I guess I should start at the beginning, about 4 years ago I was at the rise fly fishing film festival, there was a short clip of Taimen fishing in Mongolia. I distinctively remember thinking that going to Mongolia and fishing for these fish would be one of the greatest fly fishing adventures anyone could ever do but logistically it seemed impossible, I didn’t know where to start, and i’ll admit that I wasn’t 100% sure where Mongolia was haha, so I had a bit of a search on Google for companies that offered packages to fish the rivers. I had no luck with any websites that I come across, so I put my Mongolian plans on the back-burner for the time being. That was, until 18 months ago when I come across a few pics on Facebook of people holding up some rather large red tailed river-wolfs. I jumped back on Google and done a quick search ‘Fly Fishing Mongolia’ There were now a lot more search results than a couple of years ago so I flicked through a few websites but the one that caught my eye was http://www.mongoliarivers.com it was set out better and just looked more professional. I contacted Mark Jonstad and after we discussed the options I decided on booking the very last trip of the season (October 6th-16th) on the lower section of the river – I thought this would be the best time of year because the rivers are starting to freeze over and the fish are looking for food to feed up before the long cold winter.
So fast forward 18 months and I arrive in the Mongolian capitol Ulaanbataar(UB), I was greeted by nomadic journeys guide Oso, he dropped me off at my hotel and gave me a run down on the city and what to expect. Ulaanbataar is a pretty unique place as it’s a mix of modern and traditional stylings with a lot of soviet influence, the Russians pulled troops out of Mongolia in the late 80s early 90s and once again gained its Independence and formed a new constitution in 1992.
I had a few days in Mongolia exploring the city and just getting my gear organized for the week ahead..
On the 6th of October I woke from a pretty ordinary sleep, I guess I was so excited I didn’t sleep very well. I went to the hotel lobby and was met by Oso we had a bit of a chat and told me a little bit about the other guys. Turns out I would be fishing with four Kiwis (Guy, Hugo, Mark, Murry) and an American (Jay)..
We headed back to the UB airport and caught a flight out to the landing strip about an hour and thirty minutes north east of UB..
The landing site on day one
We were about to land but had to buzz a few cows to get them off the landing strip before we were able to land. We touched down and were met buy the guides, staff and the anglers from the upper river trip that were going to catch the plane back to UB, we had a quick yarn to these blokes and every thing they had to say was 100% positive which was a good sign for the fishing to come, on a side note we did notice their hands, swollen and cracked (stripping for seven days is pretty hard on the hands) and they recommended hand cream and voltarin gel, I didn’t have either!
We jumped in some old Russian vans and headed a few hundred meters over to the river… before we knew it we were in our waders and jumping in the boats to start fishing – it was all a bit surreal, I couldn’t really believe where I was, it was fantastic!!
Hugo and Murray
Myself and Jay shared a boat and a tent at night, we were dubbed the International team by the Kiwis, we had guide Marcelo today who told us that today was a practice day, which was needed by most as the flies we were casting were rather large copper tube flies about 8 inches long with 3/0 Gamakatsu saltwater hooks, it took me about a dozen casts before I could get the fly to go where I wanted. I found that because we were in boats that water-loading was the best technique for chucking these beasts, you can also double haul them pretty easily but you are better off saving your arm and just water loading, plus its a lot safer for the guide and guy at the front of the boat hehe! The other thing we had to learn was the strip set; this is something that I’m very familiar with yet never do it when I get a bite. I’m in such a bad habit of rod setting that I can tell myself to strip set and 5 seconds later get a bite and rod set. It’s a very hard habit to break! I remedied this by doing every strip as though I was setting the hook, and it was pretty effective for me, I would strip set into the fish and on the next strip I would strip set again and also raise my rod, it worked for me, but not sure whether its the best method. The guides recommended strip setting a few times because the bigger taimen had rather hard mouths, and by the end of the trip I had the double strip set down pretty good, actually I think by the end of the trip everyone had the strip setting down pretty good, especially Hugo..
Chunky copper tube flies.. with Gamakatsu 3/0 hooks..
So by the end of day one I had one take but no hook up and jay had a few takes and one hook up that he landed, we were both pretty happy to see a taimen, they are beautiful fish. We arrived at camp at about 5.30 or so and all the tents had been set up and the cooking was underway, we got changed and made our way to the main tent where we had a bit of a chat about the days fishing. We were all very excited, especially team kiwi which had boated 4 fish all up, talk of this competition had started to heat up. Team Kiwi V The Internationals for most fish landed and I had to keep my mouth shut as I hadn’t landed anything hehe. Dinner arrived a short time later, it was a beautiful meal!! in fact all the meals were superb!! A big thanks to boggi our chef, her food was spectacular!!
