THE WIZARD OF THE OZ: INTERVIEW WITH THE BEST OF KAMCHATKA’S WILL BLAIR
Anyone that had been around fly fishing for some time can tell you that the industry is loaded with characters and individuals that exude almost a “larger-than-life” presence, with great attitudes, humor, insight and an unlimited number of fishing stories to last well into the night hanging around a campfire.
Throughout our years of working with lodge owners, managers, guides and staff from all over the world, we have been hard-pressed to find anyone with the knowledge, passion and personality as that of Will Blair, owner of the Best of Kamchatka and Russian fishing expert.
Will has been fishing and operating on Russia’s Kamchatkan peninsula for over a decade, and is one of if not THE major player to develop the area as one of the world’s best rainbow trout fisheries. Each summer, anglers visit Will’s two remote fishing programs on the Ozernaya and Two Yurt Rivers for some of the rainbow trout fishing that they have heard of.
It is hard pressed to find anyone that comes back with comments other than it was the best trout fishing they have seen in their life. If you ever have a chance to sit down and have a beer with Mr. Blair, or better yet spend a week with him fishing in Kamchatka on the Oz or Two Yurt, do not pass up the opportunity. Not only will you be laughing by the end of it, but you will also learn more than you could imagine on the incredible fishing opportunities of the Kamchatkan peninsula.
This week, Yellow Dog’s Tom Melvin and Tom Kersbergen (seasonal guide on the Ozernaya River) sat down with Will Blair to ask a few questions, have a few laughs and give our readers some insight into the man behind the Best of Kamchatka. Take a look below for the goods, and contact Yellow Dog today to join Will Blair and the Best of Kamchatka in the future.
YD: After spending many years in the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska, what first drew you to explore Kamchatka?
WB: Well in May 1994 I saw an article in Fly Fisherman magazine about Kamchatka, with all these pictures of giant rainbows and nobody there. At the time I worked in Alaska for Katmai Lodge, and they had a program sending people over to Kamchatka. The spots for guides to work in Kamchatka were hard to come by… and still are. A spot opened up in the summer of 1997 and I went over and landed on the Zhupanova River.
That season was tough, it was a high water year on the Zhupanova, and I spent two seasons on that river. I met Victor Rebikov (owner/operator of Utgard Expeditions) at an airport parking lot in 1997 and some guys from Colorado who were doing hunting trips in Kamchatka with Victor. I made a partnership with Victor and I ran the camps in some super hardcore wilderness with some zodiac jet boats and little 25 horse motors on ‘em.
YD: In your opinion, what are some misconceptions that might hold somebody back from booking a trip and heading over to Kamchatka?
WB: I think the biggest misconception I’ve really heard over the years that precludes people from coming over to Kamchatka are the helicopters. On the contrary, the fact is they are really safe and have one of the safest records in the history of aviation. The MI-8’s we use are spectacular machines, we (US Army) use the MI-17, which is the same as the MI-8, for transporting our troops in Afghanistan. So for transport it is really effective.
YD: what do you feel really sets Kamchatka apart as a fishing destination?
WB: Well Kamchatka is a huge place, it’s the size of California and a little bit of Oregon combined, and a lot of it is unspoiled wilderness. Kamchatka gets 1/3 of the world’s spawning Pacific salmon. It’s the birthplace of Pacific salmon and where they develop, it’s not stocked by any means and all native, it’s all wild and it hasn’t been beaten down like some other areas and hasn’t been fished by thousands of anglers. I like the fact that the rivers we fish, we can actually wade. I came to Kamchatka to catch numbers of trout in clean water and our programs do just that. I often get the question, where’s your competitor’s camps on your rivers? The honest fact of the matter answer is 350 miles away on a completely different drainage. If people really want wilderness, I can’t imagine anything better – it’s impossible for me.
YD: What’s your favorite style of fishing and patterns?
WB: Streamer fishing with big streamers, I love fishing a big light colored pattern. The thing about these Kamchatka trout is they are really hard to see because they sit on these dark bottom rivers, and with thousands of years of genetics they are camouflaged really well.
But as soon as you throw a big white streamer you get to see the fish turn, then move and start chasing it – it’s AWESOME. I love watching the attack. It’s not like any kind of nymph fishing or bead fishing, which I don’t like. I love dry fly fishing, and you can have spectacular topwater fishing in Kamchatka too. I like the tube mouse, Morrish mouse, and Mr. Hankey.
YD: When was the last time you were seen with a pony tail?
WB: Haha I have never had a pony tail in my life… I had a pretty good mullet in college, I was into 80’s hair bands man.
YD: When was the last time you tied on a glo-bug?
WB: 10, 12 maybe 14 years ago… I don’t know, a really long time. In Kamchatka, the fact of the matter is YOU DON’T NEED TO! Here’s an example of why I love Kamchatka.
A couple years ago sometime in late August there were some yellow mayflies coming off, and there were some chums spawning around the area too. We were watching a really nice rainbow behind an active female chum eating some eggs, and we started to see a whole bunch of these little yellow mayflies.
Within literally seconds of eating some eggs, the trout rose to take a yellow mayfly. The angler I was fishing with and I were sitting there watching the whole thing, and he said to me, “What do think? Do you think a mouse will work?” I said go ahead and throw it in there and see what happens. So the guy throws in a mouse, and the fish immediately takes it and we land the fish. That’s the kind of thing I love about Kamchatka. So for glo-bugs… They aren’t necessary!
Any last words about your program in Kamchatka?
WB: One of the real key things to our success is “hands-on” ownership. Victor Rebikov, my Russian partner, is on every single helicopter flight. He rolls barrels off the helicopter, assists on every level logistically - he is involved in everything. I am involved in everything that happens in the camps as well which really helps. We have really great staff members like Svetlana Khalyavina, who I have worked with since 1999 and she has worked with Victor since 1996.
It’s become very much a family affair for Will Blair, the Rebikov’s and the Khalyavina’s. It’s really our program, not Will Blair’s or Victor Rebikov’s program. We are a hard core fishing camp and we do that well. For people who want white glove butlers pouring their coffee at breakfast - we’re not for them and Kamchatka on the whole isn’t really for them.
For the guys who want to see the Ozernaya or Two Yurt, two of the most remote wilderness camps on Kamchatka if not the world, our program is really hard to beat. We are really focused on taking care of customers like family, because it’s part of our family that makes it all happen.
*We still have some last minute openings on the Ozernaya River Jetboat Camp and Two Yurt Float trip this summer, so contact Yellow Dog today to learn more about this once in a lifetime opportunity. Round-trip flights from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk WILL run this summer, but there are NO guarantees for the future! If Kamchatka has been on your list of places to fish for a while, there is no better time than NOW to head over for some unbelievable fishing!*