February 24, 2022
UPDATE: InterPacific Aviation and Marketing, Inc. (IPAM) has announced that it it ceasing operations as of March 31, 2022. IPAM was a major contractor for flights via Russia's Yakutia Airlines that brought anglers from Alaska to Kamchatka. Read more here.
(Original article, 2/24/22) Fly-fishing trips to Russia’s Kamchatka and Kola peninsulas for 2022 have been thrown into further question due to the escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine. This comes on top of an already-large backlog of fly-fishing travelers to Russia due to the cessation of Yakutia Airlines flights from Anchorage, Alaska to Kamchatka since 2019 due to travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic and other extenuating issues. Yakutia had planned to operate in 2022 but announced on Tuesday, February 22 that they are unable to provide flights to from Anchorage to Kamchatka’s capital Petropavlovsk/Kamchatsky for 2022.
Both The Fly Shop in Redding, Calif. and Yellow Dog Fly Fishing in Bozeman, Mont. have said they are postponing their 2022 trips to Russia, for the time being.
Will Blair of The Best of Kamchatka said that his agency still has hope of running a truncated season for 2022, but with flights through Seoul, South Korea rather than the Anchorage-to-Petropavlovsk Yakutia flight.
“If in 30 days, things get completely clarified and we can still get people visas in a reasonable amount of time, I would still consider going through Seoul,” Blair said Thursday morning from the Bahamas. “The best thing for people to do is wait and see where this thing goes.” He added that he still has American anglers who want to take the trip this year, despite the issues.
According to a press release from Air Russia (which operates Yakutia Airlines): “Travel restrictions and a US State Department Level 4 ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory for Russia remain in place, and the necessary approval for the flight has not been granted by the Russian Authorities due to issues associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. If conditions become more favorable and there is sufficient demand for the service among travelers we will plan to resume operations in the summer of 2023.”
On January 23, the United States State Department issued a travel advisory for Russia, citing Russia’s border tensions with Ukraine. The advisory is due to threats of terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping/hostage-taking, and more, on top of the continuing pandemic.
“It’s super frustrating,” Blair said. “The worst part is that there are people in Kamchatka who are absolutely devastated.”
Pat Pendergast, The Fly Shop’s Director of Travel, believes Yakutia’s reasoning was three-fold: the pandemic, failure to gain approval from the Russian government to operate, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“One complication may be that Murmansk in Western Russia (where anglers fishing the Kola Peninsula enter the country) and Petropavlovsk in Eastern Russia are their two deep-water ports and submarine bases, so who knows what’s going to go on there,” Pendergast said.
The conflict could have effects on all fly anglers as gas and fuel prices are poised to rise due to Russia being a major provider of petroleum to the U.S. Other potential impacts remain to be seen as broader global economic concerns continue to increase.
Kamchatka’s fly-fishing season generally runs from June to August as weather allows. The region is known as one of the best trout-, salmon-, steelhead-, and char-fishing spots in the world. The Kola Peninsula in the country's northwest corner near Scandinavia has fantastic Atlantic salmon fishing.
Pendergast noted that the vast majority of anglers with trips booked through The Fly Shop have opted to roll them over to another year rather than cancel, citing Kamchatka’s exceptional rainbow trout fishing and the fact that the fish in the rivers they service will have seen relatively few flies in the previous years.
Those who have booked trips to Russia through The Fly Shop are given three options: roll the trip over to 2023, apply their deposit to any of agency's other fishing destinations, or a full refund.
Yellow Dog’s Jim Klug noted that things like this are the reason that trip insurance is so highly recommended for today’s traveling anglers.
“It’s another good reason why people work with agencies,” he said. “If something happens that is really devastating to plans, it’s really nice to have someone in your corner looking out for your interests.”
Joshua Bergan is Fly Fisherman's digital editor.