the Mighty Himalayan Legends
by Misty Dhillon
game fishing in some
of the world's last frontiers
rivers of the Indian Himalayas offer the remoteness and the promise of
some wildest, most untapped fishing and fly-fishing waters anywhere.
Out of the several rivers, that drain the Himalayan ranges, Mahseer
are to be found in almost all of them, some more apt for the trophy
Mahseer fishing, and the others for fly-fishing.
promoted and the unsurpassed techniques to fish for these legendry
game fish in the Himalayas are fly-fishing and spinning, yet all
options need to be kept open and a fishing trip needs to have the
flexibility of changing locations and techniques according to the
conditions on a river. Some of the best Mahseer fishing is to be had
in the remotest rivers of the Himalayas, as they are un-spoilt and
un-dammed. The fishing techniques used here are quite similar to
Salmon fishing, though the rivers will often run larger.
one of the most effective ways to fish these vast glacial rivers is by
rafting down on them, with all supplies for a multi day trip on the
rafts and by floating down over a period of time, accessing the
remotest spots with much ease and without getting into the even more
complicated logistics and time wastage of trekking.
Diversity and Possibilities
are too vast an area to pass off a judgment on with regards to the
fishing possibilities, and though the primary game fishing remains to
be the Mahseer, there are plenty of rivers where there are rainbow and
the brown trout. The Giant catch fish - Goonch - is another attraction
states with some of the most promising fishing and fly-fishing waters
are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and
Uttaranchal. Some of the good rivers for Mahseer fishing vary vastly
in features too, as they could be both spring-fed and glacial.
rivers are slightly more predictable, and run clear for most part of
the year - the window you could fish for Mahseer in them is slightly
larger. A lot of this larger spring fed rivers could be fished at
night too and the results are startling.
however are fished differently and the chances of taking larger fish
are higher. Some of the finest Mahseer Rivers are glacial. These
include the Ganges, the Mahakali, the Siang, the Yammuna, the Beas,
the Subhansiri, and many others which are inaccessible.
Mahseer will stay put in glacial rivers for most part of the year and
then migrate to the tributaries and sub tributaries on getting an
indication, through that is perhaps, because of the gigantic size of
some of the glacial rivers, which offer refuge to a majority of them.
Large Mahseer reside in the deeper pools and rapids of spring-fed
for these fish a variety of options need to be open keeping in
consideration the wide variety of feeding tendencies of the Mahseer -
fly-fishing is the recent success story, despite the fact that it has
been practiced since decades thought the rivers of India - with newer
more off the cuff fishing techniques and improvised flies there have
been better results. Fly-fishing for Mahseer is a growing trend as
there are newer possibilities vacant, and as it has always been,
perhaps the most gratifying of all techniques to take a Mahseer.
Out of all I
find fly-fishing to be the most sundry and exciting of all, for, if
the fish are not feeding on minnows - lures go wrong. I feel the blend
of fly-fishing and spinning, both brilliant game-fishing techniques is
a terrific one for fishing the Himalayan Rivers.
Mahseer carry out an annual migration to their favourite spawning
grounds upriver, once, twice or sometimes even more frequently, though
the major migration happens in the peak of the monsoon season, July
and August, when due to the heavy monsoon and the snow melt, the
rivers are in full flow. Mahseer swim up to the tributaries and the
sub tributaries to deposit their spawn. The Himalayan Mahseer
dispatches their spawn in batches and not all in one go.
the monsoon these rivers are at their prime to fish, and the timing
varies by a few weeks from river to river. The fish essentially are
returning from the tributaries of the main rivers and the reciting
water level gives them an indication to return back to their habitat,
the main river. As the fish return to the main river they are seem to
have a rampant appetite of almost every thing The reciting water
levels show clearly the marks the fish make on the rocks to lick the
algae clean of the rock and off course fish and even flies are taken
rather promptly during this time. This time of the years is principle
for large Himalayan Mahseer and all fish are likely to be out of their
regular hangout areas and transiting.
The next best
time is the spring season, February middle though the early part of
May. Again variations occur in the fishing from river to river and
some even could be fished till the end of May. The conditions during
this period are rather settled and in the case of the glacial river
there could be a movement amongst some fish as the snowmelt descends,
towards the middle - end of the April. Snowmelt waters are great for
the fishing too, specially at the confluences and the too fly-fishing
gets even better.
