Does Anyone Fancy Another Curry? (Part Two)

Does Anyone Fancy Another Curry?
Part Two of Bob’s Mahseer Adventure on the River Cauvery
As the days dragged by the fishing didn’t get any easier. Dawn broke at around 6.30am, Bablu would bring me coffee in bed, breakfast would duly arrive and then we’d load the jeep ready for another session yet rarely did we wet a line before half eight, sometimes nine. Sport was slow, malaise had set in and even the guides were struggling to find enthusiasm on a river that steadfastly refused to drop.
Had this really been Big Brother there would have been long queues for the Diary Room. And the atmosphere in camp wasn’t exactly lifted by patronising comments like, “I believe they still do a lot of hunting for rabbits with whippets up North, don’t they?”
I was brought up not a stone’s throw from Michael Parkinson, Jeremy Clarkson and Geoffrey Boycott; Last of the Summer Wine is filmed round the corner and I’ll proudly tell anyone that I’ve bowled out a guy who opened for the county. On the other hand I don’t wear a flat cap nor do I keep coal in the bath. I don’t go around saying, ‘Sithee’ or ‘Ee, bah, gum’ but maybe it’s the height of Southern cool to come out with crap like that. Either that or the guy is just a prat!
Another guy’s charm had worn thin to the point of transparency. You simply couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone without him butting in mid-sentence with an inane comment. He never started a conversation, but he ended plenty. When Stu’s leaned over and whispered, “Hey, you’re a celebrity, they should get you out of here!” He was pretty close to the mark. I was going nuts in the heat.
The ‘house’ dynamic shifted when a couple of students came to stay in camp. Both were Indian and studying Law at Bangalore University. They’d come to ‘chill out’ for a few days.
The prospect of a decent conversation beckoned and it was fascinating to hear their views on the recent Big Brother row. You will recall that UK TV channels broadcast pictures of a few protesters burning effigies in Mumbai and Gordon Brown answering embarrassing questions in front of the Indian parliament but numbed as we all were at home by the constant barrage of sensationalist headlines I was keen to hear what the grass roots impact in India was really like.
Can you believe that these highly intelligent (they spoke English as their second language better than I do) students had been required to write a 5,000 word essay on the incident?
“Are English girls really like that?” They asked.
But back to the fishing.
At the risk of mixing metaphors Stu and I had decided to draw a line in the sand and lay our cards on the table. We were no longer prepared to go along with the flow. We were going to plough our own furrow and split from the group. We stated that we wanted to fish by our rules, 30 minutes in a swim and then move, we wanted to fish well away from the crowd and cover new ground. “No offence guys but we are going to do our own thing. Just tell us where you want to fish, you take first choice, and we’ll go somewhere else. Can you not see that by doing this we are actually improving your chances by reducing the disturbance and number of lines in the water?”
That went down like a lead balloon with both guides and campers alike but at last it felt like we were fishing. We were baiting our own hooks, casting our own rods and actually thinking through our tactics. We also decided to alter the fishing hours. A normal day consisted of two sessions. A pre-lunch session followed by a two-hour into dusk session. Unfortunately it fell dark at 6.30pm and clambering around on the rocks and scaling cliffs in the gloom was inviting disaster. We seriously considered fishing on into the dark but our companions were aghast. What about the crocodiles? You’ve seen the leopard tracks on the sand. And what about the elephants? The snakes, the spiders…
Some guys talk hardcore fishing but few really know the meaning of it!
Ironically the next good fish was caught on a shared session. Stu had been keen to fish at Jainkul on the advice of Owen Bosen. We’d asked to be taken there alone but our request fell on deaf ears and all six of us were bundled into the jeep.
