In last month’s article, I detailed my piscatorial adventures down the West Coast of India seeking the incredible Barramundi. It was a life changing experience and the beginning of a journey from which I have never looked back and continues to this very day.
As soon as I got back from the first India trip, all I wanted to do was go again. We’d learnt so much and seen so many amazing places that I dreamed about fishing. Unfortunately, my bank account said otherwise and it was three long years of gardening and decorating around Sussex and Surrey before I could afford to make another serious trip.
For the second trip, I planned to go for much longer and had allowed myself a three month slot from mid-December through to mid-March. Once again, I was going with my good buddy Scott and we spent many hours in preparation studying maps, google earth and our travel guides. The knowledge gleaned from the first trip made everything so much simpler this time around. We knew exactly what we needed and were able to streamline the gear we took.
With a flight booked for the 14th December, I got to enjoy early Christmas celebrations with friends and family before jetting off and leaving the grey, leaden skies of the UK behind. The excitement and anticipation on the day of departure was electric with the feeling of freedom almost indescribable. The thought of 3 months ahead with nothing but travel, adventure and fishing was incredibly liberating and made all the hard work worthwhile. That first pint in the airport departure lounge was pretty sweet, I can tell you!
We travelled with Air India and flew into Mumbai once again with a connection in Kuwait. Everything went smoothly and before long we were tearing through the streets at night in a taxi headed to the tourist district to find a hotel. Being on a budget, we ended up in a rather grotty looking place, but it was cheap. We dumped our bags before heading out to fill our bellies with fragrant curry, knock back a few cold kingfishers and smoke a few beedies, which are cheap hand rolled cigarettes made from tobacco leaves. Very Indian! It was good to be back.
With a little jet-lag and several beers, sleep was quick in coming once back at the hotel. But it didn’t last long! I remember waking in the dark after a couple of hours scratching my legs and feeling quite uncomfortable. It felt like my skin was crawling. I turned on the light and could see little mites and red lumps up and down my limbs. Bed bugs; the place was crawling with them and flipping the mattress up revealed a sight that still haunts me to this day.
I woke Scott, who was zonked out on the other side of the room and he too was covered in bites. Sleep was impossible, so we packed our gear and left after having an argument with the management and refusing to pay a single Rupee. The hotel was a disgrace. We woke a rickshaw driver up outside as he was sleeping in his carriage and he took us straight to the central station. The 5am train to Goa was waiting at the platform so we jumped on and watched the sunrise over the Mumbai cityscape with a hot cup of chai before retiring to our bunks for the 10 hour journey down the coast. We were exhausted.
Arrival in Goa was like heaven on earth and we settled in to our digs enjoying the laid-back beach vibes for a couple of days before looking to arrange some transport. On the first trip we went everywhere by train, taxi and bus which left us at the mercy of the public transport system. This time, we wanted to be more independent and being on a budget as we were, found that the cheapest available was a scooter. There are literally hundreds to rent and we were able to secure an excellent price for a long-term rental. I remember the guys last words ringing in my ears as we signed the paperwork – ”Yes sir, 10 weeks is fine for rental but it’s illegal to take them out of the state of Goa, OK?”
The next morning, we packed our gear, loaded up the Scooters and headed North over the state line into Maharashtra, with not a care in the world. Now the adventure really began. I’d never ridden a scooter before so it was a baptism of fire; combined with the interesting Indian traffic and driving style, it made for a hectic initiation. None the less, our Honda scooters were perfect for us. Cheap, economical, reliable and with our rucksacks wedged in the footwell and travel rods strapped to the sides, we were set for the open road. We planned to travel the back roads and quieter areas anyway, it was all part of the adventure and getting to see the real India…….off the beaten track.
We travelled a beautiful area called the Konkan Coast for many weeks. This stretches from Goa all the way North to Mumbai and we stopped at all the likely looking beaches, coves, rock and estuary marks that we had noted as ‘fishy looking’ during our pre-trip research. If we could, then we camped wild wherever we found ourselves at nightfall and our days were filled with nothing more than ensuring we had enough food and water, gas in the tank and somewhere great to fish. Those were some of the best days of my life, as a nomad on the road. Freedom.
We hit up many of the Barramundi marks that we had discovered on our first visit and were not disappointed by the quality of the fishing once again. This time we had also bought surf fishing gear so we experimented with fishing bait along some of the most beautiful surf beaches you could ever imagine. Getting fresh bait was tricky but there were occasions where we’d find the locals netting the beaches and could get fresh sardines off them. This was the key to success.
Fishing these fresh sardines in the surf brought us success with some interesting species. During the day, then we experienced some good action with Black-tip Sharks, small Guitarfish to around 4 feet long, Snappers and a whole load of other smaller species. At night we found that we were pestered by catfish, they were a nuisance and would continually trash our nicely presented baits. When given the chance, then occasionally a stingray would get to the bait first and we caught a few, although nothing massive.
I remember Christmas that year very well. We had earmarked a small, uninhabited Island a couple of miles offshore and it looked like a great spot. There weren’t many like it on the coast and it simply screamed fish, at least that’s what we thought from looking on Google Earth! A plan was hatched to spend 4 days on the island over the Christmas period.
