well.

One of the vast number of streams and rivers that flows through the Tongass National Forest (photo: Mark Brennan).

The Tongass of Southeast Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States and the world’s largest remaining tract of temperate rainforest. Comprised of a dizzying 18,000 miles of streams and rivers which annually produce tens of millions of salmon, it has been described as “a place where trees grow salmon and salmon grow trees”, a depiction which finds its roots more in science than in prose.

The temperate rainforest of the Tongass National Forest is the last of its kind. Similar habitat in the lower 48 and British Columbia has been divided or destroyed, the result of more than a century of logging and other human development. In contrast, the Tongass remains vibrant, playing a vital role both economically and ecologically.

2011 saw record salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska, 80% of which is covered by the forests of the Tongass. 73.5 million salmon were harvested, representing one third of salmon harvested from the entire Pacific Rim. A 2007 study determined the economic value of the Tongass commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and related activities to be almost $1 billion dollars annually. In addition to its economic importance, the Tongass is also the lynchpin of native Southeastern Alaskan cultures.

Right?

There's a quote that suggests something to the effect of "your own advice is the hardest pill to swallow," a quote which I've realized holds some significant merit. Very recently, I published an article entitled Brookies for Beginners, in which I suggested that beginner fly fishermen, those that are faced with the frustrations and defeats presented by the challenges confronting the novice angler, head for the less demanding and often rewarding waters of mountain brook trout streams. So one might expect, during the early parts of a season in which my time to hit the water has been limited and what time I have had has brought frustrations of its own due to my repeated choice to snobbishly seek wild trout on technical waters, that I might have heeded the advice I felt comfortable to give to others.


Right?

Instead, given the opportunity for an afternoon on the water, I chose to visit for the first time one of my home state's most notoriously difficult and demanding waters. Falling Springs Branch Creek is one of the most storied streams on the east coast. Less than 10 feet across in spots, Falling Springs is a tiny, weed choked, classic limestone spring creek like its nearby neighbors Letort Spring Creek and Big Spring Creek. Polluted with food for fish, abundant cover and clean, cold water, Falling Springs grows large, spectacular, wild trout. These fish are educated and reside in a stream where aquatic vegetation strives to destroy every drift you attempt and where glass still waters render water droplets that sprinkle to the surface from your false cast a potential trout spooker. This is not easy fishing.

Even if you've got nimble salad fingers like I do, picking midges, small nymphs and tiny dries out of slit foam fly boxes or the like is an exercise in mounting frustration. Putting them back is worse and you know you're not taking the time, when streamside, to do it gracefully. A messy, disorganized fly box is the result. And, if you're like me, you live with that mess for most of the season instead of tidying it up when you get home.

Over the last couple of years, I've moved away from larger fly boxes and towards smaller boxes in an effort to increase my on-the-stream minimalism as well as the potential for horrific fly box messes. I almost always carry my camera and lenses, in my beloved Patagonia Stormfront Backpack, when I'm on the water. This means a no go for most vests and packs (although some hip packs will work). That said, I'm working only with wader pockets and -- when warm weather hits -- only with shirt pockets. Cutting down on big bulky items is a must. Enter small fly boxes.

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