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"Mahseer on the Fly"
By Misty Dhillon

  Revealing a new generation of flies and fly-fishing techniques for taking a creature of absolute majesty in the Himalayas.

  For no apparent reason there has been a minimal effort in revealing fly-fishing techniques for Mahseer, throughout the Indian subcontinent, over the decades that this sport has been in existence. The rivers of North India most certainly have remarkable fly-fishing potential, for, every river I have fly-fished in the Indian Himalayas has yielded good results, and invariably with improvised gear and techniques I found even greater success on our subsequent trips to the same venues.

  "The nicety of skill that has to brought into play, to make anything of a bag amongst good and wary trout is sometimes very refined. It is quite distinct from fly-fishing for the Salmon, and is a much higher branch of the art; though there is an exultant ruder joy certainly in a hand-to-hand fight with the lordly salmon, when once you have him on. But any man who is a good Trout fisherman will readily fall into Salmon-fishing; though the master of Salmon-fishing may be but a rude Trout fisherman. But both the real Trout fisherman, and the Salmon tamer, will want to know what can be done in India by their favorite style of fishing". - Henry Sullivan Thomas, The Rod In India

  How many of us travel to India and attain the sport we anticipated to, particularly where it comes to fly-fishing? As much as this interests the growing fly-fishing community world wide, there is hardly any information available on the subject. Here is an effort to reveal some of the most important points I think that you need to know about fly-fishing for Mahseer, a sport which most certainly deserves the much needed importance as it involves one of the hardest fighting freshwater game fish - a delight for any angler!

  A scrutiny of the subject over the past few years, has brought me to the conclusion that there is far too less written about the matter and it was rather challenging in the beginning, as thereisalmostnoinformationavailable.As a fishing guide I am lucky enough to fish over 200 days a year - hence am able to try many different techniques. There were several anglers I met, who claimed to have fly-fished for Mahseer at some point in their careers, but when I got down to details on the subject, there was hardly any information they had to offer, but the same old, "try black flies" or, "Oh, fly-fishing, you must fish the Ramganga River, I remember this Englishman who took a twenty pound Mahseer from there, but that was way back in the good old days!"

  Looking back in time, some of the legends of the Mahseer fishing, like Henry Sullivan Thomas, A .St .J. Mc Donald and others probably had the best of the fishing but certainly not the fly-fishing! As fish stocks in areas become more wary and concentrated in small pockets, new methodologies have evolved, since the early anglers zeroed in on the subject.

  There have been some writings on fishing for Mahseer on a fly spoon - the closest thing to fly-fishing. The earlier anglers understood the importance of making the fly sink, which was not possible with a regular fly; hence the fly spoon was the closest one could get to the experience of a big Mahseer on a fly rod.

  The first thing to catch my eye was Prakash Nautyal's account about the Mahseer's fly and Nymph feeding habits in his account "Mahseer the Game fish".

  Nautiyal and Lal (1984b) published an account of the habits of the fingerlings and juveniles inhabiting the rivulet Nayar. The fish diet consisted of insect matter (81.4%), plant matter (15.9%) and miscellaneous items including fish (1.6%). Further, it was recorded that (73.5%) of the fish had insect matter in their intestinal bulbs indicating that insects, the larvae and nymphs accounted for the "basic food" of tor putitora (Himalayan Mahseer) - "Mahseer the Game Fish - Prakash Nautiyal".

  Fly Line Choice

  Anglers frantic for some information on the subject, flip through pages of, the "Rod in India", "Circumventing the Mahseer" and the other accounts, which offer minimal information on this topic. Though most inquiries about fly-fishing refer to flies for the Mahseer, there are hardly any which refers to the fly lines.

  I will rate "fly line" choice very high up on the list of gear when considering a fly-fishing trip in the Himalayas. Without the right fly line the fly really, cannot do much.

  Mahseer suspend deep, and hence the basis of success relies on the depth that your fly can attain when put in the right place. Unfortunately, Fly Line technology in the times of yore was very basic, hence such wonderful results couldn't be obtained as we can with today's super-lines and improved casting techniques - especially the Double Haul, a technique which enables you to achieve unbelievable distances when casting, the dream of having one of these legendry game fish at the end of the tippet is not very hard to achieve.

  Seldom though, but there is brick like sinking needed - something which Mahseer fishing is know to demand while fishing for them on any technique. This most certainly applies to fly-fishing!

  Fishing for sport is rare in India. You could be rest assured that fly-fishing of all things will too be something most people in India are unfamiliar with. Fly-fishing gear, as a result, is near impossible to obtain and the sort of specialized fly-fishing gear the Mahseer demands would be impossible to obtain in India. Now, with the Internet and online Fly-Fishing catalogs, there is far more information available, and the job has become a lot more easier for a fly angler in India.

  It was, New York based, Urban Angler who sent me some specialized sinking fly lines some years back. The trial of these lines in the North Indian rivers went very well, though I lost contact with the store, whose owner was planning a trip to fly fish with us. This trial represented a whole new world of presentations to me - now we could put the fly well within reach of the Mahseer, even in the strongest currents! Though it takes a fair bit to get used to these lines - as they are shooting head taper the Double Haul casting technique is most apt for good presentation in these swift rivers.

  So, what fly?

  After going through several old accounts and from analyzing every available bit of information on fishing for the Mahseer on the fly, I have come to the conclusion that thick bodied dark flies are amongst the most reliable bets on the Himalayan Rivers. A dark fly fished deep can be remarkably effective in catching the illusive Himalayan legends - something which could well be for the most part clearly regarded as the most tantalizing sport in existence, and in the magnificence of the grand Himalayas, is something just miraculous.

  Initial efforts saw me tying a fair number of larger flies, as suggested by most - even the rather famous Blackamoor mentioned in "The Rod in India" didn't produce much. It was later when I reverted to fishing on smaller flies that I began to experience real success.

  "Misty's Perception Mahseer". After several attempts I designed a fly which has come to be the classic killer of recent times for the Himalayan Mahseer - the fly has gained confidence as it has proven its versatility in all waters. I've fished it with the same amount of success in large glacial rivers and spring fed rivers as I have in Himalayan lakes. This fly has caught more Mahseer than any other fly known to me, most anglers who have fished this fly clearly agree to it being the most reliable and consistent fly while fishing for the Himalayan Mahseer.

  I am continuously in the process of designing and trying out new flies in order to come up with something even more deadly than this fly. This fly is usually dressed on a #8 streamer hook.

  The Viva: I would rate this fly very high - up amongst the more productive flies for fishing the Himalayan Rivers for Mahseer. The "Viva" has most often taken Mahseer up to eight pounds in rivers like the Ganges especially in the post monsoon months. A Viva dressed on #6 or #4 streamer hook is a great fly, especially if fished late in the evenings.

  The Muddler has been a long time favorite amongst a few patrons of the fly-fishing for Mahseer. One could dress Muddlers in different ways. I once hooked, what I believe was, the largest Mahseer I have ever come close to on a Muddler, while allowing it to swim around the current "dead drift technique", though my 15 lb test tippet did not stand a chance in front of the fierce rush of the Mahseer. As I stood there almost helpless, the tippet gave way rather effortlessly. Muddles are very effective flies- you could even dress them with eyes, chrome, copper, gold and black, and all are affective. A good assortment of Muddlers, dressed on #8, #6, #4 and #2 hooks will have you well geared to take on some good Mahseer.

  The Black Wooly Bugger is another great fly for fishing the Mahseer, it has provided some good times on the rivers of the Himalayas over the years. Again, it is essential that the fly be fished deep. Just about any size will do (#8, #6, and #4).

  The Black Matuka is another favorite. Both the black and the olive Matuka are good Mahseer flies, it is even a very simple fly to tie. You could dress it on a # 10, # 8, or a # 6 hook.

  These flies tied on an assortment of hook sizes with slight changes, here and there, is what I carry with me on most trips and perpetually catch more Mahseer than the chaps who are spinning. A lot of these flies are often dressed in Tiemco's streamer and Salmon hooks, which I regard as some of the best fly hook in the industry.

  Some of my flies are dressed, the Salmon style with large glossy heads made with the help of the Loon Outdoors Hard Head system or the regular streamer style.

  A vast assortment of nymphs and wet flies work for the Mahseer too, though I have had the best - most consistent results on streamers, something I presume imitate a variety of aquatic insects the Mahseer often feed on.

  Tackle and Techniques

  Most anglers would generate their own theories on the sort of tackle they find appropriate to take on the Mahseer of a fly.

  As a generalization I personally prefer a nine-foot, eight weight fly rod, with which I have done most of my fishing, and managed to stop almost all but a few fish, which clearly were monstrous fish - though that seldom happens. Only while fishing exceptionally fast currents, when using a heavier grain and fastest sinking fly line do I use a ten or eleven weight fly rod, a situation that occurs most occasionally and I do so only when absolutely necessary, as I feel there is far too much pleasure in fishing the eight weight single-handed rod for Mahseer to a heavier one. Spey tackle is effective too, though having started my fly-fishing carrier in India there has been very little exposure to Spey rods and Spey casting - something I certainly am obsessed with and will take to in the years to come.

  A reasonably large Mahseer on an eight-weight rod is perhaps as accelerating as it gets in the freshwater fishing. The technique as simply as I can put it, is quite like Salmon fishing, except that your fly should be fishing deep.

  There is no such thing as a "perfect presentation" when it comes to Mahseer fly-fishing! Presentation is obsolete here - you generally cannot differentiate one cast from the other, why did the fish take on this cast and not the previous one while you targeted the same bit of water.

