Kevin, Lez and Roman spent the nights in their individual dome tents whilst I preferred to sleep out under the stars, well protected by the mosquito net that was mounted on my bedchair and definitely cooler than the guys in the tents. The facilities in the camp were as one might expect; somewhat basic, although it was generally as we had expected and in fact the mosquitoes and food, whilst pretty bad, weren’t actually as awful as we had envisaged.

Sasha, our cook, looked after us admirably and there was always plenty of tea on the brew when we arrived back at camp in the evenings. This was shortly followed by the ‘dish of the day’ which was invariably salad and spaghetti or potatoes with fish in one form or another (it’s amazing what you can do with a double gas burner). One night we were served a large bowl of leather and bone that we were assured was once a duck. A particular favourite with our cook (if not us) was locally caught carp boiled in river water. I raided my supply of dehydrated curry or tinned meat whenever that was served. As far as I am concerned, carp are food for catfish not cat fishermen although I have to admit to rather enjoying the fried version that was served one evening. Breakfast was always the same; the ubiquitous dry bread with salami, sweaty cheese and plenty of tea or coffee. Lunch was the same as breakfast but without the hot drinks and was packed for our convenience in cling film. We supplemented this with our own stocks of tinned mackerel, sardines and chicken and of course plenty of bottles of heavily carbonated water that kept us safely hydrated (after we had shaken the gas out of it to make it more drinkable).

We soon got into a regular fishing pattern and became well organised. The fish weren’t really responding to the klonk as well as they could have but we were still catching some decent fish. Most of them were falling to my boat partner’s rod rather than mine but that is just the way it goes and I knew I would get my chances at some point during the trip. The fishing over the next week or so was not at all easy but I knew that if we stuck at it then I would get the biggun that I was after. The cats that we were catching, whilst not plentiful were of a good average size. Although I had only managed fish of up to about ninety pounds or so everybody else had caught wels of over a hundred pounds and Olivier had a real belter of around one hundred and fifty.

The days were by now becoming hotter and hotter and we were spending all day out in the blazing sun - the distances that we were travelling made a return to the camp during the day too time consuming and costly on fuel. We didn’t want to waste good fishing time motoring back and forth, so we covered ourselves up as much as we could, kept taking on fluids and sat it out. One particularly hot afternoon, Olivier and I were tackling a couple of new drifts and I had already managed to klonk up a couple of decent cats. Obviously the fish were responding better on that day, as it wasn’t too long before we were joined by Kevin and Lez in their boat. Kevin had just landed an absolute monster and had it retained on a stringer. He wanted to share the fish with us and, of course, to get some decent trophy pictures and video to back up his action shots. We knew that it was a really big fish, but when Kevin announced the weight at 202 lb I think we were all dumb-struck. This fish was absolutely awesome, I have witnessed dozens of ton plus catfish over the last ten years or so but this cat substantially eclipsed anything else that I had previously seen. This truly was a ‘Megamog’ Not surprisingly, this fish shattered Kevin’s previous best - by seventy pounds! Amazingly he had landed this fish on ‘light’ tackle; using a fixed spool reel and only forty pound monofilament.

Despite the fact that catfish bigger than this had been caught before (Roman’s best fish from the Ili was 237 lb), this was the biggest cat ever caught by an Englishman and was certainly a big enough fish to claim a new world record with. There aren’t currently any line class records for wels catfish but if Kevin can establish one for forty pound line, it will probably stand for an awfully long time.

The atmosphere in the camp that night was really buzzing, K.M. as one might imagine, was ‘somewhere else’ totally awe-struck by his achievement whilst the rest of us were either rummaging around in the cool box for that last elusive Russian beer or else discussing the chances of catching our own ‘Megamog’ before our adventure was over. Roman was unfortunately making plans for his early return to Germany, accompanied by Eddie who had stayed long enough to ensure that any problems with our trip and the camp had been ironed out. Kevin would happily have flown out at this time too, having already surpassed all his expectations. I am sure that it was only the thought of another boiled carp supper that made him stay with us!

