When in the deep seas, Akshay Malavi, a professional angler, always aims to make the big catch. The sport offers people like him just the kick they crave — in patiently drifting in deep rivers or cutting through freak sea waves until the game latches on to the hook and the wrestle begins.
Angling is a one-on-one encounter between fish that are really hard to pin down and humans who are loathe to give up. The activity can be indulged both in fresh and salt water; only the species of the game differ in either case.
The sport is different from traditional fishing in that most anglers release fish immediately after catching them. For them, the rush is more in posing for a quick photo alongside the catch than frying it on a pan and devouring it.
In search of a good bout
Sea anglers aim to catch pelagic fish such as the barracuda, kingfish and tuna while fresh water anglers cast their lines out for the mahaseer, trout and carps. The mahaseer is the most coveted fish amongst Indian fresh water anglers because of its big size and the resistance it offers on confrontation. Christopher Summers, a professional angler from Britain, says, “The Indian mahaseer is at the top of most globetrotting anglers’ hit lists. The sheer size of the fish brings us back to India for more.”
Fishing techniques depend on the depth of the water, the speed of river rapids, sea tides, waves, the season, temperature, etc. Your tackle needs to change accordingly. For instance, salt-water angler Glen tends to use heavy tackle. “In the seas, you stand the chance to fight heavier fish like the shark and the giant squid, so your equipment needs to be heavy too. Also, river water tackle won’t be able to sustain salt water for too long. Conversely, salt water tackle can be used in rivers depending on the kind of fish you’re aiming at,” he says.
In the Andamans, where fish venture closer to the shore, Malavi does a lot of popping, jigging and occasionally even trolling. Popping involves using colourful surface lures to entice the fish, whereas jigging requires you to use lead plugs that resemble fish, when fishing at a depth of 40-80 metres. Trolling is an old, slower method in which anglers use boats to drag fishing lines through the water. This is effective while catching certain free-swimming fish and snappers and groupers. Free-swimming fish are really fast and are found only in deep waters.
The thrill is in the wait
Ghani Latif, a member of the Maharashtra State Angling Association, has been angling in Lakshadweep and says the thrill is all in waiting for the fish to bite. “It takes anywhere between half-an-hour to an hour just for the fish to catch on, when you’re suspended somewhere in the middle of the ocean. The fight begins much later, when you again wait till the fish tires out,” he says.
Anglers attach dead or live bait to their hooks depending on what attracts the fish most. When fishing for the mahaseer, using carps works best as mahaseers normally feed on them. But in really fast rapids, where schools of fish gather behind big boulders, using plugs is most profitable as the fish rush to the bait in groups.
Gearing up for the fight
Anglers use centre console engine boats up to 10 metres in length. These boats have an open layout without a cabin, are capable of seating anywhere between 2-6 people and are equipped with fishfinders, GPS and all the safety equipment. Fishfinders are sonar devices that send sound signals underwater to determine the exact location of fish. “That way, you have a fair idea of what the bottom of the sea looks like. I use the fishfinder to find structures — which are small solid bodies around which fish normally are,” Akshay adds. Over time, it is possible to distinguish between small and big fish just on the basis of signals.
To determine regions in the water that fish throng is easy — keep an eye out for birds flocking the area or floating debris. Fights with the fish depend on the bait and the breaking strength of the line. “I fish extra heavy because the fight time with sea fish is shorter and I wouldn’t want my line to snap. That way, both the fish and I don’t get too exhausted,” says Akshay. However, some anglers use light equipment just to enjoy a prolonged fight.
Once the fish is out, it needs to be kept on a mat at all times so the thin film of moisture on its body isn’t harmed. To revive the fish, anglers either pump salt water in their mouth or hold them alongside their speeding boat for water to enter their gills. And all you’re eventually left with are memories of the fish you once defeated but sportingly let go.