Fly Fishing in Afghanistan

Fishing is a surprisingly popular sport in Afghanistan. Surprising, particularly, given that most of the country is desert. Not only is it a popular sport but it's a popular food and you can find it in most street markets. I bought the one below from a bloke in the street but it had actually come from a river across the border in Waziristan. It tasted about as good as it looked and I was expecting it to spend the next few days glued to the pan. It turned out to be OK.


Whilst I was in Afghanistan I visited two places which were popular with fishermen; the Panshir valley and Band-e-amir. I didn't catch anything in either, but they were full of fish. In the case of Band-e-amir there were big fish. I could see them everywhere, I just couldn't catch the buggers.


I wouldn't recommend going now as it's more dangerous than ever. When I was there it was comparatively safe and easy to get around. A flight from Dubai on one of a number of commercial carriers took you to Kabul. From there the Panshir Valley was a few hours drive north. To get to Band-e-amir you could also drive - if you were nuts, as the road was not secure - but the more sensibly minded would get one of the UN flights from Kabul to Bamiyan and hire a car from there.


Fishing in the Panshir River is as off piste as it gets. In the winter, when I was there, the river is fed from meltwater and is highly coloured. The locals use nets, dynamite and occasionally an RPG. Although, the latter isn’t very common anymore - those things are expensive. The river has a variety of snow trout, which don’t get too big. In the winter the only option which is going to yield success is fishing with bait in the eddies and beside the bank. Unfortunately, I only had my fly gear with me. The locals are friendly, talkative and find the concept of fly fishing hysterical. They couldn’t grasp why I wanted to do something which so obviously made it difficult to catch fish. One of them pointed out that I would have more chance throwing rocks at the fish. That hapless yokel knew nothing. After a few hours stumbling about in the river, water going over the top of my wellies, I gave up. Fishless. The water was just too coloured and heavy. In the summer you might have more luck. Let me know if you do.


Bamiyan itself is one of the most interesting places I have been to. The famous Buddhas of Bamiyan are gone but the holes they used to occupy are in themselves amazing sights. There are many things to see including the City of Screams (Shahr-e Gholghola), the Blood Fort (Shahr-e Zohak) and the Dragon Valley (Darya-e Adjahar).

The City of Screams – so called because of the massacre which took place at the hands of Genghis Khan's Mongol horde – is close to the centre of Bamiyan. It is on a prominent rise and you can see it from most parts of the village.


The Blood Fort – also sacked by Genghis, there's a pattern developing – is about 10km west of Bamiyan. It's right in the middle of a minefield, so stick to the path where the mines have been marked. 


The Dragon Valley is a geological feature just outside Bamiyan. It is a crack in the ground which starts off about two meters wide and gradually narrows over the course of about a kilometre before ending in a small spurting hole in the rock. It has been that way for as long as anyone can remember.


One of the most interesting thing is the clash of old and new. Just outside Bamiyan I saw the biggest earth movers I have ever seen. Far larger than anything operating in Kalgoorlie, Australia (my only other experience of big scale earth movers). They were from a Chinese company which was recreating the silk road. Paid for by the Chinese Government with a view to extracting some of Afghanistan’s believed mineral wealth.


It is Bamiyan’s unusual geology which gives rise to Band-e Amir, a series of cascading lakes which appear out of the desert. Band-e Amir is about an hour’s drive out of Bamiyan. You initially follow the silk road but at some point, not marked by anything in particular as far as I could see, you blindly turn off the road and career through the desert in a seemingly random direction. When you hire a car in town they give you the option of taking a bloke who knows the way. It’s a sensible investment.


Band-e Amir feels like something out of Jurassic Park. The bottom lake is the biggest and has had its sides built up by mineral deposits over the years which has created the equivalent of a naturally occurring dam. The top of the cliff-face shown in the photo below is actually the side of lake. Water splashes over the top as it is too new to have formed channels. In fact, the whole surrounding area is so geologically new that the rivers have not yet formed channels and the water just cascades over the rock from one lake to the next. It feels primordial. 


The waters of the lakes are crystal clear and have an almost unnatural blue colour. What isn’t widely known about Band-e Amir and more relevant to this post, sorry if I’ve gone off topic, is that it is full of fish. The locals fish for them with a baited hand-lines. Most common are trout and some of them are huge. Not that I caught any. I had my fly gear with me and just a floating line, which, once again, was the wrong kit for this terrain. Excuses, excuses, excuses. If you go, take a heavy sinking line because the water is so clear and the fish stay deep. Regarding the perennial issue of which flies to use, I had a good root about to see what there was. The most common insect was a small shrimp which you could find under rocks and huge dragon flies. 

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