Six Months in India
Ric Elwin has a mid life awakening and takes off to fish in India for six months. This is the first episode of his life-changing adventure.
Six months in IndiaIndia!
Click on the pictures to enlarge
How this country has grabbed me, pulled me in every possible direction. It's filled me with joy and despair in equal measures. It's tantalized, seduced and enthralled me. Equally, it's disgusted me, and it's taken me right to the limit of my patience.
But, despite the negatives, I feel truly alive in India.
What's he on about?
Its 10 months since I decided to change my life. Some might say I had a good job. At least, it paid well. I could settle my bills, run my car, fish whenever I wanted, go down the pub, and entertain my occasional girlfriends.
What more could a man want?
Something was missing, although I couldn't put my finger on exactly what that was. A classic 'mid life crisis' perhaps? Maybe, but I prefer to call it a mid life awakening.
Call it what you will, I felt I needed to make some changes in my life.
That's the background to my decision to resign my job, and spend a year travelling around Asia.
This is a fishing website
So I guess I should move on, and talk about fishing!
My backpack weighed close to 17 Kilos when I checked in at Manchester Airport. Inside the pack were various shirts, shorts, medical kit, etc. etc.
Far more important now. A 5 piece Wychwood Grande Tourer 2.75 tc Carp/ Boat rod, a 6 piece 6/7 weight fly rod, and an inexpensive light telescopic spinning rod filled my rod tube close to bursting point.
Plus: A Shimano Baitrunner, a smaller Shimano, and a fly reel with 6 weight floating line.
Plus: A box of assorted spinners/ plugs/ flies, hooks from size 10 to 2/0. A handful of assorted swivels, shot and assorted weights completed the outfit.
Around 8 Kilos of fishing tackle. A man has to have his priorities, right?
Himalayas, Uttranchal, North India
The Ramganga River gave me half a dozen Golden Mahseer. Nothing huge, up to 8lb or so. That feeling though, the moment a Mahseer hits your lure! One moment you're casting and retrieving; casting and retrieving; you're lulled into a routine. You take in the surroundings, contemplate life maybe. Suddenly, the routine is shattered, your rod, and you, is almost pulled into the river. It all happens in a split-second. Is there anything more exciting than this in life?
The South - Cauvery River
The Cauvery is a major river. Its source is in the state of Karnataka. It runs east into the state of Tamil Nadu, before spilling into the Andaman Sea via a huge delta.
This river is a Mecca for Mahseer anglers worldwide. A 25 mile stretch of the river, mid-way between the cities of Bangalore and Mysore regularly produces the largest Mahseer on the planet. I just had to fish this river!
A slight hitch
I'm travelling on a budget of around £ 15 a day. The famous stretches of the Cauvery are controlled by the Jungles Lodges organisation. The cost, just for accommodation and fishing, is in the region of £ 75 a day. A non-starter for me!
I surfed the net for viable alternatives. The website www.indianangler.com popped up during my search. I signed up immediately and posted on their forum.
Help at hand
Sandeep Chakrabarti replied. He kindly suggested that I may wish to accompany him and his friends on one of their trips. Many Emails were exchanged before the date was set. Date: 29 October, place: Bangalore, Karnataka.
Wildlife Association of South India (WASI)
WASI own the fishing rights to the section of the Cauvery directly upstream of the Jungle Lodge stretch. In addition, they have rights to a 4 acre lake, a 90 acre reservoir and a network of canals in the area. These waters are policed by their staff 24 hours a day to prevent poaching, a major problem throughout India.
A fishing hut?
Sandeep booked four nights at the WASI hut, which is right beside the smaller of the two lakes they control. I'll be frank. I expected a dilapidated wooden affair with basic facilities, at best. Imagine my surprise, when we pulled up alongside a huge gleaming white concrete structure. There is a kitchen, bedroom, large common area, western style toilet, even hot water! Superior facilities actually, to the vast majority of hotels I've stayed in during my travels.
Let's go fishing
We spent the first day fishing the 'Hut Lake'. The dominant species here is the Rohu, a member of the carp family. Also present is a small head of moderate mahseer, alongside various smaller species, predominantly small catfish.
The guys used balls of Ragi paste, moulded round size 4 and 6 hooks. Two feet above this they fixed a weight formed from lead wire, long and thin in profile. They held their rods, waiting for a strong pull from a fish, before striking.
I've no doubt that these tactics work for mahseer, a highly aggressive feeder. I wasn't convinced these tactics were the most suitable for a member of the carp family though. The dynamics didn't suit a shy feeding fish, in my opinion. More of this later.....
The first day produced a few small catfish, to worm baits.
