March 2014 . India . Himalayas
Spontaneous to India, to outwit the mystical looking goonch? Of course! So we planned our first trip to India in short time. Sunny weather is fine, to catch a goonch catfish a great prospect, but what are we knowing actually about India? It was called the country of contrasts – beautiful and horrible at the same time. Nature, animals and clothing in bright colours, sun, silence, many different religions, temples, national parks, gold, industry, boom of economy, population growth, democracy, rape, violence, poverty… what could we also expect to see there? We decided to travel to India without any prejudices. Gerry, who traveled with us and spend one year before some time fishing for goonch in India, inspired us already at the planning time with his anticipation!
So hurry up into the plane and indeed we landed with our entire luggage in Delhi. The view from the sky to the sleeping megacity was gigantic. In all cardinal directions the lights extended to the horizon. So we let the big city with our driver still in darkness behind us, we wanted to be in nature, at the river. On the streets was a big hustle – trucks, cars, horse-drawn buggies, animals, men, women, children. Was that normal? Did the Indian people not sleep? After more than 30 hours travelling we arrived at last at the water. After having caught the first Mahseer as baitfish we totally exhausted, but satisfied and being of good cheer laid out our rods at the last light of the day. The catfish were not hungry and we had a good sleep.
The next day started with a perfect breakfast at warm temperatures outside and in front of our base camp tent, which was equipped with the perfect field kitchen of our good-humored cook Hukam. He also was sleeping inside together with our driver and our Helper Sandy. Depending on the pool we had chosen on our map and wanted to fish, this big yellow tent was build up next to us. Sometimes direct at our small tents at the river, other times half a mile away. Reliant on the character of the stony bank. Kamal, our guide, was all the time with us at the water. Saturated had to fish most time at day for mahseer, which was not different all the other days. Only that early riser Gerry started to fish sometimes before breakfast. Generally the fishing for small mahseer was a big challenge, and it was not easy to have fresh baits during the entire trip.
When we had no bite in two nights we moved on. Even if one place at the water was more breathtaking then another and we thought all the time it could not get more beautiful, nature offered numerous diversity and incomparably variety again. So we were motivated to endure many sweaty and hard hiking walks through hills and rocks. We were deeply grateful and happy for the help of our Indian team carrying the camp, luggage and equipment. When we had to manage long tracks, our Guide called by cellphone more people from the local villages and we got the help of women carrying luggage or from the horsemen with their horses. Normally they transported with the help of their horses sand from the river to build up houses.
On the third day, after the first change of spot, we eventually had the first action! Gerry was fishing near by the camp and was looking for the cat rods. Martin and I were going downstream the river to catch some mahseer, as one of the bite alarms was sounding. Gerry was standing so close to a small waterfall that he didn´t hear anything. So Martin was the first one being back to the rods through the field of rocks, set the hook, played and landed the first goonch of the tour! A muscular fish with a length of 1,33m and a memorable look. It was not possible to land the fish like a wels catfish at the lower jaw, because the awesome teeth of the goonch would have pierced any gloves. Live the animal outmatched all the pictures I had seen before. It had a dark colored and leathery skin without any slime. The specific barbels and the fibers at the ends of the big fins gave him a dragonlike, mystic appearance, which was remembering to Chinese legends. We made a lot of fotos, let the companion go his way and were after this encounter over happy and motivated. The next goonch was invited to bite. On an expedition like this good working teamwork was essential, so Martin had a break on the rods. Gerry and I was preparing for the next goonch. It was not waiting too long and Gerry played at the next morning the next goonch. The pleasure was high and the frustration much higher, as the hook get off the mouth of the strong animal just before the bank. Furthermore this morning our baitfish net was destroyed, so all the baitfish caught with high time effort were escaped. The net was brittle and a barefaced, arrested colleague managed to crack a way into freedom for him and his smaller friends. But an always positive thinking and never demotivated Gerry was right: “Preparing, carry on, the next will come for sure”.
But this one let us wait for long time and so we had many opportunities at the water, by changing spots and walks through the hills to meet the villagers. We faced at the river many locals of all age classes. The children and juveniles were really inquiring and we were pretty sieged. Privacy and silence – no way. The boys normally followed Martin and Gerry and the girls started to observe the happening most time with more distance. But as I asked them where they are living and they had a view in the tent to have a look in my book, the ice was merging and they trust to come closer. Then they had many fun by taking photos, by seeing directly the picture at the display. Talking with them without speaking any Indian language was difficult, but it is amazing how much you can communicate with hands and foots, especially with young people.
