Fishing in Mongolia

For the first time my friends and I visited Mongolia back in 2008. We slept in tents then, we prepared food ourselves, but, despite such conditions, the impressions of the trip were the most positive. Even then we were sure that sooner or later we will return here.

Much has changed there since then. First of all, the living conditions, which due to the tourist company, specializing in fishing tours, has acquired quite, civilized forms. Excellent living conditions, including meals, professional guide services made our trip pleasant, minimizing domestic concerns.

The first part of our trip lasted four days from the Hovd River in the Altai, which includes Lake Homon and Khurgan (2,100 m above sea level).

Beautiful Altai landscape

There we caught grayling and Mongolian Ottomans, very similar to the Nile perch. The second, two-week part of the trip required a long journey to Tsagan Ur, which was almost a thousand kilometers distant and further to the fishing camp on the Ur River. This river was famous for its taimens, which they caught here last year. Some of the caught specimens exceeded 150 cm in length! So our appetites were very large.

Already at the very beginning of the trip my friends, fans of fly fishing, chose for themselves as a prey to excellent Altai graylings.

On the territory of Mongolia there are four species of grayling – Arctic, Khubsugul, Amur and Mongolian. We were encouraged by the news that the Mongolian grayling inhabits the Hovd River, which reaches its maximum size in comparison with all. In books they write that they can reach a length of 70 cm. One look at his huge mouth is enough to understand the composition of the “diet” of this water bandit.

One must be very careful and careful, releasing the hook from the mouth of the captured trophy, because its sharp, curved teeth resemble the teeth of large trout rather than the small teeth of European grayling. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in that the most successful fly fishing lures were streamers. It was necessary only to use a heavy cord, so that the streamer was at the bottom.

Fly fishing in the Altai

Very quickly we came to the conclusion that streamers are not inferior in general to catching small wobblers. You only need to catch them as well as streamers – across the current.

Unfortunately, we were not able to catch outstanding trophies. However, unforgettable fishing on the stern backdrop of the magnificent Altai Mountains, in the waters abounding in fishes 45-51 cm in length, left an unforgettable mark in our souls.

Grayling 51 cm on the wobblers

Mongolian grayling

In addition, the information about the grayling more than 70 cm long was fully confirmed. I must note that fans who want to break the world record along the length of the caught grayling should hurry. Our Mongolian friends bragged about photos of us, from several of which I almost had a stroke. They depicted whole rows of huge grayling in the length of 60-80 cm, and some of them definitely exceeded 90!

And they were all caught during spawning. At the same time, the Mongols, without a shadow of embarrassment, invited us to arrive at another time, around mid-May, when the fish goes to spawn from one lake to the other, up the river, and when the grayling becomes easy prey.

This, of course, does not mean that lovers of trophy fishing have nothing to do there. Under favorable conditions, it is still possible to catch a fine trophy within 70 centimeters, or even more. However, the practice of catching and killing fish during spawning, used here for many years, will, in the end, lead to the complete extermination of this treasure of Mongolian nature.

Mongolian grayling

We heard a lot of legends about the next representative of the local ichthyofauna. In appearance, it somewhat resembles Nile perch – a large head, a thick scruff, golden-green sides. This is how the Mongolian Osman looks, its full name sounds like “Osman Altai”. It is distributed in the deep and clean rivers and lakes of Asia. Attempts to catch Osman in the lakes of Homon and Khurgan brought us only one small fish caught on the streamer.

Mongolian grayling

True, our Mongolian guides caught two larger specimens (5-6 kg), but with the help of dead fish. We decided to catch only in sports, spinning and fly fishing.

The search for a pack of predators in a large and very deep unfamiliar lake without an echo sounder and with a small rubber boat a priori could not bring us outstanding results. Even a superficial study of such a reservoir requires about a month of research. The Mongols, evidently, knew only those places in which the fish gathered before spawning.

And only on the last day of our stay we found a place and a way to catch Ottomans. Fish was grouped into small flocks in the river, near the mouth. The water in this place was practically standing. Due to this, it was possible to enter the water quite far from the shore, using waders. And only when the water reached the chest, it was possible to make good clothes to the Ottomans, who were walking around in the area of ​​large grassy hummocks covering the bottom of the river.

For several hours, we had a good time, cutting and pulling out these magnificent and strong fish every minute. Several times bites at the same time happened to all four!

My friends were catching on streamers, and I naturally caught on wobblers. Most of the Ottomans were medium-sized – 50-60 cm. The two largest 75 and 78 cm (6-7 kg) I caught on the wobblers.

Another Osman from the river Hovd

Catching such a “bull” with a fishing line with a diameter of 0.2 mm – this is no joke! Unfortunately, we realized late that we could try to swim to the fish using a rubber boat. The width of the river in this place reached about two kilometers, but we, despite a rather large physical effort, still caught, only going into the water. I’m sure if we use the boat, we could catch really big trophies closer to the middle of the river. Ottomans grow up to a meter long! It is likely that among them we could get caught and large graylings.