The rivers of
North Eastern India have different conditions to the northern rivers
and are situated in a rather lush landscape - the rain forests in the
base of the Himalayas. This area still features some of the finest and
most untouched rivers. The rivers here generally come to life with
Mahseer only towards the end of October as the monsoons here are
rather stretched and finish late and for the weather to settle down
and the conditions in this impenetrable bush to become favourable,
November is a perfect month. February and March are also favourable
months for the fishing here.
Himalayan Legends (barbus tor putitora)
attain sizes of as much as 85 lbs, and a 20 to 40 lb fish is often had
on spinning. Often the figures are not found to be impressive, at
least for the as anglers who get into a comparison of the Himalayan
Mahseer with the Humpbacked Mahseer found in the Cauvery river system
in the south of India, which off course do not take to lures and flies
as fondly as the Himalayan monsters do.
The two fish
are quite different in physical features as well as other aspects and
are to be found in rather different terrain and landscape. The
Humpbacked Mahseer, the so called larger Mahseer limits it self to
only two river system of in southern India, the Cauvery River, which
is the hub of commercial fishing trips in India, and the other - the
Kabbini now is more or less extinct, following the construction of a
dam on the prime fishing section some years back.
The waters of
the Cauvery River are only limited and quite heavily fished. The river
has amazing accessibility - which perhaps is also another reason for
it being so well frequented by anglers.
Some of the
most significant Mahseer accounts have focused primarily on the
Mahseer of the Himalayas, as the scope is vast and as its not always
just the fishing element that makes a trip, a number of other effects
are associated with getting into the far outback of the Himalayas, the
rich culture - the traditional diversity - the thick forests in the
base of the Himalayas and the feel of an expedition. The whole
experience is far more satisfying than going to a fleet of popular
Cauvery resorts to fish for Mahseer in the midst of very active
pound for pound the fish found in the Himalayan Rivers are a better
bet, which is simply due to the rugged terrain they are found to be
in, the turbid rivers of the Himalayas are a tough place for any fish
to live in.
Some of the
preliminary mentions of large Mahseer caught on rod and line were back
in 1870, by Mr. Sanderson, author of " Thirteen Years Amongst the
Wild Beasts of India", with the capture of a Mahseer, which was
said to be over 130 lbs. Though this was not confirmed since there
were no weighing scales. Over the next fifty odd years there were
frequent reports of some of the largest Mahseer primarily from the
river Kabbini in Southern India. All of these fish were taken either
on live bait or paste - bait, a technique to which Mahseer fishing has
always been associated with. The two largest Mahseer, the records of
which still stand, are the 119 lbs fish caught by Col. J.S.
Rivett-Carnac on 29th Dec 1919, and a 120 lbs fish caught by J. Wet.
Van Ingen on the 22nd March 1946, from the Upper Kabbini.
fly-fishing for the Himalayan Mahseer, barbus tor putitora, found in
the Northern Himalayan Rivers was very common during the times of the
British Raj in India. The early twenty-century saw numerous expatriate
anglers fish the waters of the River Ganges, the Beas, the Sarda, the
Ramganga, including several of their tributaries, for the Himalayan
Masheer. The largest specimen heard of was a 140 lbs fish landed by an
angler in 1939 from the river Beas - however there are no pictures to
confirm this report. Such large fish were reported in the past even
from the Himalayan Rivers. Mr. A St J MacDonald author of
"Circumventing the Mahseer: & Other Sporting Fish in India
and Burma", himself had a number of fish over the 50 lbs range
including a 75 lbs fish caught from the Irrawadi river in Burma.
Some of the
best fly-fishing was had from the Song, Ramganga and the Saryu rivers
of the once Uttar Pradesh region of Northern India. There are also
reports of good Mahseer been caught on the river Beas, which runs
though the state of Himachal Pradesh. Fly-fishing for the Mahseer in
the Himalayan rivers was very common during the times of the British
Raj in India as it was a fine alternative to Salmon fishing -
something most expatriate anglers were used to back at home. At that
time they used large dark flies, mostly black in colour, which looked
like minnows, and grass hopper like flies, and often rigged live grass
hoppers onto the fly hook and cast with the help of a fly line. Mr.
