Our friend Matt Ramsey brings us this report from his recent guiding season in Mongolia.
Fall 2010 marked my 13th trip to Outer Mongolia guiding for Sweetwater Travel Company in the continuing pursuit of giant taimen on the fly. Each year, out of my entire season of guiding, this is the trip I look forward to the most. Where else in the freshwater fly fishing world do you have the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime on any given cast?
This year, instead of a chopper ride out to camp with the first week’s guests, I took the 7-hour jeep ride from the provincial capital to the river with the crew for a week of set-up. The countryside was spectacularly green from the summer rains.
Once out to camp, the Mongols were busy getting the place ready to receive guests. As first-year guide, Michael Blakely, discovered, you have to watch out for the decommissioned outhouse holes when wandering around camp in the dark.
In the first week of fishing, the weather was stinking hot. It felt like Belize out there a couple of days, with 90+ degrees and high humidity. When you could find the shadows early and late, fish were eating the dries. Later in the week as weather cooled, fishing improved.
Week 2 marked the return of Charles Barrett (who you may remember from last season’s report) from Sydney, Australia. A true “taimen freak,” Charles had landed and released a trophy 42″ taimen in ’09 and returned in hopes of catching an even bigger one. On his first day on the upriver beat, he did just that.
At the end of the week, Charles and I were joined upriver by none other than Darth Vader (I’d be happy to explain this over a beer at the shop). In the last run of the day, Charles rose a giant fish to a dry, but missed it. Several minutes later, Lord Vader (actually, he’s not evil at all) hooked about a 2-foot lenok on his mouse pattern. Suddenly the water erupted as the giant taimen attacked the lenok. After three unsuccessful attempts to engulf the smaller fish, the big taimen disappeared. The relieved lenok was released unharmed. About 20 minutes more and Darth hooked another lenok, this time about 18 inches. He turned to me over his shoulder and said, “I suppose I should let this swim around a bit, eh?”
Another giant explosion and this time the fish was on! Darth Vader’s 15′ 10 wt was folded to the cork, and he reefed on it with all his strength as the fish made a run upriver stripping line from the reel. Charles and I scrambled around in the boat putting away rods and getting ready to pull the anchor in case we had to give chase. The taimen stopped and held in the deep water for over a full minute shaking its massive head as Vader applied all the pressure he dared.
“The Force is strong in this one!” I heard him mumble under his breath. Suddenly, the rod went limp, and out popped the lenok: crushed, bleeding, and bug-eyed. It was then we realized the taimen had never been hooked.
Charles and Darth both agreed that this experience had been even better than landing a big one. Isn’t it true that the one that gets away is the one that haunts your dreams?
By the last week I was there, as taimen began to congregate in the deeper pools in anticipation of the winter freeze-over, dry fly action was giving way more to sink tips and streamers. Credit for the season’s most successful pattern goes to oregonflyfishingblog-master, Matt Stansberry and his “Big-Eye Baitfish” pattern. The version I tied to imitate a wounded grayling accounted for Charles’s 50-incher as well as a 46″, 47″, 48″, and another 50″ taimen through the season. Here are a few shots of the Stansberry Big-Eye Baitfish and and some of its 4-foot fans:
In the last week of the season, I got to accompany a couple of guests on a half-day partridge-hunting mission in the valleys near camp.
It was great to spend a morning cruising in the Jeep and checking out the incredible scenery away from the river. On the way back to camp we stopped at the mysterious “inscription rock” tucked away in a narrow canyon near a fresh water spring.
Encircled by ancient Tibetan script, carved in relief from solid granite, it must have taken decades or even generations to complete this holy monument. I’m sure the monk or monks responsible were inspired by the view as they carved away, year after year.
Now I’m home and straight into a busy October of steelhead and trout guiding. But Mongolia is never far from my thoughts. Every year is different, but it’s always a rewarding and truly unique experience. For those few anglers and guides each year who make the long journey in search of giant taimen, a measure of the open space and profound quiet of the Eg-Uur Valley endures in our memories.
May the Force be with you.