A FISH CALLED WANDA
The sport of fresh water fishing, though ever popular, gets more and more difficult to indulge every year. Considering the few protected pockets that lie in the lower reaches of the Himalayas without the threat of pollution, local net trawling and even dynamiting (I kid you not), it’s no wonder that a typical angler has to travel great distances to get a few days of peace. Hell, even then, you have more chance of getting a divorce than catching anything above 6 lbs. Besides Kashmir, Giri, the Ramganga River, and parts of the Himachal valley, Uttarakhand is the only alternative left for a North Indian to fish without taking more than 5 days off.
So, if you don’t mind a 13-14 hour journey, half on highways, the other half on broken mountain roads, have no loose fillings in your jaw and a strong stomach…….then try Pancheshwar.
It is, and hopefully will remain, one of the few relatively unspoiled fishing beats in the Indian Himalayas. It’s far (so no weekend outlanders), its quiet (no hotels with swimming pools and crazy kids hopped up on sugar), it’s secluded (no audience begging for pieces of your tackle) and it has some fighting monsters.
Bordering Nepal, the Saryu and Kali rivers cleave the Himalayas and become one, forming the Mahakali. The confluence of these two rivers is what an angler seeks. Within a kilometer you find all the classic freshwater flow patterns for Mahseer and Goonch (giant catfish) baiting. It has deep water with a steep gradient towards one end, perfect for long and heavy casts for bottom feeding fish during daylight hours, yet easy retrieve without bottoming your lure due to the gradient. The tail-outs get progressively faster and broaden into shallow waters, great for taking surface feeders on the fly. Upstream of the Saryu see deep water pools with gradients on both banks and slower water, which means long casts with floating Rapalas, letting them float downstream and cross-retrieving at your leisure.
The route from Delhi is – Delhi (obviously) – Moradabad – Rampur – Bilaspur – Rudrapur (turn right from first roundabout) – Kichha (not underwear, but sounds similar) – Sitarganj – Khatima (turn left) – Tanakapur – Champawat – Lohaghat (stock up on supplies here….beer whisk……sorry I meant the other supplies……vegetables, rations, water, snacks etc)- turn right after the town finishes, going up. And in two hours, with loose tooth fillings, a monster back-ache and great bowel-movements, you’re there. Total distance is about 460 kms from New Delhi. For a stopover, you can choose either Rudrapur (237 km) or Tanakpur (328 km) depending on your driving speed. The former having better hotels, the latter with a KMVN guest house. You could also proceed to Champawat (401 km) and stay at the KMVN there. The advantage being that you’ll arrive at Pancheshwar before lunch-time, great if you want to increase your river-time. The road is mountainous after Tanakpur, so average speed goes down to about 20 km/hr. Not to mention a road resembling the surface of the moon.
Permits are required for fishing (standing at Rs 750 per rod per day as of now) and can be purchased at the forest department at Champawat. Please remember, its catch-and-release only. So be a sport and don’t try sneaking it up to your tent to have it as a snack with your evening drink. People will find out. You’ll then get the I-know-what-you-did-last-night looks the next day.
Couple of other things you should know that will come in handy………….
Always choose the right gilly (river guide), otherwise he will be the one drunk in the evening, while you figure out how he refilled the single ‘peg’ that you gave him. A lot of the locals are good as guides, even if they don’t know much about spin-cast fishing. They know the waters well and can point out submerged rock formations where lines can entangle. So, as long as you can tie your own clinch knots, you should do fine with them. Like everywhere else in hill villages, the people are simple and helpful, always willing to do their bit if you need anything. You can stay here for this reason alone.
Don’t go lower than knee-deep into the water. If the undercurrents don’t pull you away, the slippery rocks will. Not to mention that someone retrieving their line might hook YOU while you’re peacefully floating down the river.
Whether you’re staying tents or in one of the rooms in the village, the early morning golden hour is the right time to get to the confluence. Down the hill from the road and standing just opposite the temple which is across the banks is a good place to start. Please don’t mind the priest, or lately the person who hangs around the temple complex, his frantic waving and muttering will only dissuade the newcomers. But be careful, he has been known to throw rocks at people below if he’s in a bad mood. It’s still a good idea not to fish close to the Ghats (where the villagers burn their dead) at the bottom part of the complex.
Upstream of the bridge is good if you don’t get any action at the confluence. Or if it’s crowded with fellow anglers and feels like you are sitting on the Mumbai railways tracks at 5.00 am, rubbing elbows with other, ahem, people with similar purpose. At least on the tracks they’ll go way after their ‘casting’, here you are most likely to get a treble hook in your ear, with so many people fishing near you. Personally, most of my catches have taken place 100 meters downstream from the bridge. The Mahseer aren’t as big as what you find at the confluence, but the frequency of the bites will soon make you forget that.
Either place you fish, hopefully you will be rewarded with either a Mahseer snapping and racing downstream, or a Goonch dragging your prized plug down deep under a rock. The other 80 % of the time you’re likely to get your hooks caught in the cloth that covers the dead bodies lying in the depths close to shore.
Or entangle your line in nylon wires baited at night by locals.
Or get a rock on your head. (Sorry about this obsession with the rocks, I was told I got one on the head, but I don’t remember anything)
Or lose a whole day’s fishing because of cremation rituals.
Or watch helplessly as the SSB conduct rafting drills while there are 5 rods in the river.
I’m not discouraging you with all this; just want you to also see the contemplative side of your holiday. Turning the sport-of-fishing into the art-of-not-pulling-your-hair-out. It’s more than just a sport.
It’s the art of trying to keep a straight face while watching a Mahseer take your $20 Rapala somewhere to the depths, leaving you with you with just a shiny pole and some nylon.
It’s about finding out that fishing is inversely related to drinking. The less you catch the more you drink. Ending in the situation that sometimes by the end of the trip, the fish are drinking LESS than you.
Most of all, it’s about 5.00am wakeups, camp cots, mosquito repellant, no bathing (?), burnt skin, thunder-clap snorers at night, the same food for days on end, and remembering now which drawer at home had the lure which the fish seem to be biting, (and which you forgot).
And it’s great even if you decide not to fish…..just pop a beer and watch the rapid melts into glassy smoothness. Like pulling a chair up in front of your bathtub and watching the water flow from the tap.
It goes deeper than just standing around half a day with a big pole in your hand looking stupid. Trying to catch something with plugs that are much more expensive than the fish they’re trying to bait. But that’s what makes us such idiots…..all we’re waiting for is the sound of the drag going “ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”. We’ll happily get divorced for that!