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One of the greatest assets of the Ponoi River Company is its staff of fishing guides. It’s literally an all-star international team, and I was pleased to find a number of familiar faces in the group–I had previously fished with Joaquin Arocena for dorado in Bolivia, and Max Mamaev for sea trout in Tierra del Fuego.

Ryabaga camp manager Matt Breuer is one of the anglers who figured out how to catch arapaimas on the fly in Guyana. It makes sense that the best of the best would gravitate to the Ponoi, since it’s one of the world’s finest fisheries. It makes sense from the lodge perspective too–if you’re running a fishing operation east of Murmansk and north of the Arctic Circle, you don’t want your guides to be semi-pro.

I had the distinct pleasure to fish four days with one of the camp’s newest guides, American Owen Plair, while he was making some training runs. Owen, 23, hails from Beaufort, South Carolina, where he normally guides for redfish. Now he finds himself running boats up and down a classic salmon river, helping sports throw two-handed rods and traditional flies in some lost corner of the Russian taiga. His biggest concern right now is figuring out which Scandinavian country to visit for two weeks when the camp goes on break in late July. In other words, he’s livin’ the dream. So how does a young Carolina fly guy end up here?

“When I was 12 years old, I read a story on how to double haul in Field & Stream, and that piqued an interest in fly fishing,” he said. (Apparently, the best stories always start and end in the pages of FIeld & Stream) “From there I kind of grew up with the fly fishing scene as it developed in the Low Country. It’s funny how a passion for fishing becomes a passion for guiding. I enjoy watching others catch fish.

“I ended up guiding Oliver White, and he referred me to Matt, and after some emails and phone calls, I was on my way to Russia.”

Owen’s main goal at this point is learning from the other guides here.

“I hope to be able to learn from the team of guides here, and take some of their techniques and tips from here back home. It’s always interesting how lessons learned in one brand of fly fishing can be transposed to another.”

Case in point: Owen, Joaquin, Chris Santella and I brought a little Low Country-esqe game to the Ponoi the other day when we spent several hours throwing a single-handed 8-weight, skating dry flies, and hooking several fish. (After landing 50-plus Atlantic salmon during the week, it seemed okay to monkey around a little, saltwater style.)

If you want to track along with Owen’s summer on the Ponoi, he’ll be writing a weekly blog titled (what else) “From Russia with Love.”

Word is, Owen is off to a great start, having boated 27 salmon with his client on his first solo day out.

Good work, O. It was a pleasure, and we’ll see you out there on the flats someday.

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