It was here that Stu finally hooked into the kind of fish he fantasises about. His detestation of spicy foods, his dislike of heat, 35,000 miles and a serious dent in his bank balance was instantly forgotten when that rod buckled over. Unless a fish disappears down the shute there is no easier place to land a fish than Jainkul and Stu made no mistakes. He had his first ‘proper’ silver mahseer on the bank in minutes and his celebrations rocked the canyon.
I’m not sure which of us was most chuffed.
The following day we stayed close to camp and worked our way down through Crocodile Pool and the rapids below. We began fishing with ragi but Stu fancied trying a livebait and set up a light rod to catch some. Freelining small pieces of ragi produced lots of bites from small fish when the rod suddenly whacked round and he was forced to give line. The culprit was a 3lb mahseer that fought like a 10lb barbel. For a while he lost the plot and all thoughts of serious fishing went out of the window. Over the next hour or so he caught several hard fighting mahseer of a similar size and had a whale of a time.
This was to be a catalyst. That afternoon as we lazed around waiting for the intense heat to ease off we mulled over the morning’s events. Static baits were not working but small moving baits were hit time and again, albeit from three-pounders. What if we scaled things up could we provoke bites from bigger fish?
Suddenly we were rushing around and setting up scaled down tackle for the evening session. “Ramu, take us to Ajibora!” Armed with my Lochmor spinning rod, a fixed spool reel loaded with 30lb line, a smaller hook and a wrap of lead wire, confidence simply oozed. I had my first fish, a mahseer of maybe 5lb within minutes of starting. That evening as I worked the whole length of the Agibori rapids I had as many bites in the space of two hours as I’d had in the past week. Maybe we were on to something at last.
A new day, a new plan. Our intention was to brave the midday sun and fish the day through. A much tougher option than it sounds. We crossed the river and worked our way downstream. Peter’s Rock, Monkey Pool, Monster Pool. Stu still on the heavier gear, Daiwa TDX Uptide rod paired with a Saltist reel; me, I stuck with the lighter outfit. Earlier in the week I had spotted five shadows at the tail of Monster Pool. I couldn’t say with certainty that these were mahseer but they sure as hell looked like fish. Unfortunately four rods were fishing the pool that day and I didn’t fancy joining the Clacton Pier crew. I kept my mouth shut, secret safe, with a view to returning later. Like now. Only on the opposite bank.
Baiting my own hook, casting and positioning my own bait, I draped the line over a line of rocks. As Peter Smith put it, “The only reason a fish would be there was if it was feeding.”
I doubt my bait had been out there for five minutes when the line tightened. I lowered my rod to give slack line and waited a split second for the line to tighten again and then hit the bite with all my might. The rod bucked, the line jerked and lifted, taught, from the surface, straight as any laser beam. Spray glistened in the bright sunlight and the fish mercifully traced an upstream arc.
I pulled hard, it pulled harder. Then it stopped. I knew what was coming next. It was going to make a run for the shute at the end of the pool but it couldn’t. Everything went solid as my line jammed round a rock. This is when you realise that mahseer fishing on the Cauvery can be pure theatre. Ramu was already stripping off. The next thing he’s diving in and swimming for the far bank – in a pool where crocodiles live!
Once there he signals to Peter who casts a line over and then hurls his rod into the river. What on earth were they up to?
Ramu caught the line, pulled the rod across the river, reeled up the slack and then set about casting over my line which he snagged after a couple of attempts. “Give slack!” I was instructed. Ramu applied pressure and suddenly my line sprang free of the rock. “Reel – reel – reel!” Shouted Ramu.
And there I was, attached to my prize once more. Of course the fish was having none of this. It turned and bolted straight downstream, out of the pool and straight into the tumultuous rapids below where once again it ‘rocked’ me.
Meanwhile I’m trying to negotiate the rocks and keep a tight line while a constant stream of instructions is screamed at me, “Try and keep up with the fish!”

