All Night Fish Fight

The Geologist, and the Shaman fishing boats in dock in Lystvianka.

Sunset over Baikal, forty-five minutes before we set off on a night of fishing.

Baikal had gotten rough; that was confirmed as a third fisherman poked his head through the railing to evacuate his innards into the sea. I had put my pole down, and was trying to get a good shot of the bow crashing through oncoming waves. Thinking of Lieutenant Dan unleashing his anger at God from the mast of a Bubba Gump Shrimp boat, I grinned. We were riding the “Northwest” on the back of bucking Baikal in the whipping wind, the stellar galaxies looking back on us from all directions of up. With the universe in full array and Baikal giving us a buffet, I couldn’t help but wonder at vastness of the Creator’s majesty. I enjoyed the ride, feeling a certain sense of freedom as the vessel heaved, things being entirely out of my control. It helped that several miles to our north the confident lighthouse glow on the hotel of that same name reminded us of where the Lystvianka port rests.  I kept my pole at the ready, to start fishing again the moment the boat slowed to an idle because I was behind!

Plowing waves.

Mark my fellow adventurer who invited me on this trip, giving technical advice.

We dropped our lines around 9 pm. After an hour and a half of no fish, I reeled up the first one! I felt charmed as the only foreigner on board among thirteen fishermen. As I said, I reeled up the first one. But I am used to standing in rivers. I had not yet mastered the reel and jerk, and I lost the blasted fish! And it was not the last one I set free!

A monster from the deep! Flee for your lives earthlings!

Corral that wriggler Mark!

But Baikal’s waves had somewhat leveled the playing field! I was still on my feet. I could fish, unlike a few groaning fishermen below deck, he he! Some of those boys had been pulling out one omul after another. Grrrrr! We were catching omul from depths of 30 to 60 meters. Ah-ha! Fish on! I reeled carefully and as silver flashed in our lights shining in water, I mentally prepared myself; reeled my fish to the surface and jerked! Tangled line! Radio antenna! I had to clamber up onto the bridge’s roof to free it. Meanwhile I swear one of the guys pulled in four fish as I untangled. Soon buckets were filling with silver fish. My bucket? Well, it wasn’t empty!

At the fish market, omul are a nondescript silver and black. Freshly caught they a delicate cerulean, rose and white.

And so went the night. Stars speaking from the past, a cold breath blowing on us. Lines searched the deep long into the dark Siberian morning. I went below around 4:30 am for a quick and toasty doze. Buckets moving on the deck above me said the boys were still reeling in omul. I shook my head and scrambled topside, cause I wanted more fish dinners. The boys fished until we hooked the sun and pulled it over the horizon.

Fishing for the sun.

Thirty greenbacks = 1000 Rubles, for a sleepless night of fishing and morning glow on frosty Baikal. A Siberian’s paradise!

The sun rubs his eyes and yawns, stretching his rays as he prepares to arc over the Hamar Daban Mountains.

We've pulled our lines, and are heading back to port in Lystvianka.

About Omul:  Omul are native to lake Baikal. They can only be found in the pearl of Siberia (Baikal), and you have got, got, got to understand how tasty they are! I mean T-A-S-T-Y! Baked with boiled or fried potatoes and a big dollop of sour cream? That is considered the height of fine cuisine in these parts. Never had some hot smoked omul? Friend, you haven’t lived. You got to get you to Siberia, Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude that is. Then make for Baikal because smoked omul is the bomb among fish!

After a long night's fishing, morning's rest.

Return from Snowy River (Pt. 2)

Our tracks, next to fresh bear tracks.

I stood on rocks in Snowy river after midnight, watching dark storm clouds gather in the darkness. It had been another long day on the river. We took a fan boat up river early where we saw a mountain goat, ibex probably, braving rapids and leaping from deep water to rock face. We understood why when we found fresh bear tracks in the sand. The bears were out, but the fish weren’t and it wasn’t until evening when we started reeling in Baikal grayling again. Cleaned, salted and packed, they waited for the morning float out.

Aluminum frame for our canvas canoe.

The morning dawned steely gray. Coffeed and breakfasted, we gathered our gear. Approaching our put in point, Petya was already bolting together the aluminum frame of our Soviet era canvas canoe. The bolts ran out before the frame was fully assembled! But that is nothing for Russian ingenuity, pliers, a few nails and some soldering wire. After engineering the frame together, we attached the canvas “hull”, and loaded our gear on our inflatable raft and canoe. Taking a solemn look at the river, we gathered in prayer, and placed our lives in the hands of God who made us.

Petya, Sergei and I climbed in canoe, disembarked, and within 150 yards of disembarking, in swift current, piled the canoe on a rock. Taking on water fast, we paddled for shore and pulled the canoe up to inspect damage. Distance traveled: one quarter mile. Gashes of 4.5 and 3 inches, not to mention multiple small holes peppered our craft. With a fire for warmth, Petya got to sewing. In forty five minutes, we were back the water, minus Sergei, who was against risking his life further in the canoe! All scared, but entrusting our lives to God, we set out again. Now it was wade in the shallows guiding the canoe with ropes, get in, shoot the rapids all the while madly bailing with my tin coffee cup, go ashore, dump out a boat-full of water, start again. Foundering in a foot of freezing water of became a continuous state.

We took this . . .

down this . . .

resulting in this . . .

remedied (kind of) like this! Petya’s got tailorin’ skills.

Having dumped out our canoe again, Petya and I just pushed off a treacherous snagged log and floated round the bend.  Hearts popped! Eyes accelerated at the reality of the FALLEN TREE jutting three feet over the water directly across our path. Branches arrayed against our persons like a cow catcher on a locomotive steaming toward us. The Snowy river, swift and deep was doing her best to widow our wives. Images of kayak tearing to shreds, cold-cocking on branches, and hungry green water swallowing us whole coursed through our psyches.  “Petya! We are going through!” Crash! and we were out! Mental damage report: I was OK, the kayak was afloat, and Petya was still in the back. “Petya, are you in one piece?” “Everything in order” he called back. Our escape from that tree, that murderous rake seemed impossible. On a current of prayer, behind God’s mighty hand, we smashed through unscathed!

Portage around shallows.

Agreeing on our descent route.

Snowy river leveled, deepened . . . slowed. Bailing all the way, with the occasional pull out to dump, we started enjoying yellow September foliage, yawning pools of crystal water deepening six, nine, twelve feet.  Heavily, clouds obscured mountains and lowered upon us until . . . rain started pattering on the surface of the water inside our craft. Our transformation from “on the river” to “in the river” to “river” was complete.

Thinking back now, I imagine us as “amnesiac-graylings” suddenly realizing that we, fish, are absurdly paddling a canoe down Snowy river, where upon Petya and I drop ores, cast off hats, boots, jackets and, in a purply-pink flash, leap out of this foundering man-container, this utterly unfathomable conception back into the river as the finned scions of water that we are, silver denizens returning to our deep.

Or, as my Dad, upon hearing our story later remarked, “We got real wet.”

On a paddle and a prayer.

Siberian Grayling.