ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY scout rivers, lakes and high seas for the best angling locations in India
People have long fished India’s rivers, streams, ponds and seas for food and trade, but it was the British who popularized sportfishing or angling as a pastime! Few know that the birth of India’s wildlife parks can be traced to an angling expedition. While fishing the wild beats of Ramganga Valley with Sir Malcolm Halley, Governor of United Provinces, Jim Corbett formalized the idea of setting up India’s first national park in 1936. Though famous as a tiger hunter and conservationist, Corbett was also a big angler. His fishing exploits with the Mahseer, a feisty fish he described as ‘Tiger of the Water’, became the subject of his epic tale ‘Fish of my Dreams’. The British also introduced exotic species like the brown and rainbow trout, which were transplanted from England to Indian rivers and Himalayan streams in the north to hilly lakes of Munnar and Nilgiris in the South.
Ironically, while wildlife tourism has taken off in India, angling in comparison is still a fledgling activity. With anglers from across the globe flocking to India’s rivers, specialized angling outfits are offering fishing expeditions across the country. Chase Corbett’s legacy as you tackle the Golden Mahseer in stunning locales, catch Brown and Rainbow Trout in Himalayan foothills, take on the monster Goonch or Giant Catfish on the Saryu (Mahakali), grapple with a Humpback Mahseer in the Cauvery, fish the Jia Bhoroli and Siang rivers in the remote northeast or go marine fishing off the coast of India for some Tuna, Barracuda and Giant Trevally. After a brief lull during breeding season from June to September, fishing season reopens between October and June.
Western Ramganga and Saryu Mahakali, Uttarakhand
Though fishing is not allowed in the confines of Corbett National Park and its buffer forests, angling upstream in the Ramganga Valley is replete with scenes of fish eagles hovering in the air, alarm calls echoing in the valley and the occasional pugmark by the edge of the river. With its source at Dudhatoli, 140 km north of the Tiger Reserve, the Ramganga river offers great fishing opportunities – from its confluence with the Mandal at Domuda to 50 km upstream till Jainal. Since it is not a snow fed river, fishing is possible in the Ramganga throughout the year. Pancheshwar, the sangam of Saryu and Mahakali rivers, is another great angling spot. Besides catches of Golden Mahseer, expect to find Kalabasu, Goonch and the Indian Trout. The fishing season opens on the 15th of September and extends till June 15. The best time to fish is the onset of winter from mid September till mid November and after the cold season from February till June, when the monsoons arrive. Bites are far less in peak cold season (mid November till January end).
Ph 011 40514060
Beas & Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh is an angler’s paradise with some of the finest trout streams in the north. Gaura, about 30 km from Solan on the Rajgarh road, was once known for its huge mahseer and a favoured spot of the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala and their British guests. For Mahseer fishing, head to Kangra valley, in the lap of the mighty Dhauladhar ranges, irrigated with streams that descend from perennial snows. The river Beas and its confluence with its tributary Binwas at Sari Marog provide attractive fish grounds to the anglers. Pong reservoir near Pathankot offers excellent fishing from Dehra to the Dam for mahseer round the year. Besides mahseer, other fish include malhi, soal, bachwa and god shingara. Rivers like Pabbar, Baspa, Beas and its tributaries abound in brown and rainbow trout with nearly 2400 km of trout waters! Each river has 32 to 40 km of angling reserve area. Fishing is regularized under the state fisheries Act with liberal angling rules and nominal fees. An angler is permitted to catch six trout a day on a license; no trout less than 40 cm in size. Trout fishing season lasts from1st November to 28th February each year.
Originating from the glaciers of great Himalayan ranges, the river Baspa flows through Sangla Valley (250 km from Shimla), a beautiful valley in the western Himalayas with many rapids and pools of trout. Surrounded by snowy peaks of the Kinnar Kailash, Sangla (2,621 m) is a good base for fishing. Kullu Valley offers ideal opportunities for trout fishing in the river Beas on an 18km stretch from Katrain to Manali. Barot (75 km from Mandi) with the Uhl river, a tributary of the Beas and the entire reservoir from Pandoh Dam to Aut on the Mandi-Manali national highway are great for trout fishing. Parvati Valley, with its rugged scenery and a river running from Manikaran to the confluence at Kasol, is also very rewarding. Largi (7 km from Aut) on NH-21 is a good spot on river Tirthan. A few hundred meters downstream from the PWD bungalow at Largi, the Sainj, Tirthan and Beas rivers form a tri-junction with excellent trout pools. Himachal Government has specifically declared Tirthan river as an angling reserve with great fishing in a stretch of 20 km upstream Largi. Rohru (120 km from Shimla) on the right bank of river Pabbar, is also an important fishing centre besides Chirgaon, 50 km up-stream.
