It has always amazed me to see how different anglers from different countries fish when compared to American or western anglers. Take for instance the match fishing anglers of Europe with their whisper thin line and hyperlight tackle and groundbait mixtures. Or the Irish and Scottish anglers who have refined livebait rigging for huge northern in their deep loch, sloughs and drainage ditches. The Chinese have brought carp fishing to new plateaus as well as the Germans.
With this thought in mind, nothing my counterparts and fishing partners did surprised me on my first visit to the Kaluga Region in Russia, a small province west of Moscow about 2 hours.
Russia…the land of the czars, and cities 3 times older than America , is also home to some of the worlds largest fish. Wels, topping a few hundred pounds, northerns, documented pushing 50 pounds and Great Beluga Sturgeon from which the finest black caviar is taken. There are also other fish that we as Americans would recognize. Perch, although not plentiful, do exist in somewhat stable numbers. The close cousin to the walleye, the Zander, finds itself at home in some of Russia’s huge sprawling reservoirs, virtually unaccosted by Russian anglers,and Taimen, the worlds fastest salmonoid, cruise the cold clear waters of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Carp and trout can also be found.
But even with all of these species, a lot of Russian anglers can be found fishing for “Plotva”. The Plotva is the Russian equivalent to our Sunfish, only they are silver and get a bit thicker in their midsection. The main reason for their popularity is their abundance and their willingness to bite on one of the most common Russian food staples….bread.
The bread is basically rolled into small roe sized pellets and placed onto a smaller hook and cast about 2-10 feed from shore. Bear in mind when I said cast, I am not necessarily implying that they are actually casting the bait. Instead, with their 10-16 foot telescoping rods, the merely place the dough balls or "manka” where they want them. Line here is measured in kilograms instead of pounds and it is usually lighter than what we would use in similar circumstances.
When I arrived in Russia and broke out my rod, they really took an interest in it, but when I offered to let them try it, all of my counterparts refused, opting to stick with their tried and true methods.
I however did try out on of their fiberglass telescoping rods and found it somewhat heavy, but remarkably responsive.
As I talked with them I found them keenly aware of the plotvas seasonal movements, but in the lake we were fishing, the plotvas seasonal location was severely limited due to lack of adequate cover and lake size, which is precisely why these guys chose to fish it. They knew there would be fish that were within easy casting distance of shore and since boats are a luxury most Russians cannot afford, they learn to make do without.
While I never had the chance to sample it, it is customary for fisherman to make a fish soup called Ukha. Tradition has it that it calls for three distinct varieties of fish, but french chefs have brought Ukha into the 21 st century as a clear potent broth, not at all what it once was. A feast for fisherman and czars alike.
Another interesting thing to note was that they used weight sparingly. Whether or not this was from the difficulty in finding weights at sports shops or if it was part of the fishes nature to be weary of weighted offerings, it is simply open to conjecture. Bobbers too were uncommon, although they seem to find favor in colder months as the plotva tend to bite light as the water and weather cool.
Catch and release is unheard of, and they listened with amusement as I told them of our angling practices here in the U.S. Why would anyone go out fishing to catch fish and then let them go?
That is probably the most striking difference I found. In Russia, if it can get its mouth around your hook, it goes in the bucket to get eaten regardless. As I could tell, this has led to some overfishing in some waters. The fish are being caught and eaten before they have a chance to reach spawning size.
On my next trip to Russia within the next three years, I have already made plans to fish some of the reservoirs and natural lakes for pike and zander. The Baltic Sea, which is a 12 hour train ride from the Kaluga Region, is home to some of the world largest pike, even with its open water connection to the Atlantic.
Fishing in Russia is an eye opener, but it is something I think every angler should try. It gives you unique insight into your own techniques on your local waters and even spurs new ideas on presentation. I could write a lot more about fishing in Russia, especially fishing for perch in St.Petersburg from any of the bridges that spand the vast and massive amount of canals that make St. Petersburg, the Venice of the North, but I think that is something that I’ll let you wonder about and perhaps find out for yourself someday. Until then my angling friends
And keep those lines wet