Report by Alex Jardine
The chance of a return visit to Mongolia was not an opportunity I was going to pass up. Just 10 months on from my first taimen experience I found myself furiously tying horrifying surface flies and loading my bags with big rods and reels. This time the journey was to venture even further into the headwaters of the Delger River, a section referred to as ‘The Temple’ and which has only seen about 20 to 30 anglers…ever!
So why this trip? During one miserable damp and cold December evening my friend Adam Stafford (from Wet Your Knot) came to me to ask where to go for that trip of a lifetime to celebrate his 40th birthday. This is always one of the hardest questions to answer, everyone wants something different from a trip but knowing Adam I began to describe the trip I thought was for him. I described journeying into the Mongolian steppe, stunning scenery and big-fly-munching leviathans, then the addition of horse riding, local herders and ger camps. Before I knew it two bottles of red wine were empty and we had a week in the calendar!
Flying to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, is not the easiest task from the UK but our route through Germany on British Airways and MIAT was relatively stress free. On arrival the flight attendant welcomed us to Mongolia and joyfully announced that the temperature was already 29⁰C at 0700. After a slight wait at customs and immigration and a swift collection of our bags, we were greeted in the arrivals hall and transferred to the Bayangol Hotel in the centre of the capital.
A quick breakfast in the hotel and we were back to the airport for our short flight from Ulaanbaatar to the town of Muron, this is definitely more preferable than the 12 hour bus journey. On arrival in the small town airport the weather was still a glorious 30⁰C or so and we were met by the young head guide Tulga. Once all our bags and camp supplies had been collected we loaded up two Toyota Land Cruisers and began the long drive to Camp 1. As we reached the summit of the final hill the glistening waters caught the eye and was finally just an arm’s length away. The excitement reached its height at this moment, the flights, the drive they had all been for this moment. And just minutes later we hopped out of the cars, saying goodbye to motorised contraptions for nearly two weeks and crossed the river by inflatable raft.
We were welcomed by a delightful team of camp staff and our other guide, Bagi, and shown to our ger tents. Happy just to be back in this incredible place I dropped my bags and took in the sheer cliff faces, meadows of wild flowers and beautiful clean air. Adam and Julian, itching to open their Mongolian accounts, strung up 5 weights with large grasshopper patterns for lenok and grayling. In half an hour they both rose a few fish each but only Julian landed his very first lenok trout. Now that we had reached Camp 1 our journey was now to continue up river. With no roads or tracks, hiking taking too long and rafting upstream impractical our mode of transport was to be by horse and camel. This certainly is not a standard way to reach your fishing spot but for me it is now one of the best.
The guides cooked us up kebabs over an open fire whilst we set up our taimen outfits for the afternoon. Leaving little to chance we strung up 9ft 9/10# rods with matching floating lines and 9ft 20lb tapered leaders and surface gurglers. After food I headed down to the beautiful clear and shallow run, whilst not prime taimen water there were a couple of big boulders which could be spots for a passing taimen to sit in. Both Adam and Julian were still grilling Tulga for taimen information as I made my first few casts. After each swing I took a few steps down until I was in a prime position to cover the slack behind a big rock mid-river. I made the cast, the fly landing just past the rock. It first dragged up the current before zipping downstream through the slack. Without warning, the water erupted. A reddy-brown monster sprung from its lie and crashed through the surface. I watched as my gurgler disappeared from view. Just a second or so later I felt the line pull tight and all hell broke loose. I could hear the calls from the guys behind, even at over 100 yards away they had seen the fish hit the fly. The taimen now cartwheeling across the surface then stuck its nose down and went on a searing run to the far back. Backing now out of the rod I was forced to follow. Keeping the pressure on full there were two or three occasions when I was convinced I was wrapped round a rock, but to my amazement this dead stop was purely the fish’s own power.
Tulga by this point had joined me in the river with the net and was positioning himself to net the taimen. Each time the fish saw him it edged forward and a couple of times it made nerve-jangling head shakes on the surface. Tulga, a dab hand with a net, picked his moment and scooped the net under the fish and I watched as it folded safely into the net. Bringing the fish into the shallows I stood, unable to speak, hands trembling just looking at this immense fish. A true predator, it had a large head for swallowing big food, a thick wrist and large powerful tail capable of propelling the fish at an alarming rate.
We measured the fish quickly, keeping him in the water except for a quick couple of photos and slid him back into the water. Watching as the red shape faded into the clear riffled water. The taimen measured an incredible 48 inches (123 cm) and we estimated it to be between 40 – 45 lbs, the equal camp record. We had only been on the water for 5 minutes, what was this week going to be like?
The rest of the story with more images can be read at:
The Guideline equipment for this fishing was: