on the Fly"
By Misty Dhillon
a new generation of flies and fly-fishing techniques for taking a
creature of absolute majesty in the Himalayas.
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
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!"
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
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.
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".
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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
would generate their own theories on the sort of tackle they find
appropriate to take on the Mahseer of a fly.
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.
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
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
in Mahseer fishing is just finding and fishing the right depth.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the dead drift
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
a legendry game fish
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!
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.
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 ©