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Mongolia: November 2022 Fishing Trip Report

June 22, 23
Yellow Dog Client, John C.:

What an incredible week! I have been fortunate to go on over 20 hosted trips with Ian Davis. All have been special, but Mongolia is definitely over the top for me!

We were warned not to expect a large amount of success. Be happy if you catch a few, and several other species are available. Looking back, it is a complete hit-or-miss trip.

After flying from Atlanta for 13 hours to South Korea, we had to deal with K-Eta at Customs, a PCR test, then go to the hotel to quarantine. A few skipped the PCR test and went straight to the hotel; we were leaving before the 24-hour required testing period. Up early and back to the airport to fly to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which is 3 hour’s flight. Once we cleared customs, a lady held a sign for us and our gear loaded in a nice shuttle mini bus and off to the hotel. The hotel is in a great location to check out the city. We could walk to several great restaurants — a nice clean city. Our favorite dinner was at the Shagra Lee Hotel restaurant. Peking Duck! Being very close to China, the food was authentic and reasonably priced. We played credit card roulette for the tab.

Off to the river. The following day we flew in a nice Cessna Caravan about two hours to the Lower Onan River. As we landed in a field on the side of a mountain, another group was waiting to depart. They had fished the Upper the week before. The group caught several Taimen, one 45″, and lots of pike. They had success throwing the Chilean Goat. They told us the group the week before had goose egged on Taimen. That got all of our attention…..

We set off that afternoon in warm weather. That evening a front blew in, and the temperatures kept dropping by the hour. The guides on our rods froze, and it was freezing. The mornings were -10C. We slept in teepee-style canvas tents with rugs on the floor and nice cots with air mattresses. Each cot had four wool blankets with their logo (I traded my bed roll for one), sheets, pillows, and the works. There was a large blue tent. Not quite a circus tent, but you get the idea. It sat several tables, chairs, a cocktail bar, a serving table, and, the best part, a wood stove—plenty of room for us to take off and hang waders and boots. Group up around the fire, dry our gear and get warm again. In the mornings, they would boil water constantly for coffee, drinking water, etc., and to pour in our wader boots to warm everything up before heading out.

The food was excellent— big, high-energy breakfasts with fried bread, spam, bacon, sausage, and fruit. Lunches were streamside, and we ate as a group—lots of pasta, meats, and tons of caviar and vodka. At dinner, we were served dumplings, noodles, Mongolian BBQ, and kimchi, with a soup appetizer. The food was terrific, all cooked over a wood fire in a large tent. The last two days were spent in traditional Gers with the wood stoves we had wished for during the week.

Shower tent. The shower tent had a wood stove. They would boil big pails of water on it; you’d stand on a pallet and flip the shower head. They had a canvas bag on a tepee frame outside and a garden hose from the roof to the shower head. The steam from the boiling water pale gives you somewhat of a steam bath while the shower head rinses the soap off you. These were not long showers. Get wet, cut off, soap up, and rinse. It was not that bad and warmed your body up after a long cold day on the river. The toilet seat was square. No joke, a square toilet lid on a large metal box inside a small tent. It was cold in there, and you didn’t go until you just had to…..

The guides were from Chile and Mongolia. The Chileans had been guiding that river for nearly 11 years and spoke quite a bit of the Mongolian language. Thus the Chilean Goat flies…We had two Mongolian guides. One is the national fly-casting champ and a fantastic guide. Both are very proud to be Mongolian and delighted people. It was an honor to fish with them. They explained their customs, a little politics, and most of all, Taimen! It is a spiritual fish for Mongolians. Every barb was pinched, every Taimen handled with care. They are knowledgeable, educated guys who love what they do and cannot get enough of it! They made every fish catch a very uplifting moment, and all guides were exceptional with photography.

The Taimen. Big belly and giant heads. They are long and sleek. Most would follow the fly to the boat. Most caught were a few feet from the boat. You would watch them rise behind the fly and chase for a moment, almost in slow motion. They remind me a little of a tarpon when caught —acrobatic leaps out of the water. Ian was skating a mouse behind me while I was two-hand stripping a large game changer in the front. I had a 42″ rise and slow chase that did not grab my fly in time; Ian got the grab on his mouse as it skated by…..what a fight! The next day several Taimen were caught in the 40″+ category, and I farmed a big 50″. We had decided a day earlier that a two-handed strip was the answer. We just kept losing fish and needed a better strip set. He was gone if you gave a Taimen any slack at any time. I got a good hook set, but moving it over to the reel, I slipped up, gave it a hair of slack, and lost it. Still haunting me now.

My cousin caught the only lenok and another species of trout that was beautiful and not on the list of possibilities. Several large Pike were caught daily.

At the end of the trip, the guides and the staff back in Ulaanbaatar told us that we had set a new record for Taimen released in a week. The cold weather, experienced anglers, two-handed strip, and the enthusiasm brought on by our guides and Ian Davis….our host, had us prepared. Ian is an exceptional host! It is an honor to have fished with him on so many trips.

Lastly, we also set the record for most vodka drank and caviar eaten. My kind of adventure!