Henry Sullivan Thomas in his classic book "The Rod In India"
has mentioned many of his favourite patterns for the Mahseer. The
largest Mahseer caught in recent times caught, on fly, was by
Rowecliffe - a lady on a fly-fishing expedition lead by Mr. Robert
Howitt, who landed a 40 lbs specimen from the river Ramganga.
old literature and from the pre and the post British Raj period, one
generates a fair bit on interest in the prospects for fly-fishing in
the Himalayas, especially with so many rivers and their tributaries to
choose from and such remarkable fly-fishing terrain. Mahseer, have
been caught by us from almost all of the main river systems that drain
the Northern Ranges and in their productive tributaries - which
include the Saryu, the Mahakali, the Ramganga, the Beas, the Ganges,
the Bhagirathi, and a few others. There is a misconception that
fly-fishing for the Mahseer is done better in crystal clear spring fed
rivers rather than in glacial rivers - we have had equally good
fishing on both types of rivers.
V. Pinto, author of "Angling in Indian Rivers", mentions the
capture of several fish over the forty-fifty pound range in the mid
sixties from the Himalayan Rivers, on spinning. This is one of the
most significant books of the post-British Raj period.
In 1977 Robert
Howitt, Andrew Clark and Martin Clark set off from England in search
of the forgotten monsters, which was called the Transworld Fishing
Expedition. The expedition was a good reminder to the western world of
the Mahseer, because soon after independence the sport had slowed down
and old records needed to be refreshed. They covered all of India in a
period of almost six months, fishing the most significant rivers and
had great luck towards the end of the expedition with the capture of
an 81 lber and a 92 lber.
along with Paul Boot shot the famous "Casting for Gold" in
1989, on the junction of Byas Ghat , on the Ganges, where Paul caught
a 51 lbs fish.
been as many large Mahseer in the most recent past from the Himalayan
Rivers, as anglers have ventured into newer more untouched rivers and
returned with great stories. I had had a 55 lber on spinning from the
Ganges near Shivpuri in 2003; this record was evened the following
year by James Moorhouse again on a jointed lure, on the junction of
the Nayar and the Ganges.
to Mahseer Game-fishing
The place to
target when you are fishing for Mahseer in the Himalayan Rivers is on
the mouth a rapid, and in the pool just before the mouth of rapid,
for, you are most likely to catch in this setting. Most large fish
associate them selves to structural elements - the presence of heavy
structural elements on the mouth of a rapid is indeed a fine spot to
look into. Though this makes your job on hooking one far more exciting
and tough - as these fish will take no denial when they are hooked and
that too before a rapid - one can only imagine the adrenalin rush as
these fish will use utterly the torrent to run as they will take off
at race horse speed.
I mostly use
braided lines, and it in fact it is firmly a matter of personal
selection, some of the finest Mahseer fishermen prefer monofilament
lines. I personally favour braid - as I have become conscious that I
am hooking 30% more fish than when I am fishing monofilament lines.
With that said I feel that some of the best braids are not apt for
fishing in the presence of such heavy structural elements, the
situation I have explained above to the best place for hooking a
Himalayan Mahseer - hence I use a four to ten foot monofilament leader
in front of my braid, as I apprehend that a monofilament can offer far
more resistance to abrasions against rocks and you also know when a
monofilament starts to ware out, quite unlike braided lines.
drift, on a swift section of river, just above the rapids is ideal.
While fly-fishing for the Mahseer the fly is cast into eddies of the
current square of the angler and stripped in jerks at a medium speed
to keep pace with the current. I have often had large Mahseer take on
a dead drift and that has most often happened to me while using
Muddler flies. An assortment of Muddlers is a must for the fly box -
these are ideal when dressed with lead eyes that pop out like a dragon
flies eyes, with the eyes being in a proportion to the body.
I mostly tie
my own patterns, which are dressed with peacock hurl, rooster neck
hackle with bodies of chenille, tinsel and dubbing fur.
In the pools,
which one fishes during a warm mid day, the bottom bouncing technique
is quite effective. Here the fly is presented directly upstream and
allowed to bottom walk as it drifts along the bed, some 15 to 25 feet
deep. This is another very effective technique for when the fish are
in deeper waters.
mostly lost from frayed lines during a battle, or off course, due to
weak trebles or hooks, which are often bent during a brawl.
If you are
interested in fishing or fly-fishing for the Mahseer and would like
any information on this wild fishery or would like to join us on our
adventures then drop me a line and I'll be happy to help.
By Misty Dhillon ©