The Top 10 Most Mystical Fish to Catch on a Fly Rod

May 16, 2009

Frenzy Top 10

by Aaron “Chubbs” Peterson

As I was coming up with this Top 10, I knew the concept I was looking for, but couldn’t come up with the word to use.

  • I wanted to portray the fish that gives an angler that once in a lifetime experience.
  • An experience so amazing that it is difficult to put into words.
  • The only way to truly understand what it is like to catch that certain fish is by experiencing it first hand.
  • It is something that causes the anglers to travel the globe for that adventure and spend his/her hard earned money to do so.
  • It has something to do with the fish.
  • The fish is respected on the highest levels and it is sought after, but difficult to catch.

It is almost a spiritual experience that once attained is hard to repeat.  As I looked for words to describe the above ramblings I chose the word mystical.  Not in the wizards and hobbits sense, but as defined below:

Mys-ti-calhaving a divine meaning that transcends human understanding.  beyond ordinary understanding.

So with that said we have put together our list of the those fish that are so special that people would journey the ends of the world to fight one on the end of a fly rod. They have that certain mystique about them that very few people have been fortunate enough to catch, and chances are there might not be a angler on this earth that has caught all species of fish on our top ten list.  However, if one does exist I would love to meet that angler.

Anyways, here is our Top Ten List of Most Mystical Fish to Catch on a Fly Rod.


10. Tarpon (Megalops)

The almighty Tarpon is considered one of the greatest fighters in the water.  Their amazing aerials have hooked many o’ anglers, and their stamina won many o’ battles.  It isn’t that these fish are rare or isolated to one area to catch, but the fact that they are one of the oldest, most prehistoric fish out there and have been roaming the waters longer than humans have occupied the earth draws considerable interest.  Giant Tarpon can get up to 6.6 ft in length and well over 200 lbs.  It is these Monster Tarpon that drive anglers from the Caribbean to West Africa to literally hunt these amazing fish.  Love it when they jump.


9.  Giant Trevally or GT (Caranx Ignobilis)

Like the Tarpon, the GT isn’t a rare fish.  Matter of fact it is found in many different locations throughout the world, but mainly the warm tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  However, what makes the GT (from the Jack/Carangidae Family) mystical is it’s amazing shape that was built to push anglers to their fighting limit.  They have immense power which can be attributed to thick shoulders and midsections of muscle and large almost paddle-like pectoral and tail fins.  Solitary Specimens can reach up to 200lbs and over 5 ft in length.


8.  Tigerfish (Hydrocynus Alestiidae)

Tigerfish are prized game fish.  These African fish are found in many rivers and lakes on the continent, and are fierce predators with distinctive protruding teeth.  The Goliath Tiger is the largest of this family and mainly found in the Congo River system.  There is something about catching a fish that has ridiculously large teeth.  Teeth so big that it appears it could take one’s arm of with one chomp.  That in and of itself is an experience of a lifetime.  Mix that with the fact that many locals believe it to be cursed and you have one of the most mystical fish to catch on a fly rod.  I have included a video compliments of NatGeo.  They aren’t fly fishing, but you get a taste of what these fish offer.


7. Golden Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita)

There are individuals that will hike the  mountain ranges in the Sierra Nevadas and the high mountains of Alberta just to fish for Golden Trout.  There is a mystique, almost legend, about the Golden Trout. It has been called the “Fish from Heaven.” Small and beautiful, distinctive and spectacular, the typical golden trout with its vibrant colors evolved over thousands of years adapting to the high country meadows of the Kern Plateau.   As humans began to expand into this area and other fish species were introduced the Golden Trout was on the verge of extinction.  Thanks to the California Fish and Game they put a management plan in place to reverse that trend.  So, the Golden Trout legend lives on with it’s beautiful distinct markings.  To add intrigue to mystery, scientists aren’t sure why these fish exhibit such remarkable colors.