The line is freed again and then it’s a case of take no prisoners. Maximum pressure is applied to the fish and although I’m thinking it’s snagged, it isn’t. The fish is simply holding station in the current.
Eventually she is beaten, a stringer passed through her gills and we all celebrate. This isn’t my fish, it’s OUR fish.
We’re on a high now and Stu and I talk late into the night about whether it was selfish or not to do our own thing. Too right it was! And look how it’s paying off. Time’s running out though.
Another day of rock hopping, this time heading further downstream than ever before produces just a couple of small fish to me before Stu decides he can’t hack it any more. “You go on alone.” He suggests. “I’m knackered.”
That’s not really an option when bearing in mind the terrain so we drop back to ‘Ajiboredom’, as I’d come to call it, where Stu heads straight for Andy’s Rock, a swim he really has the horn for. I decide to sit this one out and find myself a comfortable ledge from which to watch. One less line in the water will give him a better chance and we’ve both got that feeling. Call it a sixth sense or whatever you like but you just know…
And then all hell lets loose. The air is filled with shouting, much of it in Anglo Saxon, Stu is absolutely bricking himself, Ramu is urging him along the rocks and out in the wild swirling waters of the Cauvery a huge fish is surging downstream with a relentless determination. But Stu can only go so far as a huge rocky bluff blocks his path. His line now points straight across the river and is wound round a massive mid-river monolith. The fish is somewhere below in the aptly named F**k Up Gulley.
Ramu leaves Stu and sets off to fetch a coracle while Stu pleads, “Bob – support me!”
So I stop taking pictures and scramble over. Standing behind him I grab his shoulders and pull Stu back into my chest and steady him, “What are you doing you mad bas***d? I meant talk to me. Give me some verbal encouragement!!!”
At which point we all fell about laughing. But there’s still some serious business to attend to.
I suggest he walks a few yards upstream to take some pressure off the line which is rubbing against the midstream rock. Ramu appears with the coracle. “Get in the coracle, sir. Quickly!”
And off they sail into the gulley. The fish is freed and the pair drift down to another rock. It is pretty hairy out there for a while and the fish gets stuck once more. Stu is instructed to clamber up onto a small outcrop of rock in mid-river while Ramu strips off and attempts to negotiate the raging torrent. Quite how he manages to avoid being swept away is a mystery but Stu’s pretty relieved that he’s using the 40lb gear.
Free again the fish is absolutely bullied into submission. Ramu inserts the stringer and the mahseer is ours. It’s a golden one and Stu is now whooping and rock dancing like a goat on amphetamines.
With the aid of the coracle our prize is towed to the far side and for a change it is actually weighed – at a shade over 40lb. Job done, what a result.
With just one day left Stu and I decide we’ll give the Goat’s Leap a second go. This is a scary place to fish, sitting as you do on a rock that juts out from a cliff face some 70 feet above the water. Beneath where you sit the entire river is funnelled through a tiny gap and it is highly unlikely you would survive a fall.
We lower a fairly large livebait on my rod and it is swept around in the cauldron below as we aim to position it behind a rock. The Multiplier is set to free spool with the ratchet on. Within seconds of settling my bait is hit, line peels off the spool as the ratchet signals a one-toner.
Only big fish live here…
I count to three, lower the rod, wait for the line to tighten before hitting it hard. I feel a bump as I roll over backwards. The hook hasn’t set and I’m seriously gutted!
If I return I’ll give this swim a lot more attention but I’ll be using my own bait rigging arrangement. That was a big chance missed and it was my own fault. I should have ignored Ramu’s well intentioned advice.
However to hook a fish in the Goats Leap is one thing, to land it another. The drama would have involved running along ledges, climbing down to water level and a great deal of luck. But you’ve got to be in it to win it. Needless to say, Stu and I were the only ones to fish from the Leap during our stay.
So there you have it. Four good fish in a fortnight between the pair of us – the only good fish to come out during a fortnight when not one fish was lost by anyone. That in itself was unusual.
By the time we left the river had dropped three feet and the water temperature was rising. Whoever went in after us was due a right royal session but that’s how it goes.
Dead easy this mahseer fishing, ain’t it?
Camp Details:
We stayed at the Bush Betta camp. Peter Smith normally trips organises trips from the UK by but fishing on the river is currently suspended pending a decision from the Indian High Court (see article below).
The Gear You’ll Need:
We used Daiwa TDX4-10 uptide rods for the heavy duty work teamed up with Saltist 50 multipliers loaded with 40lb line. Expect to re-spool two or 3 times during your trip, possibly more often if you are catching fish regularly.
