Kola Peninsula

cast away magazine

Kola Peninsula

On the northwestern part of Russia, on the border with Norway, there is a bulbous peninsula directly to the east of that border. This is the Kola Peninsula. This vast piece of land is part of the territory of the Murmanskaya Oblast. The Kola Peninsula is washed by two cold seas: The White Sea and Barents Sea. Its area measures about 100 000 square kilometers, which is about the size of South Korea.


The Kola is located at high latitude; the length of the days and nights varies greatly throughout the year. In summer, the polar day reigns here, with the sun disappearing for only a short time beneath the northern horizon, or not even setting at all.


In many places, various forms of relief alternate whimsically and unexpectedly, making the terrain difficult to cross. Sheer cliffs, gorges, canyons, fast rivers and streams, rapids and waterfalls, swamps and lakes are everywhere. In the east, the Kola Peninsula is, in many areas a fairly flat plateau, sloping southward. Along its eastern and southern coasts lie lowlands, and on the northern coast there are many steep shores and cliffs. Lakes cover a total of 8.1% of the entire area of the region.

The mountains of the peninsula are table-shaped (also known as mesas), with steep slopes and flat tops. These mountain plateaus descend to the lowlands surrounding them, and are cut by gorges and deep valleys, their surface covered with rock scree. Many small rivers flow in narrow canyon-shaped valleys where larger rivers, existed before glaciation, in most cases have U-shaped valleys carved out by the glaciers.


The territory of the Murmanskaya Oblast has more than 100 thousand lakes, including 1190 waters larger than 1 km². The largest lake of the region is the Imandra with a surface area of 812 km². In the region there are more than 18.200 rivers or streams over 100 meters wide with a total length of 63.000 kilometers. The most important rivers of the Murmanskaya Oblast are the Ponoy, Iokanga, Voronya, Varzuga, Pechenga, Tuloma, and Kola. The largest of them, the Ponoy, has a length of 426 kilometers


The freshwater fauna of the Murmanskaya Oblast is rather poor in species. As far as we know, the rivers and lakes are home to 37 species of fish belonging to 15 families (apart from the marine and non-native fish in the fresh waters of the region) these are Japanese lamprey, Atlantic salmon, brown trout, char, whitefish, least cisco, grayling, European and Asian smelts, pike, bream, ide, dace, minnow, roach, burbot, three- and nine-spine stickleback, perch, ruffe, and freshwater sculpin.

Main areas

Based on the predominant freshwater fish species, the territory of the Murmanskaya Oblast can be divided into four main areas: East Murman, White Sea coast, central part of the Kola Peninsula, and the north-west of the Murmanskaya Oblast.

East Murman

In the northeast part of the peninsula (East Murman) salmonids dominate. Atlantic salmon, brown trout and Arctic char in the rivers and brown trout and char in the lakes . The Northern pike is present in many lakes of this area and in some waters also whitefish. The carp family is represented here only by the common minnow. All salmonids of the region are represented by both migratory and resident forms.

White sea coast

Atlantic salmon and brown trout successfully breed in the rivers on the white sea coast. The diversity of  freshwater fish here is noticeably larger than at the east murman side. Whitefish (migratory and resident forms ), pike, grayling, as well as perch, ruffe and four carp species (roach, ide, dace and minnow) inhabit this area.

Among the rivers belonging to the White Sea basin, the most common form is the “winter” form of salmon. These fish usually enter the river in the second half of summer or in autumn. They spend a full year in fresh water, and spawn the next autumn. The average and maximum sizes of “winter” fish are smaller compared to the “spring” ones, but in these stocks there is a significantly smaller percentage of small fish with only one year of sea feeding (grilse).

The northwest

In the northwest of the region, near the border with Norway and Finland, whitefish, least cisco, perch and ruffe dominate the water bodies. There is a difference between Atlantic salmon stocks from the rivers of the Barents Sea and from the White Sea. On the northern coast the “spring” salmon form predominates. In June, it is not rare to see fish weighing more than 10 kilograms. In the rivers of the Barents Sea the “winter” fish take up a very small share of the stock, and in some rivers they are completely absent.

Kola Peninsula

Most foreign anglers travel to the Kola Peninsula to fish for Atlantic salmon. The reason is not hard to guess: every year, salmon weighing more than 20 kg are taken from river basins as the Kola, Pechenga, Bolshaya Zapadnaya Litsa, Vostochnaya Litsa, and Yokanga, Ura, Rynda, Kharlovka, and Varzina are famous for their remarkable trophies.

Brown trout

Brown trout are found in almost all the waters of the territory. The fish from the large lake systems and reservoirs usually reach a substantial size; their weight is on average 2-4 kg and can reach 10-12 kg. The trout from small lakes and connecting streams are much smaller: their average weight does not exceed one kilogram and more often is 300-600 grams.

In general, in the rivers of the White Sea basin, brown trout are losing the competition against the numerous parr and smolts of the Atlantic salmon. The most stable and numerous brown trout stocks are found in the remote lake-river systems of the northeastern part of the Kola Peninsula (East Murman shore of the Barents Sea). The average weight of fish in the most productive rivers and lakes is 2-4 kg, with sizes reaching up to 7-8 kg. In some large and deep lakes, it is possible to catch “white” brown trout – fish feeding in these water columns acquire a “pelagic” color with a dark back, silvery sides and a yellowish belly.

