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More Indian Fishing - Himalayas This Time....

Oooh - And Some More Himalayan Mahseer...

 

"Dhal  Sahib?" A couple of weeks at the famous Kaveri River down Karnataka way, hoping to encounter a big, fat Humpback Mahseer.

I'd read the magazines, I'd seen the pictures, and I'd read Paul Boote and Jeremy Wade's wonderful 'Somewhere Down The Crazy River' (hereafter referred to as 'The Book') four or five times I think. And I'd guess that for any angler who likes sunshine, travelling and big, beautiful fish, the Mahseer would be some kind of holy grail. It certainly was for me. When I read 'The Book', I often wished that I too had the knowledge and ambition that Paul and Jeremy had had to go and try and discover the Mahseer again all those years ago, and to catch them in a time 'before the gold rush', so to speak. However, I didn't and hadn't, so the very next best (and still bloody marvellous) thing is to try for them on one of the organised trips available these days.

I had just had to pull out of a trip to Mozambique with Steve and Stewart to try for Queenfish and tuna on light tackle- work was too busy and the ever stretched finances just couldn't cope with it, when I was walking down the street in town when I ran into an old acquaintance who, along with his brother, had similarly had to pull out of a trip with Dave Plummer down to the Kaveri River in India











A bit of company in the tent.

the following year. The both of us stood there bemoaning our situations (it's amazing what you can find to moan about when you try hard enough!), when I suddenly thought "Hold on a minute, I reckon I could make that... lets see... 5 months to finish my jobs and get some dough together"... so I went back home and was on the phone to Dave straight away! 

Luckily the trip returned just before my nearest and dearest's (at the time...) birthday, which otherwise 

could have been a bit of a problem, and 24 hours later I was booked in Phil's place for March the next year. Then the excitement started to build. Oh, and then I read 'The Book'. Just one more time...

The long Air India flight out to Bombay went smoothly- despite the un-nerving sight of the Indian guy sat next to me mumbling his way through a well-thumbed prayer book every hour- and eventually our party (John, Colin, Keith, Fiona & yours) disembarked the connecting flight at Bangalore to have the rucksacks and rod tubes checked for the sixth time since leaving Heathrow... At last we exited the airport in the very early hours of the morning to find Dave waiting outside in his khaki's and suntan- all smiles and with a warm welcome, and very soon our van departed though the dark streets of Bangalore. For once the traffic was as clear as it ever gets, due to the early time of our arrival, and soon we were in the countryside well outside of the city, with the sun gradually rising above the horizon turning the villages we passed through orange- as the cows, goats and people were going about starting their day.























Renika drops a Ragi ball on the spot...

Some three or four hours of bouncing about later we drew to a halt at the camp- and what an incredible place, with the tents set back from the river's edge up under the shade of the canopy of trees, and the river winding it's way past at the bottom of the slope, it really is a pretty idyllic spot. Coffee drank, tents allocated and tackle unpacked, we were supposed to rest, but due to the jet-lag perhaps, or maybe the excitement of knowing in a few hours I'd be sitting waiting for my first Mahseer, I couldn't sleep (and anyway, the tents were like a sauna in the middle of the day). So I decided to take a light rod, with 4lb line, and a tin of corn I had brought with me down to the Galibore Rock beneath us at the camp, and see if I could catch a few livebaits for the evening. The river was alive, and the small carp were soon crawling up the rod, with the bonus that a small Mahseer of about 10 inches long zipped off with the bait, and gave me a really energetic scrap even for it's miniature size... now if they go like that when they're juniors, then what's a big fella gonna go like!!?? I couldn't wait to find out.

The first evening I was allotted to fish with Renika- so we set off down river in a coracle, and began fishing from rock to rock in mid-river. The sun dipped down and things began to cool (although it's all relative!), and during the 


...and the first Mahseer of the trip is soon showing off in the last of the sunlight. Nice.

evening a perfect little'un of about 6 or 7 pounds ate the Ragi and was photographed with my guide - so I was well happy to have just caught one and got off the mark. That was the only action for me that evening, and I think the others landed a few small ones between them too.

As often seems to be the case, conditions were far from easy, with the failure of the rains ensuring that the river was at about its lowest for 20 odd years, which in turn denied us the chance to have the full-on Mahseer experience up in the rapids, and limiting our fishable areas to the deep, slower, catfish-infested waters below Crocodile Rocks running downstream of the camp. However, one advantage of this was that all the fish were jammed into that stretch since there was no water anywhere else upstream to cover their backs!! In the evenings we were often treated to the sight of HUGE Mahseer rolling on the surface like fat


Junior Mahseer & Carnatic Carp taken on sweetcorn while livebait catching.