When it was quieter at the camp we tried to outflank some mahseer or indian “trouts” (they only look like trouts, but are not real trouts). Or we settled back at homey lemon-chai-tea breaks, where we could observe romping apes, climbing dogs, bright colored birds and insects, mountain goats or a horseman, who set the bank grass into fire. He made the fire to protect his horses against a sighted leopard. As also we had faced a leopard attack of a goat we made campfire at darkness to keep this tricky cat on distance and put our evening meal time in a special mood. The mostly vegetable, Indian meals (Indian people were eating because of religion basically meat of chicken, goat and fish) was all the time fantastic.
When a pool stayed without any bite, on the one hand it was a high effort to reach the next spot with the complete camp, but on the other hand we always were very excited on another place and could enjoy really everywhere all the beautiful new views of this colored India. Even all the different structured stones and rocks were amazing. Furthermore the walks alongside the rivers und across were highlights nobody of us wanted to miss.
Gerry was on the row again and finally we had a new goonch contact. He played the fish confident and we could land a beautiful goonch of 1,24m. The enjoyment was big and also this fish inspired us with its crazy goonch look.
Now only the goonch for me was missing. We were in the middle of our fishing time. The more days were passing, the more our confidence was going. But hope dies last and so we bet for fun on every new spot, which rod would bring the next bite. For nothing. The days got more tenacious. We had exhausting temperatures at day and decreasing degrees at night, sometimes it was really cold. The water temperatures started with 22°C, now we had only 18,5°C. We tried to fish the pools at all depth, our rods were standing accurate in our self-made rod pods of stones and the bite alarms stayed silent. We used the time to talk about India, Germany and Austria, conversed about weather, working conditions, ways of life and many more. Had questions about the missing bite activity of the goonch. Was it not the best time of year for fishing? Was it maybe still too cold? At spawning time goonch are leaving their pools and migrating through the rivers. Maybe they were on other places at the moment and we fished on empty spots? Or maybe most of them have not survived? Every day we heard local fishing with dynamite, and one time Martin experienced an explosion in the water, just next to our camp. The people living here under simple conditions in the villages fished in all available ways. So they had known the fish pictures of prominent anglers, dived in the shallow, small rivers for goonch to catch them. Put nets over the complete river or threw dynamite in the water. A goonch was surely a first prize for them, they were already happy about a small mahseer. They didn´t know that by an explosion not every killed fish was floating to the surface. So maybe locals have reduced the goonch stock dramatically? After our encounters so far we all were confident, that not the goonch was the “maneating river monster” like often reported in TV shows, but human had brought this fabulous creature nearly to extinction.
For the last night we had a river on our schedule, where we had no information about catches of the past. So we started very early in the morning to the arduous hike in the hillside. Away from the river, back to the car parking and waiting for us on the top of the mountain. As we arrived we had to wait for the woman carrying our luggage. So we became a good opportunity, because we were invited by a friend of Kamal, an old woman of the village, to a chai in her house. I was amazed a lot about the old, but fit woman climbing stairs without any problems, which was so high that in Germany you would have built two for one. Again we had loaded our car overfull with material and humans. Our woman carrying luggage up to 30kg on their head long ways over smallest tracks came with us. Also some children, which wanted drive with us spontaneous to the next village. We drove with 30km/h the winding roads alongside spectacular cliffs and listened cool Indian music (Martin preferred some hard guitar sounds of his mp3-player). As we arrived at our target village, we had again many companions walking with us down to the water, where also blackface monkeys welcomed us at our last beautiful place.
And actually in the last night the bite alarm was sounding. My fish! During the short fight everybody came out of the tent. You could feel the tension. As an animal with a look of a big snake was coming to the surface next to the bank, everybody was jumping away and Martin was screaming to Kamal: „What’s that?! Is it dangerous?“ The answer was no and so we landed a fish we all never had expected. We gazed at a real dream eel, which looked more like a moray then a European freshwater eel. It was 1,34m long, by a weight of 7,0kg! Such a big fish even the locals had never seen before. I was happy more than words can say. We all were very excited and needed many time to find sleep again. At home we researched at the internet. Had we really caught an eel? And indeed, we found this animal, an indian mottled eel. It was described with a maximum length of 1,2m and 6kg weight.
Our departure brought us back to another reality at the last day. We drove back more than seven hours to Delhi and faced at the streets and inside the city many cement with, filth, western industry, destroyed rivers and children living and begging in barracks next to the main roads. So it was not a lie, the country of extreme and contrasts.
Many more would be interesting to report, many more we have experienced, but all stories have to come to an end. But one thing for me is for sure: If India will manage to preserve the uniqueness of the country, I´m really looking forward to a happy reunion and my first personal meeting with the goonch.
Angler: Minca, Gerry, Martin
Idian mottled eel: 1
Indian trout: 5