You’re Going Where? A Brief Adventure Journal With Western Fly Fishermen

We Ttraveled, with fly rods in hand, to an obscure land in search of pristine rivers, Sevan Trout and Fishermen.

For years, the “Stans” have been loosely placed on the list of destinations “I’d like to visit before I die.”  But those lands moved to the forefront when my mom overheard my dad and I discussing the location, geography, climate and seemingly endless pristine rivers of a little and almost forgotten Central Asian country. The conversation quickly progressed to the idea of bringing western fly fishermen to Kyrgyzstan to help the local economy grow through a success model of sustainable, fly fishing tourism.

My mom, Marcia Barlow, quickly connected the dots between Kyrgyzstan (one of the mountain nations in transition to build a market economy and open society), Utah Valley University’s Utah International Mountain Forum – UIMF (a coalition of student clubs with whom she advocates for mountain women at the United Nations Economic and Social Council), and our concept of sustainable-fisheries management coupled with fly fishing tourism.

In less than one month, my partner and I found ourselves sitting in an office with a UVU team discussing ways we can work with a Mountain Partnership, which advocates a SMD agenda globally, to bring sustainable economic growth and destination-fly-fishing tourism to the mountain people of Kyrgyzstan.  After an hour and half of chatting, we concluded we needed to travel to the pristine mountains and rivers of that land to find the fish.

Four months later, in October 3-15, 2018, with a team of photographers/ videographers/fishermen, Sam Woods, Zach Heath and I stepped off an airplane in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan with fly rods, camera gear and a healthy anticipation for adventure.

Our first stop was the Suusamyr River.  It had everything we had hoped for, clean coldwater, fast runs, deep holes, acceptable sub-straight to sustain the abundant insect life necessary to prop up a healthy trout population.  With no history of industry or significant mining in the area, this drainage was high on our list of potentials. We spent an entire day combing the runs, using multiple different fly fishing techniques, only to find a few trout. This would become the common thread; pristine rivers filled with life giving food for trout and very small to non-existent fish populations.

As we traveled the countryside the people became more welcoming and more interested in spending time getting to know us and learn about where we came from.  Everywhere we went the locals were trying to take us home to learn about the strange Americans they found on the road or in hopes of giving us a glimpse into their life.

We had the opportunity to share tea and spent the night with a young family and their friends in Toluk. On the upper reaches of the Suusamyr/Kokomeren river drainages we broke bread with a nomad family in their yurt – after we helped them to break down their summer camp before winter set in.  The people of the Kyrgyzstan are probably the most gentle and welcoming people I’ve met.

Hungry to find more trout, we inquired of anybody that would listen.  Following a lead from the Dedushka at the homestay, we loaded up for an 80-km-round-trip excursion up a tributary to the Suusamyr River.  As we prospected dozens of likely spots, it became obvious that fish counts were extremely low and that seine netting* was probably the cause. We had traveled to a half a dozen other rivers and found a similar situation; spectacular water, prolific insect hatches, very limited numbers of beautiful trout and discarded seine nets.

The Opportunity                  

One thing was clear, if the fish in Kyrgyzstan were allowed a chance to live and grow unmolested in rivers and lakes, a world-class fishery could quickly evolve.  There are few places on the planet that offer the abundance of healthy rivers and streams that Kyrgyzstan offers.  These simple facts, combined with fly fishing’s ethic of “catch and release,” could be a winning combination for the mountain populations of Kyrgyzstan.  The economics of world-class fly fishing tourism can be summarized like this:  “A large trout is worth far more to the local population in the water than on a dinner plate.”

As the world searches for that last untouched, authentically natural place on this earth, we conclude it may be that ancient, majestic land and culture now known as Kyrgyzstan.  It is our commitment to be a part of assisting the Kyrgyz people in welcoming the world, while preserving and enhancing all of its natural resources.  To this end, we view fly fishing tourism as a sustainable, regenerative, profitable opportunity for the mountain people of Kyrgyzstan.

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*Seine fishing (or seine-haul fishing) is a method of fishing that employs a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. Seine nets can be deployed from the shore as a beach seine, or from a boat.

Taylor Barlow, Co-Founder, Mondo Fly Fishing, www.MondoFlyFishing.com