 

porpoises, which is enough to get anyone's adrenaline pumping. In fact one night, while fishing with John & Colin, even the vastly experienced Bola nearly spat his dummy when right in front of him, not more that 20 metres away, a Mahseer lolloped out head & shoulders first: 'Submarine sahib, Submarine!!!' he shouted. When asked how big he thought it was, he estimated perhaps more than 130lbs!! Now that would really hurt... Catching them was another matter though.

A further hinderance was that we were not allowed to fish as late after dark as we may have been since we also had an armed guard of Bangalore's police at the camp. This was due to the potential threat of a local bandit/Robin Hood/Eco-warrior type character called Veerupan (I hope that's how you spell it)... Now initially I had an image of an elderly, bearded gent in pixie boots and green tights prancing about in the forest, but before you think it's a joke, he and his band of merry men had actually murdered most of their hostages in the past, so better safe than sorry eh? The fact that the cops had to share a couple of World War 2 Lee Enfields between them, and a boy scout with a Swiss Army Knife could probably have turned the lot of 'em over was irrelevant it seems...

However, as a follow on from that, while on a recent fishing trip to Canada I read an article about Veerappan's (now I know that's how you spell it) capture and demise in the paper, so it seems that Dad's Army can take some well earned home leave now.


Some startled looking Barbel that fell for the mystical charms of the Ragi ball.

A lump of Ragi on the rig. Everything eats it - monkeys, turtles, pain in the arse Pangas Catfish. Sometimes even Mahseer.

   

The following days passed with several small Mahseer being caught... along with the ubiquitous turtles and pangas catfish- which can be a real pain in the arse, but no big ones had put in an appearance. The biggest I'd personally managed was a lovely fish of about 20-25lbs one morning- which fought really well even on 40lb B.S. line, although there were a few pretty diversions in the form of some Pink Carp, or Barbel, which would gnaw away at the Ragi and eventually find the hook. These are a terrific looking fish- I really liked catching them- and they fight really well. I have since been told that they can reach sizes of up to 40 pounds, and believe me, that would really pull your string.

The river is actually crawling with fish of all types and sizes, and fishing with tiny bits of Ragi, sweetcorn (I took a couple of tins just in case) or worms brings bite after bite, and a couple of times when fishing with a 'Quail's Egg' of paste a strike would see the clutch singing and light line emptying from the reel as a small Mahseer rapidly set off downstream, with the inevitable result as soon as it found a rock! One morning I said to Bola that I wanted to do something different to sitting it out for a Mahseer, and that it would be nice to catch some different stuff on light tackle.

He agreed to it (reluctantly I think!), and he was soon ankles deep in mud at the edge of the river scratching a tub of worms together for bait (that probably explains his reluctance). When he'd finished fannying around in the mud, we set off in the coracle  

 

The Happy Angler and his first decent Mahseer of 20 odd pounds.

to find an appropriate rock- and the match was on.I'm not sure how many fish we caught just on touch legered worms, but the rod was very rarely still for longer than a minute, with carp, small barbel, mini-mahseer and some other tiny micro-species. I have to say it was loads of fun, with some really nice sized fish amongst the catch- and yes, although I caught plenty, I have to say that Bola got more than me, as he does.

We had a couple of "strike...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....ping... shit!!" incidents while sitting there too, but I was gutted when I hooked a good fish and started to play it out in the 

The resident camp bird of paradise.

 


Waiting for 'whatever comes along'.

gentle current.  It zipped out and about in mid-river for a while:
"What do you reckon? Small Mahseer Bola?" I asked. 
"No - big carp. Big carp!" he replied, and a good perhaps 5 minutes later I had a really good sized carp of, well, I'm sure 8lbs, right close to the edge of the rock.
And then the bloody hook came out, and I had to duck as the 3/4oz lead swung around my bonce: "Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!" I shouted, which about sums it up.

 

 

  Eventually the sun got up, the temperature notched up to just the other side of 'roasting' and the bites started to tail off, so we made our way back to camp and some shade. On the walk back to the coracle, I noticed that we spooked several quite large fish in the shallow pools left in the edge of the river. These were large carp and sometimes small (5 to 15lbs) mahseer. I immediately decided that I was going to return later to stalk one or two of these on light tackle, which I thought would be great fun. So we started dropping small pieces of the Ragi paste we had with us in a few spots to visit later. 

