Extreme Expedition for Giant Taimen, Amur Pike, and Lenok in Russia

Russia – Khabarovsk Krai - tributary of the Amur River - a group of 8 anglers with a guide.

If your dream is to catch a giant taimen and experience extreme fishing in the wilderness, then this expedition is for you. The region of Khabarovsk has long been considered one of the best places for catching large taimen and lenok, and it is also home to the beautiful Amur pike.

Dalnyj Vastok, as this part of Russia is called, is essentially the last stretch of land in Russia's Far East before reaching Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. Dalnyj Vastok, including the Khabarovsk Krai, is part of the Amur River basin, including the Ussuri, Zeya, Onon River, and several others. Looking at a more detailed map of this area reveals countless smaller rivers and streams that harbor an incredible variety of fish species. Khabarovsk Krai is known, among other things, as the kingdom of the Siberian taimen, and the Amur River is considered the habitat of the largest population of beluga sturgeon – one of the world's largest fish, weighing up to 1500 kg. The local lenok, a salmonid fish species, is also gigantic compared to those caught in other regions of Russia. Not to be overlooked is the beautiful Amur pike, an endemic species found only in the Amur River basin, characterized by unique coloring different from our pike. Taimen, local taimen, doesn't resemble those from Siberian rivers much; they are slightly smaller but have a unique coloring that always makes for great souvenir photos. Another species is the "yellow-cheek," a fish from the carp family but much more resembling a large trout or salmon, with its torpedo-shaped body, silvery scales, and characteristic yellow spots around the jaw. Adding to the list periodically are spawning salmon, the smaller relative of the sturgeon called sterlet, or muksun, a fish from the whitefish family. These are just the main and most valued species, and there is much more to catch. It was here, on one of the rivers, that the famous Russian film "River of Happiness" was shot. In short, Dalnyj Vastok can confidently be considered a fishing paradise, attracting not only Russians but also an increasing number of anglers from abroad every year.

The base for the expedition is the city of Khabarovsk, from where we embark on a journey to another world for a fantastic fishing adventure. During our expeditions, there are two options: either we fly directly to Khabarovsk and head straight from the airport to the river or the hotel, where, after a long flight, we have the opportunity to take a shower and rest to set out into the taiga the next day. This allows us a chance for a cursory exploration of this beautiful city.

Khabarovsk, with its population of around half a million, is a relatively young city, just over 150 years old, which immediately captivated me with its beauty, cleanliness, and character. The beautiful panorama of the Amur River, seen from an observation point near three museums where a fortress once stood, creates a stunning impression and provides an image of the greatness and power of this river. From this place, it's worth walking along the beautiful riverside promenade to Konsomolski Square, one of the main points in the city, where Uspensky Sobor stands – one of the largest and oldest stone cathedrals in the Russian Far East. Both its exterior view and perhaps even more so, the interior, make an impression. In the square, there is also a monumental monument dedicated to the Russo-Japanese War and many interesting buildings that create a truly cool atmosphere in this city. It's also worth trying kvas, a traditional Russian drink, which is nothing like the bland sweet one from our supermarkets. There are numerous restaurants nearby, as well as many points offering pastries or dumplings. These are not dumplings in our sense but delicious yeast buns with various fillings; my favorite is the one with cabbage and mushrooms, which, when served warm, makes for a delightful snack and provides energy for further exploration. A mandatory point to visit in Khabarovsk is Balszoj or Glawnoj Rynok, the main market in the city. The sheer size of it is impressive – thousands of stalls, hustle, and bustle, shouts of merchants create a true feast of colors, flavors, and smells. Like in our markets, a significant part of the market mainly offers Chinese goods, but here, too, we can find real gems. I'm referring primarily to the part of the market where food products are offered. This is where the real cultural melting pot begins: Russians, Armenians, Koreans, Azerbaijanis, Yakuts, Chinese, and many other nationalities, whose identity I couldn't identify, all offer countless delicacies, herbs, spices, or simply their national treats. Armenians offer their delicious candied fruits, Azerbaijanis offer exquisite varieties of honey, Russians and Yakuts dominate when it comes to fish – smoked, salted, ranging from sturgeon to muksun or nelma, caviar – take your pick from which salmon species you desire. Head-spinning. However, in my opinion, the Korean minority stands out the most. There is a hall, right next to the fish market, where Korea reigns. A whole row of stalls with Korean food, where salads stand out. The enormity of this choice is overwhelming, and standing in front of the glass counter with trays full of wonderful colors, scents, and flavors, we are lost, at least I am. Always here, despite a strong determination not to buy more than I can eat, unfortunately, I take a little of this, that, and maybe a bit more of that, after which it turns out that I get something extra to try, and I leave the stall with a sizable package and a high bill, but the salads are simply incomparable, so I don't regret the somewhat salty bill, considering the real feast ahead.

