Angling for mighty mahseer

Angling for mighty mahseer

Angling for mighty mahseer

A river conservation effort disguised as a fishing camp turned into a fun activity and helped young minds to experience a unique holiday, says Steve Lockett.

“Who wishes they had a TV with them now?” I asked. Over three days and thirty kids aged between 5 and 16 years, only one hand was raised. The parents were amazed. “They finish school and come home to sit in front of the TV”, was a common response.
Introducing kids to the great outdoors through angling was the mission. It is one that is close to my heart, as I am a qualified angling coach back home in the UK. As a part of the Mahseer Trust, an NGO involved in river conservation, I was delighted to be on the banks of the Wildlife Association of South India Lake near Shivasamudram.

Mahseer are one of the great sporting fish of the world, as well as a perfect example of a migratory fish. Capable of travelling huge distances up monsoonal rivers to reach preferred spawning habitat, they use their immense power to negotiate most obstacles in their way.

Exciting sport

It is precisely that power that attracts anglers from all over the globe to India. They want the thrill of the fight. Equally, a major part of sport angling is the satisfaction of seeing your quarry burst away back into its watery home once the beast has been subdued.
Now, thanks to several enlightened home-grown anglers of the All India Game Fishing Association, the mighty mahseer is no longer the preserve of rich foreigners.

With increasing leisure time available to Indian kids, they need distractions and entertainment. Angling is a fine way of channelling their adrenaline while giving that all important appreciation of the natural world that many are disconnected from.

The angling camp taught valuable lessons about how current scientific work is being carried out. Sujan Bernard, a Bangalore-based naturalist, added reptiles and birds to the fish recognition that formed the core of the session. He also showed how to make fire without matches or a lighter and then every kid got to munch on toasted marshmallows as the evening turned to night.

Fishing as a hobby

But the fishing was the most important part of the stay. My first task each day was to introduce the technical terms and equipment needed, followed by catching a mahseer as fast as possible to keep their attention from wandering. Luckily, the fish played ball and my rod would be bent within a minute or two of my casting a baited hook. While no real monsters came to the party, fishes of 1.5 kgs to 2 kgs were whoppers in the eager eyes of the kids.

Scale sample safely removed, the fish was unhooked. A job made easy by using barbless hooks. A quick photo to allow the scale sample to be matched to a known record of an individual fish, then the fish was held upright until it showed a desire to get back among friends by kicking powerfully away into the turbulent waters’ used to generate Bangalore’s electricity.

Time for the kids to hook their own ‘legends of the deep’. We were five experienced anglers, who along with the guards of Wildlife Association of South India did all the hard and potentially dangerous work of baiting hooks and casting out. A few lines got crossed along the way, as one would expect with ten rods in the water in a restricted area.

Usually, a shout of ‘fish on’ would echo across the water before all the rods had been cast. Landing your first fish takes learning to a whole new level. Keeping pressure on a powerful adversary while trying to dictate terms takes time to get to grips with, but under the watchful eye of experienced hands, every kid ended up with a mahseer or two on the bank. Their thrill was palpable.

The fact that it was a girl who caught the biggest fish on each of the three days is one of those things that become an angling myth.

Mighty species

Mahseer are a robust fish species under a huge habitat threat. They are also called ‘the tiger of the river’ and indeed are seen as a keystone species in their environment. That very environment has such a large part to play in human welfare, so getting kids to enthuse about protecting it needs all the support we can give them.

There is a fine religious tradition in India of protection of habitats through sacred groves and sacred pools, also of wider environmental protection of habitats and species through conserving keystone species. This appreciation of mahseer, connected with an understanding of their place in the aquatic environment is what I try to spread, in this case through a simple activity that the kids can enjoy.

This coming May 24th is World Fish Migration Day, and Derek D’Souza of All India Game Fishing Association will again be running a kids angling camp as part of the planned activities. Through his exciting ways, he will teach kids the importance of Indian rivers and their protection through this species of fish that loves to battle the currents.