Time to reflect, eat and drink
We retired to the hut to sink a few glasses of vodka, gin and rum. We also tucked into a feast of veal, rice and vegetables, prepared by Sandeep. Really, if this guy wasn't a fishing guide, he could do much worse than open a restaurant of his own. Fantastic stuff!
This 90 acre reservoir forms part of the drinking water supply for Bangalore, a huge city of 5 million people.
Rohu, mahseer and murel (the 'snake head') predominate here.
It's a very interesting water. Fed by a fast flowing canal, there are deep areas and extensive weedy shallows.
Day 2- Forbes Sagar
Sandeep and I took to the coracle with the guide, Raju. We targeted Murel, a highly predatory species. Sandeep chose a weedless rubber frog, while I clipped on a 4 inch popper.
Raju steered us to the shallows on the far side of the water, we began casting our lures. The murel were there all right, but most of them were holed up in the middle of dense weed beds.
After half an hour or so, I hooked a decent fish that attacked the popper three times before finally feeling the steel of my hooks. Unfortunately it came adrift after a few seconds. Later in the day we had another chance each but somehow the murel managed to avoid the hooks.
We retired to the hut for a barbeque of marinated chicken, and many glasses of rum and vodka.
Day 3- Cauvery RiverIt took an hour or so to drive the 15 or so miles to the river. The last five miles was a rough descent down a little-used track. So rough in places that we had to stop to move large rocks and boulders out of the way. We were grateful for the clearance offered by Sandeep's 4 x 4!
We eventually reached the river. What a sight! 150 yards wide, it was a brown torrent. Bushes and trees stood in the swirling water. It was virtually unfishable. Our plans to walk downstream to fish the rapids with lures were scuppered. We tried using Ragi paste in an area of slightly more moderate flow but other than a few tentative knocks, all was quiet. Time for a change of plan.....
Back to the Hut Lake
I decided to use traditional UK carp tactics to try to tempt a rohu. A simple running lead rig with a bead on a one inch hair would carry the weight of the Ragi paste, enabling an exposed hook point. I found an old rest to support the front of the rod, while a pile of stones acted as a rear rod rest. I squeezed a small ball of Ragi paste between the first and second rings to act as an indicator. The old 'dough bobbin' from the 60's and 70's!
Half an hour passed with just a few 'liners' before the bobbin lifted quickly and didn't stop. A 'butt ringer'! I struck into a fish which kited left before going on a very fast run of 10 yards or so. The fish fought like crazy all the way to the net. On the bank, the fish was un-mistakenly a member of the carp family. Fully scaled, a small mouth, sleek in profile with flashes of crimson on its fins and tail. The scales registered just 9 pounds, but it fought like a fish of twice this weight.
Day 4The final day's fishing was back on the hut lake. Hopefully we'd get a chance with one of the lake's larger rohu, they grow to around 30 lbs.
I guess my luck was in as the two rohu that came to the net both fell to my rod. One weighed 7lb 4oz, the other was a scale perfect specimen of exactly 12lb.
After another fine feast, courtesy of Sandeep, and a rum/ vodka or two, the evening came to a close.
Day 5After a leisurely breakfast we set off on the return journey to Bangalore. En route we stopped at the Cauvery Fishing Camp, controlled by Jungle Lodges, to view pictures of some of the magnificent mahseer which have been caught from the Cauvery River over the years.
ConclusionsIt was a pity that the late monsoon this year curtailed our fishing plans on the Cauvery. Perhaps a trip after the middle of November might prove more fruitful. With changing weather patterns though, who knows?
The rohu is a fine sporting fish. Anyone who likes carp will love this species. A whole range of modern tactics could be applied with, I suspect, great success.
Sandeep's guiding service
Let's be frank. Most anglers taking the time and effort involved in fishing in this area will expect the chance of hooking a large mahseer. Even a 30lb rohu pales in significance when compared to a huge mahseer from a wild river. So, Jungle Lodges will remain popular, and rightly so.
However, why not tag a few days on to your Jungle Lodges experience, and sample the alternative venues, tactics and species that Sandeep can offer? Not to mention the fantastic hospitality, and no little banter...
Oh, the cost? Well let's just say: it's very easy to spend more on a night out in the pub at home, compared to a day with Sandeep. And a day with Sandeep includes transport in a 4 x 4, accommodation, fishing licenses, food, gin, whisky, vodka, rum....
You can view Sandeep's website at: www.outrigor.com
I fly to Thailand in a few days on the next leg of my Asian adventure. There's a lake in Bangkok that holds the two largest freshwater species in the world. The Mekong Catfish, and the Arapaima.
Watch this space....