The Trout House is well geared for the fly angler and our in-house equipment includes a collection of rods and lines , some flies that work and others that donít, a complete fly tying workshop with a variety of vices and bobbins and what nots, books and cds on entomology and aquatic fauna and loads of stories and experiences... More
get me wrong. I didn't always fish for trout. And when I did it was not
only with a fly either. That's just not the way it happens. It's something
you grow into.
It's not as though I only pulled out catfish with mutton. Oh no sir, back in the 70's we cycled across Delhi on a Sunday morning to under ITO bridge and fished for carp and even Mahseer! Can you even imagine that! I know you can't do that now. Though you can still spend a day down at the Barrage at Noida hunting carp, but certainly not maheseer , I wouldn't recommend you take anything back from there. There have been bad reports for some time and some really scary stuff happening there lately.
then there were the summer holidays, following my Scottish grandmother,
Jean , on her cycle with her dogs behind her, around Bhimtal where she
lived, we would spend the best part of many days casting for the mahseer
in the lake. We always put them back. `They taste like rubber and more
so the larger they grow",she would say. Over the years we got to
recognise some of these fish and even had names for them.
later as we grew older and could wander further from home and met other
fishing nuts like ourselves , we formed a fishing club and set up camps
in a variety of locations-Tajewala on the Yamuna, Phoolchatti under the
Thapar's estate on the Ganga, Kumharia on the Kosi, Marchula on the Ram
Ganga, Loharghat on the Kali , Bhakra on the Satluj and the stretch from
Mandi to Pong on the Beas.
named our attempts `Camp Misery' on account of something going drastically
wrong most of the time. There was this one trip to Phoolchatti where we
forgot the bag with the kitchen utensils, (characteristically we never
ever forgot the booze or cigarettes) and had only a pressure cooker that
was hand held through the journey. Have you ever tried your morning cup
of tea from a Bisleri bottle sawed in half? It's only slightly better
than sipping it directly from a pressure cooker.
for mahseer is gungho stuff. It's macho. It's wild. It's big. The rods,
the reels, the lines .The mosquitoes molesting you at Loharghat or Bhakra
are like helicopters but this more than compensated by the testosterone
rush of hooking and landing a big one. This is really big boy stuff and
if you're in it you got to play it seriously. In the winter when the water
is cold and the fish lie deep the only way to get to them is to drop weighted
deadlines baited with ragi or atta balls. Most fishermen have their own
`secret' concoction of what goes into a ball and some of these can let
off quite a pong. `Master Bait ( that was Ramsey, a hard headed ragi ball
fanatic)..Tie your balls on the roof ', was a common refrain when settling
into the van on a fishing trip. Once at the river the way to do it was
to bait out the area by chucking in the balls little upstream from where
you intended to fish. Bags full of them. Then set up the rods with heavily
weighted 30 pound line , put a ragi ball onto your hook, cast it so that
it sinks to the bottom to lie among the other ragi balls in the river.
And wait. The first day might go a little slow but by the second morning
the little ghungroo bell strike indicators can set up quite a jangle.
With the ragi balls you set the stage, the fish start the play. You have
to be ready at any time to battle what may be a 40 pounder and ask anyone
who's done that, it's no mean feat. Even with your reel set to a strong
drag the fish can take 50 metres or even more of your line in the first
run and leave your reel smoking with the friction of the drag. I've heard
of real hardassed anglers actually jumping into the river to follow their
fish making a run downstream.
