The mighty mangar of Mesopotamia

Here I would like to share the memories of my two recent expeditions to Mesopotamia to catch magnificent Luciobarbus esocinus, a huge predatory barbel of Tigris-Euphrates river system. I became aware of this fish about 5 years ago when accidentaly found pictures of US soldiers catching this fish in Saddam Hussein's former palace ponds. Since that my life changed and I started to dig into this investigating the opportunities to catch this fish myself. I found that the fish which scientific name means "pike-like barbel" is also known under its arabic name Mangar. It could easily reach 100 kg and more. The biggest fish on photo I could find was 120 kg but all sources agree that maximum for this species is about 150 - 200 kg making this fish the largest (or at least one of the largest) cyprinids in the world. As the fish is an endemic to Tigris-Euphrates basin, it can be caught only in four countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The war is going on in Syria and Iraq, so only Turkey and Iran can be considered. Almost all info in English that one could find in the net was about Iran. This is because of one fishing entrepreneur who speaks English and so controls everything regarding mangar fishing in Iran for foreigners. I contacted him and we negotiate for about a year. He has very tight schedule and we could not make a deal. Also I was concerning about safety reasons on domestic flights in Iran and did not want to "spoil" my passport with Iranian visa. I started to lose interest and switched to investigating mangar fishing in Turkey. I initially thought that there are only few mangar in Turkey and they are small. I was luckily wrong. First I found turkish ichtyologist on fb and asked for help in organizing fishing trip. He initially agreed but then refused to help. I was going to come there on my own and see what I can catch there. But then I made one more search and found few profiles on fb of people holding mangar. One of them replied and this was the leading local expert on mangar fishing. Here in Turkey they call it "Firat turnasi" which means "Euphrates pike". We very quickly made a deal. For reasonable price he provide guidance and everything needed for 4-days fishing tour on best mangar waters in Turkey. So I came to the city of Malatya in late June 2019 and my long-anticipated fishing adventure began. I was met with a great hospitality but the only problem was that the guide does not speak English at all. At first he asked his English-speaking friend to be a translator for the first introduction. Then we use Google translator for routine communication.

The plan was to start fishing on Ataturk reservoir on Euphrates and then go to other places if no quick luck reached. We fished almost exclusively from the shore moving between promising locations by boat. I spent my nights in local hotels. I managed to catch my first mangar on the first day but this was very small 400 g fish.

Next day I caught slightly bigger 760 g fish and the one about 300 g.

Also I caught two bizir – Carasobarbus luteus, the other not so charismatic Mesopotamian barbell.

One of the guide’s aids caught a mangar about 10 kg on both of the days but I have not seen these fish. I however saw him catching a fish about 4 kg. All fishing was in the early mornings as summer days are very hot in Turkey. On third day I was already frustrating as no good fish is being caught. That day we went to another place on the same reservoir and disembarked on the small island. There were splashes of large fish around – mangar were hunting at the dawn. Soon my guide caught two small mangar about 1 – 1.5 kg. When he was still fighting the second one I finally got a bite too. The power of the fish was immense. I used spinning gear with lure test 10 – 40 g and 20 lb braided line with shock leader. After few minutes of the fight my arms became weak and I was to rest the rod on my stomach as I could no longer hold the rod with just my hands. Suddenly the line became loose and I thought the fish was off. That was a frustration. But suddenly I started to feel the fish again. It just changed the direction towards the shore when the line became loose. So the fight continued. Finally I managed to bring the fish to the shallow. The fight lasted about 20 minutes. The fish was slightly over 20 kg and its total length was 125 cm. So my dream came true!

This is not trophy sized fish but still a good one. The biggest fish caught with rod and reeI that I saw on photos of my new Turkish friends was 75 kg. That was caught on live bait and the fight lasted 9 hours. Also I saw a photo of a fish over 100 kg but that was killed by poachers using explosives. I refused to continue fishing on this day and cancelled the last fourth day as my mission was accomplished. Then I took a rental car and spent 3 days on my own trying to catch fish in free flowing Euphrates and Tigris rivers. I managed to catch only few Sellal bleaks (Alburnus sellal) and one Mesopotamian chub (Squalius berak).

I need to say that we became friends with my guide and he invited me to visit local fishing competition this September for no charge and with food and camping provided for free. I could not miss the other opportunity to catch mangar, so I arrived to Turkey again and took part in the competition. Unfortunately, the results were far from good. In two days 100+ participants caught only 6 fish valid for contest – 1 small mangar and 5 sabut (Arabibarbus grypus) up to 7 kg. I caught only one bizir (Carasobarbus luteus). Anyway that was an interesting event, I met many nice people and made some plans for future fishing in Turkey. There are several other freshwater species here I would like to catch.

Species List: 
Barbel, Pike
Bleak, Sellal
Chub, Mesopotamian
Himri, Mesopotamian

Comments

Susquehannock's picture

Very cool. I think when Corey and Andy named the expedition reports they were imagining something like this- an international search for an enormous, relatively unknown species, like River Monsters without the sensationalized mystery stuff. 

Susquehannock

Mike B's picture

Very cool Alexander. That is one of the most amazing fish I've ever seen. My wife and I once considered honeymooning in Kyrgyzstan where I could fish for osmer. Didn't do it. I look back now and wonder what could've been. You won't be doing that. Cheers. 

mike b

andy's picture

Truly a magical trip!  The Pike Barbel is insanely cool.  Wow.

Cast_and_Blast's picture

Thanks for sharing.  These are the kind of trips I dream of.  Nice job of gathering research and making it happen.  You earned that one.  Congrats!

AlexanderS's picture

Thank you for kind words guys!

The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope (John Buchan)

That species is DEFINITELY on my bucket list now. It actually kind of resembles the predatory Yellowcheek Carp (Elopichthys bambusa) that we have here in China.

I spent half my money on fishing, gambling, alcohol, women and billiards. The other half I wasted.

Awesome fish and a great adventure!  Thansk for sharing!

IvanTortuga's picture

These are the exact expedition stories I want to read! Not that I don't love them all but these overseas (to me) trips are so awe inspiring.