We carried on travelling each day to the attractive looking spots on the main river, stopping only to catch more baits on the way or to pick up the ones that we had stashed overnight. Kevin’s cat had taken a large asp and these were the principal livebait that we were using. Roach were plentiful and there were lots of carp too but they were mostly on the small side so we concentrated our bait catching efforts on taking asp which averaged 2-4 lb. Asp (Aspius aspius) are a predatory fish found in many waterways across eastern Europe and Asia and are present in the Ili in good numbers. In appearance, they are rather like a cross between a chub and a herring with a large mouth and a beautiful bluey green sheen to their small silver scales. Asp will readily attack small spoons and spinners but care must be taken to sneak up on them quietly as they are rather spooky. Our most productive method was to motor slowly to the top of a reed fringed run and nudge the front of the boat into the margins and then cast downstream along the edge of the vegetation. If no takes were had within three or four casts, we would push ourselves away from the reeds and drift silently down a few metres to a new area. This method would usually allow us to catch a couple of fish from each spot and enough bait for the day (for all of us) was generally caught within an hour or so. Zander and Volga zander (Stizostedion volgensis) were also taken on lures, although they inhabited different areas and unlike the asp, were almost always caught close to the bottom of the river. Jigs, twisters, and soft plastics accounted for the majority of the zeds. When the asp proved a little elusive, or if we wanted an alternative, then zander were also kept for livebaits. Our baits were stored in large metal washing machine drums that we had shipped out specifically for the purpose, this kept them in superb condition. There are problems with using ‘outsize’ baits and our 2-4 lb asp and zander, meant that we had to adapt our rigs to get a good hook presentation and so we tied up hook links that incorporated two large single hooks set about a foot apart. Kevin stuck with his beloved Sylcast whilst I employed my favourite Kevlar. Hooks were VMC or Maruto Eagle Wave in sizes 6/0-10/0.

Twelve days or so into our trip we were joined by two more of our European catfishing friends; Andras Fejes from Hungary and well known French predator expert Michel Naudeau. I hadn’t seen either of these two guys since fishing with them on the Mincio and Po in Italy a couple of years ago, so it was unfortunate that I was due to leave only a few days after they joined us. The new arrivals were soon briefed on the events to date and with our help and their previous experience and knowledge, they too were soon into some good fish. Things were now going well.

Lez was next to take the honours with another Megamog, a beautiful yellow/green fish which weighed in at a healthy 163 lb; another massive personal best. We flew the Red ensign from our boat that day. Still I was klonking up huge fish for everyone except myself! I have to admit that with only a few days left before I flew out, I was starting to get a bit twitchy. Olivier, I think, caught another good fish before we were once again called upon to help weigh and photograph another truly huge cat. This time the captor was Michel and the fish weighed 187lb. Successful bait was a near dead zander of about 2 pounds. As I said before the average weight of the fish that we were now taking was incredible.

The last couple of days fishing were, I am afraid to say, a bit of a blur in my memory but more good fish were getting caught every day. Andras, who never bothers to weigh anything, caught a fish that was a ‘ton’ plus and I gloved another biggie for Lez of 135 lb. In the meantime I had managed to lose a good fish when the hook pulled out and somehow wasted a succession of takes; although it must be said that smaller fish were constantly grabbing at the tails of our large livebaits. They were repeatedly retrieved scale less and badly damaged and small cats were almost certainly the culprits. Finally, however, my turn came (of course I never believed otherwise!). A good fish gave me the run-around for about ten or fifteen minutes before surfacing at the side of the boat. I hope that Kevin wasn’t too upset when I asked him for the glove so that I could do the honours myself. It’s not that I don’t trust him it’s just that, personally, I get as much enjoyment out of gloving the fish as I do from playing it and as I could see that this was a huge moggie, I really wanted to savour the moment fully. Anyway, the fish was hauled unceremoniously on board before we motored over to a small area of land that had been earlier earmarked for weighing and photographing. The needle slipped round to 141 lb. So, for me too, a personal best.

The day after catching my Megamog, I was due to leave the camp. The boat that was to take me back, to connect with the old bus, was leaving at three in the afternoon. So with an early start I was able to fish for the morning. Alas the extra effort was to no avail and we returned to the camp at lunch time, fishless. (Kevin, I discovered later managed a 101 the evening that I left). After shedding as much unwanted baggage as possible and sharing out the last of my food and insect repellents, I tubed my rods and packed my rucksack. Seventeen rolls of valuable film were carefully stored in my hand luggage, although I had promised Kevin that I wouldn’t publicise his fish before he returned two and a half weeks later.

The rest of my trip to Kazakhstan is probably of little interest to all you avid fishermen so I shan’t bore you any further by recounting all the details of my return journey. I’ll leave out the bits about the sand filled bus, the steppe eagles and the potholes the size of small moon craters. I shan’t bother with the tales about having to hammer our wheels back into a generally round shape with a lump hammer or the sauna in the cow shed. Nor the wait for exit visas and having to bribe the dodgy airport officials in order to get out. After all, these things are perfectly normal when you choose to travel and adventure in this part of the world and go on the trail of Asian Megamogs.