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"Casting a fly at the Himalayan Mahseer"
By Misty Dhillon
Flies for the Mahseer
The subject of flies is fairly elaborate as there are so many flies
that catch Mahseer, depending on the situation. The topic of fly
fishing is almost getting re-invented with modern day tackle /
techniques and tying materials - it is all very exciting!
You may have always heard of vague descriptions of Mahseer flies, on
various web sites and a few books. I have made an attempt to show a
few of my flies that I have field tested and developed over the
years. These are flies that I have been tying and using on the
Himalayan Rivers in the recent past. I have had many a beautiful
fly-fishing experience with these flies and I wish to share them
The flies I tie are mostly weighted / un-weighted streamer, nymphs
of all kinds, some of which are very large too, some small weighted
wets, tubes, and a few popper / diver flies.
Some of the Mahseer flies look like Atlantic Salmon / Steelhead
patterns, and I have assembled these flies using ideas given by
various experienced anglers that I have had the pleasure to have
fished with. The concept of not being able to get the fly to the
desired depth is now hardly a concern as you can do that without a
problem with today’s precisely tapered and high grain sinking fly
River Side Fly Tying
There is even an upstream presentation technique I invented in
Pancheshwar, where the fly is presented upriver and made to bounce
on the bottom with a high grain shooting head using a double handed
rod. If you fray a lot of tippet you have to check it perpetually
every third cast, though it is very productive when the going is
I would only seldom fish flies very deep. Some of the effective
lures that anglers use when spinning for Mahseer (like the "Rapala
J11"), goes to roughly four (4) feet and I know some of the finest
anglers will swear by it in the Himalayas. I think it is not hard to
get a weighted fly with a light sink tip to roughly that depth in
Some of these flies are weighted just about enough for a 10wt rod to
handle, so really in many swims one does not even require a sinking
There are a couple of things that you may want to look at, like the
action of the fly and depth you want to fish. Mahseer in the post
monsoon months (Sept, Oct, Nov) have been seen to take minnow
patterns as soon as they hit the water.
You may even want to try minnow imitations after dark, though you
must ensure that you step up on tippet class. I have seen 40 lb
fluorocarbon give way a few times. Though remember, safety is first,
and glasses and a PFD are strongly advised while fly-fishing after
I do not think any account to date has shown Mahseer flies, and I
wish you all the very best with these flies and hope that you catch
some good Mahseer on them.
I have been fishing since the age of fifteen and decided to take up
guiding fishing expeditions as a career at the age of twenty-three.
I am lucky enough to spend a lot of time on various Mahseer rivers
throughout the Himalayas and spend a lot of my spare time tying
flies and fly-fishing different rivers.
Over the years various guests have tested a lot of my flies and many
a double figure Mahseer have been taken on them.
You must look into minnow patterns and you may hook some good fish.
I am working on another feature which will describe and show the
minnow patters I use for Mahseer.
These flies have been compiled with the best of my understanding and
experience of the Mahseer and its habitat, extracting some
information from books and based on practical experience through the
There is a vast selection on Mahseer flies, which is hard for me to
put on in one article. Shown here are some of the earlier inventions
that I used in clear water systems and also on glacial rivers.
The Misty’s Perception Mahseer
One of my first inventions and a favourite fly. This was invented on
the Yamuna River in Himachal Pradesh back in 1998 and a fly that has
produced consistently. Over the years I’ve had many guests on our
Mahseer expeditions use this fly with success. It is easy to tie and
effective. I tie her with a variety of materials - I replace the
“body” chenille with floss or dubbing fur, or then sometimes the
colour of the Mallard flank tail.
You may or may not add weight to this fly. Though I would recommend
you fish it at four (4) to ten (10) feet.
Early mornings and late evenings are the best times of the day for
This fly could be dressed on # 6 or then a # 8 streamer hook.
I dress her on salmon fly hooks too.
Misty’s Mahseer Spider
Another killer from my family of Mahseer flies - the fly uses back
hackle and a brown body that could be dressed with floss, dubbing
fur or then chenille. It is almost the exact replica of the Misty’s
perception Mahseer, only a different colour.
