FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Big Carp Of The Volga Delta, Russia

Russia’s Volga River is the largest river system in Europe, draining over 1.3 million square kilometers of catchments area into the Caspian Sea. The brackish Caspian is Earth’s largest landlocked water body, and its isolation from the world’s oceans has enabled the preservation and growth of several unique animals, fish and plant species. It’s a truly unique and impressive place to visit, very few UK carpers are aware there are some enormous carp living in its depths and it’s highly likely to produce a monster carp of world record shattering proportions before too long. Even fewer people have been fortunate enough to pursue these Russian leviathans, which I personally reckon are the hardest fighting carp on the planet!

With a length of 3500 km the Volga delta covers a triangle of 100km x 200 km. In a large number of areas we looked at you could barely see the other bank, location of fish here was going to be a task of the most epic proportions! Still, undeterred, we ventured on, just one Volga carp and I would be a happy man!

At the northern corner of the delta lays the modest city of Astrakhan, with 500,000 inhabitants the largest city in the region. It was here, after a long journey alone from Heathrow to Geneva, then on to Moscow, that my connecting domestic flight landed and my ‘safari’ began. A lot of different landscapes are visible going from Astrakhan through the delta to the area we had chosen to fish in and onwards to the Caspian Sea. Extensive pastures, cut by broad waterways and fast running streams, turn to well developed flood plain forests with a huge variety of willows, poplars and alders.

It took us roughly 3 hours by road to reach a small cottage, which had been rented as our ‘base camp’. Once out of the city, the roads are largely empty, old Russian built cars are parked along the roadside selling watermelons and vegetables, this is a rural area. My first impressions of the Volga were of its shear size, beauty and the fast flow, holding bottom here was going to be interesting! 20 feet high strips of reed along the water suddenly broaden to reed fields that seemingly stretch to the horizon. Fast running waterways suddenly flow out into a zone with vast shallow lagoons apparently named "kultuks", bordered by reed fields and willow bushes.

As I sat there absorbing the atmosphere, a cruise boat came into view, not the Norfolk Broads type either, a mahoosive bloody sea going cruise ship about 5 floors high and a couple of football pitches long!!! Amazing stuff, no doubt churning the bottom up nicely. The large variety of natural biotopes in the Volga-delta and the bordering area’s yields a huge variety of bird species. There is an incredible amount of huge birds, of all types (I’m told, not particularly into the feathered kind of birds) in the area. The extensiveness and unspoilt condition of the region contributes to the high numbers in which some, and rare, species can be found. So take your binoculars!

Enough waffling, perhaps I ought to explain how I got myself to Russia in the first place. A couple of years ago, I sent some bait from Essex Angling to a chap in the south of France. Nothing unusual in that, being one of the premier shops in the country (Check out www.essexangling.com! OK, stop plugging Essex Man.), we send a lot of stuff all over the planet. Anyway, a while later I had another order from the same chap, this time to Moscow. A friendship was struck, lots of e-mails and phone calls exchange and here I am in deepest, darkest Russia!

After loading my gear onto the speedboat, we set off in search of my friend Yuri who had set up on a small island about 20 minutes boat ride from our cottage. The area looked gorgeous, the banks and islands were all sand – just like being in the Bahamas! The weather was warm, mid twenties, with a strong northerly breeze.

The island where we intended fishing from is where Yuri has caught a few fish in the past, nothing too big, but rumours have it fish to 38 kilos (this would be a rod & line carp world record) have been netted by commercial fisherman (Oh yes, did I forget to mention the trawlers) not too far from here. Wouldn’t that be nice – dream on, Essex Man.

After spending considerable time with the echo sounder, I opted to position my four-rod set up to the right of Yuri in the mouth of the channel which led into the bay we were fishing. Fishing the main body of river would be nigh on impossible, the flow was extremely strong and with depths of over 60 feet I really didn’t feel too comfortable. Not to mention the trawlers, cruise boats, sand barges, et cetera, on their way to and from the Caspian Sea!

Rigs were kept nice, simple and most importantly strong. The hook link is the new Sufix ‘Super skin’ in 25lb which Cash of Gardner kindly sent me a few weeks prior to include in my Big Carp ‘Tackle Talk’ and various internet review series. Brilliant stuff, but I’ll save the technical reviews for a later date. Hooks the impressive Kamasan Power Carps, an old favourite of mine, proving incredibly strong on my prior travels to Raduta, Romania.

Baits were the new ‘MYX’ bird food developed by Ian Russel of Heathrow Bait Services and myself for Essex Angling. An instant and highly effective bait which we have caught well and have mega confidence in, this was accompanied by a method style mix and light scattering of chopped particles/MYX pellets. The stuff looks irresistible!

After putting out the markers, baiting lightly (around 3kgs per rod of the above mentioned mix), I was ready to do battle with those Russian carp! Water levels were down a couple of metres on pictures I had seen previously, so banks of sand and trees were exposed that are normally under water. I felt very confident.

After 24 hours, a fair amount of Vodka, and a relaxing time chilling out on the sand in the sun, my left hand rod positioned in 4 metres of water at the bottom of a small drop off into the main channel burst into life. Let battle commence! OK, only a 14 pounder, but my first Russian carp! The carp are pretty much all commons, I was amazed at how hard they fight, then again seeing the strong flow of the main river, I guess its understandable. A gorgeous long fish, not an ounce of fat and still with the curtain in its mouth. Back she goes, which she wouldn’t of if caught by one of the trawlers!

That night, following one of many incredible sunsets, Yuri and I spent a long while discussing rigs / tactics and carp in general. I find it int
eresting to hear the unbiased views and thoughts of carpers not tainted with commercial ties or influenced by the mags. We discussed the basics and mechanics of carp fishing, why we love it, my quest for carp in some of the remotest parts of the world. The Vodka flowed, cigars smoldered….Yuri’s RX digital screamed!!!!

Things were admittedly a little slow, not quite as slow as Wraysbury or Harefield, but slow enough! We caught quite a few carp, nothing too massive, around 37 pounds being the biggest during our stay. I won’t bore you with statistics, that’s not what it was about for me this trip; just catching one was all I hoped for. I lost a few bigger fish, well I would say that wouldn’t I, but I feel I did and certainly they scrapped like hooking a Russian U boat. The ‘Hunt For Red October’ as Tim Paisley would say!

During the days, the local fisherman would drop by to look at our tackle, no doubt wondering what the hell we were up to. They often had many Catfish strapped to their plastic boats, using hand lines and frogs as bait. Yes, live frogs!! If you’ve never seen one, I’ve included a photograph of a ‘clonk’; this is used to imitate the sound of a frog by hitting the water with it. An art, I can tell you, several hours still saw me thrashing the water to a foam.

In the evenings, after sorting out the baits, we would sit around enjoying a few drinks whilst the chef (Yes, proper chef, not me in a hat slogging over the Coleman) would prepare sumptuous grub. Real five star carping!!

All the Catfish caught by the locals tend to be eaten, the Volga is a life source in that part of the world. Carp are eaten too here, as they are in other foreign parts, some sights are not for the faint hearted. The carp scene is still in its infancy in Russia and I’m sure the ‘No Kill’ policies will take a while to filter through the population.

All too soon our week together was over, I headed back to Moscow and a tour of the tourist sites. Red Square, the Kremlin. All absolutely spectacular.

Thanks to my Russian friends for making it all possible.

OK, time to get the gear ready, Raduta is calling. It’s a tough life !!

Tight lines,

Chris ‘Essex Man’ Woodrow – 2002
www.essexangling.com