A journey not only into the wilderness, but into the mind.
"A silent, secret acknowledgement rested over us that evening; that towards the end of the journey a day without fish would mean a day without food. Our provisions of bread and other basic foods would, alone, not last us until the end of the expedition. We needed to catch fish, and fast." - read parts one and two here.
Although this expedition was about so much more than the simple pursuit of fish, at the end of the day we needed to feed ourselves. For the first few days we tried everything: fishing the deep pools, the rapid oxygenated pools or the slow-moving eddies. Different methods, techniques, flies. To no avail.
There was another problem though, perhaps more important. The huge number of fish we were able to spot, weren’t edible even if we did catch them. The beginning of July in Kamchatka is when the salmon run up the rivers. Unlike with their Atlantic cousins, Pacific salmon are not biologically suited to returning to freshwater. Instead, they slowly and painstakingly decompose as they make their way up the river.
We started to see thousands of dead, half-dead or decomposing fish in the river. Every now and then, a big female would float downstream past us, upside down – and then for a couple of instants burst back into life, furiously fighting the current. The responsibility she carried a heavy weight, dragging her ever back.
This is the tragic story of the Pacific salmon, destined to gruel back to where it was born, suffer along the way, spawn and lay its eggs, only to die on top of them – providing the much-needed food and nutrients for its offspring.
The effort these soon-to-be parents were making was captivating, and above all poignant. In each dying fish there was a steely, determined resolve. These fish had no time to lose. And certainly, no time to chase after our trivial bait of feathers and fabric.
If decomposition alone was not enough, keen-eyed bears were stationed at regular intervals along the river bed, relieving the tired and weary from their mission.
The sheer number and variety of these pacific salmon, for there are 5-types, astounded us. But equally, just as their tragic story distracted us, they also frustratingly crowded out the river for the only edible species to be found here. These are the rainbow trout, brown trout, grayling and arctic char.
If we were eventually to eat fish during the next week, it would be these. For now though, we survived with mainly bread and the snacks we had brought along with us. After intense and fatiguing days, we spent the evenings huddled around the campfire. And often during these moments we would reflect on the day, our thoughts echoed only by the sounds of crackling wood, and the night-time silence.