There was nothing on the Island. We went to check it out in a boat first and other than one small sandy beach where we could get dropped off it was just rock. We went back to the mainland and prepared everything we needed. Food, water, all the necessary provisions and a bottle of cheap Indian brandy for the all-important nightcap. With all of our personal belongings, camera gear and fishing tackle it was quite a mountain of gear when all put together.
On the afternoon of the planned departure, it had got a little windy and our boatman Baba suggested that we wait until the following morning. Being the impatient anglers we were and with a perceived drop in the breeze we persuaded him to take us, even though it was getting late in the day…..and off we went. Everything looked fine as we set off from the beach with the fully loaded boat. It was a typical Indian affair, old, long and narrow, made of wood and powered by a 40hp, 2-stroke engine.
First, we had to traverse the natural harbour in the bay then round a headland and from there it was a straight run of around 6 miles out to the island. As we neared the tip of the headland, the breeze became noticeably stiffer and when we finally rounded it, we were faced with an angry sea, wind driven swells with white caps and a whistling wind in our ears. It looked nasty!
Baba was undeterred and just powered on into it as Scott and I clung on for dear life. It was horrific. Within minutes everything, including us, was soaked. Thankfully the cameras were in dry bags. I have to be honest; it was probably the worst hour of my life I have ever spent at sea. I didn’t feel safe and of course, the safety equipment was practically non-existent. Thankfully, we finally made it to the Island and had the tricky job of unloading in the swell with the boat clanging against the rocks. Nothing about the journey had gone well and I gashed my foot open in the unloading process too.
First job was to spread all our clothes and sleeping bags out on the rocks to dry before rigging the rods and throwing a few lures around as the last rays of sun blessed us with the most fantastic light. The light is incredible in India. We made our way down to the end of the Island and had probably half an hour left to fish.
We started throwing poppers and lures off the end into the maelstrom of diverging currents and were instantly rewarded. It was half an hour neither of us will ever forget. There was a school of Giant Trevally off the point and they were hell bent on eating our lures. We had double hook-ups, near misses and all kinds of excitement. It was crazy. We had found the GT’s at last. They weren’t huge like the sizes they can reach, but it was incredible sport. Suddenly, the dramas of the horrible journey and our wet clothes faded away as the sound of screaming drags rang in our ears!
We took one fish for dinner and made our way back to the other end of the island at dusk to make camp for the night. We made a fire with the abundant driftwood and just tossed the fish on the hot coals to cook, skin on and whole. Simplicity itself, it was delicious. After a few tots of brandy we made our beds for the night in hollows in the sand at the top of the tiny beach, it didn’t look like the tide came that far up.
We were wrong! Scott woke in the middle of the night with wet feet and the waves lapping the bottom of his sleeping bag so we had to shift up on to the rocks themselves and make do. It wasn’t the most comfortable nights sleep I’ve ever had to be honest, but I didn’t care. We were in fishing paradise!
The next morning, with a coffee in hand we took a walk around the whole island just after daybreak to check out all the available fishing areas. I remember one spot in particular, we climbed up a hill and peered over the top of the cliffs to be confronted by the most incredible sight. There were two huge GT’s just cruising along the face of the rocks together. not a care in the world. They were immense, looking every bit of 60 to 70 lb with their long pectorals spread wide in the water. We really had hit the jackpot and we had it all to ourselves.
Over the course of our time spent on the Island we hooked many GT’s and lost some very big fish. Being landbased, it was difficult to stop the fish running over the reefs and structure. We lost lots of lures, but we also landed some very impressive fish. Not only GT’s, there were barracuda, small groupers and all sorts of other peculiar reef fish. It was great fishing. One of the highlights of my time on the island was catching a stunning Queenfish which are not common there. It hit my bucktail jig and went airborne many times, it was a fantastic catch and one that burns bright in my memory to this very day.
The Island was incredible. The jewel in the crown. We had a blast and made several return trips during our time in India and also came back with the boat to take some impressive fish from around the island itself. Some remarkable GT’s and Grouper call that small lump of rock their home.
Over the period of 3 months we covered many 1000’s of kilometers with our little scooters, they were absolutely incredible! We took them off-road, on the beaches, over rocky ground….they went everywhere. We never once got a puncture or had any issues with the bomb-proof little Honda’s other than my number plate falling off somewhere down in the state of Karnataka. Its really incredible how tough they were.
It wasn’t only the saltwater fishing that grabbed our attention. We also spent lots of time fishing for Mahseer on the rivers down in the South of the country.
This was equally as rewarding and we experienced some truly magical moments deep in the jungle of Karnataka with some spectacular fish and a couple of close shaves with elephants and a leopard. But that’s a story for another magazine altogether!
This trip had it all. So much fishing, adventure, excitement and freedom that it was actually really difficult integrating back into ‘real life’ when I got back to the UK. The culture, the people, the food and the truly mind-boggling nature of India itself changes you forever. There’s nowhere else quite like it on earth.