"There he stood the Mahseer off the Poonch beside whom the Tarpon is a Herring
and he who catches him can say he is a fisherman". ~ Rudyard Kipling
The great Indian Subcontinent enclosed, in
the north - stretching to the northeast by
the grand Himalayas and in the south delimited
by the Indian Ocean. It's been home to various
civilizations in the past 10000 years, the
foundation place of Hinduism and Buddhism. A
land of colossal history where one is over
whelmed with culture, places, shrines, forts,
languages, crowded markets and lively cities.
In the midst of the vast subcontinent, which
has such diverse landscape, and in the many
rivers, which drain the nation, swims a classic
game fish, still unheard of, by a lot us, the
Mighty Mahseer of India.
Undeniably, the Mahseer is one of the fiercest
fighting freshwater game fish that exists. Pound
for pound it had unparalleled strength and
endurance. They do have a transitory likeness
to the carp and the barbell of the English waters,
but as they say, the similarity soon ends in the
turbid waters of the Himalayan foothills.
Often weighed against the lordly salmon for
their sporting competency, the Mahseer have
overjoyed generations of anglers and time after
time lived up to being called the "Mighty Mahseer."
The Legacy of this absorbing sport was brought into
the country by the English during their reign in
India and was passed on over the years to the Indians.
The 18th century brought about a few accounts on
the Mahseer by some ex-partite anglers who were
captivated by the excellence of sport the Mahseer
had to offer. Over the decades the word of its
sporting abilities spread. The Mahseer of the
south, which grew larger than their northern
cousins we obviously given awareness and any avid
angler who traveled to this part of the world would
try his hand at the Mahseer of the South.
The early 19th century saw a number of records
being broken and the word on the Mahseer's
mightiness had spread far and wide. A number of
anglers acquainted to the southern waters of the
Kabbini and the Cauvery, made the most of the
so-called golden era of Mahseer Fishing. The Van
Ingen's, famous Dutch taxidermists from Mysore,
established many records, as they were perhaps
the most frequent anglers on those waters. In
1922 the Van Ingens were guides to possibly the
most eminent team of anglers ever seen on the
Cauvery, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII).
The Kabbini and the Cauvery were soon known for
their heritage of monstrous fish lurking in their
turbid flow. J. Detwet Van Ingen still holds the
record of the largest rod caught Mahseer of a
120lbs caught on the 22-3-1946.
After India achieved its independence, the angling
scene suffered a setback, as the population shot up
and India was soon one of the most populous nations
of the world, pressures on all resources were high
and the new government did not have an understanding
for the sport, besides the government then had other
priorities. 1947 to 1978 could be said to be the
neglect period of angling in the Subcontinent.
The Transworld fishing expeditions brought about the
much-needed break through, in terms of the initial
conservation efforts for the Mahseer of the Cauvery
in the eighties. It was the re-introduction of these
forgotten monsters, to the angling world. Robert
Howitt, one of the team members soon convinced
the government to protect a stretch of the river
Cauvery by announcing a complete ban on killing
This lead to the quick revival of fish populations
of the Cauvery, which were previously, suffering
the effects of uncontrolled poaching in the region.
The years ahead saw prestigious events like the
Mahseer Maharaja world cup at the Cauvery and the
consistent enforcement of controlled angling with
minimal impact to the habitat of the fish. Over
the year efforts of following up the example of
the Cauvery are being made by various angling
bodies all over the nation and results are showing.
The Cauvery as its somewhere most enthusiasts visit
in pursuit of the Mahseer, hence ignoring a very
interesting fishery up in the north and north east
of India, home to the commonest of them all, the
Himalayan Mahseer, there's an opinion a lot of
anglers might have already formed on the Mahseer
of India after fishing in the south, but till one
has not had an encounter with the Mahseer up north,
I think ones experience is incomplete.
The Himalayas are indeed the perfect setting to
take a Mahseer, and if one is keen on the spinning
or the fly, its just very well, need less to say
that there are few fresh water fish in comparison
to its sporting aptitude and which inhabit such
Prior notes on fishing for the Mahseer in the
north mention the capture of some giants too,
A. St J Macdonald's book, Circumventing
the Mahseer, has mentions of fish over
55 lbs caught by him and others including a 75lbs
fish in the early nineteenth century. Though he
goes on to say that that there would be few anglers
in the north who could count the fifty-pound plus
fish they've caught in their life on more than five
fingers. A fifty-pound fish in the north is considered
a trophy, these Mahseer though are taken best on a
lure or a fly, and something the Southern giants do
not do. The Southern Giants are taken on a local form
of Millet flower (Ragi), this paste is hardened and
dressed on a 6/0 hook before it's hauled into the current.
A lot of the former accounts on the Mahseer of
India have focused mainly on the Mahseer of the
north, the Himalayan Mahseer, due to the enormity
of area they are to be found i.e. their distribution,
the multiplicity in techniques they could be taken
on and as they were to be found in all the rivers
in North and in the river which drained the rain
forest of the east.
India has quite diversity of these fish, spread
thought the subcontinent, to be found in all
rivers, though perhaps the commonest of them all
are the Himalayan Mahseer. This fish occurs all
thought the north, north eastern and even parts
of central India, the Himalayan Mahseer are one
of the two most popular game fishes of India, the
other ones are their larger more illusive cousins
of the south called the humpbacked Mahseer. The
fish are to be found in the Coleroon river system
of Southern India, primarily the rivers Cauvery
and the Kabbini. These fish are given an superior
status due to the size they attain, above and beyond
these two common types of Mahseer there are six to
eight types acknowledged species of Mahseer, which
are said to have comparable sporting features.
