It was the skull of a massive northern pike he had caught in the lake. So, I asked, when do we leave for the pike grounds? Not possible, Anatoli said. The only time for the big pike was when they came out of the depths to spawn in the springtime. Now was the time of the kumja, the landlocked salmon.
Too bad, but Anatoli and I were going to have some fun, and we did. We traveled 10 miles up the lake to Anatoli's favorite spot and found the landlocks, very big fish for the species, up to six or seven pounds. We saw only one other boat, a tiny inflatable with one man aboard. He had rowed his tiny craft for six hours to get there, Anatoli would tell me later.
As the week wore on, Ulitin's pronouncements got more desperate—"God will arrange this, though we aren't too sure about God in these parts," he said at one particularly low moment—and I found myself with more and more companions on my landlock trips.
Finally, a couple of days before our seven-day visit ended, Ulitin called us together and gave us the bad news. According to fishery scientists, the schools of salmon were still 200 miles away in the far northwestern part of the White Sea. Given favorable winds, the run might start in two weeks' time. That was when Alexandr Alexandrovich pronounced this trip a kashmaar.
And a kashmaar it certainly seemed at the time—the sad ending to a very special kind of detente. Things were no better, possibly even worse, when a second Trout Unlimited expedition—virtually a private one for Ted Turner and some members of his family—was launched late in July. Davies was there this time, and so was the salmon run. Six anglers took 60 fish in all. But the fish were small, three-pounders on average, and 40% of them were not Atlantic salmon but Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, the lowly humpback salmon of the Pacific that the Soviets had planted in Kola Peninsula waters in the 1960s and which are now apparently competing with the native Atlantic salmon.
No further trips to the Kolvitza have been scheduled. "Alexandr has taken this failure very personally," Davies said recently in Arizona. "He's a very frustrated man. What happened was that the Kolvitza was not even on his original list of 13 rivers. [Due to the objections of other government agencies] he was turned down flat cold on every single one of those rivers. He was given the Kolvitza and told to take it or leave it."
It was a fact that the Kolvitza hadn't been fished for five years. But that was not quite the whole story. Five years ago the river was closed because the salmon run had been totally depleted by commercial fishing. The Soviets are just now beginning to try to revive it.
"Alexandr has to work within the system," Davies said.
The fight goes on. Ulitin recently contacted Davies and let him know that he has received tentative approval to open up three other Kola Peninsula rivers.
In the meantime, at least one visitor to the Kola has already experienced the universality of fishing and the way that the sport can overcome even the lack of a common language. That was when, out on the lake, Anatoli and I met the solitary angler who had rowed all that way to fish landlocks. When the pace of the fishing eased he had joined us, and together we went ashore to build a fire and brew some tea. We sat there, silently comparing our catches and trading lures, appreciative of our surroundings, the fish and, above all, the uniqueness of our companionship.