Mongolian Trout: The River Dragon
What Is A Mongolian Trout?
The Mongolian Trout is the nickname for a type of Taimen. They are the largest species of salmon, whilst also being one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, with the largest ever caught being recorded at around 6ft in length. Despite their large size, they grow at a relatively slow rate, taking 7 years to reach full adulthood and sexual maturity; however, they have quite a long lifespan and are capable of living for up to 55 years.
As a species they have been the subject of various documentaries, as well as being featured on a couple episodes of the TV show River Monsters .They have even been given the nickname "Mongolian Terror Trouts" by National Geographic, adding to their somewhat infamous reputation.
A Smaller Mongolian Trout
What Does The Mongolian Trout Eat?
Mongolian Taimens are piscivores which means that their diet consists predominantly of other, smaller fish. However, owing to their massive size and extremely sharp teeth, they will also feed on small rodents, ducks, geese and other birds that happen to breach the surface of the water. In order to catch and kill this larger, non-marine based food source, the behemoth-like fish will erupt from the water, grab hold of their unlucky prey and drag them into the depths to be eaten.
Interestingly, despite the fact their diet is primarily made up of other fish, the Mongolian Taimen mostly hunt at the surface of the water (hence the inclusion of waterfowl as a food source) rather than in the depths.
If food is scarce, the fish will also readily devour their own species in order to survive. On certain occasions, the Mongolian Trout have been known to attack prey in groups, an action which earned them the nickname "river wolves." They're considered to be an aggressive species of fish because of the deadly, ruthless and explosive way they will hunt down and kill food.
As mentioned, Mongolian Trouts are extremely large fish and can regularly grow up to 120cm (around 4ft) in length; furthermore, they are also considerably heavy fish with the heaviest Taimen ever discovered weighing in at 230 pounds. When they are juvenile, they have a longer, sleeker appearance but once they've grown to around 90cm they begin to fill out and develop much thicker, fleshier bodies.
Whilst the appearance of the fish can somewhat slightly fluctuate, they are mostly a similar colour. Generally, the have olive coloured heads which fade into a red-brown body that might have a slightly speckled appearance; yet, despite these fluctuations, Mongolian Taimen always have red fins which allows fisherman to quickly identify them amongst other subspecies.
Where Do They Live?
The Taimen are freshwater fish and will spend their entire lives living in said type of water. Despite their large size, Mongolian Trout actually prefer to live in rivers with fast flowing waters and are rarely found in lakes or reservoirs; however, they are known to live in the mouths of tributaries (rivers or streams which flow into larger rivers) also.
As you can probably infer from their name, Mongolian Taimen are regularly found throughout Mongolia, as well as other parts of Siberia such as Russia. They are very commonly found in the Yenisei river and the Lena river, which both flow into the Arctic ocean.
Unlike other marine-based species, this particular fish does not migrate throughout the year. Although, the Mongolian Trout has been known to travel great distances to seek out fresh food or if it's spawning season - it's been suggested that they'll travel through 60 miles (100km) of river every year to find what they need!
The Cannibalistic Nature of a Mongolian Trout - National Geographic
Mongolian Trout: Dangerous or Endangered?
Even though this fish is an apex predator with finely honed hunting skills, the Mongolian Taimen is still considered an endangered species.
Due to their large size and intelligent nature, fisherman (particularly fly-fisherman) have sought out Mongolian Trout as an elusive and highly challenging type of game. The over saturation of Taimen fishing has led to a dwindling amount of these fish left, and there are now several organisations dedicated to ensuring the protection of the species. However, many fisherman are also doing their best to ensure that rivers are gradually repopulated and regularly practice a catch-and-release policy when hunting for these fish. Additionally, as Taimen are both large and edible (meaning they provide a lot of flesh,) people will sometimes try and catch them to eat or sell as food, which has also had a negative impact on the number of them swimming in the rivers.
Following on, as Mongolia has become more industrialised, the Mongolian Trout has seen it's habitat suffering more and more, which has further added to the decline of the species. Moreover, as indicated above, Taimen are a slow-growing species of fish which makes it more difficult to for them to repopulate quickly as it takes quite a long time for them to reach the age at which they can reproduce.
All of these factors combined have posed a large threat to the future of the species, but hopefully the conservation efforts put in place will help them to survive.
The Mongolian Trout is a very historical species of fish and as such has several legends associated with it; for example, some Buddhists consider them to be the embodiment of water spirits and thus somewhat revere them.
However, there is also a famous Mongolian legend which tells of a group of herders who were starving throughout the cold winter months with nothing to eat. Eventually, they discovered a giant Taimen which had been frozen in place when the river iced over and they used the fish to survive by slicing off it's flesh to eat throughout the winter. Once the winter had passed, the herders thought nothing more of the fish and went back to their usual lives; whilst, the warm weather melted the ice and the Mongolian Taimen was freed. Once freed, the Taimen wanted revenge on those who'd sliced at it's trapped body, and moved onto the land. Soon, it found the herders it sought, and devoured them all before returning to it's watery home.
Whilst I'm not entirely sure how much truth there is to this unbelievable tale, it does highlight the reverence and the respect that the Mongolian people have for these gigantic fish to create a local legend around them.
Particularly fly fishing, dwindling population (overfishing/habitat destruction) has led to catch-and-release – diffult to catch, large size, lots of camps set up and companies in Mongolia offering trips and guides
Can be eaten, cooked in a variety of ways, steaks readily available because they’re big