As usual it all began with an email: an invitation to fish for Mahseer in the northern most reaches of India on the border with Nepal, at the very base of the magical Himalayas. Mahseer is a fish I cut my teeth on, way back in the early nineties when we fished for the huge Tor Mussalah. This time however it was going to be a more predatory cousin, the Himalayan Mahseer or Tor Putitora.
Almost at the brink of extinction there are very few wild rivers where the magnificent Mahseer remains to this day in sizeable numbers and with large specimens. Known as the largest carp in the world, THE fresh water game fish of India and for most anglers only a wish to land, this was an expedition trip which had all the highs and lows and went right down to the wire of the last session of the last day for the best reward of all, nothing less than a monster Mahseer.
This report is not about numbers or species, it’s about an unparalleled experience of fishing in a wild place, I have dreamt about going to. This is the area where Jim Corbett enacted many of his daring feats with man-eating tigers and leopards of great notoriety.
On 18 September 2015 the GFA team set off on an expedition to sample the Mahseer fishing in one of the remotest parts of India – to the very foothills of the Himalayan mountains.
Arriving in New Delhi, India’s capital city to the maddening & chaotic traffic is an experience everyone should see to believe. We spent the night at a comfortable and well-appointed guest house with good home cooked food and after a nice hot shower we were off to bed for a few hours sleep before the train to Kathgodam early next morning.
Delhi’s Anand Vihar Station, where we departed from, was crowded and teeming with people even at 5:45 am. We were jostled through the security checks and made our way up the escalator to the noisy platform. Once on the train though it was comfortable and clean. Isolated from the surroundings, the air-conditioned chair car made the 5 hour journey a breeze and we were soon arriving at Kathgodam, a small station close to the hill town of Nainital (Corbett’s Home) and the famous Corbett National Park. The first views of the hills gave us all that bit of excitement that we were getting into remote country and away from the teeming masses.
There was a further seven hour, 200 kilometre, journey by road with vertical drops of sometimes close to 1000 meters and some breath taking mountain scenery. The hours still took long to pass but the excitement of being back on a wild river again was building.
We arrived at the camp after dark and were greeted by the sound of fast flowing water and Suprio who had driven 14 hours from Delhi and arrived before us. He had already opened his account with a 10lb Himalayan Golden Mahseer. Our bags were whisked away by the helpful staff and a quick freshen-up was followed by some snacks, a few drinks and a few stories of the river shared with the camp manager. Our excitement continued to grow, but before long we were all fading from the long journey and after a quick dinner and the promise to be up as soon as we could the next morning to tackle up we retired to our comfortable tents.
Suprio, a veteran on this stretch of river, set off early to do the morning session of spinning. He knows the secret spots and best swims. The water was a bit on the high side as the receding monsoon had not quite passed completely.
A good breakfast comprising of fresh fruit, muesli, eggs to order, toast and assortment of jams and honey with coffee and tea on tap meant we were more than sated. Tackled up after an equally scrumptious lunch all cooked traditional style and not overly spiced at all, even for Nico’s French palate, we decided to rest a bit in the afternoon heat before heading off to explore the river banks and have a few casts at any likely looking spots. We walked a lot in different directions after splitting into teams and tried all the likely spots, trying to figure out the currents and which lures could actually work best in the strong currents of a mountain river. Walking over the rocky terrain of a river bank and balancing as we cast perched precariously on pointed rocks that gave one the best access to the eddies caused by the rushing currents, was the order of the evening: walk, cast, walk, cast. We did not catch anything but the most likely looking swims and rocks to cast off had been scouted to the north of the camp. These places looked like they had the potential to hold fish in addition to the known spots the local guides showed us. That night was windy and the camp talk was of rain further up in the hills. We went to bed tired but hopeful that blue water we had seen would remain.
Drawing back my tent flap early the next morning my first reaction (as was everyone else’s) was shock and horror. The water level had come up by over 2 feet and the green blue water had changed to a coffee brown. Our hopes dashed were dashed in a single moment and we asked the question we almost dared not ask: How long is the water going to take to clear? The answer was a matter of factly stated, “If it does not rain anymore, maybe in another 3 days it will get clear”.
