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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fishing's International Man of Mystery on the Kola

KOLA PENINSULA, Northwestern Russia -- As long as there has been a hierarchy among men, the strongest or the wealthiest have possessed and protected the best land. In ideal situations, this land has eventually ended up in the hands of the people.

The Rockefellers bought and preserved some of the most beautiful properties in the Americas: Mount Desert Island, Maine; the Tetons in Wyoming; St. John in the Caribbean, to name a few.

Marshal Tito, the ruler of the former Yugoslavia and an avid angler, greedily guarded the best trout rivers in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, and was not kind to poachers. The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, another fanatic angler, kept entire streams at the headwaters of the Duero to himself and once banished one of his close advisers because he kept one trout past his limit. Because of the selfish but strict regulations these men imposed, these streams are still some of the most productive in Europe.

Whether they intend to or not, the powerful individuals of today may end up as the stewards of the world's last great wildernesses. Peter Power's name is one that comes to mind.

Power, an Englishman, made his fortune producing the plastic strips that wrap bundles of newspapers. When he retired, Power went on a naturalistic pleasure binge, during which he amassed six homes on six salmon rivers throughout northern Europe. At his estate in Oxfordshire, he became one of two men in the world who collect breeding pairs of all eight species of swans.

On a salmon fishing trip in 1995 to the Kola, a large peninsula just east of Finland on the Barents Sea in northern Russia, Power was given an opportunity to lease 2 million acres of Arctic wilderness for a dollar an acre. The land included three of the best Atlantic salmon rivers in the world: the Kharlovka, the East Litza and the Rynda.

Picture an English eccentric past middle age who has everything and is struggling to find a purpose, mix in a passion for Atlantic salmon fishing, a love for the Arctic wilderness and a warmth toward the Russian people, and what do you get? Power saw, through the clear Kola air, a window to a new life, not only as a happy salmon fisher, but also as an accidental conservationist.

"Basically, I saved the Russians' land from themselves," Power told me one day on my trip to his salmon fishing camp as I was shepherded from river to river, pool to pool, from ocean to headwater, in a Cold War-era helicopter.

"I mean, another four years and they would have destroyed it," Power said. "There were poachers in every pool with nets and trot lines and fishing rods."

Power subsequently employed the best poachers as patrolmen and fishing guides, a conversion that has proved efficient and fruitful, not only for the salmon but also for catch-and-release fly fishers who come to visit. But Power realizes the tenuous nature of his agreement with the local governor, that his lease is not a guarantee in this country.

"You're talking reality, not law," he said. "Tell me what ownership is about: the power to keep people off. I am permitted to do so because I am protecting a unique Atlantic salmon reserve that is a precious Russian national asset."

From May through September, Power lives in the house he built on the Rynda's spectacular falls. When he says, "I live here five months out of the year, this is my home," he means it.

The fishermen who come to visit his camp constitute his social life, and they accept this international man of mystery as part of the experience of fishing here. The visitors, often successful American and English businessmen searching for purpose themselves, enjoy speculating: Who is Peter Power? What's behind his ever-present cigarette and his white mane of hair? Can he fish? Has anyone seen him cast a fly?

If Power let everyone know, it might spoil the fun. He has created an alternate reality in the tundra not only for himself but for his paying guests, who travel thousands of miles to experience some of the best trout and salmon fishing in the world.

An ambitious fisherman in the Arctic summer could fish all through the night, and many have said that the midnight bite is the best for salmon. Another way to spend the evening is to drink lots of vodka, but anyone at Power's camp had better be up for 8 a.m. breakfast.

"Ultimately,'' Power says to latecomers, "you're here to fish for salmon. This is a camp for serious fishermen."

Of those rivers I was able to fish during my stay on the Kola, my favorite was the East Litza, a stunning, dramatic river with steep cliffs and long deep pools, tailing out into beautiful salmon water. Because salmon are fickle, a fisherman wants a river like this.

It is not a stretch to call Power the master of a kingdom. As is his instinct, he runs it like a business, although making money is not a priority. It should be said that after costs for food, alcohol, staff and helicopter fuel are deducted from the earnings, all profits from the camps go to environmental and social causes. The Rynda River is Power's home, and one senses that for Power this is the greatest salmon river left in the world, and that he wants to spend the rest of his life here. On a visit to an abandoned village at the mouth of the Rynda, a local couple gave Power a bushel of king crabs to bring back to camp. Power pointed out into the sea, then along the rocky coastline to a small mound of green earth.

"Every salmon in the Rynda passes this spot," he said. "Perhaps I'll build a house and spend my winters here. See that rise on the other side? There's a cemetery there. Isn't that marvelous? I will be buried there in that cemetery."