Sunday, 13 April 2014

Mahseer Mayhem! The Disaster Movie.

I began writing this post way back in December, last year.  I suppose I should actually say I am now writing this in mid December 2013, but by the time you, dear reader, get to see any of this it will be near enough April.  So today, being thoroughly cheesed off with recent weather, which has conspired to keep me further away from the rivers than I would ideally like,  ( and the forecast for the next month is more of the same.) I decided that it was time to go for another silly, long distance fishing trip.   Within 15 minutes I had booked it.   I'll tell the wife later.   No point in asking her to come with me,   fishing is just not in her vocabulary.

She spent 3 or 4 years moaning that all I did was to put the fish back, never bringing any home to be eaten. I prefer to put all my fish back, but when I caught a fair eating sized zander a year or so ago, I phoned her and suggested she get the herbs and spices ready.   The zander had a lucky escape, for, as soon as I suggested I would be bringing a fish home, she panicked, and said she would never eat anything I brought home.   A relieved zander was returned to the river.  But, as before, no point in telling her of my exotic trip to come, as she would never want to join me.     Saved a few quid there though!  

Deposit paid, I did tell her later.....

"You are going fishing where?"    "What on Earth for?   What's wrong with the canal?

Anyway, too late.   Next job:   get the visa sorted.    Luckily the local big city has an office for assisting easy peasy visa applications.    So I nipped in to their office, only to be told that they had no visa forms there, and I would have to print one off back home, on line.   Next day, back with the form and photo.  I even noted that the photo was a non-standard size:  not a passport sized picture, but a 2 inches by 2 inches photograph. Damn: I look far better in portrait mode.   As with any passport or visa photo, I still look like a convict, but at least I had the right sized picture.    But the plain door, in front of which I stood as my plain background was apparently too dark. The door was painted cream and is, it would appear, far too dark.    I'll have to have  a moan at Nina, get her to wash the paintwork a bit more often. All was not lost though, for the company has had the foresight to install their own photo booth.   Ten quid a throw!    I sense a rip off here.    Non standard passport size photos,  and the background has to be lily white.    Whilst I was in the queue, no less than 6 applicants were sent to use the photobooth.   And the details on the form!   Why on earth it needed my religion, I have no idea.   There was no tick box for atheist, so maybe as a breed we are not welcome . But after a minor correction to my form,  and only £104 quid later, my passport and visa application was en-route to the embassy, along with 40 or 50 others.

Three days later I had three different texts specifying three different delivery methods.  
1) come pick up your visa from the local office.
2) send money and we will courier the visa back to you from London
3) the visa will be in the post.

Aaaarghh!     So I decided to wait a couple of days, my trip is not until mid March, and luckily a courier arrived, bringing the passport and visa, without any need to part with further slices of pension. 
 Method 4). Actually rather efficient.  Totally out of kilter with the rest of the process, but I suppose the British did teach the Subcontinent all about red tape, and they have gone on to become world leaders in the art.   Why for instance, does the visa, glued into my passport have to hold my photograph, when my mugshot is clearly already visible by turning a couple of pages of passport?   Anyway, so much for the prelude....and now for the trip:


Well, the time for "The Trip" had indeed arrived.  Destination India, and target: the famous golden mahseer fish.  Surely this fish is the main, if not the only reason, that the upper echelons of the British army first went to India?  One writer, a century or so ago, even described catching a large mahseer as being more exciting than shooting a tiger on foot. A comparison I am unlikely ever to make myself.     This post is more about shooting myself in the foot...repeatedly.  I had intended to try and write this post in a similar style to that of the Victorian angling writers.  But I found that I just did not have the time to do so,  and so you will have to suffer my usual garbled scribbles. 

In my angling life  I have always been blessed by  pretty good flows of luck.   I seem to have a knack of choosing good swims, and so far,   in my entire angling career, I have never unintentionally got so much as a wet foot.  My dad probably only fished, in total,  a dozen times, but managed to fall into the Trent in February one year.   He was quite lucky: the Trent was warmed by several major power stations in the 1960s and he, in the water, was probably warmer than I was, sitting there catching small dace and gudgeon during the club match.  But this last week it seems that all my chickens came home to roost, all my coin flips fell on tails, every black cat in India converged on me, my fingers simply would not cross, and I had a completely disastrous week.

