Russia – the land of everlasting extremes. This is the biggest country in the world, with the world’s biggest freshwater lake, and the coldest inhabitable place on the planet. And this is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended). There are countless ways in which this vast country is unique, each more impressive than the last. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that fishing in Russia is nothing short of extraordinary.
Not only is Russia home to Lake Baikal and over two million rivers, it also boasts access to three oceans (the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic), 12 seas, and the Caspian Sea. It’s no surprise, then, that around 30 million Russians are keen anglers.
The offshore waters of Russia are reserved for commercial fishing. Therefore, the playgrounds of recreational anglers are remote rivers, huge lakes, and crystal-clear streams. And what a playground it is!
Fishermen from all over the world come to Russia to test their skills and catch their lot of local species. Sportfishing doesn’t really enter the Russian vocabulary, as most of the fish you catch, you’ll eat for your next meal. It’s all about enjoying the fruits of your hard work, and Russians know how to do it right.
Top Catches in Russia
There are many reasons why fishing in Russia is so popular, and the wide array of species on offer is at the very top of the list. This is one of the few countries where you can target both Atlantic and Pacific Salmon – and that’s just for starters.
Some of the best Trout fisheries in the world are right here, not to mention Northern Pike galore, and other freshwater species in all shapes and sizes. Come here to battle exotic fish like Taimen Trout and stay for the intoxicating thrill of the Salmon bite.
But maybe you don’t know what to expect and where to start, and that’s ok. Here’s an overview of the most prized fish in Russia that both locals and tourists love to target.
Our Story Starts with Salmon
Salmon, in all its variety and glory, is one of the favorite catches in Russia, if not THE favorite. Go to the north of the country and you’ll come face-to-gills with the battle-ready Atlantic Salmon.
Want more variety? The Far East is your destination, where all five species of Pacific Salmon come to spawn in the summer.
If you’re going Salmon fishing in Russia, chances are, you’ll be going after Atlantic Salmon on the Kola Peninsula. You can find Salmon in the Northern Atlantic, as well as in the western Arctic Ocean. Both the White and the Barents Sea have a good population of this delicious fish. Salmon come to the pristine and remote rivers of the north in early spring (April–May), as soon as the ice has thawed. This is the prime time to hit the water!
There’s also a fall run in September, but the fish can be much more inconsistent then. In general, you can catch Atlantic Salmon anytime from April through mid-October, you just need to know where to go.
How big the fish are depends on the year and your luck, so the weight of your prey can be anywhere from 8–50 pounds. You’ll hear from local outfitters that each river has its own character and, to find fish, you have to know it.
The rule of thumb is that you should choose quality or quantity. You can either go after your next trophy or decide to catch a load of smaller fish, but you’ll rarely be able to do both on the same body of water.
It’s important to note that, in Russia, fishing for Atlantic Salmon usually means going off into the wild. And this is not an adventure you should take on alone.
If you want to explore the untamed parts of Murmansk, you’ll need a professional guide with you at all times. While the nature of Northern Russia is as beautiful as it can be, it is also unforgiving to the inexperienced. Luckily, there are plenty of outfitters on the Kola that organize multi-day expeditions with everything you need included in the price.
If you thought you can catch both Atlantic and Pacific Salmon only on the continent of North America, think again. Venture to the Far East of Russia, and on the coasts of the Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island, you’ll find an abundance of all five Pacific Salmon. The Khabarovsk area, right on the Amur River and very close to the Chinese border, is another Salmon-rich habitat.
Kamchatka, in particular, is known for its diverse Salmon population and is one of the world’s best-protected ecosystems. If you’re wondering how productive fishing is, well, about 30% of the world’s Pacific Salmon gather in this area. From the ocean and nearby seas, they enter the rivers on their way to the spawning grounds.
Chinook, Coho, Chum (Keta), Pink, and Sockeye (Cherry) Salmon, as well as Steelhead, are all there, and lunkers in the 30–40 pound range are very common.
You can target Pacific Salmon from June through October, though different species usually come at different times. This is one of the many reasons why having a local guide is so important. Not only will they find the perfect fishing spot in the wilderness, but they’ll help you match the timing of your trip to the Salmon’s high season.
Salmon You Might Not Know About
The fisheries in the north and east are by far the most popular, but there’s more. You can also find exclusive Salmon subspecies in some of the country’s biggest waterways.
In the biggest landlocked body of water on the planet, the Caspian Sea, you can find endemic Caspian Salmon. To get the best bite, you should go to the delta of Volga River, or cast your line in Samur, Kura, and Terek rivers. Caspian Salmon are smaller than their Atlantic relatives and can weigh anywhere from 5–30 pounds.
Also, Lakes Ladoga and Onega have their own landlocked lake Salmon, that’s been a long-time favorite catch of the locals. These fellas have spent their lives in the lake, and usually weigh around 6–10 pounds, though you can hook 20-pounders on a good day.
Trout Fishing in All Its Glory
Russians love their Trout! You can find Lake, Brook, and Rainbow Trout in different parts of the country. There’s also a subspecies called Taimen Trout (Siberian Giant Trout or Siberian Salmon) that come in impressive sizes and gorgeous colors.
Each of the species has its own preferred habitat, but most of them you can target from May–October. Both Lakers and Brookies can be found all over Russia, while Rainbows live in the Far East.