Unfortunately, we had to postpone the implementation of these plans for the future, because the next day we had to advance to the Ur river in search of fish, which are the main goal of anglers visiting Mongolia. The first of them is widespread in the rivers of Siberia and is called lenok; it is also called Siberian trout, some resemblance to which provides body color. Brownish-golden, it is covered with dark dots and characteristic pink-burgundy spots on the sides.

Lenok is very similar to trout

From trout it is distinguished and a completely different structure of the mouth. In trout, it is located at the top of the head, and in the lenok below, as in the grayling. And his habits are more like a grayling than with a trout.

Lenok does not like solitude very much and prefers a company of his kind. If you fall for one, then you can be sure that several others his friends of the same size are grazing nearby. Usually, lenoks weighing 1-2 kg become loot, but in the special literature it is claimed that they grow up to 80 cm in length and weighing up to 6 kg. On the river Ur, we were somewhat unsuccessfully hit by the water level after the heavy rains, so the first few days went in search of a fragmented fish in many places.

River Ur

We quickly found out that at this time the flax is located in quieter places with a small current or in small bays with standing water. There the fish could be easily seduced by both an artificial fly, and a wobblers or a turntable. In the evenings, with special pleasure, we caught them on a dry fly.

Fly fishing

Within ten days, the water level in the river dropped by 70 cm. As the water receded, we had to exert more and more effort to catch the fish. She became so fearful and cautious that sometimes she had to crawl to the river literally on her knees! We took such actions only where the Mongolian fishermen could reach.

With monkey dexterity they threw large turntables directly from the hand, without using the rods! We met several Mongolians in the same manner, aged 10 to 40 years. Unfortunately, the conversation with them on the topic of “catch & release” did not make the slightest sense. With the same success with them it was possible to talk about the work of the Impressionists.

Later, during several rafts organized for us along the river, we got to places where lenok took as crazy and practically on any bait. The reason is obvious – there were much more there and they were not scared by the local “fishermen”.

With special pleasure I remember going to the Ur-river Arig. It should be noted that our guides knew this river as their five fingers. They even knew how to present the fly, so that the bite was immediately followed. The catchiest ones were very heavy nymphs and streamers of medium size. Since in most places the current in the river was quite strong, we had to use heavy fly-fishing cords. From the magnificent shores of Ariga and its crystal clear waters, literally breathtaking!

I catch flax on the river Ur cannot be called stunning. We caught from several to several dozen pieces a day for each. And the reason for this is obvious – our wobblers were too large, because our main goal was still not lenok. Each of us raved about capturing the king of the Mongolian rivers – a magnificent taimen.

Taimen is a legendary fish. For many, it is a mystical symbol of Asia’s wildlife and the world’s largest representative of the salmon family. In the literature it is mentioned that some specimens of the taillights reach a length of 160 cm. However, there are many evidences that its dimensions may be more significant. The largest trophy in the world was caught in 1943 in the Kotui River. At a length of 210 cm, he weighed 105 kg!

A few years ago in the Khubsugul Lake, a taimen with a length of 178 cm was caught by nets. In recent years, a lot of fish have been caught in the range of 140-160 cm, but their number falls catastrophically every year. The official world record is a trophy weighing 41.95 kg, caught in the river Keta, in Russia. Less and less, unfortunately, becomes inaccessible places, since the helicopter can now be reached almost anywhere.

Fly fishing

Taimen is a very strong fish. The greatest trophies are especially difficult to catch. Despite the fact that most of the trophies caught by the rod are produced, many of them die.

On the river Ur, several huge taimens were recently caught. Only last year two of them were 152 cm long! However, this time we were not destined to meet with such a monster, although, undoubtedly, a taimen of such magnitude is very real to catch there. As a rule, this is equally an issue of skill and a happy event – favorable weather, the state of the river and the availability of fish.

The best time for catching, as on other rivers, is the beginning and end of the season. We were not in the best of times. The water in the river was too high and cloudy. Also, the air temperature (+25 ºС) was too high, and the best conditions for catching taimen are usually considered to be a frosty morning, a river with clean water, with a low level.

Despite this, our group caught 32 taimens, the largest of which (caught on the first day) was 123 cm long. Unfortunately, the Ur River is not very suitable for catching fly fishing. It is too wide and fast, and at this level of water, which we found, still not too readable by the fisherman.

Beautiful Altai

Only one taimen was caught with a streamer. As expected, the catchiest were the wobblers with the coloring for trout. Surprise was the capture of the first, the largest taimen in the mouth of a small tributary, which was tempted by a sinking crest, imitation trout, and a length of only 7 cm!