4.30am  and I am waiting for the taxi to take me to the station.  My wife gets up and decides she does not like my choice of trousers.   She insists I change them and gives me another pair.   I am going fishing, for Christ's sake, by myself, she will be several thousand miles away but she is determined. Her choice of pants does not fit me, and I rush to don my original choice.   The taxi arrives, and the driver, oddly enough, is an Indian gentleman.  He doesn't know whether mahseer will take bread.  The rail station platform is too cold, the waiting room is too hot, but by jamming my bag in the door I get as near to Nirvana as is possible on a windswept suburban station.

The Virgin train  approached and having reserved seat B12, I position myself near to where the front of the train would stop.   Wrong!    Four first class coaches, and then all the other carriages were in reverse order.  I started to run down the platform, pulling my bag behind me.   The guard told me to get on immediately, as the train wanted to depart quickly.   I was still at coach G.   So I had to struggle my bag through G, F, E, D and C before reaching my seat.    5 or 6 sleeping passengers were woken up by my Passage to India, and I also accidentally elbowed one guy's ribs in the restaurant car as I squeezed past him.  But £12-50 Manchester to London is not bad value I guess, especially when you get the chance to cause so much havoc.

The real troubles  began in Heathrow:  I tried to print my boarding pass. The machine asked me to scan my Indian visa.   "Please seek assistance".  Oh no!   Surely not a problem with my visa?   Luckily there was just some requirement to manually check all visas to India.   What the hell is the point of machine readable visas if they also have to be manually checked?  Another hurdle jumped.  On to passport control and personal security checks.

BA had given me 23 Kg of checked luggage and 23 Kg of hand carry, and so I had packed all sorts of heavy items, luncheon meat tins, camera gear, an echo sounder, lead weights and so on into my hand carry.  My main luggage held three rods, reels, the usual bare minimum of clothing, a couple of loaves of Warburton's bread of course and many and various other bits of necessary, fishing related, paraphernalia. 
Result: a 20 minute , but rather pleasant, interview with a security lady as she stripped everything out of my hand carry/camera bag.  I admit that I had expected to be searched lightly, but it took rather longer than I expected.   Oddly I was not asked to remove my boots this trip. Are shoe bombers now seen as a faux pas?  No longer fashionable?
  
I cannot sleep on aeroplanes, no matter how tired I am, and this 9 hour flight was no different.  And why should it be that  every time an air hostess starts to pour me a coffee, the plane immediately runs into significant turbulence?  Is it an inescapable rule of international travel?  Or are the pilot and co-pilot sitting there, waiting to rock the boat a bit, as soon as the coffee leaves the jug? Later en-route: I had to fill in a landing card: declare any food, and any other terrorist weaponry.   Damn.  Not worth taking a risk by keeping quiet about the meat, in case I got into big trouble  ( I have watched a few  of those customs programmes on TV), and so I ticked the food box and said "luncheon meat".   As I went out through Bangalore customs I showed the card, pointed at the "tick" and held out a tin of "Stinky French Garlic Meat" as an example to the customs officer.   And I can assure you that it is one product that does exactly what it says on the tin.  I was hoping that he might just confiscate the one tin, and not find the others.  But the guard seemed horrified, and waved me quickly through.... maybe pork is unclean?  That seemed a more likely explanation than the guy being some sort of garlic hating vampire.  So  I walked boldly on.  Phew!    As I wandered past I also wondered whether he thought I was trying to bribe him with something his religion would not let him touch. I never mentioned the Warburton's.

At the exit I met up with the holiday company rep: no problems there, and after a further 4 anglers arrived, we were split between two taxis, two and a half anglers in each, and set off on a six hour drive to the river.   Oh my God! Two lunatic, insane, completely out of their trees, taxi drivers,  I was quite scared at times.  It was far worse than driving in Manila, or even than being driven in Jakarta.

There must be something in the religion that says "if your time has come, it has come, and there is no point in trying to dodge the issue. If you are not scheduled to die today, then nothing you can do today can possibly kill you. So you might as well drive like a maniac".