On the walk back to the coracle, I noticed that we spooked several quite large fish in the shallow pools left in the edge of the river. These were large carp and sometimes small (5 to 15lbs) mahseer. I immediately decided that I was going to return later to stalk one or two of these on light tackle, which I thought would be great fun. So we started dropping small pieces of the Ragi paste we had with us in a few spots to visit later. Later that day I returned alone, and despite the intense heat, there were still fish- and some nice ones too- venturing into these small baited pools. 'Like picking apples!' I misguidedly thought. 

An hour or two later, one frustrated 'angler' (I was severely doubting any legitimacy in that tag by then) was heading back to camp. A lack of bankside cover meant I blew 2 chances without even getting a bait in the water, then I cast too close to another two chances and blew them too... Finally, eventually kneeling down in the dust some 5 to 10 yards back from the river, with sweat rolling down my face and dripping off nose and chin, I overcast the target by several yards using the lightest lead possible and gently teasing the bait back in front of the feeding fish. Whereby they just naturally spooked and vacated the 18 inch deep water anyway, leaving a wake down along the margins and out into the middle of the river! They weren't as daft as I thought.

Look at the shoulders as she takes a bit of a breather on a stringer!

 

Later that day I returned alone, and despite the intense heat, there were still fish- and some nice ones too- venturing into these small baited pools. 'Like picking apples!' I misguidedly thought. An hour or two later, one frustrated 'angler' (I was severely doubting any legitimacy in that tag by then) was heading back to camp. A lack of bankside cover meant I blew 2 chances without even getting a bait in the water, then I cast too close to another two chances and blew them too... Finally, eventually kneeling down in the dust some 5 to 10 yards back from the river, with sweat rolling down my face and dripping off nose and chin, I overcast the target by several yards using the lightest lead possible and gently teasing the bait back in front of the feeding fish. Whereby they just naturally spooked and vacated the 18 inch deep water anyway, leaving a wake down along the margins and out into the middle of the river! They weren't as daft as I thought.

Above: Carnatic Carp taken on light tackle and worms. Nice fishing if you can get it.


Fiona & Bola with her 66 pounder- the first big one of the trip. Nice one! 
Not bad for a bird.

At last though, one of the big girls made a mistake and put in an appearance. The lady in the party, Fiona McEachern caught one of the largest Mahseer ever taken by a lady angler at 66lbs- a mighty fine achievement, especially since she managed to keep hold of the rod as she stumbled down the bank and then fell into the coracle- taking the skin off her knees as she did so! Nice one. And as I took some pictures of the lovely fish, I remember thinking "I'd love one of those" (the fish, that is...). Although for some reason it seemed her other half, Keith, was not quite as impressed (ha ha!). A bit of celebration was in order that night, and a good few Kingfishers G&Ts and vodkas were sunk. John & Keith also bought a round of beers for all the blokes working at the camp, because they were also in party mood with the news just coming in via the radio commentary that India had beaten Pakistan in the cricket. It was amazing - as the winning runs were hit/winning wicket taken (can't remember which), simultaneous whoops went up all around the camp - even somewhere out there in the darkness, and the camp staff nearby to us were all jumping up and down and hugging each other. Sport and national rivalries work just the same the world over - no matter where you end up.

 

The sun reflects off the flat calm surface at just after dawn. You can tell it's just going to be hot hot hot!

Little did I know that a couple of days later the Karnataka Fish Gods would smile upon my lardy-white ass, letting me have perhaps one of my favourite fish I've ever had the privilege to catch - a lovely, hump-shouldered, scale and fin perfect 69 pound lump.


The Kaveri version of combat-fishing.

 The fish, without warning, just pulled the rod over in my hands, I struck with great vengeance and fury (to quote Samuel L. Jackson) and the line started to disappear quickly from the spool. 'Must be a good one!' I thought, when suddenly I could feel that horrible, ominous grating us anglers love to hate shimmering back up the line. I immediately knocked the drag onto slack, and we jumped into the coracle- which took us downstream for 100m or maybe even more, in and out of a few heaps of submerged rocks, and with relief the line pinged free again and again. Eventually, and with a huge sigh, I was back in direct touch with the prize, which then politely towed us back upstream to be landed and stringered from the very same rock in mid-river where we sat when I first struck into it. As we looked down at the huge, broad, heavily-scaled fish in the torchlight, the river guide put the stringer through it's mouth.