Sea trout

Anadromous brown trout (‘sea trout’) in Kola Peninsula rivers typically weigh between 0.5 and 1.5 kg, and fish weighing 2–3 kg are less common. Some migratory trout do not go out into the salt water; they tend to feed in the estuaries and brackish lagoons of the White and Barents Seas. The sea-run and freshwater trout in many rivers form united stocks – the individuals of these forms can spawn together.

Pink salmon

The natural range of the pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha – a pacific salmon species) is the northern part of the Pacific Ocean – the rivers of Russia, Japan, Canada and the United States. Introduction of pink salmon in the Kola Peninsula rivers has started in 1956. Now the species is spreading widely through many rivers of the peninsula, but only in odd years.

It starts with A determination OF purpose

The most important part of organizing an independent fishing expedition to the Kola Peninsula is the determination of its purpose. Some anglers are interested primarily in catching Atlantic salmon, while others want to visit the wild nature, travel through the northern taiga or tundra, and catch freshwater, resident fish.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult

In general, planning an Atlantic salmon fishing trip is quite simple. Every year, starting from the last days of May, Atlantic salmon enters many rivers in the region. Moving against the current of the river, the fish are passing the settlements on these rivers, and parts of the river with convenient access. For this reason, it is not necessary to get far into the wilderness to catch salmon.

Of course, in the more heavily frequented places it is more difficult to catch fish, as they become more cautious. However, this is not critical; during the run each suitable salmon lie is almost daily replenished with “fresh” fish. Such a “rotation” takes place over a rather long period – from one and a half to two months, and on many rivers even longer.

The southern shores of the Kola Peninsula

On the southern shores of the Kola Peninsula, one of the most convenient and popular options is the Varzuga River and its lower tributary, the Kitsa River. These rivers are good for fishing from the second half of May to early June, as well as in the fall. The areas where angling for Atlantic salmon and pink salmon is legal can be reached both by car and by public transport. Note that on your way to the Varzina you will pass the famous Umba River, and several smaller salmon streams.

The Murmansk area

In the Murmansk area there are several rivers of the Barents Sea basin, rich in large Atlantic salmon – the Kola with the tributaries Kitsa and Medvezhya, the Ura, Titovka, and Pechenga Rivers. These waters are especially good during June and July. You can count on good catches and on catching large fish. The permits for cat-ching salmon are most often available directly on the river. The fishing is often not worse than on remote rivers where in specialized fishing camps, the cost of a fi-shing day is noticeably higher. The infrastructure and road network near Murmansk is well developed. In the villages located along the rivers it is easy to rent a room or apartment – all and all it will not be too expensive.


In general, fishing for salmon is a convenient option that is easy to plan and not too expensive to implement. You can enjoy  interesting fishing and as a bonus the beauty of the north. In general, an angler here can enjoy a full range of pleasures except for one thing: he or she will not be alone on the river.

The local residents of coastal villages and nearby cities as well as travelers from afar are all trying their luck on the river. It often happens that in the hottest time the best “points” on the popular rivers are occupied, and one has to look for a place to stand and make a cast. In addition, many fishermen in the catch-and-kill fishing areas use spinning gear, which can cause inconvenience to the nearby fly fishing addicts. Less pleasant is also the presence of poachers catching salmon using nets and other prohibited methods.

Keep in mind that it is not hard to purchase a salmon fishing license for some rivers, but very difficult for others.

Arctic char, grayling and trout

A different way to enjoy the far north is visiting uninhabited places and catching resident or freshwater brown trout, char and grayling. In this case it is ne-

cessary to carefully plan a trip to lake-river systems isolated from the sea. Many of these rivers and lakes are located in sparsely populated areas, there are no roads here so water bodies are not under strong fishing pressure. The organization of such a trip will require serious planning, good field gear and a good physical and mental health.

The best season for catching brown trout, char and grayling begins with the start of mass insect hatches. The best time to plan such a trip is from mid-June to late August for the southern and western parts of the Kola Peninsula, or from late June to mid-August – for its northern and eastern parts.


When Peter asked me if there are possibilities for Do It Yourself trips, my answer was; it is doable.

There are people who cross the Kola Peninsula with inflatable kayaks/packrafts going up one river and after a portage float another one.

It is possible to select the route suitable for the level of your fitness.


My advice: contact Andrey (see link) and ask for his recommendations. It might be easier to make part of the trip with a motor boat, and then to hike to some remote lakes-and-rivers system.

Two other options



Buy a tour with one of the top operators. The “trout camp” at the Varzina River is well-known for excellent trout fishing.


This is reliable but very costly (lots of helicopter charter time).


Option 2:

It is possible to organize a trip with motor boats. The best specialist I know is Andrey Sokolov sokol@kola-salmon.ru

Andrey has jet-motor boats and is expert on trout rivers of the peninsula.

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