For us that meant pretty much the hope of catching a Himalayan Golden Mahseer was almost gone. We could only hope that there would be no rain for the next couple of days and in the meantime do some more scouting of the area and do a couple of treks around the surrounding areas. Of course we could not resist casting, we even rafted 20 kilometres down the river to check out the camp spots and swims. There are many great spots to cast from, but it was to no avail with the discoloured water.
Fortunately, the gods did smile on us and it did not rain again upstream, meaning the run off from the mountain streams slowly died down, but there was a lot of mud in the water from the upper reaches where there had been landslides and this would take time to clear out. What was actually a few days seemed like forever but by day 5 of the trip the water started clearing out and the level began dropping, a good sign. We were fishing the very beginning of the season when the chances of rain in the upper reaches are still there, as we needed to be back for the start of the Kirinda fishing season in Sri Lanka.
Off we went on an evening casting session to explore more spots as the water cleared and the level fell, the third cast into an eddy behind the rapids and I was on with a savage hit, a strong rush only to come undone, dejected but at least a hit, this brought the motivation up a notch though and we kept at it through the evening. Nico landed a 10 pounder which we photographed and released and smaller one earlier, at least the fish were starting to come back and start feeding actively.
The next morning we all decided to fish first light and this time when we opened the tent flaps the water was a much nicer colour and the level had gone down even further. Before going any further I must add that there was one lure which was catching all the fish, unfortunately we had only 3 to start with. Nico had borrowed 2 from me, lost one and had one remaining, I had one on my rod as well. That morning Nico lost his lure to the rocks and we were down to 1.
On the fourth cast of the last morning, I had a bite and landed a 12 pound Golden Mahseer with brilliant colours after a nice fight all alone. By the time the others landed up the fish was de-hooked and ready for pictures. There is nothing better than landing a fish by yourself completely alone. After a bit of rest I started fishing again, the third cast after the lure was worked into the slack water, bang, fish on, a big run only for it to come undone, yet again. I checked the lure all ok with the hooks and rings and cast again only this time it was smacked properly as it came into the slack water, the reel screamed, I set the hook and about 50 yards of line had gone in a flash when it all went slack – absolute disaster! I reeled in to find my belly treble, ripped off, the lip of the lure smashed off and the split rings opened, surely GT’s don’t live in fresh water!!!!!
Worst of all, I didn’t have a lure to fish with now, the magic one was broken.
I rush over to Nico to tell him the bite is on, to get over to where I am, only to find he has lost his copy of the magic lure to the rocks, stuck in the rapidly flowing water. No more lures, fish biting, we try despondently with the other lures, nothing, there is only the evening session left before we head back.
Nico not to be undone, set about thinking of ways to repair the smashed lure. He did so by breaking a brand new lure of mine, to my horror………. Brought out his Leatherman and glue and set about trying to re-lip the favoured lure.
That evening we set out again, Nico with the repair job lure which he tried out and said was working differently with more of a wobble than a vibration. As I walked up to where Nico was fishing, his lure has just come into the slack water and there was a top-water explosion with the reel singing, then the sulk and the runs whenever the fish saw his would be captors. Nico gently eased the fish into the shallows so we could land what looked to be an absolute cracker and a prime example of a Himalayan monster Golden Mahseer. What we saw on the surface was the specimen we had travelled all this way for. We then proceeded to land the fish and remove the incredible lure that it had completely swallowed. It was a real testament to not giving up through difficult conditions, innovative repairs and finally the reward to be able to document the capture & release of one of the finest gamefish hopefully for it to be the catch of a lifetime for another lucky angler.
Great Camp & Comfortable tents
Great food local Kumaoni fare
You are 6 to 7 hours away from the nearest equipped town (perfect)
Big fish are around and the good news is they take lures
Recommend at least a week fishing and 3 days for travel and recovery
Lots of river bank walking over rocky terrain
The perfect expedition trip
Long travel times over sometimes non-existent roads
Shimano STC Exage 9 ft spinning rods
Shimano Stella 5000, Symmetre 4000
Line 30 lb Tuf XP, 17-25 Lb Suffix mono
Berkely Trilene 30 and 40 lb leader
Assorted Spoons and plugs
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