Written by: Matt Hansen
All photos by Dan Armstrong
In late September, a crew of four Americans traveled to Georgia’s rugged Caucasus Mountains to see what promises it might hold for fly fishing. The objective was Tusheti National Park, a remote nature preserve with several mid-size rivers that flow along the border of Georgia and Russia. While the Georgian people have been fishing these rivers for centuries, mostly with nets and bait, it was largely off the map for fly fishers. Lacking any solid information about where to go and what to use, the team relied on an American contact there (whose fluency in Georgian was invaluable) and their own exploratory spirit.
Tusheti did not provide many easy answers, as most of the rivers were cloudy from perpetual runoff. But what the team discovered was an incomparable Georgian hospitality, a place where the grasshoppers are bigger than the hummingbirds, a chance to solve a timeless fly-fishing riddle, and an opportunity cast in a place that rarely sees outsiders—especially those carrying a fly rod.
What follows is the second series of photos (click here for Part I) shedding light on fly fishing in Tusheti. A full story on the expedition will appear in The Drake magazine in 2013.
Photo above: Matt Hansen and Marty Reed take in the view of Tusheti National Park, in northern Georgia. As all fly fishermen know, a huge part of the sport is immersing ourselves in places we normally wouldn’t go. The breathtaking scenery of Tusheti, far removed from everyday life, is no exception.
Fall colors envelope a remote village in the Caucasus. Throughout the national park, tiny villages are perched in seemingly impossible places. The residents sustain themselves on farming and raising livestock. But as tourism has grown over the last few years, small guesthouses are being built to accommodate travelers.
With the fishing on the slow side, due to cloudy waters, we stopped at a guesthouse deep in Tusheti. The old woman who worked there invited us to look around. She had been hand-washing her laundry, and carrying about in her handmade wool moccasins. It was unknown to us how long she had lived there, but it was a safe bet to say she’d lived in these mountains her entire life.
The infrastructure in Tusheti is rustic, to say the least. We’d been trying to drive upriver to find some clear water, but this turned out to be the end of the line.
Hansen drops in. There were plenty of hoppers, but we didn’t see a single fish rise.
Close encounters of the green kind. “Nobody told me to bring six-inch green hoppers,” said Marty, a guide on the Henry’s Fork. Local fauna suggested that there should be big fish in the Tusheti rivers, but we had a tough time finding them.
Daniel Kunin, a fly fisherman from Vermont who has lived in Georgia off and of since the early 1990s, casts near a village in Tusheti. Kunin’s love for Georgia is deep, and he hopes to help expose its beauty to others who appreciate fishing in remote places surrounded by authentic mountain culture.
These bear tracks were fresh, and we later found the dead cow it had been feeding on just around the bend. Despite being enveloped by one of the oldest civilizations in the world, large mammals, such as bears, ibex and even the rare snow leopard, have survived due to the rugged landscape of the Caucasus.
Horses have long been part of life in the Caucasus. According to legend, boys can ride horses before they can walk.
Daniel Kunin takes a break with Kako Bukvaidze, a village elder. Kako has lived in Tusheti his entire life. And while many leave the area each fall to escape winter, as a true man of the mountains, he lives out the harshest season.
A young Georgian named Zviad (red sweater) and Kako prepare dinner over a fire after a day of fishing in Tusheti. During the day, they foraged wild onions and purple basil from the forest, and whittled sticks into skewers. They used the skewers to cook chicken over the fire, melted homemade cheese on flat black rocks, and made a small salad from the basil and onions. Minimalist by necessity, and delicious by trade, a comparable meal would be hard to find in the states.
From left to right: Marty Reed, Matt Hansen, Shalva “Mario Andretti” Djguniashvili, Arden Oksanen, Daniel Kunin, Zviad Chokheli, Kako Bukvaidze, Ioseb “So-so” Ninoshvili, and Dan Armstrong. No extra credit for guessing who the Americans are.
No waders necessary. A local cow herder drives his animals to newer pastures in Tusheti National Park.
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