Al’s Indian Mahseer Adventure, River Cauvery, January 2012

It’s one of those trips which really captures the imagination, the prospect of catching a huge and beautiful fish from a wild and mysterious location.

Fortunately, this January I got the opportunity to embark on this angling pilgrimage accompanied by my dad and 2 friends, Mike Heljula and Chris Slidel. We journeyed from Heathrow to Bangalore (around 10 hours), and were then transferred by mini bus to the Galibore fishing camp which is located around 3 hours drive to the south. The drive down to the camp is an experience in itself, particularly if it’s a first visit to India, with the vibrant colours and general chaos quite an eye opener!

We arrived at the Camp pretty exhausted after the long journey but obviously excited and in high spirits, with the first sight of a majestic river getting the proverbial juices flowing. The accommodation on the camp is basic but adequate, everybody getting a large ‘tent’ to themselves which are comfortable and have self contained bathroom / washing facilities.

After a couple of hours snoozing it was time to head down to the river,  just a minute’s walk away, with the light rods in hand aiming to put that first Mahseer on the bank. It immediately became apparent that this was not going to be a difficult task, as this section of the Cauvery is literally teeming with small mahseer between 2 – 10lbs. My first cast with a sprout sized ball of soft ragi paste and the rod was instantly bent round by a 6lber – great stuff. The 45 minutes which followed saw me bag a further 9 small fish, with most of the takes coming within seconds of the bait hitting the water.

Around 4pm and it was down to the serious business of trying to snare a big Mahseer, as we reconvened for our first guided  session. The tactics can vary, but the favoured approach is to whack out a hair rigged large (cricket) ball of boiled hard ragi, which is sufficiently solid that it prevents the hoards of small fish from whittling it away. Once cast out, it’s pretty much a waiting game, hoping that a large fish will pick the bait up. On returning blank from our first 4 hour stint for a pretty tasty curry supper, it was apparent that getting a large fish was going to be a considerable challenge; none of the 10 anglers on the camp had been successful!

The pattern of the days to come was for a morning’s guided session from around 8am though to 12.30pm, which was followed by a fried breakfast back at the camp. Afternoon’s were at leisure, with a choice of fishing for smaller fish from the beaches in front of the camp, walking up river and then wading back through the rapids working lures, or simply chilling out or even catching up with some sleep. Myself and Mike fancied the more active style of fishing and we spent most of the afternoons working lures. Around 4pm everybody would meet up again to head out for the evening sessions with the guides, typically finishing around 8.30pm which was around 1 hour after the fall of darkness.

My personal highlight of the trip arrived on the 3rd evening session of the week, shortly after the fall of darkness. We had changed tactics to a ball of soft ragi, because after dark the small fish were not quite as active, so it was possible to keep a ball of soft bait out for maybe 10 – 15 minutes. Shortly after a recast the moment arrived that I had been yearning for, as I sat with rod in hand, I had a violent take and the fish set off down river stripping line from a tight drag. I had to dig in a bit, but managed to get the fish turned and heading up stream. Around 15 minutes later, after a dogged battle in the deeper water and a few hairy moments around some of those rocky ledges, we were able to bank a fish clearly in excess of the magical 50lb mark. The initial weigh in was a little  inconclusive, but a quick call for reinforcements armed with a weigh bar meant that we were able to establish the weight at 64.5lbs – the biggest fish to be caught from the Galibore camp in the season to date. I was truly elated with the capture as I had set myself a target of a 50lb fish to feel like I had achieved success. To say the Mahseer is a stunning looking fish would be to do them an injustice, for me this was the most handsome fresh water specimen that I had laid my eyes on.

The remainder of the week yielded some more cracking fish for our group. Chris was more than pleased with the morning capture of a 41lber, along with another at 35lb. Mike also had a good quality fish at 35lb, whilst Bryce drew the short straw and never contacted one of the better fish, having to settle for a 20lber as his best. Numerous smaller fish up to around mid doubles keep the sessions interesting and can be caught easily on large balls of soft ragi, if you can keep the bait out there long enough!

Although these results may seem fairly modest in terms of a week fishing for big fish, it is more the overall experience of the trip which will leave the abiding memories. The scenery and wildlife are simply stunning, and although we weren’t fortunate enough to see the wild elephants, they are regular visitors down to the water’s edge. Huge crocodiles are often sighted patrolling the far margins, with other highlights including otters, monkeys, wild boar and water buffalo. Leopards are also present, but reclusive and not likely to be seen during day light. The bird life too is spectacular with a vast array of raptors including fish eagles swooping down to make a catch, and the lurid colours of the kingfishers is a sight to behold.

No trip like this is ever complete without a bizarre incident, and true to form we witnessed it on the very first night of the holiday…… As we were fishing, a dead body (yes…. a human one!) drifted past us before snagging on some rocks about 200 yards down river from where we sat. Within minutes, the crocodiles were on the corpse, ripping and spinning as they tore into it. Not something I can say that I have encountered on the Ebro! The guides were suggesting the body must have been drifted down the river on a funeral pire, but had somehow come adrift. A grisly episode indeed, although it did provide much entertainment over a few beers and the trademark curry dinner!

Perhaps my only regret during the trip was that I was unable to hit a big fish on the lures up in the rapids section, as this would have been the ultimate way to experience Mahseer fishing. Myself and Mike each took around 5 fish on the Rapalas, but alas no big ones. Contacting anything of 30lb or over in this manic section of water would have been a fantastic challenge, but try as we might, we were unable to achieve it.

The week ended with a journey back to Bangalore and an afternoon spent in the city, which itself was a great bit of fun, zooming around in a motor rickshaw and bartering for gifts in the craft stores. An 8oz burger in the Hard Rock Cafe was just the ticket after a week of curry, curry and more curry!

Overall this was a fantastic week’s adventure spent fishing a spectacular river in atmospheric surroundings, made all the better for me by the capture of a monster Mahseer. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this destination to any angler who likes to experience something completely unique and magical.