Fishing Lines: A land teeming with taimen
Sunday 21 September 1997
Packing - don't you hate it? With just 12 hours before I board the first of several planes, I'm still hopelessly overweight - and I'm not talking about my more-than-ample figure. A 20kg baggage limit is fine for two weeks on a beach, but for an angler heading into the wilds of Mongolia, it doesn't even cover tackle essentials.
As you read this, I should be on the banks of the river Siskid in the Tengis Valley. To while away a few hours, try to find it on a map. I found it hard enough to locate the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator. From there we fly to Moron, and thence to an unnamed airstrip, where our hosts for the next two weeks meet us with labrador-sized ponies and take us to their yurts - circular tents made up of a framework of poles and covered with felt or skins, with a horde of Mongolians inside, clustered round a wood- burner.
Angling and wildlife presenter John Bailey, whose company Angling Travel is running the trip, discovered the Siskid last year. Its very remoteness may be an attraction, but for anglers, the lure is taimen, largest and rarest member of the salmon family. I've been surfing the Internet to discover more about them. Unfortunately, almost every reference appears to be in Finnish. Still, I've gleaned that they can grow up to 200lb.
Hauling out something like that requires specialist tackle - which, of course, weighs more. I'm told that the very best bait for taimen is (and if you're of a delicate disposition, avoid this bit) tundra mice. These little creatures migrate across the river at dusk, and the taimen are waiting for them. Though this is said to be the way to catch the biggest fish, I think we will give that particular method a miss.
Food will be what we catch. As chef, there is clearly scope for me to cash in, though I'm not sure that 101 Ways to Cook a Taimen is quite going to threaten Pru Leith's sales. Even the Natural History Museum doesn't have a taimen. Just in case our quarry have gone wherever taimen go (nobody seems to know anything about their migratory habits, or even if they migrate at all), I'm taking a few culinary back-ups, the sort of grub that eight men call proper food (chilli con carne, chicken curry). But I'm sure taimen surprise will be the favourite.
My wife is horrified that I still want to travel to the wildest parts on earth and live in discomfort. She is convinced it is a vain attempt by a (more than) middle-aged buffoon to prove he can hack it with men half his age and twice as fit. It's not cheap either.
During the past week, I have been assailed by people wanting an answer to the simple question: why? I find it hard to answer. For a start, there is no guarantee of success. In fact, my record for travelling to distant parts is consistently disastrous. I can't speak Mongolian, so it's not to improve my languages. I'm good friends with three of the party, but no more than that. I'm overweight and unfit, poorly equipped for a jaunt that demands four hours' walking each day to get to the good fishing.
But I suppose it's a bit of the pioneer in all of us. It's also the anticipation, the dream of capturing rare fish that few in the world have seen, let alone caught. And it's the challenge of getting your tackle and basic living essentials down to 20kg.
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