The biggest taimen on the 7-centimeter wobblers. Most of the taimen were caught on two-piece 13-centimeter wobblers of trout coloring.

Most taimen hunters know that imitations of various rodents (mice, rats, ground squirrels) slowly floating on the surface serve as an excellent bait for this predator. They catch it mostly in the evening and at night.

Taimen is a ruthless predator. He will not miss a single creature that fits in his mouth. In addition, such a prey is much easier to grasp than, for example, fish. It is easy to imagine, because a mouse floating on the surface of the river is absolutely defenseless against the full sharp teeth of the jaws of the taimen. Using this feature of his behavior, we decided to test how the predator will react to large surface baits designed to catch pike and American masks. And it turned out to be a shot in the top ten! The first taimen took on Salmo Turbo Jack at the mouth of the tributary called Ulran, in practically standing water.

Fighting the Taimen

Turbo Jack is such bait. In its rear part there is a propeller, which, whirling during movement, causes strong turbulence on the surface.

At the mouth of the Urlan River, this noise was enough to provoke an attack of two meter long tames within just ten minutes! Attacks were, of course, very noisy and spectacular. For the same bait, I caught the same day the same meter taimen in an excellent pit, below the flooded bridge on the river Ur. Already on the second cast in the very center of the whirlpool, in which the water was boiling, a taimen came out on the bouncing bait.

However, this time the attack was not noisy. The bite reminded rather the accurate picking up from the surface of the fly, just as trout does. I saw only the head of a predator, which completely silently “removed” my bait from the surface of the water. However, later, after cutting, noise was quite enough!

The next surface bait, which itself fully justified, was Salmo Maas Marauder. This bait is a stick bait type, moving along the surface with the walking-the-dog style. Not far from our camp was a long, about two hundred meters, straight section of the river, which we called a “black pit” among themselves.

Fishing in Mongolia

There also lived large taimen and among them the two two-and-a-half meters mentioned above. Can there be an incentive better to try your strength there? I caught in this place three times and every time in the evening and at night. First tried on the Turbo Jack. I had six powerful bites that nearly cost me my heart attack! Unfortunately, I never managed to make a successful sweep.

The next time, after half of the “black hole” was caught and three next bites were spoiled, I thought about the reason for my bad luck. And, in the end, I came to the conclusion that, perhaps, bait, especially of this size, in a place with a weak current and in the dark creates too much noise. Predator simply at the last moment retreats, refusing to attack.

So I decided to use the Maas Marauder, which slides over the surface like a snake, leaving a zigzag footprint that is clearly visible in the moonlight. The decision turned out to be correct. After a few casts, I felt a confident, though much quieter and quieter bite and a minute later a beautiful 90-cm taimen trembled on the shore.

The next evening I brought three of my friends to this place. First they tried to catch various lures, including a mouse imitation made of fur. After I caught the second taimen on the Maas Marauder, they quickly stopped their experiments and also switched to this bait. I managed to catch another “night gangster”, and my friends caught three fish, all from 90 to 105 cm long! Great result!

Taimen at the Maas Marauder

Fishing for surface baits was not only successful, but also extraordinarily emotional. Before you go to catch taimen, I advise everyone to stock propbait and stickbait and test their strength in the same way as at night and during the day. I personally after a few experiments stopped at the rod length of 2.8 m and the multiplier coil. The use of a thick braid wound on a spool of a coil, after a couple of hours of fishing, is painfully felt by the tip of the finger holding the cord before another cast.


A pleasant surprise was the capture of several excellent pikes during one of the descents along the river Ur. In a nice bay, shown by the Mongols, we managed to catch six predators in length from 85 to 104 cm within a few minutes! A few more pikes just showed up, but they were not tempted by slow wobblers.

Fishing in Mongolia

Unfortunately, the times when the Mongols did not catch and did not eat fish for food, irrevocably passed. And although not everyone has access to modern fishing equipment yet, they have already learned how to look and learn different details from the fishermen they meet. Unfortunately, there are still no speeches about releasing caught fish and respecting and observing laws during spawning. Local fishermen on the water always, throughout the year, so very dangerous for local fish.

However, taking into account the greatness of the Mongolian rivers, such as, for example, Ur, it will obviously not be easy for them to catch all the fish in a short time. Owners of fishing bases will be forced not to lose customers, not only to look for new places remote from human settlements, but also to start doing something with wild and uncontrolled fishing by local residents. If they do not understand this, their perfectly functioning business can very quickly cease.

Obviously, the path to this goal is not easy – it should be explained to the local population that the fish cannot be caught without limit. Without it there will be no tourists from all over the world, and without tourists, their “dollar source” will be exhausted. And then they will remain, as before, pasturing their herds in the steppe and singing sad songs, getting drunk in the yurt of koumiss. Although, perhaps, this prospect does not frighten them? In the end, they lived like that for thousands of years.

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