Fly Fishing in Mongolia – the Altai Osman


Fishing just before sun set in the Molgoit Valley or One Tree Plain as it became known to us

My husband is a keen fly fisherman, never happier than when catching small stream brown trout on the Isle of Man on our brief visits to the Island. So fishing was pretty high up on his list of reasons for wanting to come to Mongolia. In the months leading up to our trip, there were some lengthy discussions in Farlows on Pall Mall – where they take fishing rather seriously – and he earnestly started tying his own flies again.

Throughout the trip he was very quick to get out his fly rod whenever the opportunity presented itself – whether this be at a lunch stop or just before supper as the sun set.

Photo courtesy of Helen Mayhew

Photo courtesy of Helen Mayhew

At lunch on the north side of Khurgan Nuur

At lunch on the north side of Khurgan Nuur

Ever supportive, we giggled at his endless enthusiasm despite not catching anything. On the last evening he headed off alone from the ger to a spot about a kilometer away where a river coming from the Chinese border enters the south side of Khurgan Nuur. We left him to it for about an hour and then decided to ride down bareback when he still hadn’t returned.


Riding down to Khurgan Nuur bareback – you can see how tiny the horses are as I am only 5ft 4in!

Finally we found my husband happily fishing, babbling about a monster he had caught just ten minutes earlier. It had taken him fifteen minutes to land on light tackle (a five-pound tippet, he said), and he was still very excited about it.

Fishing a river entering the south side of Khurgan Nuur

Fishing a river entering the south side of Khurgan Nuur

Unfortunately I had arrived just a few minutes too late to get a photo and he had already released the huge fish back into the river. Luckily he had had the small Olympus so managed to get a couple of photos. At the time he didn’t know what species the 85cm whopper he had just caught was. Later, and with a bit of research, we realized it was a very rare Altai Osman (Oreoleuciscus Potanini), found only in the far west of Mongolia and some rivers and lakes in Russia on the other side of the border.

My husband didn’t have scales to weigh it, but the world record Altai Osman according to the International Game Fishing Association is only 12lbs, and from a guess on the basis of length, this one may have been even larger. He was particularly pleased because he had caught it with a self-tied fly (a “size 6 weighted Montana” apparently). Showing the importance of local knowledge, Erbolat (the horseman whose ger we were staying at) had gestured to both the place and the specific fly – and he was absolutely right on both counts.

A rare 85cm Altai Osman

A rare 85cm Altai Osman – released back to the Khurgan Nuur

The Altai Osman

The Altai Osman

He had also caught two grayling which we did keep and gave to the family we were staying with. I was a bit sad that I hadn’t picked some of the wild thyme I had seen earlier to go with the fish (their Latin name Thymallus Thymallus comes from the Greek meaning “thyme-scented”).


Pretty little grayling, with iridescent tails

The fly - a 'Montana'

The Montana


Back in Hanoi – a fly-catching hound, not as easily convinced as a fish…

It was a great end to our time in the West – and we even stopped teasing him about never catching fish. For a while, anyway.