Their only objective was to get there as fast as possible...any other vehicle had to be passed as soon as humanly possible.  Sod safety, could we get through that miniscule gap, and charge across two lanes at the same time?  Yes. Fine.   As the second, trailing, taxi, we permanently drove so close to the first that we had no  advanced warning of the road conditions ahead.    Which, when cattle are allowed to wander freely about the roads, not to mention the unpredictability of all the other daft drivers, was a not inconsiderable problem.   We once very nearly went up the others taxi's rear end when it braked even harder than usual.  Up until then I had not thought it possible to brake harder than their usual. It was all last moment stuff.   A small motorcycle, with a girl in a sari seated sideways at the back of the rider, passed us in traffic.  The taxi then followed at no more than a foot or so away, doing 50 mph until he found an impassable gap through which to get past.  The girl seemed unperturbed by her milli-metered proximity to either heaven or hell.  Brake pads cannot last long in India.   When the foot is not hard on the accelerator, it is hard on the brake.  The roads were gradually deteriorating as we got further from Bangalore, and the driving became something of a manic pinball game, dodging potholes and what seemed to be the occasional deep water well in the road, but we made it OK, and in time for lunch, a welcoming beer and an afternoon of fishing.   I was left wondering what constituted a road traffic offence in India,   Short of ploughing into a cow there was nothing that seemed to attract the attention of traffic police.  Cows and buffalo rule the roads in India of course.   They wander about at will, across and along the road.   They have become inured to the sound of car horns and wander along in their own sweet way without deviation or hesitation, as Nicholas might say. They do not so much as twitch at the sound of the loudest, and most insistent horn.  Drivers have to treat them as mobile roundabouts...pass either side. Our driver was even swerving to miss piles of cattle dung.  Just how sacred are these cows?

Riverside House and my Nemesis, the Jeep
Three anglers were lodging in a riverside house, 2 others in a second house somewhere a mile or so away in the jungle. The owner of the riverside house, in which I stayed, owns quite a few miles of the Cauvery river, plus coffee plantations, rice fields, orange trees, the odd pineapple etc etc.    He said  "When looking to buy a place I wanted somewhere with wild elephants in it".  Extremely nice bloke, with a son at Cambridge.  He knew more about single malt whisky than I ever thought possible, even compared to most ardent Scotch whisky distillery tourist guides.  No fish were caught that first afternoon, but it was possible to assess just how many rocks and snags the river held.   Far too many was the initial and instant judgement. Not a matter of how many fingers on one hand. As an assessment, it would not change as the week progressed, but there is nothing that can be done, and to fish here one has to accept that some fish are sure to be lost to car sized rocks, and to a plethora of submerged trees and roots.
The River


Day 2, and a rather uncomfortable trip, along rough roads, sitting sideways in what used to be a jeep in a previous life.  The angler opposite me had his lure rod already made up, and a vicious looking pair of trebles hovered an inch of so from his genital areas, being constantly jiggled by every bump that the jeep leapt over.  I dared not watch, and I was expecting to hear agonising cries at any moment, but his week was going rather better than mine was, and he survived intact. On reaching the river, I set up my rod, the ghillie not liking the way I was tackling up one bit.   But I explained very carefully to him, that I would fish
My First Mahseer
in my own way. He eventually shrugged his shoulders, I cast in and was playing a fish 3 seconds later.  A classic on the drop take, with the traditional raggi as bait.  Raggi is a millet based fairly hard paste, with a smell similar to some of our more modern carp baits.  The fish fought well, but the outcome for a fish of 5 or 6 pounds on 35 pound B.S. monofilament was never going to be a matter for intense debate.   My first golden mahseer.  A pretty fish with big scales and a bigger gob.   A sort of combination of bling and Liverpool.  A little later, another fish gave quite a spectacular bite on Warburton's bread.  Smaller than the first, but another "golden boy".  But a fish to my rod and welcome. The ghillie, or guide seemed to have little idea how to use an SLR.  I have a number of photos with either half a fish, or half of my head visible. Point and shoot took on a whole new meaning. Luckily the fish was small or I would have been annoyed, pointed and probably shot him.