6. Golden Dorado (Salminus maxillosus)

Francisco Coronado searched all over South America for the 7 cities of Gold unsuccessfully.  There is something about Gold that drives people to do extraordinary things.  It is no different with our number 6 fish the Golden Dorado.  Despite having Salminus in its name, the Dorado is not related to any species of salmon, nor to the saltwater fish also called Dorado.  Golden Dorado have large heads with powerful jaws that are filled with sharp teeth.  They average about 3 feet long, and are golden colored. The average size of the Golden Dorado is about 6-25 pounds, but the largest recorded size is 68 pounds.   They are found in the warm waters in South America, namely Argentina and Brazil.  One outfitters describes, “Their sharp teeth and explosive leaps make them the strongest, meanest and most aggressive fish in Argentina.”   That is a pretty bold statement that many articles claim is true, thus putting the Golden Dorado at #6.


5.   Permit (Trachinotus falcatus)

There is just something so cool about Permit.  Maybe it is the large human like eyes, or the huge dorsal fin shaped like a scythe.  Permit are a prize game fish that many anglers attest, “if you can catch a Permit, you are a pretty dang good angler”.  Permit are smart and pound for pound one of the strongest fish in the water. They have the ability to use their wide bodies late in the battle and keep their head down, making them a challenge to even those most seasoned angler.  Permit are usually found in shallow, tropical waters mainly in flats and channels.  Permit typically range from 10 to 20 lbs.

The clip below has some great footage of this beautiful fish.


4.  Milkfish (Chanos Chanos)

I first heard of Milkfish when I was browsing a Global Fly Fishing Guide Service website called Fly Cast Away and one of their target species was a Milkfish.  A little further research showed for many years people believed it was impossible to catch a Milkfish on a fly rod because they feed by nibbling algal growths and by filtering micro plankton.  However, the above mentioned company had a guide that actually figured out how to do it.  This was later confirmed by fly fisher/guide extraordinaire Wyatt “Earp Fish” Tibbits.  The Milkfish is the sole living species in the family Chanidae.  They can grow to 5ft in length but are most often about 3 ft in length and up to nearly 40 lbs.  They reach sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years of age.  The Milkfish will test an anglers patience and skill, but if you happen to one that actually catches a Milkfish you will be in a very select group of anglers that have.


3.  Arapaima/Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas)

The Arapaima is one of the most interesting looking fish out there due to its almost beak-like head and symmetrical fins located at the posterior end of its body.  It is mainly found in the Amazon regions of South America, but have been planted in areas of Thailand and Malaysia.  The Arapaima is heavily sought after in South America for food.  The are mainly trapped in nets or by spearfisherman.  Because of that it is rare to find large Arapaima in the wild today.  These giants can reach 9 feet (2.75 meters) long and weigh up to 440 pounds (200 kilograms) making them one of the largest fresh water species out there.  The Arapaima is also unique in the fact that it spends most of its time near the surface because it has to needs to breathe air to survive surfacing about every 15 minutes.  The likelihood of landing such a fish on fly tackle is extremely remote but not completely impossible.  At the rate these large giants are being consumed by humans, we can only hope that they will be around for the future generations of anglers to enjoy.


2.  Taimen (Hucho Taimen)

The lore of the Taimen runs deep.   In Russia it is called the River Wolf because of its fierce, attacking nature it exhibits in its habitat coming out of the water to strike rodents and/or birds.  The lore of the Taimen increased as AEG Media came out with Fish Bum I Mongolia: River Wolf which documents anglers passion to find and catch Taimen in the remote regions of Mongolia.  The Taimen is the largest salmonid in the world. The maximum size is not well known, but a fish caught in the Kotui River in Russia with a length of nearly 7 ft (83 in) and 231 lbs is the largest reliable record (Holcik et al. 1988).  The Taimen can also live up to nearly 55 years of age.   Taimen are typically found in upper Mongolia and Eastern Siberia but migrate some around those areas.  The thrill of fly fishing for these fresh water giants is unlike any other. They explode on the fly coming completely out of the water, or smashing the fly with their tail first.  They clearly intend to swallow their prey whole or otherwise stun and drown it first.  Yes, the lore of the taimen is one that is drawing more and more anglers to hunt this river wolf.  The mystique of the Taimen runs deep in the Mongolian, northern China  and Siberian culture with interesting folk lore.  As I studied about the Taimen, I found 2 bits of interesting folk lore that may or may not be true.  Enjoy

