When the Supreme Court relaxed the order which effectively shut down Jim Corbett Park for nearly six months in 2012, it still left a lot of unanswered questions. Could we still fish on the four beats of the Ramganga river? Did the order free those areas as well? What about the parts of the river which were not in the park in the first place? If a man is standing in the middle of the forest speaking and there is no woman around to hear him…is he still wrong? (Fine, maybe not the last question, but it was still confusing). So, when the eventual September-October came, I was quite jittery. Here’s fishing season and there’s no place to go (nearby). It’s like sitting for detention, but with a tackle box the size of a small hatchback at your side. The clouds parted when I called up Misty Dhillon from Himalayan Outback who confirmed that a beat was still available, just north up the western Ramganga. Great.
Packing took about 6 minutes, for the brilliant reason that I don’t unpack my fishing gear, except to clean my equipment with fresh water when I go deep-sea fishing. So, in a couple of hours I’m wafting along the NH 24 in my own little cocoon of fishy smell courtesy last year’s (unwashed) fishing equipment.
The camp is located a couple of hundred meters from the road through typical hill villages with their terraced fields and abundance of sheep. It’s on a hillock overlooking the river. The cottages are well appointed, all facing the river, mud plastered, with doors with staples that lock onto the upper frame, (just like the ones used by hill folk right from the time of Jim Corbett himself) and with simple English county furniture. This rustic ambience merges well with surrounding hill side where the cottages look like part of the landscape itself. The dining cum seating area is open-walled and a quiet place to absorb the myriad sounds of the jungle, as well as the silver strip of the river down below.
Early next morning we start off with Bobby, my gilly, towards the upper banks of the river. Armed with my brand new Redington Crosswater 7/8/9, Bobby reasons that instead of chasing the big fish downriver, it’ll be good practice to first refine the accuracy of my casting stroke by aiming for the top-feeding trout that are swarming the opposite banks. After a couple of sweeps of the river with Woolly buggers, I changed to Dragon fly nymphs and was immediately rewarded with a small Himalayan trout. With all that stripped line floating around me in waist deep water, it was a miracle that I didn’t cast myself down the river after landing the fish.
As the day wore on we retreated downstream for the mahseer. The deep-water pools and tail-out here attract the bigger fish that wait at the mouth of the rapids. I started out with streamers, made at the camp itself, and it quickly became evident that mahseer prefer these over dry flies. Twice that afternoon I got a bent rod and both the times the fish went tearing downstream. By the time I could tighten the drag it had taken nearly 50 yards of line. My backing wasn’t much in that new reel and tightening the drag just snapped the hook, freeing the fish.
More than the loss of the fish was the loss of my little streamer, made after 35 minutes of slogging over the vice with a bobbin and with countless retying. I really grew attached to it. Sob.
It’s another matter that it was so badly tied that it looked more like a miniature frog than a fishling, and I’m certain that no self-respecting fish would ever gulp it down. So I guess the ones who did bite would have a lower I.Q. In that case, the loss was acceptable – no respectable angler would be photographed with a low I.Q. fish. (This is the way I make myself feel better).
The following days I tried spin-casting. My Rapalas were really feeling let down last couple of days and I decided on a newly acquired X-rap to see how things moved. They did. The X-raps are a masterpiece of (let’s say lure) engineering. They are lifelike and have an amazing movement pattern, like a fish in distress. The only problem being that the water was gin-clear while I was hoping it to be beer-clear. With clear banks on either side of the river, it was clear that the fish could see the angler clearly. (FINE, I’ll try to avoid the puns).
As the evening came, I changed to a Rapala Shad Rap with Firetiger markings. That bought game. The five-pounder I hooked took me a good 10 minutes to land as there was no, ahem, clearing through which to land the fish, just brushwood on either side. Even so, the fish showed what mahseers are famous for – the fight they put up. A foot more line given than required and the it’ll doubly redouble its run downstream. Even half a turn of drag the wrong way will make it snap the leader like it was made out of cotton. When Bobby saw that I was clearly (enough!) having difficulty landing, he treaded the waist deep water and gently pulled him in. A quick photo and he was put back.
