Our friend Matt Ramsey brings us this report from his recent guiding season in Mongolia.
Having just returned from my 12th season in Outer Mongolia (has it really been that long?), I thought you all might like a slice of the scene from the other side of the world. This September, Sweetwater Travel Company ran two camps on the upper and lower reaches of the Eg-Uur system in Northern Mongolia. I was guiding and managing at the Lower Camp for the month.
Forget about all the bro-brah, stuck in the mud, weeks-without-a-fish, taimen fishing videos you’ve seen. With jet-boat access to over 175 miles of prime taimen habitat managed for catch-and-release, single-barbless-hook, fly fishing-only, this is the premier taimen fishery on the planet.
Here are some season highlights:
Week 1: Season Opener
I flew into camp with the first group of guests via MI-8 helicopter from Ulanbaatar. Aussie guest (a chopper pilot himself), Charles Barret Jr., once seated on the generously loaded Russian bird, looked stricken as he proclaimed, “Mate, I am NOT enjoying this!”
Despite his misgivings, we all arrived safely in camp, ready to get out on the water. The river was in great shape, lower than it had ever gotten the previous season, and fishing was very good. Some of the best action of the year took place during this first week.
Our ace Mongolian guide, “Big Fish” Bayaraa Bayarsaikhan, led a guest into a 48-inch fish on his third cast of the first day in the home pool across from camp.
Every night, the guides gathered in the ger for a fly tying session, cranking out fanciful skaters and streamers for the coming day’s fishing.
As I said, fishing was very good the first week. Charles and his fishing partner, Roy Richards, had a day where they rose 17 taimen and landed 5. This type of hooked- to- landed ratio is not unusual. Taimen are the “gettawayingest” fish I’ve ever encountered.
However several trophy fish were brought to net during the first week.
Week 2: First Rains
Our next group of guests were less experienced anglers than the previous group. By early in the week, a few only wanted to fish for the local trout (lenok) and grayling, citing the fatigue of chucking flies the size of a Raggedy Ann Doll on a 9 weight as an excuse.
Like steelheading, taimen fishing requires a certain spiritual commitment to endless casting. However even when not committed to the rigors of taimen pursuit, there are still some cool surprises to be found in some hidden nooks and crannies.
Towards the end of the second week, a day of rain brought the river up and murked it a bit. On the day of the rise however, a couple of guests had a day where they rose 12 taimen to dries including three over 40 inches, landing only 3. One memorable 4-footer was almost to the net when the doubled over spey rod exploded like a rifle shot. Shortly thereafter, the 25 lb. Maxima tippet parted, and we watched it slowly melt back into the depths.
Week 3: Here comes Santa Claus. . .
Beginning with the first evening of the week, we knew some big fish were in play. Bayaraa’s guest, Todd Fehr from Denver, hooked an 18″ lenok (while skating a mouse for taimen) that splashed at the surface before diving deep.
Suddenly his 9 weight folded over and he was reefing on something he couldn’t budge from the bottom. After about 10 minutes of tug-of-war, whatever it was (they never saw it) let go of the lenok which came in near dead, its skeleton crushed, eyes popped out of its skull, with bleeding scrapes down both flanks.
Welcome to Mongolia.
A few days into the week, we woke to find there’d been an overnight change in the weather.
While I picked a long bend with lots of good wade fishing and built a big fire for my guests, Big Fish Bayaraa decided it was a perfect day to go back in search of the fish that had tried to eat Todd’s lenok. Half way through the run as the snow spit from the low clouds, Todd had a giant boil under his skating fly.
While Bayaraa frantically changed flies, Todd’s fishing partner, Fred Miller, kept casting with his sink tip and streamer from the other end of the boat. About 3 casts later, Fred hooked up just behind the boat transom and everyone let out astonished gasps as a giant fish broke the surface, flaring its gills and shaking its head. They landed it this time.
By the end of the week, Todd still hadn’t landed a trophy, but his spirits were high, nonetheless. He diligently covered water and steadily improved his casting efficiency until (maybe there IS justice in fly fishing after all?) he landed a beautiful trophy fish in the final hour of the week.
Week 4: Do we have to go home now?
The cold front of week 3 brought the river down and snapped it into a clarity rarely seen during fall season. You could count pebbles in 15 feet of water. Calgary’s Mike Gifford and his guest, David Scott, agreed to drive 2 hours by boat above camp (Brrrrrrrrrrr. . . .) early in the week in hopes of some sight fishing to taimen in the canyon. Conditions were perfect as we scaled cliffs, climbed trees (until I fell out of one), and walked high banks in search of Mr T.
While we landed a few mid size fish (30-34 inches), the big ones we found were stubbornly uninterested in our flies, preferring to hassle the “little” 30 inchers we released. Moody bastards, those big taimen.
Towards the end of the week, our Texan team, Matt Faudree and Mac Mather joined me way back upriver for another tour of the homes of the stars. The cloud cover made this day a bit more productive in terms of big fish action, but each bigger fish still managed to avoid having its picture taken.
Nonetheless, we still stopped in at the ancient riverside shrine of the Blue Buddha to give thanks for all the good fortune we had enjoyed.
(Oh, by the way, did I mention that Mac got a 50 incher with Bayaraa? Are you noticing a pattern here?)
As my thoughts turned to the imminent return to reality, family and friends back home, I felt conflicted. The river was still in perfect shape, the weather great. Lots of taimen encounters left unresolved. Charlie Conn, the 14-season veteran guide/manager for the upper camp put it perfectly when we met up on the helicopter leaving camp,
“Dude, we’re leaving too early. Fishing is just getting good!”
Taimen Fever. I can’t wait to go back.