  • Mongolian legend tells of a giant Taimen trapped in river ice. Starving herders were able to survive the winter by hacking off pieces of its flesh. In the spring the ice melted and the giant Taimen swam away.
  • According to some popular Chinese folklore, a type of Taimen lives in Kanasi Lake in China and can weigh up to 4 tons, and although scientific evidence has yet to verify the claim, villagers near Kanasi have documented fish weighing upwards of 3000 pounds.

And #1 is ……….

1. Golden Mahseer (Barbus tor putitora)golden-mahseer1

Maybe it is the fact that these fish reside just below the Majestic Himalayan Range or maybe it is because fly fishing in India is new to many westerners.  Whatever it is, the Golden Mahseer is our #1 most mystical fish to catch on a fly rod and stands as a legend in a very mythical part of the world.  It resides in the Northern part of India where breathtaking scenery abound.  The Mahseer is one of the world’s toughest freshwater fish.  The Golden Mahseer is heralded as the aquatic Tiger of the Asian sub-continent, it is a formidable opponent. Golden armor-plated scales line powerful flanks and bucket-shaped fins provide it with immense power both to hold its position in the fastest of currents and equally to strip line from a reel with unstoppable, finger-burning speed. Its voracious appetite and sheer strength has given it an almost mythical status, allowing it to obtain weights in excess of 100lbs. Even in the colder, faster-flowing rivers of Northern India it can obtain sizes in excess of 50lbs.  Traditionally Mahseer have been caught using either bait or lures fished with heavy-duty fishing tackle. It is fair to say that these methods have unquestionably accounted for the largest Mahseer. By contrast, fly-fishing for Mahseer is a relatively new concept and techniques are still very much developing.  The current record for a Mahseer caught on a fly stands at 27lbs but new techniques are being learnt and that record could be toppled in the near future.  Could be you.  :)

Enjoy this Golden Mahseer clip.

As always, we hope you enjoyed this post and would love to hear your thoughts on what you believe to be that fish out there that when caught on a fly rod transcends human understanding/difficult to put it into words.  Otherwise, mystical.

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30 Responses to “The Top 10 Most Mystical Fish to Catch on a Fly Rod”

  1. Big Hoss Says:

    Great list Chubbs. I don’t even have one of these fish checked off yet,


    Chubbs Reply:

    I only have 1, the tarpon (a baby one at that), but i would love to start crossing this list off.


  2. Dean Parr Says:

    I know that this is not quite as glorious of a fish but I have always enjoyed going after large stryper with a fly rod. Alot of fun! Would love to go after permit or Tarpon someday, Just never had the chance.


  3. Amy Wagner Says:

    Hi there,
    Wow what a list, I would be freaked out if I had to catch some of those monsters, they are huge!! Then again it must be a wonderful feeling too, one day just one day, ill get there, but for right now I am quiet happy to catch my little ones :)



  4. Brent Roberts Says:

    Great list Chubbsy!
    I think there some of my favorite and most elusive fish to catch on my flyrod are freshwater suckers and the almighty blue whale. What a fighter that one is! Fish on!


  5. KrisBelucci Says:

    I really liked this post. Can I copy it to my site? Thank you in advance.


    Big Hoss Reply:

    sure thing any time.


  6. Bill Haaker Says:

    “Chubbs” I went searching for somthing like “largest fish on fly” on the internet and came by this and it is way cool. Way to go! I am 4-10 on this list but don’t count small milkfish on Christmas Island as qualifiying for a Seychells size Milky. I have casted to Pirarucu in Brazil but couldn’t get a take (no duh?). Tarpon in Honduras, Permit in Belize and Goldens at altitude in Calif. and several bad ass GT’s at Christmas Is. going back in December for my 12th trip. I am interested in the Taimen but I dont know about the politics of getting in there.