Pre dinner fish talk
The following morning Jay and I woke up at 5am, not because we wanted to, but because Mark and Guy were snoring really loudly in the tent next to us! We got up and pottered about for a while, there was still some hot water left in the thermos from last night so we made a couple of coffees and sat around by the fire for the next hour or so, fresh hot water was available at 7am, breakfast was served at 8am and we were on the river by 9am. We float the river approximately 9-12kms per day, sometimes even further. Breakfast was delicious. today our guide was Yuurgi, he is a Mongolian guide and knows the river very very well, by lunch time he had us onto half a dozen fish including an Amur Pike.. which was totally awesome, Amur Pike are pretty rare fish, they are found in only two places, the Onon-Shilka-Amur system.. and on the island of Sakhalin, this river also has a small population of another rare species, the Amur Trout, they look very similar to a regular brown trout but have a mouth that looks more like a Bonefish. The first fish I landed in Mongolia was an Amur Trout, my trip was off to a good start, after lunch and just before camp Jay missed a rather large fish, not sure how big but it was pretty disappointing, Jay wanted to walk back up the river from the camp and fish for it again, but the scrub in one section was impassable so he accept defeat.. unfortunately. The tally for us for the day was seven fish for myself including the Amur Pike and Amur Trout, I had a pretty good day with the rarer fish, in fact I could have gone home that night a very happy person, Jay ended up with 2 cracking Taimen one was 30 inches and the other slammed a mouse pattern on the surface, it went 31 inches!!
Jays 31 inch Taimen
That night I got the camera out and took a few pics of the night sky, it was an amazingly clear night out here and the milky way looked brilliant!!
Over the next few days we all landed several more Taimen and a few Lenok and Grayling as well, Jay hooked and landed a nice 27 inch Amour Trout which was spectacular, he also landed a 38 inch taimen, but Hugo ended up with a beast of a taimen that went 42 inches, which was the biggest one out of the guys fishing, the guides however had a spare boat and would fish the river after all us guys had been through all the holes, Jaime got a massive taimen that was 48 inches, which could have been a fish over 50 years of age.
Jays 27 inch Amur Trout
Jays 38 inch Taimen
Hugo with his 42 inch Taimen
A baby Grayling.. they grow to about 12 inches in this river..
The scenery was very unusual to me, it wasn’t really like anything I had seen before, although some sections of the river reminded me of the Zambezi river in Zambia, it was semi dessert like fields with mountains in the distance and a touch of snow and ice.
The blue tent is the dinner tent.. orange tents are for hibernation..
A few wolf tracks kept us on our toes during the lunch breaks
Dutch oven almost ready to go!!
Dinner time was always special.. The food was unbelievable!!
Camping under the milky-way every night was spectacular!!
Dunno what this bloke was thinking.. water temperature was 5c
The guides that work in Mongolia are a mixed group 3 from Chile, 1 from Argentina, 1 from america and one from Mongolia, there were a couple of Mongolian guys there that were being trained as guides so over the next few years you can expect to see more local guides working on the river..
Fabian – Argentinian guide
Daniel – Chilean guide
(From Left to Right) Murray, Jaime, Marcelo, Daniel, Peter, Fabian, Hugo, Yuurgi, Guy, Jay and Myself..
The Clackacraft boats were really good to cast from..
Another Amur Pike
Accidentally left the rod out in the snow,
The weather was superb while we were there, it was cold but if you dressed appropriately you didn’t notice it, most days were clear blue skies, the only bad day we had was the last day it was snowing and the guides kept freezing over and we were continuously dunking the rods into the river to get the line flowing through them again.
another problem I had on this day was the wet fly line would freeze to the bottom of the boat and if you kept your fly out of the water for more than 10 seconds it would turn into a block of ice, I actually really enjoyed the challenge of fishing in these conditions.
It snowed during the last day of fishing..
Rowing into camp for the very last time..
The last day was a pretty sad day, we were all a bit sad to be heading back to the city, but it was also a bit weird because even though we were heading back to the city, it was going to take 18 hours.. so we still had plenty of sight seeing to do along the way which kind of softened the blow of going back to UB.
The Vans come to load up all the gear ready for the big drive back to UB
The scenery on the way back was really great and I actually loved the drive back to UB..
5 minutes into the drive back to UB and the air filter had frozen..
Hugo and I checking out the partially frozen River
The scenery changed after a few hours..
Lunch break at a small take away shop in the middle of nowhere..
Back on the road..
Every now and then the driver would go off-road and do a few donuts to try and clear the ice from under the car.. it affects the steering after a while..
There were a few of these birds getting about, they were catching mice in the fields..
Partially frozen River
After about 12-14 hours of driving we pulled into a small town and decided to call it a day.. hotel rooms were organized and we had a quick meal and hit the beds.. the next morning were got up early and were back in UB by about 1pm, but we stopped at the Chinngis Khaan/Bronze age museum about 50kms outside of UB for a quick look first..
My new attire..
Nomadic journey who are partnered with Mongolian river outfitters organized a day tour for us for the next day, it was pretty cool,here are a few pics from the day..
A few pigeons
A Buddhist Temple
A Russian monument.. (L to R) Mark – Murray – Myself – Hugo and Guy
A few lures.. they’d go alright on the GL after dark..lol
Nothing better than sucking on some of these after a hard days fishing!!
Thank to all the guides and support staff at Mongolian river outfitters, and thanks to Guy – Jay – Hugo – Mark and Murray for such a great trip I really enjoyed fishing with you guys!!
Just quietly I was happy to be heading back to Tassie, Something that I hadn’t mentioned was that I have been away for 7 weeks fishing in other countries before I arrived in Mongolia.. so stay tuned for a report on Iceland in the next few weeks!!
4 thoughts on “Riverwolfs – Mongolia”
Stunning photography and a wonderful story. I look forward to seeing the coverage of your iceland trip.
well told Paul…really enjoyed your company on the trip..
PS seriously thinking about going back next year
Might join you Murray, Kirk
Awesome & fantastic. Good job Paul. Lifetime memories. Cheers Yards.