Matt Ramsey brings us another great report from his Taimen Fishing Season. This was Matt’s 14th season guiding in Mongolia. Amazing stuff Matt thanks for sharing this seasons adventure.
Every season in Mongolia is special and unique. Now, 14 seasons into my continuing affair with this place, its people, and these incredible fish, my connection only deepens with each journey.
The 2011 fall season was no exception. In fact, this year was particularly important for me: for the first time, my wife, Aimee, and our 6-year-old daughter, Haylee Ann joined me in the adventure. Sort of an extreme version of “take-your-daughter-to-work day.” It was cool to show the family around the office for a few weeks.
As this was the fam’s first trip to Mongolia, I took about 7000 great photos. But I promise to keep (mostly) to the fishing. . .
Opening the upper camp.
We arrived at midnight into Chingiis Khan International Airport in Ulan Bataar. Over the last decade and a half, Ulan Bataar (“UB” to the locals) has become a chaos of filthy air, nightmarish traffic, and noise. After a day in the city, we all looked forward to getting out into the country. Aimee, Haylee Ann, and I were joined in Ulan Bataar by Sweetwater Travel Company’s Dan Vermillion for the trip out to camp. After a short flight to Moron (it means “horse,” you moron!) we prepared to jump in the jeeps for the quick (~8 hour) drive to the river. We stopped in a the local convenience store for snacks.
Erdinkhuu’s Land Cruiser is a fair bit nicer than his old Russian Jeep from several seasons back. Although the ride was still rough, we all enjoyed the spectacular countryside, especially after the day in UB. Road conditions were somewhat variable.
Arriving after dark, we hauled out some dusty sleeping bags and crashed out. Next morning we set about the task of opening up the lodge and getting the place ready for guests. Haylee Ann made some friends.
While the crew got boats in the water, my job was to tie some fresh flies.
The hiking on the mountain behind camp provided some awesome views of the valley and a chance to visit the ovoo (shrine) on the peak.
Week 1: First Swings
Fishing got off to a good start in my boat this year. On the first full day out, ace fly angler and taimen veteran, Eizo Maruhashi took full advantage of a sight-fishing opportunity and put the first big taimen of the year in the basket.
The next day dawned with mist and fog in the valley. But by midday, the crystal blue Mongolian sky was in full effect.
Fishing this day with Ichiro Nagai (another confirmed taimen freak and holder of many IGFA world records) was a treat. With the build of a linebacker (sumo wrestler?), Ichiro is a machine: wading deep, casting long, and never tiring. He’s also an innovative fly tyer. Here’s a peek into Ichiro’s boxes:
Around midweek it was time for me to move the family down to open the lower camp in preparation for the incoming guests. Joined by returning guide, Michael Blakely, we loaded up the jet boat for the 4-hour ride through the canyon. Only 10 minutes into the journey, we encountered Dan Vermillion and his client, Matt Cahill in mid-battle with a sizable fish. We pulled over to watch the show. Haylee Ann and Aimee got their first good look at a four-footer.
Along the way we even fished a little bit. Aimee hooked a nice three-footer on a squirrel in the first run we tried. When it came unbuttoned, she went through the 4 stages of mourning in about 20 minutes. It took me a little longer. . .
That day was one of the top experiences of my life. To share this place with my family was literally a dream come true. We got to really take our time and just soak in the quiet and beauty of this incredible river valley.
Week 2: Family Reunion
Arriving at the lower camp, we were received warmly by the Mongolian crew, many of whom I’ve known since the late 90’s. Odkhuu, Mogi, “Big Fish” Bayaraa and the rest of my Mongolian “family” wasted no time in welcoming our little princess.
We took time to visit the inscription rock (see last year’s report) and marveled at the haunting valley of ancient burial mounds, most of which date to around the 4th and 5th centuries.
Fishing was pretty good for the first week, with everyone in camp landing a 3 footer or two.
After the first week of guests, it was time for the family to head home for work and school.
It was tough on dad to put them on that chopper, but the show must go on. And luckily we had a crew of real anglers in camp. We all looked forward to a week of serious taimen fishing.
Week 3: Go big or go home!
Tuesday dawned with a major cold front coming through. Snow dusted the hilltops and sleet stung our faces on the morning jet boat commutes. This is the weather that separates the men from the boys so to speak. And this is the type of weather that “Big Fish Bayara” lives for.
With a skilled angler in his boat, Simms Marketing Manager, Rich Hohne, and the “perfect” taimen fishing weather, Bayaraa knew it was time to make his move on a fish he’d been pestering for the last few seasons. Deep into an anchor drop, out of nowhere, Bayaraa goes, “Rich: get ready. next 5 casts. 50 incher.”
2 casts later, a giant head and shoulders rolled over the squirrel. As luck would have it, visiting pro photographer, Matt Harris, was on hand to record the event. Hard to tell who was happier: Rich Hohne with the fish of a lifetime, or Bayaraa. You decide.
Sometimes, even the best anglers tire of the drudgery of casting a 9 or 10 weight all day with a muppet tied to the end. One day, Trip Johnson and I spent an afternoon exploring a side channel for some light rod action. It was neat to realize that this channel had likely never been fished before.
In my boat, the curse of catching that big one with Eizo the first day was in full flower. Of the 3 four-foot-plus fish that ate flies for me this week, none were landed. Taimen guiding can be a humbling experience. Still it’s hard to get too upset when the fishing is like this:
Week 3: The Denoument
The last week we were lucky to have a crew of families. While a few were serious anglers, everyone spent plenty of their week exploring, visiting the local village, riding horses, partridge hunting, and basically immersing themselves in the Mongolian countryside. Fishing was just one of the activities. It was a perfect way to transition out of the season. A fishing day would often be enhanced by a visit with a local family, out for a drive on their motorcycle.
As the larch needles turned from green to blazing yellow, the river seemed ready to close up shop for another winter under the ice. Everyone savored the quiet evenings spent fishing for lenok and grayling in the sweet waters of the Eg-Uur Valley.