Beside mahseer, the Ramganga is also known for Goonch (giant catfish), every angler’s nightmare due to its annoying habit of settling at the bottom of the river after it takes a bait. There are a lot of them here and are sometimes found in deceptively shallow waters.
For experienced anglers who can read rapids and shallows, along with the type of baits that the fish are taking, the river holds no puzzles here. For the less experienced, a few words might be in order.
For fly fishing nothing less than a 6 or 7 weight rod will do. A 7/8/9 combination is good enough as a hooked mahseer really fights mean. Dry flies come onto their own in the evenings and early mornings, primarily because the real insects are also flying around the surface waters at this time. Woolly buggers, dragonfly nymphs, sculpins etc. all work well here.
For bigger fish during the day, streamers flies can account for a good number of bent rods. Especially the golden or silver coloured ones with black line markings across the body. For the more experienced, sink tips of about 8-9′ can be used at certain sections of the river. The intricacies of all this is best discussed with Misty in the evening around the camp fire.
For spin-casting, Rapalas of course will work very well. I’ve also had good luck with Yo-zuri spoons. As for the deep runners from Rapala, I found that they caused more problems than they solved, what with them snagging a lot in the rocks at the bottom. On certain sections of the river which have deep pools flowing into the mouth of the rapids, casting with deep runners at the head and retrieving it before it goes onto the rapids will bait even the deepest swimming mahseer. But otherwise the best spin-casting lures will be the floating Rapalas, whose depth you can control according to the speed of retrieve.
The other thing you can try here is night fishing. Not exactly in the dead of the night but when the moonlight is strong enough. This is strictly spin-casting but with a very slow retrieve and no sweep. The brightest lures, like the Firetiger or Yozuri silver spoons should be used and the casting will have to be aimed through sound only. The concept of night fishing is based on the fact that every carnivore is hunting at night. Even in deep sea fishing, the night attracts every fish from barracudas to snappers to reef sharks. Here, a flashing lure will attract feeding mahseer and catfish. But it’s not for everyone; it’ll get boring after a bit. The fun part is when you catch something and you reel it in. You have no idea what’s on the other end of the line. Just like marriages.
Once you’ve done with fishing, there’s plenty more to do here. Right from nature walks to jungle safaris, you can choose the activity that peppers your angling trip and compliments the frustrations and elevations that go along with it. The ambience of the camp lends itself to quiet walks which amplify those mystic sounds of the jungle that are totally lost to the ears of a typical city-dweller. The candle-lit grounds which you walk across before going for dinner (now solar lantern- lit), the Sambhar silently feeding on the hill across the river, the lonely leopard calling to a mate in the middle of the night, even the wealth of stories you hear from travelers who come from all over the world to fish here, all make this experience about much more than just angling. If nothing works, do what I do, get a magnifying glass and start burning ants.
But the one thing that keeps coming back to me is the dream of a 30′ streamer wet fly, with huge black stripes, chasing me around the river with a Sage rod, all the while screaming “IDIOT! Don’t you know how a drag works?”
Clearly (here we go again!) that’s fishing for you – you win some and you lose a lot more.
Marchula, the closest village is about 285 kms from New Delhi, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. The route would be – New Delhi – Moradabad (turn left after the bypass finishes) – Kashipur – Ramnagar – Mohan (turn left) – Marchula. The Himalayan Outback vehicle can guide you from here.
Closest railway station is Kathgodam/Ramnagar.
For Mahseer fishing, the best times would be March – April after the snow melts and then again September – October after the rains have finished. Monofilament lines from 10lbs to 20 lbs will be sufficient. A torch and mosquito repellant are required. Wading boots are helpful here as the rocks are extremely slippery especially after the snow melts.