Josh Udesen traveled 16 hours by plane, eight hours by car and two days by horseback to arrive at Delger Moron, a remote river in northern Mongolia near the Russian border.
His goal — to catch the largest salmonoid in the world, found only in Siberia and Mongolia.
The fish is called a Taimen. It can reach lengths of more than 60 inches and live to 30 to 40 years.
“A fish, a mythical fish, a unicorn, a Taimen,” said the Riverstone International School history teacher. “You probably have never heard of the fish.”
Udesen is an avid fisherman and former fishing guide, but is known for his artwork. He sells and paints portraits of fish as a second income. His work has been purchased by Patagonia, Montana Fly Company, Boise Brewing and Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewing.
“This is my passion,” he said.
Traveling to Mongolia wasn’t a vacation for Udesen, rather a job. He was tasked with photographing Taimen in the river. He is building a portfolio of art which will be used for raising funds, awareness and help for the Mongolian government, which is devoted to protecting the surrounding land of Delger Moron as a “sanctuary river” where no development will occur.
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He took on the 12-day adventure in August after being invited by a Mongolian outfitter, the Mongolian government and a conservation organization called the Taimen Fund — an organization that promotes Taimen conservation.
“I couldn’t move my hands the first two days, it was good hard work,” Udesen said. “By the time it was all done, the experience was often a blur, as it should be.”
Udesen measured, photographed and collect DNA to keep tabs on the numbers, size and distribution of the fish in Delger Moron. Udesen only took photos if the fish were well, and rarely did the fish leave the water.
“I came to realize fishing for, promoting and reverence for this fish is the only real way to make sure the habitat, watershed and fish are protected,” he said. “I’ve never felt guilt about fishing, but I quickly began to ponder whether or not fishing, at least for a species like Taimen, is a selfish endeavor with consequence.”
Udesen commends the Mongolian government for being proactive in designating wilderness status for a river that could be developed. He now brings his experience back to the classroom. Udesen shares with his students what is happening in other countries from culture to wildlife using photos and experience.
“I want my students to connect with a place,” he said. “I always tell students the best learning is rarely happening in the classroom.”
Below, check out the photos Udesen took on his trip.