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Taimen Fishing in Mongolia
1997 News and 1998 Forecast
by Jeff Vermillion
A Trip From the Past
Although we no longer offer the trip described in this article, the stories are still interesting and remain available for your information and enjoyment. Over the last two decades, Acute Angling has focused on owning, operating, outfitting and organizing its own vertically integrated trips. We have painstakingly evolved and perfected our trips to provide you with the broadest range of options and access to peacock bass and Amazon exotics in a dependable, carefully controlled manner. As the Amazon’s premiere fishing operators, we provide “turn-key”, “all-inclusive” trip packages in our polished accommodations, delivered with first-class service. That success mandates that we no longer offer trips operated by others. Trips owned or operated by someone other than the entity outfitting and ooffering the trip creates multiple layers of responsibility. We offer only trips that we ourselves operate, where we have total control over how your trip is delivered. One responsible entity, no excuses, no unpleasant surprises.
We offer stories in this archive for your enjoyment and to provide insights into how our operating philosophy and our trips have evolved over the years. Mostly, they're here because some are fun and interesting to read. As for the trips themselves, we've moved on. In some cases the fisheries described have been depleted, in others, access to the region is no longer available and in a few, current governments have made travel less attractive. The fish, however, always remain interesting, so read and learn about them and the fishing experience they provided. Who knows, governments may change, conservation practices may improve and rivers may reopen. We just might end up returning there, or someplace like it, in the future.
Ron Meek and I have just returned from an action-packed season in Mongolia. It feels great to be back in the U.S.; however, even now, just days after our return, I can't help but feel a bit of nostalgia for the untamed feel of the Mongolian landscape, the kindness of the Mongolians and, of course, the sight of happy clients doing their best to control their adrenaline with a 50-inch fish hot on their mouse patterns. Incredibly, I have never seen a mouse move so fast or so far. I guess it's a good thing these fish aren't smart.
1997 was our third season in Mongolia. Onceagain we have learned a lot about Mongolia - its rivers, its fish and its environment. Also, a lot has changed since we started in 1995. We have built a dining lodge from hand-hewn, native larch pine and a fully equipped shower building. We have hired a professional chef and have a number of other improvements planned for 1998. Quite simply, at this point, taimen fishing in Mongolia is a comfortable fishing adventure, perfect for anyone.
This year our weather, though often not suitable for shorts, was excellent. During the entire season we had just two days with rain. The rest of them were the sunny fall days and cold nights that Mongolia is famous for. However, please keep in mind that our camp elevation is 4,000 feet and that we sit at about the same parallel as northern Montana; consequently, during September and October, the weather can change very quickly. Layered clothing is essential. If you come prepared for potentially cold fall weather, a temporary cold front or inclement weather won't affect your fishing.
The taimen fishing report for 1997 was spectacular, with some wild highlights. Charles Nelson, "Schreiner", landed a 53-inch taimen in a stretch of river no wider than 70 feet (landing it took four bends and a quarter mile of river!). Wilder yet was that the fish he hooked was one of two monsters that moved in and took position so close to him that he couldn't cast. In a moment of bewilderment, he put his rod tip down into the water with two feet of line out. He worked the fly back and forth with his rod tip, the fish grabbed the fly, and the fight was on!
A typical fishing day begins with breakfast at 8 AM. After a leisurely breakfast we will begin the fishing day. A typical fishing day is from 10 AM to 7 PM - a long day by any standard. Rods are split three to a boat/American guide. Depending on conditions, we will choose a stretch of river within an hour from camp. According to the water and individual interests, anglers will fish from either the boat or wade fish from the bank. On the bank the anglers can choose to spot fish or fish down and across with mice patterns. Most fishing is done with floating lines and skated flies with single or double handed rods. Gourmet lunches are prepared daily by your American guide. These lunches include homemade bread, grilled fish, pork or steak, a salad, side dish of potatoes or vegetables, and a variety of condiments.