You’ll find Lake Trout in the cold waters of Lakes Ladoga and Onega, and in mountain lakes of the Republic of Karelia. Brook and Lake Trout often share rivers and streams in the wild. For a mixed bag of Trout, the Kola Peninsula is a great place to start. Whether it’s spinning or fly fishing, you’re going to have a blast reeling these beauties in.
You can find a good amount of Brook Trout in the Black Sea, and they’re usually bigger than their freshwater brethren. Sea-run Trout can sometimes weigh up to 20 pounds, while Brookies and Lakers in rivers and streams don’t go over 5–10 pounds.
If you’re looking for a new fish to put on your bucket list, Taimen Trout should be it. Other names for this fish are Siberian Giant Trout and Siberian Salmon, and you can find them in Southern Siberia. Taimen are the biggest Salmon on the planet, and they are the ultimate catch of fly anglers.
Seeing that these giants can be up to 5 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds, landing one on the fly is an incredible feat. Russians are crazy about Taimen and there are outfitters in Siberia that dedicate multi-day expeditions to chasing these mammoths.
Taimen are apex predators of the rivers they live in, and on top of that, they’re very territorial. This makes it difficult for anglers to find them – they don’t like to be close to each other. There’s a good reason why they’re often called “the river wolf” by the locals. Taimen have a unique way of taking the bait – they will first strike the bait with their powerful tails, stun it, and then turn to swallow it.
Mature Taimen are fast, strong, and they’ll fight you with everything they’ve got. All these qualities landed them the title of the most prized catch.
The best time to go after Taimen Trout is usually in the spring, not long after their spawning season. In summer, they become more lethargic because of the heat, but the bite tends to pick up in fall. September is usually a very productive month because Taimen are famished and ready to pounce.
Some say that there’s no better fly fishing experience than having a Taimen Trout on the line. Well, there’s only one way to find out!
Who doesn’t like Northern Pike?
If patience isn’t your strong suit, there are plenty of fish out there that you can target all year. One of the most popular choices is Northern Pike – a hard-fighting, delicious fish, active year-round.
While most other fish hibernate during the long, freezing winter, Pike aren’t that easily scared off. You can target these toothy critters in the dead of winter, while ice fishing, and have a very productive outing. This is good news for anglers who don’t let below-zero temperatures get in the way of their passion.
The best time to go after Pike is a couple of weeks after their spawning, usually towards the end of May and beginning of June. During this time, you’ll find them closer to shore and in the backwaters, because that’s where the ice melts first.
Pike are now at their hungriest and they will gobble down just about anything you throw their way. Pike’s appetite doesn’t hold out for too long though, only for about two weeks.
After that, it’s summertime. Pike become much less active, and you’ll usually find smaller fish on your line. That all changes in September and October, when the fish become ravenous and start getting ready for the winter. And in the last months of the year, you can still enjoy excellent Pike fishing, as long as you can find where they are under the ice.
Another beloved member of the Pike family is Amur Pike that lives in Sakhalin, and sports black spots that set it apart from Northern Pike.
Get Me Some Zander!
Zander is by far one of the most widespread fish in Russia and, if you’re an angler, you’ve probably caught this fish multiple times. It also happens to be very popular among both beginners and seasoned fishers because it’s very tasty. You can target them all year, even during winter, which adds to its already significant appeal.
The best time to fish for Zander is during their spring run. This is when the fish will hang out in shallow waters, looking for food. You can land specimens ranging from 5–10 pounds, though there are 20- and 30-pounders out there as well. They respond well to both live bait and a variety of lures, especially during spring.
If you find where baitfish are congregating in summer, you’ll find Zander. Action is less consistent than in spring, but these fellas love warm water, so there’s plenty of fish to catch. If you’re set on fishing for Zander in the fall, night fishing is your best option and it will pay off.
As the winter approaches, you’ll find Zander in deep waters, close to the bottom, where they hide to stay warm. Ice fishing for Zander is one of the favorite pastimes in Russia because it’s productive and it promises delicious dinner in the near future.
Have Some Perch!
Here’s another forever-hungry fish that you can target year-round in Russian waters. You can find Perch in most rivers and, although they’re usually quite small, you can sometimes land fish that weigh 6–8 pounds. These predators love to hang out in deep holes and prefer deeper waters as their playground.
The rule of thumb is that if you find one Perch, you’ll find many around it. Since they move in schools, you have a good chance of landing plenty of fish for dinner. The best time to go after Perch is in early spring and after the first ice of the year sets in.
These greedy devils are very active during the winter months, which makes ice fishing for them all the more exciting. Perch is one of the reasons why you can see a lot of anglers on the ice, waiting for that tug from the deep. Action is also good after spawning, which happens at different times in different parts of Russia (from February to May).
Because they’re so ever-present, Perch are among the most common catches in Russia. It helps a lot that they make for a good meal, which makes anglers all the more motivated to pursue them.
And this is just the beginning…
We’ve had an overview of all the favorite species Russians like to catch, but this just to get you warmed up.
If you want to learn more about the best angling destinations in Russia, as well as details about necessary fishing licenses and documents, read Part II of the “Fishing in Russia” series. When it comes to this vast country, there’s always more to learn, so stay tuned!
Have you ever been fishing in Russia? What are your impressions? What would you advise your fellow fishermen? Share your stories in the comment section below!