The next day, around noon, we leave Khabarovsk to head to where civilization ends and our adventure begins. We have about 650 km to cover, and it's not an easy road, with plenty of equipment to take that will be essential for our expedition. Two Jeeps with a trailer loaded with equipment, plus a bus or another off-road vehicle, and we set off. Initially, we'll be driving on an asphalt road for about 400 km, and then it's a dirt road, which, late in the evening or even at night, will lead us to a village on the banks of the Amur. Here we will spend the night, and in the morning, after breakfast, we'll take a ferry to the other side of the Amur. The crossing takes about three hours, and we reach the next village. Here, our phone communication with the world ends, and only a satellite phone remains. We usually reach the river around 15:00; here we leave the cars, assemble our boats, attach the engines, pack up, and set out on the river to set up our first camps. Our guides set up the tents efficiently and quickly. Anglers have professional large two-person tents with a vestibule. Each angler receives a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a large waterproof bag for their belongings. In addition to sleeping tents, we also set up a large tent that serves

 as a dining area for everyone and another one that is the kingdom of our chef and also serves as a warehouse for food supplies. Camping tables and comfortable chairs will certainly enhance comfort after an exhausting day of fishing. After setting up the camp and getting ready, we can start fishing. The place where we set up camp is a very good spot for taimen, lenok, or grayling. During our entire expedition, we usually set up three or four camps in different sections of the river, starting from its upper reaches and ending just before its confluence with the Amur. From these camps, on our excellent pontoon boats with jet engines, allowing us to navigate even the most challenging sections of the river, we will set out daily to the best fishing spots. Each boat will have one guide and two anglers. In the camp, the chef remains, who will take care of our meals. Three meals are served daily, along with coffee and tea and snacks. Alosza, one of our guides, will make sure we try "sea delicacies" and caviar, and there will also be game and, of course, fish from our catches. The famous "kotletosy" from our chef's lenok will certainly also grace our table.

As for the river itself, firstly, it is not easy to reach, and secondly, it is quite challenging in terms of navigation. The river is not large, with a width ranging from 50 to 20 meters, and there are narrower places where the width does not exceed 10 meters. The depth in the main current, depending on the water level, does not exceed 3-4 meters. The bottom throughout the upper stretch is rocky, only in the lower stretch does it change to sand and some mud. This river meanders incredibly, creating a mass of branches, islands, bends, and wild rapids. Therefore, swimming and navigating it require experience and the best equipment, which, in some cases, allows swimming almost on stones. Thanks to this, we can reach places where other anglers do not reach. The surroundings of the river itself are also incredibly beautiful and diverse; in some places, it flows through hilly and rocky terrain, and in others, through the wild taiga. However, everywhere, we deal with a completely wild river, where we can encounter fallen trees, branches fallen by the river, and wild animals. Therefore, due to its wildness, beauty, and fish richness, we do not provide the name of this river, conventionally calling it Burlit, which translates to Noisy in English. We would like it to remain in this state for as long as possible. A large taimen population guarantees successful catches of this trophy; there are specimens weighing up to 40 kg. Not to be despised is also the local lenok, which can weigh up to 7 kg. An additional attraction is the Amur pike, found in the lower reaches of the river – an endemic variety of pike with unique coloring found only in the Amur River and its tributaries. The brave krasnoperka (completely different from ours), reaching a weight of several kilograms, and the beautifully differently colored grayling complete the picture of this wonderful place. In June 2017, I organized an expedition on this river with some of the best fly fishermen from Korea, during which a program for Korean television was filmed, which is soon to be broadcast. I will only add that the water from this river can be drunk without boiling, as I have checked many times, without any stomach sensations, and its taste is such that I would like to have such water in the tap; then I would certainly not buy any other.

Itinerary: Medium and low flow of the Burlit River

Fish species: Taimen (catch and release), lenok, Amur pike, grayling, grayling

Expedition length: 10 days

Group: Up to 8 anglers with a Polish guide

Optimal season: Mid-May to the end of October

Expedition schedule:

Meeting with guides at the Warsaw airport, flight to Khabarovsk. If the arrival is planned one day before the expedition, then transfer to the hotel, overnight stay, free time, city sightseeing.

Day 1: Transfer to the river, departure from Khabarovsk in the evening, off-road vehicles, about 650 km with about 450 km on asphalt, the rest on dirt roads. Along the way, meals at restaurants, possible overnight stay in a village while waiting for the ferry the next morning.

Day 2: Breakfast, board the ferry, crossing the Amur River (about 3 hours). After disembarking from the ferry, further transfer to the river (about 50 km on forest roads), reaching the river, boat transfer (Wydra 480, Yamaha 40 jet engine), setting up the first camp, possibility of fishing.

Days 3-9: Fishing in optimal locations combined with moving down the river, camping by the river.

Day 10: In the morning, return to the starting point of the rafting, packing equipment into cars, return to Khabarovsk late in the evening. End of the expedition.

Equipment for the expedition: 3 guides (1 boat with a guide for 2 anglers), chef, all necessary equipment for the expedition to ensure the safety and comfort of its participants: boats for anglers and for transporting equipment, two-person tents from Maverick, a large tent serving as a dining area, a kitchen tent, a bath, a power generator, Therm-a-Rest mattresses, Therm Cell sleeping bags, pillows, waterproof bags with a capacity of 120 l. for each participant. Life jackets, first aid kit, satellite phone, radio in each boat, camping tables, chairs, electronic devices for repelling mosquitoes (1 per tent),
Catering: From the moment of departure from Khabarovsk until the return from the expedition, full catering during the rafting and fishing: fish dishes, seafood, caviar, game.