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Fishing In Mongolia
By: William S. Brown
My home town of Juneau, Alaska has some of
the best salmon fishing in the world: We may not get kings as large as
those on the Kenai, but the Spring run is predictable and there is
considerably less pressure than on the Kenai. But it s the coho run that
Juneau is really known for. The cohos begin to arrive in numbers around
the middle of July and by September are beginning to clog the many streams
around town. With salmon fishing like this, it might seem crazy to travel
half way around the world to catch another salmon, but I did just that.
And I m glad I
did: Salmon fishing in Mongolia is an experience not to be missed.
The fish I was looking for was the landlocked taimen (hucho taimen), the
largest salmon in the world. Taimen are found only a few rivers in Russia,
China, and Mongolia. Taimen look much like a salmon, but they differ from
the Pacific salmon I am used to catching in a couple significant ways.
First, they do not die when they spawn. This is one reason why they can
grow to monstrous proportions. The world s record, caught in a net,
weighed over 200 pounds. Second, mice, lemmings and other small rodents
make a significant portion of their diet. This, coupled with their size,
may explain why they are called "river wolf" by Mongolians.
There are a few U.S.-based outfitters that offer taimen fishing trips in
Mongolia but the price of those trips was way beyond what I could afford.
This meant that if I was to fish for taimen that I would have to go with a
Mongolian outfitter. Fortunately, finding a Mongolian outfitter was an
easy Internet search. After asking several questions and checking with
references, I chose Samar Magic Eco Tours and a 12 day trip which included
6 days of fishing for taimen, lenok(a trout like
fish) and grayling.
In late August my girlfriend Joan and I flew from Juneau to Seattle to
Tokyo to Seoul where we spent two nights eating sushi and trying to adjust
to jet lag. We then had a 3 hour flight to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of
Mongolia. The next day we met the third member of our party, a Polish
engineer named Grezegorz, then climbed aboard a Russian-made 4 wheel drive
van and headed west. It would take us two days to reach the confluence of
the Chuulut and Suman rivers where we planned to fish. The Chuulut drains
into Lake Baikal, the huge lake in Siberia. Baikal is not only the one
place in the world with fresh water seals; it is also thought to have the
largest taimen in the world.
the morning, Joan and I woke up before anybody else, grabbed our rods, and
made the steep 15 minute hike down to the river. When we got to the water
s edge, I realized one thing immediately: The river was too fast and deep
for me to fish with a fly rod. Fortunately, I had a heavy bait casting
outfit and Joan was using spinning gear. It didn t take long for action: I
made my ninth cast across a deep pool, reeled fast to get my lure down,
and got a strike. The taimen jumped as soon as it felt
the hooks. And what a jump it was tail walking like a marlin. Then it
went deep and made several runs around the pool. Fortunately, it stayed
away from the rapids and I was able to land it in 10 minutes. I took a
photo before releasing it. That first fish wasn't big for a taimen
perhaps 45 inches long and 35 pounds but it gave me more enjoyment
than any fish I have ever caught.
About an hour later, Joan caught a fish. It was, as she still reminds me,
considerably larger than mine.
We stayed at the confluence for three days and four nights. We had luck
fishing two ways. Most of our fish were caught on large wobbling minnows
Magnum Rapalas and Bomber Long A s. The key was to run them deep in the
seams between white and dark water at the edges of deep pools. We also
caught fish in the evening on mice imitations. This was the most exciting
way to fish: Just as the sun began to set, we d cast mice imitations into
the deep pools and let them drift slowly on the surface.
taimen would come out of the water and hit the mouse on the way down. As
often as not, we wouldn t hook up, but the strike alone was well worth it.
In the three days we are at the confluence, we caught 11 taimen and lost
at least that many.
The largest was 58 inches long; the smallest was about 35 inches. And, of
course, the big one got away: I chased one fish perhaps a half mile down
stream before it jumped and threw the lure. That fish was over 6 feet
Our next camp was a 4 hours, off road drive to another spot on Chuulut
river. We camped right on the river and were able catch lenok and
grayling from our tents. Once we managed to match the hatch size 22
light brown dry flies we caught fish on almost every cast. The lenok
ran between 2 and 6 pounds while the grayling averaged about 12 inches.The
only problem was that it was too easy. The taimen had spoiled me: After
catching a couple dozen lenok, I put down my 5 weight , grabbed my bait
casting rod, and began working the deeper pools for
taimen. I lost one fish in three days but did manage to catch perhaps
50 lenok that should have known better than to go for lures as large as I
was casting. We kept a few lenok and a burbot for shore side meals but
released all of the taimen. Our Mongolian guide expected us to keep a head
for a trophy. We explained that all we wanted were some pictures and the
memories. Unfortunately, not all fishermen practice catch and release.
even bring canning equipment so that they can their taimen to take home.
And while the locals do not eat fish, restaurants in Ulaanbaatar have
recently begun serving taimen to tourists. This can t continue.Taimen are
huge fish, and the rivers of Mongolia simply can t support very many of
If you go:
With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, travel to and within
Mongolia is easier today than it was just a few years ago but it is not
something to do on your own. Barely 50,000 tourists visit Mongolia every
year and there are few of the amenities that Westerns expect, even while
traveling abroad. There are only 750 miles of paved roads in a country the
size of Alaska, and no good road maps exist. Fortunately, there are
numerous Mongolian outfitters that charge very reasonable prices.
This included all meals, board, translator,
driver and fishing guide.
When to travel:
Taimen fishing is open from early May through the end of October. The best
time is typically from mid-August until the end of September. The weather
in Mongolia can be extreme. On our trip in late August and early
September, we were often hot in the day but quite cold at night. Bring
warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag. There were no bugs while we were
there but they can be a problem earlier in the summer.
We had no health problems, but travelers are recommended to bring a
medical kit which includes antibiotics and treatment for dysentery. Drink
only bottled water; be sure to buy enough in Ulaanbaatar before leaving
for the countryside.
I never even cast my 9 weight fly rod I because we found taimen only in
deep pools with fast current. Under different conditions, large streamers
and mouse imitations should work. I caught all of my fish on a
medium-heavy seven and a half foot glass bait casting rod with an
Ambassadeur 7000C Synchro reel loaded with 25 pound monofilament. If
anything, I was undergunned.
Joan used an 8 foot spinning rod with 20 pound mono; 40 pound braided line
would have been a wiser choice. All of our fish
were caught on baits in natural colors; the best single lure was a Heavy
Duty 6 inch Bomber Long A in the rainbow trout pattern. We also caught
fish on a Husky Pikie in silver flash, Rapala wobblers in silver, and mice
imitations. For lenok and grayling, a 3 or 5 weight fly rod with a
floating line would be ideal.
Contact: Cristo C. Gavilla Gomez-director Samar Magic Tours
USA Voice Mails/Fax: (1-206-888-4286)
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