On returning to the riverside house in the evening, I left the guide and driver to unload the tackle from the jeep, whilst I took an emergency  trip upstairs.   On my return we decided to fish locally, in the back garden of the house for some small mahseer.   We threaded our way past and through the electric fence, designed to keep the wild elephants away from the house and crops, and started to prepare our gear.   My rucksack seemed unusually dusty.    I started to assemble my rod, but the reel looked wrong....and the rod was bending rather easily where it should not bend.   The house cook informed me that the jeep had been reversed over my tackle: result, one broken rod, one baitrunner reel casting broken where it attached to the bail arm, one mangled and squashed tackle box, and one dusty and split rucksack.   On the same evening as the gear was damaged, I twisted my right knee.  It has always been a little weak, that knee.   So by the time the house owner had been informed about the jeep, broken rod and my twisted knee, by ghillies and other staff who did not speak english very well, I was lying on the river bank with a broken leg.   The perils of poor translation and Chinese whispers. Not the best way to start the evening but I did have some spare tackle.   It did end any ambition to use a lure for the fish though, a heavy 12 foot carp rod, which I would now have to use for everything, was hardly the tool for that job. A bit like trying to fly fish with a beachcaster.

At the evening meal we were joined by a young Indian lady scientist who was doing some wildlife surveys on the river.  She also planned, the following week, to monitor whether hooked fish showed any long term stress.   I was not at all sure how she could do that, certainly with not having any radio tags to track the released fish.   If you return the fish, you cannot monitor them.  If you don't but keep them in some sort of enclosure, how can you possibly separate out the stress due to angling from the stress of keeping a fish in a strange environment? The concept seems flawed and  I hope the survey will not be used to ascertain whether mahseer angling has any future in India.  Slightly worrying.  I did mention repeat captures in the UK, including the trout I caught three times in a short afternoon, twice on the same worm, as an example that fish usually appear not to suffer long term from being hooked and released.  Food was very good, fairly basic, and heavily based on curry of course.  But over a week, none of the 5 anglers on the beat suffered any signs of Delhi-belly.  Which must say a lot in itself.

 As the week progressed, more disaster.  I tripped over a protruding tree root, falling onto another , this
The Bruise.
second root being maybe a foot long and an inch or so thick.  Result was  a vivid technicolour bruise on my side some 4 inches by 6 inches.   Painful , but I seem not to have cracked any ribs. Jay's root became quite a talking point   "Watch out for Jay's root!" every time we headed out downstream. Note the two small black marks in the photo. Biro! On my return home I tried to convince my wife and son that the discolouration was due to a snake bite.  I failed: my wife had seen snake bites before, and my son, a fairly newly qualified doctor just laughed. It's only dad, bedside manner out the window!


By the next day. I had recovered enough to fish, and chose to fish the crocodile swim from an island, or rather a promontory sticking out from the far bank.  This swim had a resident crocodile of some ten feet length or so.  It spent most of its time basking on a sandbank, or perhaps it was a rock, that was just short of reaching the surface. The crocodile would never be a maneater. Even at ten feet long, it was extremely shy, and any time I blinked or raised an eyebrow the beast would disappear.  I had one bite, on a light tackle rod, from a fish which chose an inopportune
Common Darter (Snakebird) and Crocodile
moment, just as I pointed the camera, to take the bait, and consequently I lost the fish.    I did get a fair picture of a common darter though, a kind of almost snakelike water bird.  There was a recently fallen tree directly opposite, leaves on it not quite dead.   Some smaller mahseer were attacking fry within its branches.    A long cast, and an impossible place from which to extract a fish.  So just the one bite on the day, and no other misfortune to befall me.  


I was starting to lose track of time by now, and so  day 4 or perhaps day 5,  another swim, and a good fish on the line.  One that, after it stripped off 40 yards of 35 pound BS line from a big seagoing fixed spool reel, snagged me. Irretrievably.     Two others were later lost to yet one more snag and a hook pull respectively.   The river was very, very low, almost stagnant, with little flow. I have seen greater flow down my bath plughole. So I was able to cast 40 yards across the river and still use a dough bobbin.  Cue the Warburton's. But after the jeep incident of the second day I had to use a non bait runner reel.  

