Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gone Fishin'

On Saturday morning I was invited to go fishing by Raimbek, one of Sandra's team, a local gentleman.  He has 4 boys and a girl, and the oldest boys, 15,14 and 11 joined us.  Raimbek picked me up at six o'clock on Saturday morning while it was still dark.  With his large family he was transportationally challenged until he imported a Toyota Previa minivan from the US last year.  He bought it second hand from a Toyota dealer over the internet and had it shipped to Kazakhstan in a container.  Clearly not an easy or inexpensive way to get a vehicle.

We headed north out of Atyrau going basically going upstream with the Ural, which meanders all over the plain, so is not close to the road.  A few kilometres out of town we turned off the road onto a dirt track and headed towards the river.  Although, generally landscape looks dead flat from a distance, up close it is rutted and bumpy, with small hillocks and other obstructions which make the off-road ride quite challenging.

When we finally came to the intended spot on the river we had been beaten too it.  Unfortunately, we were beaten not by a couple of other fishermen, but by a group with a bus, a tractor, a couple of cars, a boat and a barge.  Clearly serious fishing was afoot.  I'll explain their technique for you keen fishing folk out there.  A rope is tied to the bumper of the bus.  It is in turn connected to a net in the barge.  The barge is the pulled by the boat across to the other side of the river, paying out the net as it goes along.  On the other river bank the boat turns downstream and pulls the barge a 100 or 150 meters down the river, still putting out the net.  Then the barge crosses back to the original bank and the net is attached to a second rope which is fed through a large pulley wheel anchored to the ground, and connected to the tractor.  The barge and boat now sail away and the tractor drives down the river bank pulling the net in as it goes.

Unfortunately we didn't see the resulting catch but it must have been fairly good as it constituted all the fish in about 150 yards of the Ural.  Raimbek was pretty disgusted with this poaching, but fortunately didn't decide to intervene or I don't thing I would be writing this now.

We bounced around a bit on dirt roads and finally found a suitable spot.  Fishing the river Kazakh style involves baiting the rods with worms, casting them out with fairly heavy weights attached into the deep water, propping them up on a rest, and waiting to catch a huge fish.  We achieved this state of readiness at about 7.30, so it was time to have a beer.  Raimbek drinks non-alcoholic beer but had thoughtfully brought me the real stuff.  It turned out to be Miller.  I think there were Miller commercials that used to talk about Miller Time. I can confirm that in Kazakhstan Miller Time starts at 7.30am.
Raimbek and son baiting the lines

 On the left is Raimbek putting the second rod on the rest.  On the right is me, busily fishing away!

You can see the size of the river, imaging netting everything in 150 meters.

It took me a little while, but finally the penny (or Tenge) dropped!  Fishing here is an exclusively male activity constructed to provide the men with an excuse to get out of the house with their buddies and drink beer or vodka.  The provision of the occasional fish gives the whole exercise a purpose and some validity.  The lack of a fish means more time and effort needs to be expended on the activity.  Practice make perfect.

We were not very lucky with the fish, but the weather was great, much cooler than last week, and the beer was cold.

Raimbek, forever enterprising, had planned to cook his special fishing trip fish dish.  When I expressed some concern that we might not catch a fish, he gave me a confident look and explained that he had brought the fish with him.  And it was a very nice piece of sturgeon, rather than the catfish that we would catch...perhaps!

So after a couple of hours fishing you can see the fruits of our labor....

Actually, whilst it was the fruits of our labor, the labor was not us doing the fishing.  In our copious idle time we watched our neighbors downstream, netting small fry for bait, then "fishing", landing a large carp in a net and throwing it onto the bank, so we went to take a look.  They were kind enough to lend us the fish for our photo-op.  In fact they even washed it down so that it looked its shining best.

So it was time to prepare the "Fish Special".  The recipe is shown below in pictorial form.  I think it is self explanatory, onion, fish, tomatoes, potatoes, green peppers, eggplant a squeeze of lemon and a container of mayonnaise. It is wrapped in aluminum foil and put on the heat for 40 minutes, rested for ten then eaten.

It was good.  The sturgeon was a very nice fish, worth looking for, and the vegetables were all nicely done.  The mayonnaise formed a sort of soft crust on top and sauce below.  It was quite rich!                                                    We sat on the rug and had a proper cooked picnic with chunks of bread and glasses of pop.
Raimbek and the boys.  We stopped to take a picture by the trees on the way back
This LINK takes you to the full set of Fishing Trip pictures.

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