Later the same week, Bev Holt, of England, cast from the boat toward a particularly suspicious lie with a mouse pattern. A 50-inch fish exploded on the fly and Bev set the hook. After fighting the fish for a few minutes, the fish got off. But taimen are hungry and pain means little to them - on the very next cast, the fish came back. Thanks to good reflexes, Bev got his fly out of the danger zone in time. On the next three casts he raised the fish in unreal swirls and out-of-the-water strikes but somehow never got the hook into the fish. On his next cast, there was no question the fish had it and Bev set the hook like a champ. The fish raced off, the rod exploded, and the fly popped out. I looked around the boat for another rod but no luck except for a four weight lenok rod. So we agreed we might as well try and, on the very next cast, the same fish smashed the mouse and somehow everything held together. After a long battle, we managed to land it - definitely not a fish I would like to tackle again with a 4-weight rod!
Our last week of the season, much to husband Bob's dismay, Jean Kendall stood up after an extended fishing break and promptly said to guide, Ron Meek that she would just take a few casts. One cast later, the water exploded just 30 feet from the boat. After a long battle, she landed one of our largest fish of the season. It was 55-inches long and after it was released, we heard Bob muttering something softly which sounded like, "It's just not fair!" By week's end, Bob had recovered nicely, thanks to a lot of particularly friendly taimen.
The lenok and grayling fishing this year was great - especially during the caddis and mayfly hatches of the late fall. Our largest lenok of the year was 30 inches, though probably the average was around 18-inches. Lenok in the 20-24 inch range were a daily occurence. Grayling averaged around 12-inches - our largest was about 18-inches. The lenok and grayling fishing was fascinating in many regards. First, we found that it was difficult to get clients interested in lenok after they caught a glimpse of their first taimen and, second, we found that lenok were either on the bite or off. When they were biting , the fishing for them was a blast. When they were turned off, it was difficult to keep fishermen trying for them. Ron and I agreed that if a client were to go after them for a full day, he might expect between 10-30 lenok a day.
1998 looks to be another exciting year for taimen fishing in Mongolia. Our October 1997 exploratory revealed an abundance of promising water and wild, unfished territory. Predictably, the river south of our 1997 camp turned out to be some of the wildest country we have explored yet. The river runs through a canyon with car-size boulders and some huge taimen pools. It was here that Jean Kendall caught her big fish. Below this the river braids out into a valley walled in by 6,000-foot peaks lined with larch, birch and cottonwood forests in full splendor. The braids provided some very interesting fishing on our exploratory trip. There is nothing more exciting in the fishing world than sight-fishing a mouse pattern to a 50-plus pound fish in really skinny water.
Taimen, lenok and grayling counts in this stretch of river were identical to the area around our 1997 camp. In addition, there were plenty in the trophy 4-5 foot range eager for fat mice (although they were unwilling to eat Russell Thornberry's patented "beaver" pattern). We have located the camp well out of range of last season's to ensure an overabundance of water for each individual camp. With jet boats, each camp can access roughly 75 miles of new territory… a rare treat in this ever-shrinking world!
We have built a second camp in this stretch of river to accommodate six fishermen. Like the upper camp, fishermen will stay in well-furnished gers with two iron spring beds, each with mattress and warm sleeping bag. These traditional gers proved to be really popular with this season's clients. They are spacious, 18-feet in diameter, and with a well-serviced stove (thanks to Gandbar, our "fire-guy"); they are quite cozy. The separate shower building has great water pressure and plenty of hot water. A nice hot shower, a meal prepared by our professional chef, and a warm ger finish off a day nicely.
We also explored a totally new area. The resultswere outrageous and plans have begun immediately to build a fully-equipped lodge to accommodate nine fishermen. Unlike the area around our previous camps, this region is much warmer and dryer. Even in mid-October, the days were warm and nighttime frosts were uncommon. This area is surrounded by peaks from 6,000-8,000 feet that are heavily forested with larch pine. The river valley is not nearly as heavily wooded, though willows, cottonwoods and alder line the river banks.
The rivers accessible from the camp are reminiscent of Oregon's Deschutes River, though smaller. From the camp we have jet-boat access to 140 miles of fishing water. Perhaps one of the wildest memories I have from Mongolia is rounding the bend of one of the rivers to see a herd of bactrian camels on the river's edge right in our fishing hole. Nothing could have seemed stranger to a guide from Montana.
The world's largest freshwater salmonid