A supplementary branch of the traditional economy, fishing in the past was usually undertaken by impoverished Kalmyks who were in need of an additional source of income or food. By the eighteenth century work migration to the lower Volga began to take on a mass character. At the fisheries Kalmyks did two types of work. Those who were employed as fishermen went to the sea in groups of three or four on small boats called ongts. They used nets of various designs, including drift net (golm) fyke net (tyavdg golm), seine (shuugul) as well as fishing rods (gakhul’). Other Kalmyks were employed on land to cut, wash, clean, salt, and dry fish. At the turn of the nineteenth century fisheries had become the major source of employment for many Kalmyks living along the banks of the Volga and the Caspian Sea. Depending upon their financial situation, Kalmyks engaged in fishing could be divided into three groups – free, contracted, and hired fishermen. In the Soviet period, the Kalmyk fisheries were state-supported enterprises.
Alexei Naranov, About Fishing and Fish Products
Anatoliy talks about his father-in-law who was a fisherman who could make and fix finishing nets. His father-in-law was a respected man, a diligent worker, and was often invited to presidium meetings. Anatoliy’s in-laws lived in Astrakhan’ where he learnt how to fish. Anatoliy fished in winter and even learnt how to eat raw fish from a Khant man. During the deportation years, he had to eat frozen fish. After the Kalmyks were allowed to return to their homeland, Anatoliy went to live with his in-laws in their place. When he returned to Astrakhan he noticed that the river had become shallow.
Anatoliy Safinov, About Fishing
Baatr says he participated in a ritual of worshipping the spiritual masters of water. Before the opening of a fishing season, the fishermen perform this ritual in which a raft is put on the water loaded with mutton as an offering to the spirits.
Baatr Bastaev, About Rituals Performed by Fishermen
This is Dzhidzha’s story: I did not go fishing myself, but my mother did. During World War Two people used nets for fishing. They stretched their nets and left them until they were filled with fish. In a place called Shonkhrakhn, where I lived with my maternal grandmother, people used a long net with a bunt in the middle, through which fish enter. People used boats to pull their nets out of water. Sometimes they pulled their nets by hand while standing at the opposite banks of the river. There were plenty of fish back then. When fishing with a rod, people made various baits, including one made from dough mixed with a piece of meat. I will recount you a story about my relative. When he came home from the army in 1948, the excited locals invited him into a house where they offered him boiled turtles. He could not even touch it. ‘How could I eat such creatures!’, he would laugh while telling this story.
Dzhidzha Araeva, About How People Went Fishing in My Childhood
Galina talks about fish varieties that people from her native village caught and about fish dishes.
She says that in her village many people were fishermen, including her family members. Her grandfather caught fish with a net by leaving it in the water in the evening and collected it the next morning. People consumed fish in different ways. Some salted or dried, others boiled, fried or made fish pies. In winter fish was stored in dugouts filled with ice which was transported on sledges from the river. People also made holes in the ice to catch fish.
Galina gives a recipe of ukha soup: Scale and clean the fish. Wash it three times, cut into small pieces and put it into boiling water. Add potatoes, salt, fennel and bay leaf. The soup is delicious when it is made from several varieties of fish.
The fisherman from Galina’s village made ukha soup differently. First, they fried onion with carrots, then poured water into the pot, added the fish, more onion and spices.
Galina’s father made a dish from pike’s caviar. Caviar was rolled in flour and fried.
People also ate pike’s intestines fried in butter with onion and spices. Dumplings were made from fish with fewer bones such as the pikeperch, catfish, roach or carp.
People in the village also caught perch and bream.
Apart from fishing, the villagers had vegetable plots where they grew cucumbers, tomatoes and pumpkins.
Galina Tserenova, About Fishing and Fish Dishes
Harvan is a fisherman. His father and grandfather also worked in this trade. Harvan has been fishing since he was 18. He worked in a sovkhoz called Krasnyi Moryak (Red Sailor). Today he goes fishing with his four brothers. In this video Harvan explains some fishing implements that are displayed at the museum of Lagan’. These implements include:
- A glass ball that floats on the water thus indicating the whereabouts of the fishing net,
-various needles to weave and fix nets,
-a wicker basket called zembel’ to carry fish,
-an implement to catch fish,
-a sledge for fishing in the winter,
- models of seines, including one called troika.
Harvan also demonstrates and talks about a model of a fishery set up on a boat that was used in the past. The director of the museum, Irina Muchaeva, adds that this floating factory was used to catch, smoke and can fish. The real boat also had a cinema, a shop and even a dance floor. Irina says that the showpieces in the museum have either been donated by the people of Lagan’ or made by local craftsmen. She also shows models of small sailboats. According to her, the Caspian Sea region is rich in terms of its fauna and flora and many people from other regions come here for summer holidays.
Harvan Sundetov, The Fishery
In the past, in Lagan’ the Kalmyks lived in small aimaks, including the Tsoomg, Tsyadr, Khar-Khol etc. The Kalmyks went fishing on big boats to the Caspian sea and transported the fish to Astrakhan’ on sailing ships. Konstantin’s grandfather transported fish on such sailing ships to Astrakhan’. Konstantin’s father also worked in the fishing industry. He was the head of the local fishing kolkhoz called Kaspiyskiy. The types of fish the Kalmyks caught were pikeperch (botakha), catfish (jaal), sturgeon (bekr), carp (sazn) and small fish (jirmyakha). People ate fish boiled, fried or salted. Fish was also used in soups. Black caviar was abundant and people ate it salted. The carp’s head was used in divination.
Konstantin Naktanov, About Fishing
Many people here live off fishing. When I was little, there was not much water around. After the lake became abundant with water, more fish appeared. We only consumed fish that weighed no less than 10 kilograms. We released smaller fish back to water. In contrast, today people catch fish of any size.
Sometimes sea fish swim into our lakes and ponds. Fish only spawn when the water level rises. During the past two years the water level went up in the Volga, which is good for people. We have many varieties of fish here, including catfish, buffalo fish and common rudd.
We catch fish using a net, called gyolm in Kalmyk. People fix the net on both banks of the lake and then they simply pull it with the catch. People also fish with a seine net called shuugul in Kalmyk.
One of the methods of fishing in winter is by using hooks. When the ice becomes thick, fishermen make holes on the ice and watch for fish with a powerful lantern. When a carp approaches the hole, the fisherman hooks it and pulls it out of water.
Another method of fishing is with a harpoon, chichyur in Kalmyk. This method is used in the time when water level rises. Fishermen pierce fish with a harpoon. In the past, old men did not kill female fish, except for those that weighed more than 15 kilograms.
In the past, at the end of the day, fishermen handed their catch to their managers. After counting when the managers went home, the fishermen took the biggest fish for themselves. They also sang songs on their way home.
Today there are many fishing implements that allow people to catch any fish. I always warn my children against overfishing.
Leonid Khochiev, About Fishing
Sangadji reminisces about his uncle who used to go fishing in the Caspian Sea. His uncle’s house in the village of Dzhalykovo always smelled of fish. Their food included black caviar, fish soup and burgers. Sangadji says he heard various stories about fishermen who went missing at the sea or about poachers. In the past, since there was no ban on fishing, the concept of poaching did not exist. Sangadji’s second cousin is still a fisherman.