    Thank you for a great look at these mystic species. The thing I like about “seeing the world with a fly rod in hand” is the uniqueness of the experience…more so than some stupid tour or cruise ship that will never see my cash. I love the experience of the chase! thank again. Bill Haaker


  7. Spencer Nagle Says:

    haha. This was a fun read. Thanks!

    I used to live in Alberta before I use into fishing. I can’t believe I wasted such a ‘golden’ opportunity.


    chubbsypeterson Reply:

    I have always wanted to fish Alberta.


  8. Arun Rana Says:


    On the golden mahseer, the article only mentions northern India but would like to clarify that the waters of Nepal are equally good for catching one of these.


    Chubbs Reply:

    Arun, I imagine that there is some awesome fishing in Nepal, but I’ve never read anything about it. What rivers in Nepal are great for fly fishing and any other fish besides the Mahseer that reside there?
    thanks for the comment!


  9. Arun Rana Says:

    I’ve just submitted an article from our recent trip to the Babai, which will hopefully be published in the next issue of ‘The Nepali Times’, a national weekly newspaper. You can also check out ‘Fishermen’s Corner’ which I set up on FB where we have been posting our catch and news on fishing. The Koshi River, Tamur River, Arun River, and the Mahakali River (Kali River in India) are all good for Mahseer fishing, but the Babai River which flows through the Bardia National Park is the best spot at the moment. You can contact Premi at the Bardia Jungle Cottage at:
    to organize a trip on the Babai River. The rivers and streams in the remote mountain districts also still offer good fishing for Schizothorax species, which can grow to 5 kg+ and the copper mahseer (Neolissochilus hexagonolepis) which can grow to 10 kg+. We also have a catfish called the ‘Goonch’ (Bagarius yarelli) which can grow to 200kg but not sure you can catch them on the fly!


    Chubbs Reply:

    This is great info. Arun, would you mind if we did a write up about fishing in nepal with some of the info you have submitted?


  10. Arun Rana Says:

    By all means. Please go ahead and let me know if you need further information. My email is:


  11. NZ iAds Says:

    Unquestionably imagine that that you stated. Your favourite justification appeared to be at the internet the easiest factor to take note of. I say to you, I definitely get irked at the same time as folks think about worries that they plainly don’t realize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the entire thing with no need side-effects , other people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks


  12. David Says:

    I have only caught the golden trout.Working the others.

    Thanks for such a awesome Blog keep up the good work and feeding my addiction

    Thanks David


  13. Bryant Dunn Says:

    As a guide for Golden Mahseer in the Himalayas and someone who has landed these mighty ciprinids in both India and Bhutan (and Thai mahseer in Thailand), I can attest to their prowess. I have fished for most of the fish on this top 10 list and in all of my travels I have never encountered por putitora’s equal. I can’t wait for my next expedition with my guests next spring!


    Bryant Dunn Reply:

    Make that Tor Putitora, sorry about the mistyping. And the rest of the list…spectacular. Anyone may have his or her personal top 10 list, but this one works for me. I do appreciate the early comment about stirped bass. That really is a species that deserves respect, especially when sightfished in the flats!


  14. dereks Says:

    Those golden trout look pretty mysterious and awesome


  15. Greatwhite Says:

    Awesome list. Would love to get after dorado. I could show ya some golden trout though.. Youll be needing both hands though for these ones.


  16. Jonas Nyqvist Says:

    Masheer on fly is one of the ultimate challanges a fly fisherman can experiance. They are extremly shy, hard fighting and lives in some of the remotes areas in Asia. Check out my blog: and you can read more about the Mighty Mahseer.

    Tight lines
    Jonas Nyqvist


  17. Martin James Says:

    Good day everyone I need some illustrations and tying instructions for milkfish flies Regards Martin


  18. www bradesco com br Says:

    Great web site. Plenty of helpful information here. I’m
    sending it to several buddies ans also sharing
    in delicious. And of course, thank you to
    your sweat!



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