Hooks need to be big and strong – 6/0 and 8/0 is the norm. I got hold of a batch of Gamakatsu catfish hooks and they fitted the bill perfectly. Cutting point hooks quickly lose their points on the rocks and cannot be sharpened.
Sheet lead, cut into strips is wrapped around rig tube or similar to make leger weights.
Things To Look Out For:
The wildlife around Bush Betta is staggering. We saw crocodiles, had near misses with elephants, saw leopard tracks, watched deer, mongoose and monkeys. Using a bird book we identified over 70 different species that you won’t see at home including eagles, kites, buzzards, bee eaters, birds of paradise, parakeets, fly catchers, owls, woodpeckers and at least three different species of kingfisher.
As for the sky at night, the stars will take your breath away.
Make sure you pack a pair of binoculars.
Footnote: Mahseer Fishing Under Threat
Mahseer Angling inside Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sooner or later a ruling will be made but it will be a sorry day for all if fishing is classified as hunting. Should that happen then many of the key mahseer fisheries in India will be closed to anglers. For now there are a few fisheries still operating on the Cauvery.
(article published in Deccan Herald, 9th September, 2010)
The authorities are saying that the Mahseer Fish gets protected from poachers due to presence of anglers in Cauvery. So, is the forest department is handing over protection to Resorts and Anglers?? Can we start similar operations inside Bandipur and Nagarhole National parks so that the Tigers get protection due to presence of tourists and resorts?
Ban on mahseer angling suggested
Subhash Chandra N S Bangalore, Sept 8, DHNS
The State Forest Department is contemplating a ban on angling of mahseer fish and has sought a clarification from the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests (MoEF) in this regard.
In a submission to the High Court, the State has said the department had already directed the State-owned Jungle Lodges and Resorts to suspend angling in all stretches of river Cauvery and in areas allocated to them.
The Bush Betta fishing camp has fuelled the debate regarding the ban as they have approached the High Court seeking renewal of lease for the fishing camp for angling of mahseer.
The State, based on the Union Government’s letter dated June 7, 2010, has begun discussion regarding the angling of mahseer in sanctuary. The letter says that angling and its release into the water immediately also amounts to hunting.
In a meeting conducted on July 19, 2010, chaired by Meera C Saxena, Additional Chief Secretary, Forests Ecology and Environment Department, K Jyothiramlingam, Principal Secretary, Tourism, B K Singh, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Wildlife warden, N D Tiwari, Additional PCCF, Jungle Lodges and resorts, Sanjay Mohan, CCF and Executive Director, JLR and Nagraj Hampole, CCF and Secretary Forests have resolved to write to Union Ministry seeking clarification regarding the ban.
According to the proceedings of the copy of the minutes of the meeting available with Deccan Herald, the Union Ministry says “capturing, coursing, snaring, trapping, driving or baiting any wildlife or captive animal amounts to hunting and presuming capture of mahseer amounts to sport is wrong. Even hunting was a sport earlier and has been banned now.”
Managing Director, Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) cites a scientific paper by Dr A J T John Singh, former dean, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) which says angling and release are helpful in conservation as the protection is achieved due to presence of anglers.
He further mentions that mahseer has received more protection in stretches of Cauvery where angling is permitted compared to those area where it is not permitted.
Also citing to another publication ‘Biology and fishery of mahseers in upper stretches of river Cauvery by D S Krishna Rao in 2009, he said that the river stretch from Doddamakali and Shivanasamudra is unguarded and cases of using dynamite to kill fish is reported from here.
The meeting however ended with a resolution to request the MOEF to reconsider the comments made by it until then the angling of mahseer be suspended.

3 thoughts on “Does Anyone Fancy Another Curry? (Part Two)

  1. Hello!

    Great story, especially the last part, I really liked to read about other perspective on “catching” fish:). Sorry for asking but.. what do those “big” fish eat in that water ? I put that question because I can’t see in your photographs any grass, bugs or something like that.. Is the water enough for their growth, I mean.. is in the water enough plants or.. aquatic insects ?

    have a nice day and good luck where you need!

  2. The mahseer is omnivorous. It eats crabs, live and dead fish, indeed anything edible that it finds in the river, I guess.

    • Hello!

      Thank you for replying, now I can grasp in a diffrent way what you wrote. Have a nice day and good luck where you need!