Some time ago a friend asked me if I would be interested in joining a group for a fishing trip to Mongolia to catch the Taimen.
For me, there could only be one answer to that question!
The taimen (Hucho taimen), also known as Siberian taimen and Siberian salmon is an endangered species of trout that is found in the remote rivers of Northern Mongolia near the Russian border. Income generated from carefully controlled sport fishing contributes to its conservation.
The plan was to assemble in Ulaanbaatar at the end of September and drive out the following morning to the remote fishing camp located on the Eg river, a tributary of the Selenge river, in Bulgan Province, located in Northern Mongolia 630km from UB.
I arrived at Ulaanbaatar the previous morning and took a walk to the famous Chhingis Square.
For such a vast country, Mongolia has a meager population of just 3 million. Half of which stay in its capital Ulaanbaatar. Up until 1989 it was a Soviet satellite state and only gained independence as recently as 1992.
Unlike its heavily populated capital, the Mongolian countryside is a vast empty expanse of gently rolling grassy plains as far as the eye can see interspersed by low hills. Herds of cows, horses, sheep and goat graze freely on the open grassland.
Often, for miles there isn’t a tree in sight.
Studding this carpet of grass is the occasional Ger, the circular traditional tent of the nomadic Mongolians.
Evidence of modernisation is seen the image of the Ger above.
The motorcycle, tractor, and solar panel are jarring misfits against the traditional tarp covered circular tent with it’s central coal-fire heater whose chimney can be seen rising out of the roof.
A couple of hours into the drive we were received by a welcoming car well stocked with beer, brandy and a jerry can full of the local tipple: Arrak, mildly alcoholic, fermented horses milk!
Mongolians consider it an insult to refuse anything they offer and so we had our hand full of beer, and paper cups of brandy and arrak! Not that we ever seriously considered a refusal!!
To me Mongolia was a mix of modern, westernised youth and traditional and conservative old timers. Rumour has it that all Mongolians have a genetic connection to their hero Chinggis Khan. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite their stern and rugged features, they are a gentle, courteous, and fun loving people.
Lunch was at Erdnet, the second largest city in Mongolia. One of the dishes was Khuushuur, a typically Mongolian dish consisting of a deep-fried pastry-wrapped chunks of beef.
Of the 630Km, the last 70km were off road on dirt tracks and the Toyota Land Cruisers we used were ideal for the rough terrain.
The camp itself was on a hill overlooking the river. It consisted of a number of log cabins. The main cabin housed the dining area and the kitchen and had a porch that had a great view of the river. There were four other cabins that served as bedrooms. At the very end of the property were the washrooms and a sauna…yes a sauna…that used coal to generate the steam!
The fishing was slated to start at 10am each morning with breakfast at 8am. Which gave me a bit of time to walk around the place. There were plenty of birds and the few images shown below do not truly represent the birding potential.
The Eg river flows eastwards. It’s depth that varies from a few feet to a couple of meters. We distributed ourselves between two boats and the plan was to drift down the river for about 25 km casting for fish.
With winter just around the corner temperatures ranged between -2 degrees Celsius at night to a high of 10 degrees Celsius during the day.
We were fortunate to have great weather and two really glorious days of fishing.
Slowly drifting down the river was a surreal experience.
The only sounds were those of the water flowing through the shallows, interrupted solely by the hiss of the line spooling off the reel or the soft splash of lure hitting the water.
Using the term ‘picturesque’ to describe the countryside as we drifted by is, in my opinion, a gross understatement.
The banks were lined with trees in beautiful autumn tints. Broken occasionally by beaches pebbled with stones ranging in colour from pink to grey. All this against unbelievably blue skies.
The temptation to drop the rod and pick up the camera was almost to strong to resist.
‘Almost’ being the operative word!!
We were rigged light rods with 10-15lb line and diving lures and spinners. My first impression was one of skepticism. Having read stories about the fighting prowess of the Taimen I feared we were grossly underpowered. I could not have been more wrong. We did not lose a single fish to a broken line or a straightened clip.
This is a short YouTube video of some of the fish caught. (Caution: The non-angling fraternity may find this a bit boring, although, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why!)
Being late September the fish feed aggressively in anticipation of the approaching winter when the river freezes solid. On both days we had a steady stream of bites of Lenok and Taimen of varing sizes, releasing most of them except for a couple of lenok for the evening meal.
This was a perfect trip. With even the weather doing everything right! Including holding up the rain till we finished fishing.
A light drizzle began to fall just as we were returning back to camp on the last day, giving rise to a spectacular rainbow that the following images just do not do justice to. And though the end of the rainbow fell directly over our camp when viewed from the river, we had already collected our pot of gold over the past couple of days!
Driving back I had an opportunity to sit in a German made Man camper truck.
Thundering down the two lane highways and taking in the Mongolian countryside through the huge windscreen was an unforgettable experience!
It was the only time in my life that I have seen cattle waiting to cross the road turn and flee back into the meadows at the sight of this approaching juggernaut!!
Back in Ulaanbaatar, we decided to have lunch at Tirelj National Park, stopping on the way to see the giant statue of Chhingis Khaan, Mongolia’s answer to the Statue of Liberty.
I also got this awesome image with a cinereous vulture! It was heavy and I was a bit apprehensive of its huge beak and sharp talons, but there was no way that I was going to miss this opportunity!
The country-side of Tirej national Park was beautiful and was a fitting way to end a truly superb fishing trip.