You may or may not add weight to this fly.
This fly could be dressed on# 6 or then a # 8 streamer hook.
I dress her on salmon fly hooks too.
Mahseer Viva Minnow
Improvised from the original Viva, this fly may or maynot be
weighted, and could be tied with an eye. However, the eye is not
essential. A great fly for slightly coloured water and any time of
This fly could be dressed on #2, # 4 or then a # 6 streamer hook.
Misty’s Clearwater Mahseer Nymph
This is the perfect fly for those crystal clear water bright sunny
days and spooky conditions. You may need this fly if you are fishing
rivers like the Ramganga / Saryu / Yammuna / Kosi or any other
spring fed Himalayan Mahseer river.
I feel that this Fly is best tied on a curve shank # 8 hook as shown
in the picture.
Misty’s Clearwater Mahseer Nymph 2
This is another fly for those crystal clear water bright sunny days
and spooky conditions.
I feel that the Fly is best tied on a curve shank # 8 hook as shown
in the picture.
I never had an opportunity to stop a Mahseer I hooked on this fly
once. A feeling that I long desired to experience, the rod butt cut
into my gut, and the Mahseer never stopped running uncontrollably
and ever so violently. I never saw her, though the experience was
forever embedded in the tables of my memory.
You may use black, of then other dyed / natural shades of deer / elk
hair and use eyes or cone heads on the fly.
Ever since I have tied her in a variety of types, using the same
principle of deer / elk hair and lead eyes with an assortment of
materials following the body and tail.
As shown in the pictures I have used Gamakatsu Salmon hooks in # 1,
# 2 and # 4. You could use even smaller hooks. Smaller versions of
this fly are also very effective.
Misty’s Black Mahseer Minnow
Another “easy tie pattern” you could quickly assemble by riverside.
All you need is some black Marabou and some black chenille and lead
eyes. You may wrap this around a # 6 or a # 8 streamer hook. This
fly has a beautiful action.
You may have huge number of ideas of new innovations around these
patterns of Mahseer flies.
So go right ahead and improvise them.
Weighted or un-weighted woolly Buggers are also successful.
In Black and Olive colours.
There is a fair amount of pre-independence (1947) literature on the
Mahseer, that includes some of the all time classic accounts in the
world of the Mahseer fishing, accounts like “The Rod In India” by
Henry Sullivan Thomas and “Circumventing the Mahseer” by A. St. J.
Mentions of captures of monster Mahseer from the turbid Himalayan
Rivers and streams have been recorded since the turn of the 20th
century. There are mentions of Jim Corbett’s fishing exploits in the
early twentieth century in his book, "The Man Eater of Rudraprayag".
Jim Corbett spent several months stalking a man eating leopard of
Rudraprayag and often went down to the confluence of the Alaknanda
River and the Mandakini River to fish.
The species continued to thrill generations of sportsmen even after
the days of the British Raj. Many a angler wanted to live the
"Mahseer dream", after having heard so much about these monsters and
The sporting history of India is very fascinating, and more so with
the sporting history of fishing and fly-fishing in the Himalayas has
always intrigued me.
We know that fishing was a popular pastime for the Maharajas who
took to it from the British officials and expatriates living in
India during the 19th and early to mid 20th century.
Recently I came across a few "House of Hardies" fly reels that a
gentleman picked up at a shop selling antiques in Rajasthan. These
reels were probably not functional as they were out of use since a
fairly long time and all rusted. However, I am sure whoever owned
them, used them for Mahseer as it seemed to me, they were probably
designed for heavier fly lines. Similarly I have come across plenty
of tackle from antique shops that sell items discarded by the
I have encountered some very old Mahseer lures, spoons and plugs -
the trebles fitted on them were the kind which was specifically
designed for the Mahseer. The trebles still were as sharp as they
probably were when they were made and they are probably thicker than
today’s 6X gauge used by a few hook makers.
