One sport I fear I
shall not catch Mr. Khrushchev at is trout fishing. While I was dining with him
in Moscow last year, he told me that fishing was only for lazy men, and no one
has yet accused Mr. K. of being lazy. There may be another reason, too. During
the many years I had served in the American Embassy in Moscow and wandered all
over Russia, I had never caught or even seen a trout except on a platter. The
most recent was a delectable brownie stuffed with caviar at the very dinner
where Mr. Khrushchev spoke so disparagingly of fishing. Furthermore, in all
Europe I had run across only one person who had seen a live Soviet trout. He
was a semidemented German game warden who told me that during his nine years as
a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union he had seen gigantic trout leaping about
in the rivers of the Caucasus Mountains. Even Intourist, which does not like to
run down the natural wonders of Russia, was stumped when I questioned them on
the whereabouts of the Trutta family.
refused to believe that the land which had invented everything from the wheel
to the Lunik was troutless. Somewhere, I felt sure, there must be gushing
streams full of wild trout that would strike at anything. Obviously no one,
except the addled game warden, had looked in the right place.
So when Mr.
Khrushchev invited me to take a hunting trip through the Soviet Union, I added
a fly rod to my equipment. I started my active search for trout while my wife
and I were shooting stag in the mountains behind Yalta in the Crimea (SI, March
14, 1960). I asked a gamekeeper about the fish, and he told me there was a
trout hatchery at the foot of the very mountain on which we were camped. I
seized my fly rod, clambered into a car and set out at once.
The road dropped
sharply, twisting around hairpin curves. A cloud had settled on the mountain
and the fog was so heavy you could scarcely see five yards ahead. The wet
asphalt was covered with a slick layer of leaves. These difficulties did not
seem to bother the young Crimean driver, who careened along as though he were
At the bottom we
came to a small river, where we were met by the local fish warden who runs the
hatchery. He told us it had been opened only last year, but they had already
hatched and set out nearly 50,000 fingerlings. There were some native brown
trout in the river, he said, but the new stock were rainbows from a large
hatchery in Estonia.
I asked what had
prompted them to invest so much in trout, and the warden replied: "We are
fulfilling the resolution of the XXI Party Congress to increase all forms of
food supply." I asked whether he thought trout hatcheries were a very
effective way of increasing food supplies. The warden grinned at me over his
shoulder. "Well, fishing's fun, isn't it?" This was not the party line
on fishing I had heard from Mr. Khrushchev.
The stream was
narrow and thickly overgrown with willow, ash and beech. The warden led me to
one of the pools and watched curiously as I assembled my rod. He looked at my
flies admiringly, but when I asked which fly he recommended, he shook his head
in a quandary. With the warden, the demon driver, the gamekeeper and our guide
as an audience, I tried to cast under the overhanging trees. I was soon hung up
in a willow. The warden retrieved the fly and I tried again. A very small brown
rose but then changed its mind.
The warden then
disappeared into the bushes and returned with two long bamboo poles and a can
of worms. He beckoned to my wife, and they went off upstream. For an hour I
tried every fly in my box—dry and wet, nymphs and streamers. Except for a few
half-hearted strikes none produced any results.
The fishwarden and
my wife reappeared with a bucket half full of tiny browns; only one or two were
more than six inches long. There was, the warden explained, no minimum-size
restriction. He offered me his bamboo rod, but I stubbornly stuck to my fly
rod. Then he suggested I put a worm on my fly, but I turned down that proposal
For another hour
while my wife and the warden continued to pull out the little browns, I went on
casting doggedly—sometimes into the river, sometimes into a bush. Then the
cloud covering the mountain dissolved into a cold rain. My wife stood shivering
on the bank; but the rest of the party, bored by the futile thrashing of the
crazy American, had climbed into the car to keep warm. After a few more soggy
casts, I dismantled my rod and we headed back to camp, convinced that this was
not the Soviet trout paradise I was looking for.