 I was elated: "Kin'ell Dave, how big's that? Forty? Fifty...?"
"Oh aye- and the rest kidda. That'll be near seventy will that".

I couldn't believe my luck. A really lovely fish- and you could say my ultimate prize. I was floating on cloud 9 for 






















11am in the shade... now imagine it at 3pm when you're not in the shade.


Turtle trouble on the Ragi.

The fishing continued to be difficult for the remainder of the trip, but although several more fish were taken, no more of the big ones were to put in a cameo. But I think we all had some action of some sort on each session. I spent the last few days allocated to Bola, and he was really cheesed off with the river conditions, since it was just so low and slack- to the point where one evening I jokingly said to him that I was going to use two rods for the session. Much to my surprise, he just said 'Good idea. Bring!'. So I did, and we set up one rod which would be hand held as normal, and my spare which would be set up with a slack spool and rachet on and perched on a small tripod I had brought with me. Two Ragi balls were dropped into the swim as the sun lowered behind the trees, and we sat back with a beer each to await developments, while Bola sat chain smoking really dodgy cigarettes that looked like small twigs. No wonder he was hocking big lumps of his lungs up every five minutes: the mystical sounds of India...

But one interesting development was that all three of the mahseer (albeit small ones) we caught that evening came to the rod in on the tripod. And as the beautiful orb of orange sun dropped towards the horizon on the final evening, another 3 small ones hung themselves on the end, with 2 to the tripod-rod

two days after that, although that was probably down to the Kingfisher and Vodka I poured down my face that night, along with a bucket load of very expensive brandy that Colin & John were good enough to force-feed me. Not good. At all.




My Dream Fish. 69lbs of big, fat, beautiful humpbacked Mahseer.

and one to the hand-held. Now I wonder if there's something in that- like perhaps vibrations from your voice, hand movements (or probably just Bola's hacking his lungs up behind you) are being transmitted down to the business end when you actually hold the rod? I wouldn't want to try it in the rapids though.

At the end of the day, the Kaveri is simply magic. It's very, very hot (40 degrees plus every day)- even at night, and the fishing is far from easy most of the time ('challenging' is about the best way of summing it up)... but when you get one? Well the blank hours simply fade into inconsequence. From what I can see, and from what Dave told me, the best attitude to have out there is no-attitude. Just go, take in the sights and sounds, relax, enjoy just being there, smell the hops along the way... and that is when the Karnataka Fish Gods will smile upon you (apparently). The wildlife just goes on all around you 24/7, with the odd bird of paradise fluttering around the camp, huge brightly coloured kingfishers darting up and down the valley, fish-eating crocodiles lurking in the river, turtles nicking the Ragi paste and monkeys nicking food, bait, tackle- anything they can get their thieving hands on. Bola spotted my Drennan Catapult one day and "borrowed" it. I never saw it again, but I often heard it in action as he sat about dishing out sore arses to the primates. Maybe I should re-phrase that, with him being out at the camp for 3 months solid... I was even lucky enough to see a mother and juvenile elephant on the opposite side of the river one afternoon whilst bait catching. They were a long way away though- which in retrospect was good really.


Bola with a junior. On this evening I asked him what he thought of the river at the moment... He dredged a huge lump of mucous up in his throat, spat it into the edge with true contempt and then, with great knowledge and a wealth of insight, gave his esteemed opinion: 'River f***ing shit sahib'. I guess that lays that to rest then. It's nice to see he's picked up a few phrases off the colonials over the last umpteen years.


The failure of the rains had left the river very low. So low that normal fishing spots were visible above the surface.

I have to say that Dave was very much the consummate professional and very easy going ('Listen Wal - chill'), and furthermore everything went as clockwork, which is no small achievement in India. You can see a web page on fishing with Dave in India here: www.anglingdirectholidays.com - and he runs trips to a multitude of locations around the globe, so although this is the only trip I have ever done with him, I can well imagine the others will be run just as professionally. Thanks Dave.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the boys at the camp look after everyone really well- and if you are worried about spicy Indian food, there is no need to be, because it was really pretty good. Except for the f***ing Dhal.
Oh yes- I shall return.

 

Bola takes a break from hacking up his lungs to slip back a Pink Carp.

 

More Indian Fishing - Himalayas This Time....

Oooh - And Some More Himalayan Mahseer...

 

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