Mahseer have known to be tough on the hooks, so re-enforcing the
hooks, trebles and rings has always been practiced. Though, I will
go off the topic, here and say that the so called crushing power of
the jaws of the Mahseer seems a little over the edge to me. My
feeling is that it is just the simple principle of torque which the
fish uses to straighten out weak hooks effortlessly. The mouth of
the fish is like leather, and as it takes suddenly and turns into
the current, into the deeper water, causing strain on the hooks /
rings etc. I have had 3 lb fish on the Ganges before a rapid at
Darren’s Point, straighten a 4X treble on the tail of a jointed
I have observed that the straightening of hooks, while fly-fishing
is not that common - perhaps it is tougher to get a good grip of the
single fly hook, than it is of the treble as the treble has a larger
surface to hold on to.
I believe specialised Mahseer tackle was something that had to be
designed after numerous years of research by anglers fishing for
this species in the Indian sub continent. Even the Salmon fishing
gear, available in those days, may not have been apt for the larger
At the turn of the 20th century there were a huge number of "rest
houses", located in remote areas constructed by the British in the
Himalayas. Since hotels were rare in those days, these "rest houses"
were used by travelling forest officers, railway officers etc.
during their official tours.
Hunting and Fishing seemed to have been kept in mind while
constructing these "rest houses". The British sure had their
priorities right – each rest house I visited seemed to be made in
the most ideal location, keeping in mind the view, access to the
river - the ones which were made in the higher Himalayas, faced the
6000 meter plus snow capped mountains offering spectacular views.
The year in which the rest house was made is engraved on a piece of
slate, and said “Forests 1878” or what ever year they were made in.
What amazes me is that even today a lot of these rest houses are a
good trek from the road head. You can well imagine the logistics
involved in getting there a hundred years ago! Most of these are in
excellent condition, even today!
I also noted that the rest houses were made in a sequence; they were
constructed approx. nine kilometres (5.7 miles) away from each
other, that is a comfortable days walk in the mountains. Looking at
these pieces of history one say, “I wish I were born a hundred years
The forest rest house of Kaladunga, now being used as a paramilitary
post on the border of India and Nepal, on the banks of the Mahakali
/ Sarda River is a fine example. It was probably a very popular
fishing and hunting spot around the times it constructed.
The Raiwala rest house; another excellent example of a rest house
made in the turn of the century by some railways official who had
his priorities right! Raiwala is a town close to the junction of the
Song and the Ganges River.
Several anglers from the town of Dehradun which I consider as the
Mahseer fishing capital of North India too frequented this
confluence and recorded some excellent trophies.
There are dozens and dozens of such rest houses sitting out there,
lost in time. What is even more interesting is that these rest
houses had log books / entry registers and it is interesting to go
though the entries dating back to the 19th centaury, entries of
hunting / fishing exploits, and other precise entries on events at
I have been fortunate enough to visit some of these fine rest houses
and make plans of visiting many others in the years ahead, and it is
unfortunate that the Indian government has done very little to
preserve these pieces of history.
Trout in the higher Himalayan Streams
The higher Himalayan streams have taken very well to the Brown and
Rainbow trout which still continue to get introduced in the several
streams and rivers over an altitude of 3500 ft. The state
governments are giving the species a fair amount of importance from
the sporting point of view.
As you may know the Trout were first introduced in the streams of
the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir during the turn of the
centaury by the English who ruled India. Here the fishery absolutely
thrived and within some time became very popular amounts anglers.
The post independence decades saw this species getting introduced in
other regions, where the fishery did very well too.
You can pick up the latest DVD on Fishing for the Himalayan Golden
Mahseer from "What A Catch" (www.whatacatch.net) – this has been
presented by Kathryn Maroun on TV channels in Canada, US, Europe and
I hope to soon update this information with more flies and
information, and soon enough I plan updating the following account
with “Mahseer Minnow Flies” a feature showing some of the most
productive minnow replicas for the species I have used till date.
Feel free to drop me a line to share your ideas or comments. Let me
know if you’d like me to elaborate on any of the above or then if
you need some information on fly-fishing trips for the Mahseer.
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Text and photos by Misty Dhillon 2007 ©