Directorate of Fisheries
Matasaya Bhawan, Changer Sector
Bilaspur 174 001
Assistant Director of Fisheries
Fisheries Division, Shimla 5
Cauvery Fishing Camps, Karnataka
Till a few years ago, the Cauvery promised adventurous holidays in a wild river valley with enormous catches of the Humpback Mahseer. The angling lodges run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts at Doddamakkali (6km upstream but now shut down), Bheemeshwari and Galibore, had firmly placed Cauvery on India’s sportfishing map. Both professional and amateur anglers flocked here for Deccan Mahseer (Tor khudree), Humpback Mahseer (Tor mussullah), Pink Carp, Carnatic Carp, Catfish and Murrel (Snakehead). But with a ban on fishing in wildlife areas of Karnataka, angling has taken a hit in the state. Thanks to a directive from the Forest department, even joy fishing is not allowed in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and other wilderness tracts like Mekedatu. Though fishing is currently prohibited, the JLR camps are still operational with coracle rides, river rafting, trekking, outdoor camping and adventure activities like zip line, rope walking and kayaking. Birdwatching is rich with herons, ibis, cormorant, river terns, fishing eagles, woodpeckers, kingfishers and hornbills and the occasional crocodile basking on the riverbank. Located just 100km from Bangalore, it’s just a 2 hour ride via Kanakapura and Halagur. Besides Mekedatu, another stretch on the Cauvery that’s great for angling is Valnoor, a nice beat near Dubare maintained by Coorg Wildlife Society.
Jungle Lodges and Resorts
Ph 080 40554055, 25584111
Coorg Wildlife Society
Ph 08272-2235050, 9448588197
Bush Betta Camp, Mekedatu
Ph 080 3221 6221, 99860 90451
Jia Bhoroli, Assam
Located at the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, the river Jia Bhoroli bifurcates the 200 sq km Nameri National Park, flowing along its southern periphery. Raft down the snow-fed Jia Bhoroli in a rubber dinghy through lush forests with views of snow-capped peaks on a clear morning. Of the 300 types of birds, forest walks into little pools reveal the White-winged wood duck, the most sought after species. The annual Jia Bhoroli angling competition in November, organized by the Assam Bhoroli Anglers Association with the state Forest Department, sees anglers from across the globe. Besides the Golden Mahseer, saal (murral), gorua (Goonch), korang or sundari (Indian trout) and boka (chocolate mahseer). At Wild Mahseer, an 1875 British angling bungalow and former residence of the tea-estate manager have been transformed into a classy resort. Nameri Eco Camp at Potsali (45km from Tezpur), owned by the Assam Bhoroli Angler’s Association is two hours’ drive from Kaziranga National Park and 220 km from Guwahati.
Wild Mahseer Lodge, Balipara
Ph 02267 060881, 91670 38491
Nameri Eco Camp
Potsali, Sonitpur district
Ph 98540 19932, 94351 45563, 94352 50025
Siang, Arunachal Pradesh
Only recently opened to foreigners, the remote north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh teems with angling opportunities. The Siang, known as Tsang-Po in Tibet, merges with the Lohit and the Dibang in Assam to form the Brahmaputra. The Siang expedition mixes amazing fishing with pristine pools, hanging bridhges, scenic hikes, high altitude plantations and rich tribal culture. Watch members of the Mishmi tribe in feathered headdresses wield daos (hatchets) with practiced ease. Take a train or fly to Dibrugarh, hop on to a ferry up the Brahmaputra and do a road trip to Yingkiong for a seven-day rafting and angling trip till Pasighat. Besides trout fishing and angling for Golden Mahaseer at Boleng, head to Tezu on the Lohit river or Tipi and Bhalukpong on the Bhoroli river. The Arunachal Angling Festival is held in September at Pitapool, Yazali in Lower Subansiri district with anglers taken on a river rafting expedition in Pare river. Sponsored by North East Council and organized by Arunachal Adventure Association in collaboration with Department of Tourism, the festival aims to create awareness for conserving fish species for future generations.