The Mahseer inhabits the torrential, rivers and
perennial rivulets of sub mountainous terrain,
in the course of the Himalayas, they could be
found up to and altitude of 2500 ft above sea
level. The following rivers are considered to
be the strong holds of the Himalayan Mahseer - the
Ganges and its tributaries, the Eastern and western
Ramganga, the Maha Kali and its tributaries, the
Kosi, the Beas and its tributaries, the Sutlej
and its tributaries, the Bhramaputra and its
tributaries, Ravi and its tributaries, Yammuna
and its tributaries and the Indus which flows
into Pakistan. Due to the diversity of regions
they are to be found in and the assortment of
techniques they could be had on, fishing for
them makes a particularly interesting pursuit.
The Himalayan Mahseer too grow to enormous
proportions, prior accounts pertain them to
exceed lengths of seven feet. Now a days that
would be a rare occurrence, though a 50 lbs
fish is considered monstrous. The Mahseer have
a prismatic range of shades on their large
scales, in addition to their beautiful exterior,
they have a firm appearance too.
For the ones of us who have experiences their first
rush, recognize what the Mahseer feels like at the
end of the line. Perhaps the most significant
sporting feature of the fish and the most intense
adrenalin charge is felt when a fish takes the bait
and begins the rush, it's more sudden than you
expect it to be, very impetuous, rash, impulsive,
reckless or what ever you might call it. Some
times it could be terrifying, as the bait is
taken very rapidity.
In the north of India, the best time to
undertake the large snow fed rivers is from
February through the middle of May, this as
they are most liable to be clear and the water
at a reasonably low level, by the month of April
mid the river begin to rise progressively and
the real snow melt comes in by the end of May.
This timing slightly alters from year to year
as and when the summer approaches.
All chief river systems have a particular window
period they produce the best fish in. Another
good time to fish these snow fed rivers is, post
monsoon, from the middle of September through
till the middle of November. Confluences
predominantly, during this time produce fine
results, principally when the rivers are changing
color and just about begin to maintain their
usual color subsequent to the monsoons.
Most fishing in the north if preferably done
in the region of confluences, due to the kind
of results they have produced over the years
and for obvious reasons. Mostly, post monsoon
when the reciting river gives the fish an
indication to move down, the fish after laying
their eggs are exhausted and hungry start their
journey down to the lower reaches of the river,
this is considered to be one of the best times
to be fishing in most waters of north India.
Predominantly, spinning is the most killing
way to fish. As a generalization it would be
rite to say that the best months to be fishing
in the north would be March and October.
The enormity of the Himalayan Mahseer's territory
leaves even currently some rivers and their
confluences untouched by anglers. With that said,
deep pools, which are in abundance, too make great
spots for the fishing both on spinning and on baits.
What usually makes it harder though is the flow,
which the Mahseer for understandable reasons uses
utterly to its benefit. The flow of some of these
rapids one fishes in is so intense that one can
hardly hear anything.
The Mahseer of various regions of the country over
time have adapted themselves to lakes as well. A
fine example of this could be seen in the natural
lakes of Kumaon, this region lies in the north
Indian state of Uttaranchal, over the years it
has adapted itself to the many man reservoirs
in various parts of the country too.
By and large Mahseer fishing is compared to
fishing for the Salmon, for the similarity in
methods more so in fishing for the northern
Mahseer than for the southern fish. The kind of
tackle used for spinning or fly-fishing for that
matter would generally be used for catching large
Salmon. Truly the appeal of Mahseer fishing in the
north is on either taking the Mahseer on the big
river on spinning or the smaller clearer streams
on the fly.
The Mahseer prefer taking in clear water, in fact
the clearer the better. The rougher the better too,
he'd rather take in turbulent water. Thunder or
rain may or may not hold back his unpredictable
His size is no indication of what he wants, the
tiny fish of one pound or less will ambitiously
take a four inch spoon, with the same readiness
a monster of 30 to 40 lbs takes a half inch fly.
It is and remarkably omnivorous
fish. The Mahseer is noted to be a continuous
feeder. Green filamentous algae and other water
plants taken in with intent or while seizing
aquatic insects on them, Figs, other things
thrown by humans, other insect, fish, etc has
been recorded from the stomach of Mahseer.
Mahseer migrate upstream, from the main river
into the rivulets mainly during the southwest
monsoon (July through September) for the
purpose of spawning, this is when they ascend
to substantial heights up to (2500 ft). Though
migration process is not only due to the
reproductive biology of the fish but also
in search of fresh feeding grounds.
The migration is a very significant feature
of the Himalayan Mahseer's life cycle and the
fish moves extensively during this period. Over
the years it has been subject to a fair amount
of field research by ichthyologists, but still
there are a lot of unanswered questions, which
will only take years to reveal.
With efforts from the various angling bodies
and with close vigilance on stretches of river
which hold good fishing potential, the Mahseer
will always live up being called a legendry
game fish in the years ahead.
If you are interested in fishing for the Mahseer
of India or need any kind of information on the
fishery or if you're planning a trip do get in
touch with me.
"The angler's first encounter with the Mahseer is one that he never forgets: A great wrench on the rod heralds its take, then the ratchet screams on a fast emptying reel - the sensation is electrifying. Few freshwater fish will set of with such speed, fight for so long and strike both despondency and joy to the heart of the adversary." (Robert Howitt, in Sports Illustrated) ~ Misty Dhillon firstname.lastname@example.org