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Kazakhstan Catfish Of The Ily Delta
By Doug Summers


On Saturday 11th May 2002 a group of seven anglers met at Heathrow Airport at 07:15 to start the long journey to the Ily delta in Russiaís largest independent state Kazakhstan. We were going for two weeks to try and catch the giant catfish that live in the Ily River.

The Unimog

The Unimog

The seven anglerís were Joe Taylor, owner of J & K Tackle in Bicester and an angler who has been to Kazakhstan many times he was the group leader, Paul Clarke from Maidenhead, who was going on his fourth trip to the region. Then there was Jason Bee from Bicester, who was going on his second trip to the region, Bryn Gosney from High Wycombe, Martyn Hill from Tonbridge, Peter Gaunt from Church Lawton, Staffs, and myself, and Iím from Sandbach, Cheshire. We were all going on our first trip.

The River Ily

The first sight of the River Ily

A long but wondrous journey

The journey consisted of a short flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam, and then a two hour wait for the connecting flight to Almaty, Kazakhstanís capital. At Almaty we were met by our interpreter Adil, who took us to the large Unimog type vehicle and loaded all our equipment onto this for the four and a half hour drive through the desert to the river. And then the final leg of the journey was a one and a half hour boat ride down the Ily river to the Kan Tengri fishing camp, which would be our base for the next 14 days.

Pelican's nesting

Fantastic wildlife along the river

Although everybody was exhausted, this final part of the journey was absolutely marvellous, due to the vast amounts of bird life the delta supports. We saw White Tailed Fish Eagles, Pelicans, Storks, Cranes, Marsh Harriers, Bitterns, Night Herons and an incredible amount of wading birds of several species, as well as the usual birds such as Herons, Cormorants, Crows and several different species of Terns and Gulls and a multitude of smaller birds too numerous to name. Later in the week wild boars swam past.

We would learn over the next fortnight just how big the Ily river is; it is truly massive and there is an incredible amount of tributaries leading into it, some of them crystal clear, as they were spring fed, whilst others were very murky.

The campsite

The campsite

We eventually arrived some twenty-six hours later at around midday on Sunday, as Kazakhstan is six hours ahead of UK time.

Alexander, the camp manager, met the group, along with the other guides and Olga the cook and several others of the camp staff.

A well organised camp

The camp was very well organised with two rows of tents covered over with a timber and bamboo framework, to keep the tents cooler and protect them from the sometimes strong winds. There was a large mosquito-proof eating area with a table and benches and also a large ice box for keeping the beer cold - an absolutely essential item after a long days fishing in high temperatures. Satellite television too, although we could not get any English channels on it.

66lb Wels Catfish

Doug and a 66-pounder

You would think that after such a long journey, with very little sleep, that everyone would want to go to bed, but after some refreshment we were all as keen as mustard to get out onto the river and fish. But first we had to catch some bait in the shape of roach and carp, which you can catch at the camp, or you go off in the boats with your guide to catch some asp which appear to be the preferred bait.

After a discussion we were allocated our boats and guides for the fortnight. Joe was on his own in the boat named after him with his guide Andrťa. Paul and Jasonís guide was Vladimir, Bryn and Martynís guide was Nicholli and Peter and I had Anatolli, who we found out later had been the guide for Chris Tarrant when he had been out there last year.

a 72lb Wels coming to the boat

Pete boats a 72

Choose your itinerary

A typical day starts at around 6:30am to 7am. You get up and try to catch some roach or carp at the camp, then breakfast at 7:30am. You decide the night before what you are going to do the next day as you have two options, either to go out and fish for the morning and return to camp for lunch and then go out again for the rest of the day, or to take a packed lunch with you and stay out all day and return to camp for your evening meal between 9:30pm and 10pm.

The second option is better as you can travel a lot further a field on your fuel allowance for the day. You do have the option to go away and stay out for a few nights if you wish, this gives you the benefit of fishing water that is not fished as often. You have to purchase extra fuel to do this but it is not expensive.