Myself I was never too fond of using bait. I found the balls too smelly and the worms downright nasty. I prefer the lures. They're clean and pretty and shiny. My own favourites were the Mepps no.3 Extra deep Aglia spinners, spoons like the Toby in a variety of sizes and as I discovered, to my dismay, by default the Blue Fox sonic plug, a pretty little blue fish with some kind of balls rattling around inside it sending sonic waves through the water as it passes. It was quite early one morning at Marchula. I was sipping on my first cup of tea , head tousled and groggy from camp sleep and the partying of the previous night, dressed just in shorts and rubber chappals, dragging on my first cigarette and contemplating the beauty of the morning river flowing past me. And there in the middle of the river I watched a fish rise and it gleamed golden against the silver of the water reflecting the sunlight. I shouldn't have but I did. I reached out beside me for a 14 foot Shakespeare lying there and loaded on it was the said Blue Fox sonic plug. Not mine but conveniently nearby. And I cast. Once. Twice. Thrice. And he took it! Fish! I screamed as my tea went for a toss and I chucked my cigarette dangerously close to a nearby tent. And the fish ran. It took some thirty to forty metres out my reel before I was able to rein in his first run. Now one began the task of putting that line back in which meant slowly inching my way towards where he'd stopped. My rubber chappals weren't helping any, and at one point the river bank was not negotiable and I had to move inland some 10 metres or so gingerly holding a taut line high over my head to avoid the bramble as I stumbled and tumbled over the rocks. At another place I had to cross a small stream where the rocks were slippery with slime. I slipped and splashed and banged my elbows and back and head through that but the rod was held high and the line remained tight. And then as I got closer he made a second run and then a third when he actually saw me at the end of the line. It was some forty minutes before I had him in some control and by the side. I was maybe 50 metres downstream from where I started. But there he was. A beauty. Scales gleaming golden. Over three feet long. 20 pounds at least. The guys came down to look at him. "Maybe we should eat him," suggested someone. "Tastes like rubber," I replied echoing my grandmother as we watched him slowly recover in a small side pool. And then in a flash and a flick of the tail fin he was gone, disappeared into the main river. And I stumbled my way back to camp. The bruises and scratches were beginning to hurt bad. It was hard to tell who won the bout. And from then on whenever I cast for Mahseer deep beneath lay a dread that an even bigger one might get on and then I'd be sorry. And playing the game just to beat up a small guy didn't gel. Gradually I cast less and less until I stopped casting altogether.
By this time my trekking interests had led me fairly deep into Himachal and there I discovered the sheer joy of walking or resting by the crystal clear glacial streams that the state is full of. And to my delight I found many of the streams teeming with trout that the British had seeded into these Indian rivers as early as 1860. And the Trout cooked easy and tasted wonderful. And so I got myself some appropriate gear, a telescopic 9 foot rod with a tiny reel with hair thin 8 pound line, and some of the tiniest little size 0 and 1 spinners and from then on a trip to Himachal was never complete without a brace of trout for dinner. It would take less than an hour to get four pan sized trout and then we'd spend the rest of the evening sitting by the stream watching the trout rise for flies off the surface. It intrigued me that these rising trout never took the spinners I cast, but feeding they were and I knew if I could match what they were feeding on, they could be caught. At first having little knowledge, I tied whatever flies onto my spinner lines but the `presentation' wasn't quite upto the mark and the trout would hardly look at them. The next step was obvious and I got myself a fly rod and line. Little did I suspect that this one act would open up a world of learning and research on fish and angling, an entirely new approach to something I thought I already knew a lot about.
Angling for trout with a fly is more than just about catching fish. In this regard it's somewhat like golf, putting that small ball into that small hole 200 yards away. It's not about why. It's not the easiest and most efficient way to catch trout either in the same way as there are easier ways to drop a ball into a hole. But it definitely is one of the most interesting. Some anglers would even regard it as a religion. And it is no new fad. The science of it has intrigued man since time began. About the earliest record is a description by Aelian, the Roman historian from the 2nd Century who wrote
"I have heard of a Macedonian way of catching fish, and it is this: between Bera and Thessalonica runs a river called the Astræus, and in it there are fish with speckled skins;(trout are speckled) what the natives of the country call them you had better ask the Macedonians. These fish feed on a fly peculiar to the country, which hovers on the river."
He then goes on for a short while on the history of the insect and how inappropriate it is to use the fragile thing as bait and how this problem was solved by tying an artificial fly. He continued with
fasten red (crimson red) wool round a hook, and fix on to the wool two
feathers which grow under a cock's wattles, and which in colour are like
wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then
they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the colour,
comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to get a dainty mouthful;
when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook and enjoys
a bitter repast, a captive."
the best known and classic form of fly fishing is with the dry fly. To
do this an angler ties an imitation of what he sees the trout feed on
and the fly floats on the surface, passing over the fish that will hopefully
rise to bite it. Many anglers prefer this method because everything can
be seen. He casts to a fish he sees rising, watches the fly float down
the drift and can take in the moment the fish takes the fly. From then
on it is upto him and how well he handles the situation. Expertise is
everything. Fly fishing allows the fish a good chance to escape because
as soon as a fish bites on a fly it realizes it is not food but a combination
of fur and hair and foam and stuff and will spit it out. This ensures
that a fish caught on a fly is almost invariable hooked just by the mouth
and therefore can be released with the least damage back into the river.
Many fly anglers also use barbless hooks as we mostly return fish to the
The author, Christopher Mitra lives in Nagini, a village on the Tirthan stream in the Kullu of HImachal. He runs the Himalayan Trout House which offers accommodation and extensive courses on fly fishing from March to June and then again in September and October