Chernobyl: Fishing in One of the Most Radioactive Places
Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear disaster ever, is one of the most unusual places in the world to fish. Wild stories about the affected area abound, packs of feral animals taking over, haunting sceneries, mutant animals, inhabitants refusing to leave despite warnings and radioactive fish. We had to see it for ourselves.
So, we got together with Mike D from Lunkerville and Ukrainian fishing champion Yuriy Orlov and went on a fishing trip to Chernobyl. The trip was the perfect opportunity to test our latest sonar, the CHIRP+ and land one of the mutated fish that are said to abound in these waters.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
Chernobyl was one of the largest nuclear plants in the Soviet Union and Europe. In 1986 Reactor 4 exploded, releasing deadly amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. It's one of the most remembered nuclear tragedies due to the level of human and material loss, attempts by the Soviet government to cover up the incident, and numerous hypotheses about what really caused the explosion.
Interest in the disaster has resurfaced after HBO series Chernobyl depicted the desperate attempt of a nuclear physicist to warn reluctant authorities about the gravity of the disaster.
Wildlife in Chernobyl
The city that housed the plant workers, Pripyat, was fully evacuated after the disaster. In Pripyat, the buildings and pavement are being quietly overrun by vegetation. It's as if nature is filling the void left by human absence.
There are rumors that the contaminated water is a breeding ground for oversized catfish and other fish with radioactive mutations. Making the rivers and lakes close to Chernobyl some of the most hyped up fishing spots in the world.
Entering the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The Chernobyl exclusion zone is a 1,000 sq mile/2.600 sq kilometre territory surrounding the site of the deceased nuclear plant. The disaster rendered the zone virtually uninhabitable. More than 300,000 people have been evacuated from the area following the tragedy.
Visiting is heavily restricted and reserved for tourists, researchers, and workers of the still existing power plant. You can only enter the exclusion zone if you go with a certified guide. Before exiting, every visitor needs to pass a radioactivity scan. Visitors come here to walk in the abandoned city of Pripyat, catch a glimpse of the nuclear reactor and take a classic selfie with the abandoned Ferris Wheel. Fishing is rarely on the agenda.
But when we think of visiting an abandoned nuclear region, the first thing that comes to our mind is...how's the fishing there? Well, we found out.
Catching Radioactive Fish in Chernobyl
First, keep in mind that fishing here is heavily restricted, necessary precautions must be taken and you should only attempt it with an experienced guide. We did most of our fishing on the outskirts of the exclusion zone. Our goal was to scan the bottom and catch some walleye and supersized catfish.
We got our adrenaline pumping with a few close calls, and at the end of the day, the radioactive river didn't disappoint. Yuriy lived up to his name by catching a nice size walleye. While Mike D truly hit it out of the ballpark. He caught a catfish so big it didn't fit in the net!
But radioactive fish was not the only thing we caught on this trip. Robertas used the Deeper CHIRP+ fish finder to scan the water and hooked a shovel blade out of a canal. The highly radioactive blade was most likely debris that found its way in the water after the explosion. Touching it could mean not passing the radioactive scanning at the end of our trip. So, we let it go as soon as we caught it. All in all, the river reminded us of fishing in New York state. But with a thrilling prospect of adventure.
Fishing with Champion Yuriy Orlov
During the trip, Yuriy taught us some of his techniques for catching catfish and walleye. Yuriy uses crankbait for catfish. He puts his bait 16-19 feet/5-6 m deep, very close to the bottom of the river. He opens the bail and lets out a couple of feet of line. Waits for a few seconds, then releases again. Finally, he raises his rod and does a little retrieve.
For walleye he keeps it simple. He knows there are trees underwater, so he waits to reach the bottom. When the line stops moving, he makes it pop and retrieves the reel.
We used the latest Deeper CHIRP+ sonar to scan the river and locate the fish. Chernobyl was the most unusual place where we've ever tested a product. But we knew the CHIRP+ sonar would be just fine. This rugged castable fish finder is ideal for scanning any water surface, no matter how extreme or unusual.
The fish finder scans down to 330 ft/90 m so we could comfortably view the depths of the river in our smartphones. The CHIRP technology allowed us to see the depths of river Pripyat with crisp clarity and the highest resolution possible.
To the dismay of post-nuclear mythology lovers, we didn't find any monstrously big fish. But we are not surprised by the conspiracies, after all, no other castable sonar has ever scanned these unusual and dangerous waters.
Takeaways from Our Trip
Something that struck us from our fishing trip in Chernobyl is how much in common all anglers have. Ukrainians might have different fishing customs (crankbait for catfish?), but the joy we get from fishing is the same.
When we asked Yuriy why he loves fishing so much, he told us that when fishing he remembers two things: stay alive and find something to eat. When you are focused on those two things, the rest becomes quiet. Then, when you come back to your day-to-day, everything is relaxed.
It doesn't matter if you are in one of the most inhospitable terrains in the world or some lake near a lazy town where not much happens. When anglers unite there is always a good vibe. Jokes, the adrenaline of a catch, good stories, and lessons for a lifetime!
Speaking of which...what's the most unusual place you‘ve ever fished or scanned at?