Angling for trouble

Angling for trouble

Trout fishing and wildlife encounters are often inextricably linked in Munnar, Kerala's famed hill-resort. As a keen angler who likes 'to flog the water' at least once a month despite advancing years, I've had many intriguing - and some scary - experiences in Munnar's wilds.

Fishing the famed Devikulam Lake on the town's outskirts, I once noticed what appeared to be the top of a submerged boulder sticking out of the water. Being quite familiar with the topography of the lake from regular visits and not having seen this before, I was intrigued. Then, as I gazed wonderstruck, the 'boulder' began to rise slowly out of the water. It was a wild tusker that had been enjoying a cooling dip all by itself. It was uncomfortably close and obviously didn't want a Peeping Tom around. I scooted as the pachyderm emerged from the water, glistening and dripping, and lumbered off, snorting, towards a nearby forest.

Fleet-footedness is an undoubted asset in the wilds. While fishing with me a few years ago, my cousin Royston wended his way alone upstream through scrub jungle in search of a pool that promised good sport. Preoccupied with flicking off the bloodthirsty leeches swarming up his legs, he headed towards a big boulder that suddenly erupted into life with an irate, guttural snort. It was an enormous gaur that had frozen motionless, all the while glowering at him as he unknowingly moved closer to it. Royston was never known to be a sprinter but right then he convincingly demonstrated that he had all the makings of an Usain Bolt!

Another time, while tramping along the bank of a trout stream, I all but stepped on a large rat snake drowsing in the grass. It shot out from under my feet, its tail lashing my leg, as it plunged into the water. It swam away across the stream and slid on to a half-submerged fallen tree on the far side from where it eyed me malevolently. All of seven feet in length, it sent a shudder down my spine. For, though non-venomous, a rat snake can inflict a nasty bite.

The solitude and quiet that trout fishing entails often facilitates wildlife encounters. Once while fishing a stream deep inside a forest, a family of no less than six otters swam past me – unaware of my presence, thanks to my camouflaged clothing – only their whiskered snouts visible above the water. I was admiring this 'march-past' in almost perfect symmetry when it suddenly struck me that otters are fish-eaters. Within seconds I saw the fish scatter helter-skelter in the crystal clear water and soon enough an otter surfaced with a wriggling trout clamped in its mouth.

With these expert 'anglers' haunting the stream, quite predictably I didn't catch a single trout that day!