So back to that dough bobbin: it was a yard or so below the rod, and my reel was set in a rest with the anti-reverse off.   After a while I had a bite of such speed, that I heard, rather than saw the bobbin hit the next rod ring, and the inertia of the reel was such that the bite broke 35 pound line instantly.   These mahseer things are FAST.  I did not even have time to grab the rod.  Bang!  Gone! Incredible.  I am quite sure that the line was in no way tangled, it is something I check quite regularly.  I was regretting the broken bait runner reel.

Of the other two guys fishing the beat,  one had a fish of 31 pounds, another, after six days had only a 8 ounce fish to show for it, although he did get broken by a good fish after a 20 minute scrap. He was using braid, and I suspect a sudden sharp jab from the fish, or a snag did it for him.   No cushioning at all with braid.     But he was staying for a second week.  Lucky b......d!     The river is so full of car sized submerged rocks and lots of tree branches etc.  I would have had more fish had I been able to spin for them, but with the loss of the lighter rod, I was stuffed.

Buffalo in my Swim (Seen Through Electric Elephant Fence)
Wildlife: crocs, monkeys, snakes.  One snake suddenly appeared and slithered out from between my legs as I sat on a folding chair. I remained still, camera just out of reach, and so the snake's species remains unknown.  Not a cobra though. Another guy did come face to face with a cobra.   Elephants were very noisy at night in the jungle opposite, but I saw none of them.  Lots of bird calls in the jungle, but they had almost all decided to be heard and not seen. I did get a few photos at distance, and saw an osprey try to grab a swimming snake.  It missed but I did manage a picture of the bird.   Had a herd of buffalo decide to
cross the river in my swim one day.  Or to be more  precise, the cattle herder decided to swim them across the river in front of me.   Made my moanings earlier in these blogs about dog walkers seem trivial. There were numerous very noisy birds in the jungle, but few ventured out enough to be photographed. Little apart from the osprey, ventured much nearer than the horizon.
Osprey

Because my rucksack was damaged, I was fishing, using my camera bag to transport gear. Not a great idea, but no alternative.  Of course both brass handle clamps then gave way due to the additional weight.  But a bigger problem became apparent at Bangalore airport, where my crammed bag was searched, X-rayed etc.   I had forgotten about the fishing gear in my rush to pack.  Several items were not allowed:   fishing line, my echo sounder, some leads.   Some jelly lures???!!!      "What are these for?"        I found that it is not such a good idea to refer to leads as "Arlesey Bombs for fishing".   I won't go into all the gory details but I was an hour and forty minutes in security checks.  Passport confiscated.   Finally they decided that all my "contraband" must be put into my checked luggage, which was recalled: another twenty minutes plus, waiting for my bag to be dragged back to the check in desk.     Made the plane with about ten minutes to spare.  Having the line removed from my hand carry meant I could not enjoy garotting the annoying passenger who was snoring loudly next to me. Result: a complete lack of light entertainment on the BA flight.

Next: tube and train back home.    I hated the tube.  Three times I was heaving my bag up stairs between underground lines, and people: LONDON PEOPLE of all people, were offering to help.    Hated it, made me feel like a pensioner.   Then, after a week with no Delhi-belly, I suddenly break out in the train with an enormous head cold, which I was still suffering with 5 days later.
But I thought, at least I have now got past all the security problems....not so. 

In LIDL yesterday, I bought a few things.  But I set off the security detectors as I left the store: loud beeps and red lights flashing.   I had stopped and turned around, puzzled, but two staff members came charging out of their office to chase me.   I was asked to step back into the store.  Practically arrested.  Whilst they examined my shopping I was asked to pass the sensors again....and was bleep free.    They gave me the shopping back, no problems found, but the alarm again sounded as I left.  Dragged back again.   It turns out that a roll of green garden wire must have had sufficient inductance in its coils to set off the trips.   I had a good moan, at being effectively  accused of theft, in front of a dozen watching customers, and suggested a compensatory bottle of good wine would be required  for continued excellent customer relations.   No chance...maybe they don't sell good wine?  But the manager may get a sizable  rocket when my letter to head office hits home.

So a week of disasters.  Few fish, but nevertheless I did enjoy the week, enough to book again for next year. However I scarcely dare stand up now in case the roof falls in.  I don't feel safe even whilst asleep in my bed this week.