SI Vault
A Somewhat More Modest Coup
Clive Gammon
October 14, 1991
As tanks rolled through Moscow, the author was in a remote corner of the Soviet Union landing the fish of his dreams
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October 14, 1991

A Somewhat More Modest Coup

As tanks rolled through Moscow, the author was in a remote corner of the Soviet Union landing the fish of his dreams

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If, on the penultimate day of our week-long trip, Sash hadn't noticed a twist of brown paper in my tackle box, I might have gone home with my ache still unassuaged. But see it he did, and he unwrapped one of those eight-cent Russian spoons I had bought as a conversation piece. He signaled me to tie it on.

It was two pools later that Sash shouted "Hokay!" instead of "Nyet!" when I cast, thereby expanding his English vocabulary 25% at a stroke. But all that I had done was hook an underwater log. I had been hung up on a lot of logs that week, and at this point I turned and shrugged at Sash, indicating that we should get in the boat to try to retrieve the clumsy lure. But Sash was shaking his head wildly and screaming in Russian as the log thumped twice at my rod tip. It caught my attention like two Tyson jabs; then this huge fish in gray-and-crimson livery breached clear of the water.

It was my good fortune that the fish decided to stay and fight it out in the pool instead of heading for the white water below it. The taimen fought in great crashing cartwheels, and when it made for the logs, I used heavy side strain to turn it. I had 17-pound-test line on, and nothing less would have done it.

And then Sash was waist-deep in the Big Mak, with my taimen by the tail. He wrestled it onto the gravel beach and lay embracing it, yelling in triumph. We had left the certified scales back at camp, naturally, but I had a tape measure, and later I would write in my fishing diary, "Maymakan River, Russian Far East, 1:15 p.m., weather bright, 80° plus, taimen 139 centimeters long, girth 65 cms."

Sash and I danced on the beach. Then he estimated the weight for me by holding up his fingers. Ten, then another 10, then eight. Twenty-eight pounds? Ridiculous, I thought. Then I realized he meant kilos. My taimen weighed better than 60 pounds. My quest was over.

I'd been luckier than I'd thought. One tine of the treble hook had almost pulled straight, and the leader was badly frayed where the big fish had hit it again and again with its tail. Only a few more seconds, and I would have lost it.

Later, Galliulin would explain to me why Sash had made me put on the Russian spoon. The American spoons were beautiful, Sash had told Galliulin, but in the midday sunlight they were far too bright. The Russian product was appropriately dull.

That night I ceremoniously retired the spoon as Sergei, the cook, just as ceremoniously served up a fine last dinner centered around breast of wild duck. Ivy was also celebrating. In increasing gloom he had been fishing every hour possible, and he hadn't cheered up when I told him that he symbolized the indomitable spirit of the American sportsman. He didn't want to be a symbol, he said, he wanted to catch a taimen. And that afternoon he had managed it, a 40-pounder.

We still had the next morning, and with the pressure gone, we could indulge our fancies for a few hours before the helicopter came to pick us up. Ivy slept. Jeronimo found a backwater full of northern pike, and his father and I got out fly-fishing outfits and investigated the grayling.

Before we left, the camp watchdogs, Bes, Taiga, Maxim and Dryzhok, put on their own grand finale, treeing—until they were called off—nothing less than a sable, the first one we Westerners had ever seen. And so we headed home in a cocoon of fulfillment that lasted until takeoff time at Poliny Osipenko.

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