Feb 21st, 2009
In an angling world that is growing smaller every day, it is rare to be involved in the exploration of unique new destinations. Over the past year Fly Water Travel has done just that and has hosted, facilitated and followed a number of missions to the giant freestone rivers that flow from the peaks of the Himalayas in Northern India. Our quarry was the mighty Himalayan mahaseer; a sport fish of great strength and mystery that seems part tarpon, part carp and part steelhead. Feeding on nymphs and baitfish, these exceedingly clever fish run from one to upwards of 60 pounds. After closely following six weeks of exploratory mahaseer fishing in India we at Fly Water Travel have a good understanding of the challenge, mystery and mystique of chasing these remarkable fish. Thus far the fishing has been a mixed bag and somewhat more challenging than we had hoped. Our target river, the Mahakali has proved too large, silty and unstable for fly anglers. However one of its tributaries, the Saryu, has shown good number of fish and predictable flows. The Saryu is a handsome freestone that could be compared in size and flow to the Rogue River in Oregon, but with superior clarity. When hosting a group on the river last November, I personally saw a number of fish that weighed in excess of 40 pounds and one that I estimated at over 60 pounds. On three different trips the river has produced from as low as .5 mahaseer per angler per day to has high as three mahaseer per angler per day. Most of these fish were under five pounds but a number of anglers have hooked into fish that screamed into their backing and broke them off before any semblance of control was gained. The downside to the system is the fact that there are fair number of people around and the big fish are more spooky than permit!
Several recent trips have also been run out of a fixed camp on the Western Ramganga River. To date this may be the most promising river on the roster. The Western Ramganga averages sixty to eighty feet wide and looks like a good trout river. It is hard to imagine but this small river holds monster mahaseer. Recently Jeff Currier of Wyoming stalked and landed a fish that weighed an impressive 27 pounds!
To date we have learned that these fish are very sensitive to water temperatures and are most happy with water above 60 degrees F. We have also found that the rivers that are most appealing to fish are quite clear and the fish in these clear waters are very sensitive to both light and sound. They must be approached with the utmost stealth. While spey rods are a great way to fish some of India’s more glacial rivers, the line tear while casting creates more noise than these fish will tolerate in the clear flowing systems. To date we have taken mahaseer while swinging mid- sized nymphs, streamers, wooly buggers, and sculpin patterns.
All of our trips have been with the Himalayan Outback headed by Misty Dhillon. Misty is a very competent, articulate professional with a deep passion for fly fishing. His staff has provided excellent service and everything from travel logistics to camp meals have been exactly as advertised. His equipment is good and the river camps are invariably comfortable and well organized. With that said, it must be noted that these trips are best suited to skilled anglers who can do a lot of walking over rough, hot terrain.We have two distinct and personal reasons for pursuing mahaseer fishing in India. The first is that we are always interested in being on the early wave of anglers trying to figure out the secrets of catching species such as the mighty mahaseer on the fly. The sheer size and strength of these fish is amazing and the rivers they inhabit are every bit as intriguing. The other reason is the travel itself. Kenny and I have both spent a considerable amount of time traveling in Asia (a year and a half combined) and have developed a very strong bond to the region. We never knew that quality fly fishing would enable us to return but it has. While not all of the anglers that have traveled there with us have shared the same connection with the region, they all agreed that the sights, scents, sounds, and culture of this country are undeniably unique and distinct. In our travels we have seen the raw poverty of Delhi and stared in awe at the Taj Majal. We experienced overnight sleeper trains, and some heart stopping 4WD rides through mountain passes. We drank tea in small roadside huts, ate an astonishing array of curries and drank cool Indian beers on warm evenings around riverside camp fires. All in all we were touched by the many scenes and people we saw and met along the way. For most people a trip to India pursuing the mahaseer will be a wonderful and unforgettable adventure travel experience but one that they will not need to do again. But for a few it will be a place that will become an obsession; a place that holds its own magnetic appeal, to say nothing of the huge crafty hard fighting fish that more often than not will get the better of you!