Abor Country Travels
Ph 9863553243, 9436053870
Kerala’s labyrinthine network of rivers, lagoons, mountain streams, lakes and backwater canals offer unlimited opportunities for fishing. What makes it all the more interesting is observing the various types of fishing techniques employed by locals – hand picking kallumakai (green mussels) from the river bed or farming them on coir, prying clams from rocky crags, crab fishing at night, fishermen casting fishing nets, boats returning with the day’s catch or tribals catching small fish in bunds with bamboo traps; there’s a lot going on in Kerala…
Angling was a favourite pastime of British tea planters, so they introduced trout, a freshwater fish known to survive in high altitudes and low temperatures. They shipped the fish from hatcheries in Stirling to Bombay in specially made barrels, transported them to Munnar and set up a small hatchery at Chenduvarai in 1909. Even today, anglers go trout fishing at Mattupetty Dam and Devikulam Lake near Munnar like colonial tea planters of yore. The book ‘Facets of Hundred Years’ Planting’ at the High Range Angling Association in Munnar features a photo of the largest trout caught by a Britisher. JFR Brady’s 1966 catch from Mattupetty Dam weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounce! However, no trout above five pounds has been caught in Munnar after the 1970s. On the coast, Cochin is a good base for angling spots at Fort Kochi, Kundannur, Kara (near Kodungallur), Periyar (Aluva) or the waters ahead of Cherai beach. Chellanam, a fishing village 28km from Kochi is good for groupers and red snapper. On weekends, local anglers flock to the mouth of the river at Munambam (35km from Kochi near Vypeen) for snappers, grouper, barramundi and the occasional Threadfin. Hop onto a ferry to get to Azhikode on the other side 3km away. Or head to the deep seas for some Barracuda, Mullet, Perch, Chuna, marlin, Blue Marlin, Sail Fish, Seer fish and Katla. The best time for fishing is October to March.
Oyster Opera, Padanna
Ph 0467-227 8101, 94471 76465, 94471 44062
Near Hotel Renaissance, Palarivattom, Kochi
Ph 0484 2345238, 9495386887
Indian Ocean, Off Chennai
Though fishing has been a hereditary occupation in the coastal and riverside villages of Tamil Nadu, modern fisheries were courtesy the British. Sir Nicholson became the founder of Madras Fisheries Department while Mr. Wilson introduced fish farms in the Nilgiris, where streams and lakes are great haunts for carps and trouts. At Hogenakkal Falls, fish on the Kaveri river on a coracle or standing on wet rocks next to a raging waterfall. Or hit the high seas for some marine adventure for Giant Trevally, King Mackerel, Wahoo, Barracuda, Barramundi, Yellow Fin Tuna and Sail Fish. Angling operators in Chennai offer multiple packages to estuarine sanctuaries, large breakwaters, wrecks and deep offshore ledges. Blue Waters organizes sportfishing trips aboard their 28ft long state-of-the art craft Sea Hawk while Barracuda Bay offer saltwater sport fishing and boat charters in a 27ft 120 hp boat called Mako Polo. Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department is the nodal state agency that grants permits for fishing in streams, reservoirs and lakes in popular tourist spots like the Nilgiris.
Ph 044 42102287, 9500032662/9
Barracuda Bay Sportfishing
Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department
Ph 0423 2443946
Ritchie’s Archipelago, Andamans
Located 1000 km east of India in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Islands are considered the final frontier for Sportsfishing in India. Ritchie’s Archipelago holds some of the largest catches of pelagic fish like barracuda, sailfish, marlin and tuna. Learn a different interpretation of trolling as you tow the lure from your boat to give it movement. Try jigging for dog tooth tuna by dropping the lure and animating it by moving it up and down vertically. Aim for some Giant Trevallys by popping or pulling the lure across the surface in short bursts with occasional splashes to imitate a baitfish on the surface. From bait fishing, casting, fly fishing to trawling for pelagic species, there’s lots of action for an avid angler.
Hope onto a 2 hr flight to Port Blair from Chennai or Kolkata and take a boat to Havelock Island, where anglers from across the world come to spots like Barren Island and Invisible Banks to explore game fishing opportunities. Of the 1380 species of marine fish recorded in the region about 300 species are food fish. But sport fishing follows a catch and release policy! Scour the seas for Giant Trevally, Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Coral Trout, Dogtooth Tuna, or go night fishing for Giant Grouper, Snappers, Swordfish and Shark. Mikes Fishing Adventures, an extension of Barefoot Scuba and Monster Fishing, run by a team of outdoor enthusiasts, provide superb facilities for deep sea fishing aboard swanky yachts. Besides customized fishing trips and luxury island cruises, Havelock Island is a great base for diving and marine adventure.
Ph 98450 15472
Mikes Fishing Adventures
Ph 95660 88560
Andaman Sea Gamefishing
Ph 99332 04012
With a 110 km coastline and nine rivers, Goa is often overlooked despite its angling potential both at sea and inland. During October to December, offshore fishing is at its best, with great catches of Sail Fish, Dorado, King Mackerel, Wahoo, Cobia, Barracuda, GTs, large Groupers, Snappers and Threadfin Salmon. Anthony (Tony) Estrocio of Goa Fishing, a licensed commercial/sports fisherman from Dona Paula, offers fishing trips aboard custom-built boats, enabled with GPS, fish finder and rod holders. Inshore fishing in the rivers and estuaries is good all year round for bream, groupers, red snapper (mangrove jack) and the elusive barramundi. Crocodile watching, picnicking on islands, birdwatching and snorkeling trips are also organized.
Ph 0832 2453854, 94220 59303, 96374 82626
John’s Boat Tours
Ph 0832 6520190, 98221 82814
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Rail Bandhu, the in-train magazine of the Indian Railways.