Long Live the River Wolf


Simms Guide Ambassador Jako Lucas talks about his year guiding in Mongolia chasing the illusive Taimen.

Flying from Johannesburg–my hometown–to Dubai and from Dubai to Beijing was a breeze, but this is where it starts to get interesting. After not being allowed on the plane to Ulaanbaatar in Beijing for not having the right Visa, I had to try and get a Mongolia Visa in Beijing at 2am in the morning. So let’s just skip 7 hours of sitting at an airport.

When I got to the Embassy they realized that I had the right documents and because there was no Mongolian embassy in South Africa, they gave me a Visa and off I went. I had to try and find another flight within 24 hours because I had no Visa for China and it wasn’t going to be long before I ran into trouble there. When I finally landed in Ulaanbaatar, I kissed the ground.  One more short flight followed and a 12-hour heavy-duty road trip to the fishing camp. For all those guys that are a bit nervous now about traveling to Mongolia, don’t stress, it is normally much easier to get to camp–we just had to set up camp pre-season!

When we got to the camp, all the guides–myself, Matt Carter and Ghana–ran straight to the water and it was huge.  This is never a great sign.  When we managed to fetch our head guide Charlie Conn (17 year veteran guide in Mongolia and Executive Director of the Taimen Fund) a day later by boat, he said that it was the highest he has ever seen the water here. So what to do?  We only had the option of waiting it out and hoping for no rain so the river could drop to fishable levels.

After a bit of time waiting out the water to drop we were finally ready for the first clients. After the season I had last year, I didn’t think there was a chance I would be able to top the number and sheer size of fish that I managed with my clients.

The first week was not easy, but with great planning and years of experience Charlie and Ghana helped us get the clients into fish from day one. We decided to fish the upper part of the river system we fish–the Egg River that flows into our main river, the Ur. The Egg is referred to as the “retirement village” for taimen as there have been many 50” plus fish landed there over the years.  All the clients managed to land taimen with the biggest being a 41” fish. No trophies, but great fish.

The second week, river levels kept on dropping and the river started to take shape, but the guides still had to use their savvy to try and find and outwit the taimen. Because the river was up, the fish were sitting in spots that we did not normally find them. We also began to fish the Ur river. This is the main river, which the Egg flows into. This was a great week, with newbie guide Matt Carter landing a 46”, 38” and 28” fish within a few minutes of each other and in a not so well known spot! All of them smashing the Cyclopes (a fly tied by Matt Ramsay), on the surface. The sight of a monster taimen coming up and smashing a big dry fly on the surface is off the charts. You are almost hypnotized by the fly and the expectations of it getting wolfed down. This section of water is now called Carters for a good reason. Everyone had a great week, with all the clients yet again landing taimen.

With week 3 kicking off, water started clearing, the greyling andlenok became more active and obviously the taimen were hunting and stocking up for the winter. I managed to get a 46” bus at a pool we call The Farm. With the amount of fish there this season I know why they call it The Farm. We also had one of our Lenok engulfed by a monster taimen right in front of our feet and also hooked a big taimen on a 5wt rod and a hopper. There were many other fish landed in the 40” mark, not to mention the good amount of small fish around keeping us busy. That is a great sign of a healthy system and many great years to come! At the lower camp the guys also had the privilege to guide President Jimmy Carter, who managed to land some great fish! (see this write-up in the newest issue of Fly Fisherman)

The last week is always an exciting time for the guides as they are almost on their way back home, but it is also a sad time as the season goes so quickly when you only have 4 weeks. In the last week you make sure that you fish every spot that you might have missed or has taken shape during the course of the season. You never want to finish the season with a piece of water that you did not fish. With some very experienced anglers on the group including Barry and Cathy Beck, the taimen were in trouble. Yet again everyone got stuck in. Matt Carter took it to the next level by landing a 52” monster with Steve. Cathy landed a great 48” fish with Matt which she managed to subdue in no time. I also had a great little session where Barry and Cathy both landed 41” fish within a few minutes!  How could this week get better?

At about 5:15pm on the last day the water exploded behind my boat after Tim’s fly. After a great fight and trying to land the fish without a net (I had forgotten it at the next pool after landing a 37’ fish), I wrapped my hands around the tail of a 53” goliath! We lost another fish close to the same size just after – I suppose we had to pay our dues!

So you tell me, how could this place get any better?

Thanks again to Sweetwater Travel for making it possible to guide and fish in such an amazing place. And thanks for the great guide crew for making the clients’ dreams come true!

  • Dan Vermillion

    Great piece Jako. Thanks for writing. We look forward to another great year in 2014.

  • Bayarsaikhan Baatar

    Well done Jako.