Joe, Paul and Jason did this on two occasions while we were there and had some good catches.

You can also just laze around the camp for a day if you so wish, doing some fishing or swimming or just relaxing, whatever you want really.

A hairy moment with a wild boar

Wild boar crossed the river

Heavyweight but basic tackle is necessary

The tackle Peter and I were using consisted of four 9ft 6in, four to 10oz uptide rods. Two of these were fitted with ABU 10000 CL Ambassadeur multipliers loaded to the hilt with 40lb nylon, the other two were fitted with Shimano Aerlex 8000ís loaded with 45lb nylon.

The terminal tackle was very basic with a large split link swivel to attach the leads to, a rubber shock bead to protect the knot on the hook link swivel, which had a breaking strain of 265lbs. Attached to this was the hooklink, a length of Kryston Ton Up braid of 85lb breaking strain, and tied to the hooklink by Palomar knots were two 3/0 treble hooks; a very simple and extremely effective set up. The leads we had taken were all 4oz brass looped pears so that we could add more weight if required very quickly.

You generally only fish one rod each but on occasions when you are fishing in the eddies you can put another rod out over the back of the boat and take it in turns if any action happens on this rod.

84lb Wels Catfish

Another big cat for Doug at 84lb

We also had two 1Ĺlb test curve lightweight carp rods fitted with baitrunners for spinning or float fishing for the bait fish we required. Peter had also taken along a small carp sack to keep the bait fish alive.

The three members of the party who had been before were using six foot boat rods in the 50lb to 80lb class fitted with varying multipliers or large fixed spool reels, but most of these were loaded with 135lb breaking strain braided line, although the terminal tackle was virtually identical, except for the leads, as they were using various weights in the in-line style.

The approach

There are two distinct types of fishing for the catfish, the first by mooring the boat alongside the bank in the bamboo and fishing on the bottom with free running leads, usually in the eddies. Or to drift down the river using an instrument called the clonk, covering a large amount of water. The clonk is a tool, usually made out of wood with a grip for your hand and the other end is shaped like a slightly flattened oval ball, the surface of the water is broken with this and flicked out quickly to make the correct sound that attracts the cats.

Pete's 75lb Wels

Pete and a 75-pounder

The clonk appears at the moment to take the lionís share of the fish and no one can tell you exactly why the catfish respond to the noise this instrument makes. Most of the guides can use the clonk but one or two cannot, so if you wish to use this method you have to learn to master it. Bryn and Martynís guide could not use it but they soon had it mastered and were soon catching several fish.

The actual fishing was generally good with all of us catching several fish. I donít know the exact numbers of fish that everybody caught but the total catch between the seven of us was 295 catfish weighing from single figures, up to a top fish of 138lb.

The top fish

Joe Taylor 128lb, Paul Clarke 92lb, Jason bee 92lb, Bryn Gosney 81lb, Martyn Hill 75lb, Peter Gaunt 75Ĺlb and the 138-pounder to me. The 138lb cat I caught towed the boat for a mile when it tried to reach some snags. I managed to stop it getting into them and then it towed the boat for another three miles before I boated it. That was some scrap! The power of these fish is unbelievable; my arms and back were aching and painful for some time afterwards. But it was worth it for a fish like that and Iíd love to do it all over again!

 138lb Wels Catfish 138lb of sheer muscle

Returning the beast

Doug returns the best fish of the week Ė all 138lb of it

The record catfish from the camp stands at 225lbs but the guides are convinced that there are bigger fish to be caught. I for one would love to go back to the region again, not just for the fishing (although this is superb) but the food, the place, the people, the wildlife and the surroundings are all excellent, and I was lucky enough to do battle with the hardest fighting and largest fish I have ever caught in my life.

If you are interested in going to Kazakhstan to fish for the catfish then contact Anglers World Holidays on 01246 221717. They will advise you what to do.

Doug Summers


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