October 01, 2021
Taimen (Hucho taimen), simply put, are the world’s largest salmonid, which includes all species of trout, salmon, char, grayling, and whitefish. According to National Geographic, they get up to a whopping 230 pounds and 80 inches, but a trophy is usually considered anything over 50 inches in length. Most mature taimen are over 30 pounds. Today, they are only found in a small portion of Russia and Mongolia. They have become the subject of popular fly-fishing tourism in these areas, though accessing their rivers is often a monumental task involving days of horse packing and weeks-long floats, due to the rivers’ remote natures. And actually finding one of these huge top-end predators, even when fishing their range, is hard work due to the fish’s low numbers. Though there are several strains of taimen, the Hucho taimen is the largest and most commonly thought of variety, and the main one covered here.
Taimen often have a pale gray sides that become brownish toward their tail, which are often bright red, over white bellies. They have dark spots on their sides similar to rainbow trout, and have the same body proportions as any other trout or char (though they often have large girths for their lengths). They have relatively large mouths which allows them to eat their large prey.
As asserted above, taimen are the largest salmonid and can grow to be several feet and over 100 pounds. That said, Mongolia’s remaining population of taimen do not often get this large, though specimens from 25 to 40 inches are common. The largest taimen reliably recorded (though not officially recorded) weighed 231 pounds measured 83 inches, from Russia’s Kotui River in 1943. The IGFA official world record is 93 pounds. Click here to see a video of Fly Fisherman Editor and Publisher Ross Purnell landing a 55-inch taimen on his trip featured in the Feb-March 2017 issue, that ate a 16-inch streamer.
Taimen Native Range
According to an article by Purnell: “The vast historic range of taimen includes parts of Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Japan, and Mongolia.
They have evolved in massive watersheds that reach the Pacific and the Arctic oceans, and like most salmonids there are sea-run varieties, mostly on Sakhalin Island in Russia and the island of Hokkaido in Japan. Unlike the comparison between rainbow trout and steelhead, however, there’s little evidence that sea-run taimen are typically larger. In fact, the largest taimen in the world are primarily resident fish that haunt their home pools—the clear, cold headwaters of the Selenga, Lena, and Amur rivers in Siberia and in northern Mongolia, where they average 27 to 46 inches and can live 50 years, or sometimes much longer.”
Historically, native taimen were found from the Volga River in western Europe to the Amur River drainage in China to Hokkaido, and drainages in between.
Hucho taimen live their entire lives in large, cold, freshwater rivers. Being top-end predators, they often lie in wait where they can ambush smaller fish where the current slows. They are known to be quite transient, covering dozens of miles between meals. Relatively little is known about the specifics of taimen due to their remote habitats.
Taimen Life Cycle
Taimen reach sexual maturity at between 5 and 7 years of age. Like most salmonids, they travel upstream to their small natal tributary streams to spawn. They can live upwards of a half century by some reports.
Though mostly piscivorous, hucho taimen have been known to eat rodents (including beavers), ducks, bats, birds, and other aquatic and terrestrial creatures. There are not many fish that an adult taimen won’t eat, including full-grown salmon and their fellow taimen when necessary. There have been accounts of taimen eating aquatic insects similar to smaller trout and char species, but that seems rare.
They have also been known to hunt in “packs,” which has earned the nickname “river wolves.”
Species of Taimen
There are five species of taimen: the Danube salmon (Hucho hucho), the Sichuan taimen (Hucho bleekeri), the Korean taimen (Hucho ishikawae), the Sakhalin taimen (Hucho perryi, though this species was recently recategorized as Parahucho perryi, making it not a true taimen), and of course the Siberian taimen (Hucho taimen). All but the Siberian taimen have very small ranges, and the Danube salmon is actually native to and still exists in portions of Europe. There are not known to be different strains per se, amongst the species.
Due to unsustainable harvest during the past century and loss of habitat due to a number of factors, the Hucho taimen’s range has been greatly reduced. The only remaining significant populations are in parts of Mongolia and Russia. They are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as vulnerable.
The main locations for fly fishing for taimen currently are Mongolia’s Delgermörön, Onon River, Eg River, and Uur River, and Russia’s Tugur River.
Fly Fishing for Taimen
As mentioned, taimen are huge, top-end predators who dine mostly on large, meaty food sources like other fish, small mammals, and birds. Thus, they are targeted with large flies and lures that imitate these protein-rich foods – streamers up to and over a foot long are the norm.
Because of the vast nature of the rivers taimen inhabit, spey fishing (which covers more water than traditional fly casting) is a common tactic for targeting taimen. Eight- to 11-weight rods are customary, both due to the size of the flies being cast and the potential size of the targeted fish. Switch rods and single-handed rods with traditional fly casting methods are also useful at times, especially when paired with a specialty fly line designed for big flies like a pike/musky line.
Good flies to use include Blane Chocklett’s T-Bones and Game Changers, Pole Dancers, Deceivers, or your favorite large, articulated streamer. Don’t be afraid to try topwater flies like Gurgler-style flies, mice and poppers.
Any attempt at fishing for taimen should be done through an experienced outfitter. The Fly Shop in Redding, California, handles trips to the Delgermörön and Onon watersheds. Sweetwater Travel is the booking agent for all the trips in the Eg-Uur watershed. Be cautious about any trips outside of these regulated catch-and-release regions.