  Presentation in Mahseer fishing is just finding and fishing the right depth.

  Angling talent has little to do with actually catching a fish; it certainly is finding the fish and to do so consistently time and time again. With Mahseer, it's just a question of finding where they are and then going ahead with the most averagely effective fly, and trying a variety of depths. Finding the Mahseer is usually not a problem, Mahseer Rivers are fairly easy to read and once you are familiar to the approach its just a question of time before the fly line is snatched of your figures. It is also a question of the time of the day and the human influence around the river. If you get the fish at a time when it is not wary, dawn and dusk, you stand a chance of a bonanza - something I've had more often while fly-fishing for them than spinning.

  The Himalayan Mahseer, unlike its larger cousins in the Cauvery River in South India, are more inclined to taking flies and pound for pound are fierce fighters, which is attributed by the unforgiving terrain they have lived their lives in, as the torrent of some of the Himalayan Rivers is colossal.

  Most often the Himalayan Mahseer are called the freshwater "Bonefish" due to it sleek, glossy and stout appearances, and most importantly for its sporting prowess quite like the Bonefish.

  Large arbor reels are just what are needed for the sort of water one covers on an average day - the design is just right for covering a lot of big water.

  A tussle with a reasonably good Mahseer could leave you quite exhausted; a Mahseer run in most instances is perhaps the most fulfilling fly-fishing experience an angler could have in freshwaters. The run is awfully electrifying, with very violent jolts to the fly rod and an averagely large fish could give your shoulders a fair sum of exercise! You might on occasions need to follow the fish along side the river, before it runs around a tricky bend on the river or a structural element.

  I would say that 150 yards of backing of a 30 lb breaking strain is just about enough for general fly-fishing for Mahseer. A large Mahseer in the torrential conditions would strip this out faster than you think it would, though such occasions are only rare.

  I have always felt a longer cast is more productive for fishing Mahseer. One needs a fair of familiarization to the Double Haul casting technique to take on both the spring fed and the large glacial rivers for fly-fishing.

  Often a 15 lb test tippet is what is enough, though fishing latter in the evenings, about an hour before sunset, I'd recommend a 20 lb test tippet, for, the chances of hooking something large cannot be overruled.

  A great misconception amongst anglers is that the best fly fishing for them can be only done in the clearer, spring fed rivers of the north - I would disagree with that. As a matter of fact I've had some of the best results in fly fishing the larger glacial rivers, fishing the so called emerald green or aquamarine colored, larger, glacial rivers.

  Mahseer are best had in the fast, strong, deep water, just before a rapid or in a rapid at a particular time or the day and even at night. Pools are great too, but personally I would prefer the swifter, deeper water as a generalization.

  Using a fly while fishing the Himalayan Rivers for Mahseer often seems to be the best bet to my belief than even spinning. I will press on this point though I know a lot of Mahseer anglers who spin would disagree with my statement. I have found that where fish are extremely spooky they often take to flies and this further confirms my belief of the advantages of fly over spinning.

  The shyest Mahseer most habitually take to flies, I have noted, in places which are terribly lure fished, the Mahseer take readily to flies and a fine example is none other than Pancheshwar, a heavily fished confluence on the Indo Nepalese border. Often due to heavy spinning pressure the results of spinning here have become exceptionally poor. Though flies I have always noted are the best bet - I once in a single session had seven fish over six pounds at Pancheshwar while the chaps spinning caught none, and that is often noted in such pressurized areas.

  Mahseer on the dead drift

  Surprisingly the results were phenomenal; I only discovered this by co-incidence as a large fish took off near my toes, as I prepared for another cast sorting out the fly line in nearby eddy.

  The dead drift does indeed work for the Mahseer, and is a great modus operandi for taking wary Mahseer, even during midday. Often a cast will not be able to get you far away as allowing line on a dead drift to fish further on, along the river.

  A lot of flies will work on the dead drift - the Muddler, the Viva and the Misty's Perception Mahseer.

  Tribute to a legendry game fish

  The Mahseer have thrilled generations of sportsmen, and indeed will continue to do so. Fly-fishing for them in the turbid Himalayan Rivers is yet another challenge which awaits an angler who is looking for a fly-fishing adventure of a lifetime amidst the breathtaking natural beauty that the Himalayas offer!

  "Mahseer on the Fly" - is yet another endeavor in the interesting world of fly fishing, and this time for a specie, which I believe will one day evolve to be a favorite amongst many who've fancied something more stirring than the Salmon.

  I'll be happy to point you in the right direction with regards to the sport in the North of India, the rivers here are amongst the best suited for fly fishing for Mahseer, do drop me a line if you are interested in joining us on one of our fly-fishing expeditions. You find my e-mail address at our web site http://www.himalayanoutback.com

By Misty Dhillon 2005 ©


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