In pursuit of mighty mahseer  

Nestled along the Cauvery are some beautiful fishing camps, world-renowned
as home to the great mahseer — the finest and the largest tropical sporting
fish known to man, writes Sumitra Senapaty

The life-giving Cauvery is probably the only place on earth where the mahseer, king of fish, is found in plenty
The life-giving Cauvery is probably the only place on earth where
the mahseer, king of fish, is found in plenty

ANGLERs speak passionately about the ‘one’ that got away. The life-giving Cauvery is probably the only place on earth where the mahseer, king of fish, is found in plenty. Mosallihalla, Crocodile Rock, Kengal, Bommasandra —protected and lovely places on the river, are some names that would make even legendary anglers salivate.

The campsite of Doddamakali and Chikmakali near Banglore is a desolate, lonely but stunningly beautiful gorge.

I am with two great anglers, Kevin and Kristie Andrews, when the ghillies (fishing gides) start talking about the size of the fish. Kristie is popularly referred to as the ‘queen of mahseer’, having landed a 98-pound fish, not too far behind from the world record of 120 pounds.

The Jungle Lodge camps are located on the river amid protected fishing areas; and (right) an angler with a giant-sized mahseer Photo by the writer

Mahseer fishing was rediscovered in the 1800s, when the ‘anglers in exile’ tried to catch the pleasures of home, the trout and salmon. What they found in India was a creature that possessed fantastic abilities as a fighter and prompted Henry Sullivan Thomas, author of the Rod in India, to declare it a better fighter than the salmon.

The game was pursued till 1947, when the cream of mahseer anglers, left the country and the rest of the world consequently forgot all about it. Mahseer fishing was given a fresh lease of life about 20 years ago, by several travelling anglers. Today it has attained a sort of cult status.

Following the river from the Bheemeshwari camp, our jeep crosses the confluence of the Cauvery and the Arkavati rivers, Sangam, as it is popularly known. The waters thunder through a gorge and are literally squeezed into a narrow channel at a place called Mekhe Daatu or Goat’s Leap. From here onwards, the rapids and pools are flush with giant-size mahseer. Not too far away is Crocodile Rock, where the reptiles can be seen sunning themselves on the banks.

At the Crocodile Rock, hundreds of fish over 75 pounds have been caught, measured, pictured and released into the river. Each angler goes out on the river with his or her own highly experienced ghillie. Hooking a mahseer can be a terrifying, because it really is a tough fish to bring in, even after it bites the bait. But ghillies are amazingly skilled, and help anglers in every possible way. Ghillie Sundar, fondly called Anthony Quinn, is the camp in charge at Galibore, and an authority on the mahseer, avian and wild life of the Cauvery. He looks forward to welcoming a BBC team, which will soon be doing a photo documentary on the Cauvery otters.

Sundar also shows his prized collection of old mahseer photos, procured from the private collection of Vanigan, the renowned Dutch taxidermist.

Having a taste for ragi, troops of small red-faced monkeys have made their home at the camp at Galibore. They will apparently steal any anything so visitors are warned to keep their tents zipped up.

Ragi is made from maize flour and various spices and smells like a kind of liver extract. The paste is rolled into fist-sized balls and then boiled for 20 minutes until rubbery in texture. This paste, used as bait, is then allowed to cool and can be easily moulded around the hook.

I cast my bait into the waters and wait. Conversation is minimal as we fish for about three hours but in vain. The tension gradually builds up, as the sun sets on the Cauvery. It is pitch dark, almost nine in the evening, when I land a medium size catfish, and the ghillie informs me that it would be a part of our evening meal.

Most of the big fish tend to be gold mahseer, but for beauty, I will put my money on either the majestic silvers or the rare blacks.

The fishing sites of Doddamakakali, Bheemeshwari, Galibore, are located on the river and offer great food, individual bedrooms and toilets. One of the best things about the camps is that almost each guest has a personal guide and a personal coracle (round-bottom boats).

The Jungle Lodge camps are situated amid miles of reasonably protected fishing areas. The Cauvery is a glorious river. Her natural beauty, the surrounding hills, moonbeams dancing on the water, the silence and peace of eternal nature but naturally attract only the connoisseurs.