India is a truly incredible country that I instantly fell in love with when I first visited back in 2006. With a population now estimated at 1.4 billion people, visiting the huge sub-continent is always an interesting experience. As you travel around, the dialect can change as often as the days of the week and it’s a melting pot of ethnicities and religions too. Every day is an assault on the senses with soaring highs, often accompanied by harrowing lows – the smells, the colour, the sights and the people of India stick with you forever. For some, it’s all too much and ‘culture shock’ can take its toll. Personally speaking, India has given me some of the most humbling, exhilarating and rewarding travel experiences of my life……and then there’s the fishing!
With the exception of the Andaman Islands, India is not really on the map as a destination for saltwater anglers and it probably never will be. Herein lies the appeal. With over 7000 km’s of coastline available then there is plenty to keep the most adventurous of anglers satisfied. There is so much ground to cover and it’s a rare occurrence to find others fishing. Essentially, it feels like you have the whole place to yourself, especially so if you’re prepared to get off the beaten track a little. It’s a veritable fisherman’s paradise but that’s not to say the fishing is easy, you must be prepared to work at it. However, for those with a sense of adventure and willing to make the effort then the results are certainly there for the taking.
The thing about India is that if you are careful, it is possible to live very cheaply and this makes the prospect of an extended trip a viability. Then there’s the weather which is pretty much wall to wall sunshine from November through to March. It was a perfect winter get-away for when my work in the construction trade went flat after Christmas with never-ending gales and rain lashing our shores. My first trip was for 6 weeks and I have to admit I was a little nervous as I boarded my Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow alone, I had no idea what to expect at the other end. I’d read up on my travel guides which are great and help a little but nothing had quite prepared me for the chaos that is Mumbai!
I will never forget the madness of first getting through customs and out in to the arrivals hall, being confronted by a thronging sea of faces all trying to relieve me of my bags and rod-tube, offer me taxi services, rooms to rent, black market currency exchange and cups of tea. It was all quite overwhelming and as I made my way through the masses towards the door, I was fortunately greeted by my buddy Scott. He had flown out a few weeks ahead of me and had a rickshaw waiting for us. We jumped straight in, heading downtown to the Colaba District at breakneck speed with the latest Hindi pop music blaring out at ear bleeding volume in the insane traffic. Immediately apparent was the vast gap between the rich and the poor as slums and shanty towns butted up against modern construction and skyscrapers. It was one hell of a ride and a lot to take in – Welcome to India!
I can remember it like it was yesterday. Mumbai was insane, pure chaos but somehow it works! The food was incredible, spicy, fiery and like nothing I had experienced in a curry house back home. I loved it. Curry, curry, curry three times a day, that was me for 6 weeks. The change in diet was a little upsetting for the first 10 days or so but it’s amazing how quickly one can adjust to having fire on the palette at 7am. There are few other options when travelling India on a shoestring budget.
A couple of days is enough in a big Indian city like Mumbai and I was pleased to escape the madness by heading South on the train to Goa. Famous for its hippy culture, trance parties, stunning beaches and laid-back vibes, it’s not top of the list as a serious fishing destination. But once darkness falls and the moon rises it brings with it the chances of catching one of the world’s most incredible sporting fish – the Barramundi. Many think of this fish as being common to Australia and Papua New Guinea only but their range actually extends much further, right through the Indian ocean. India itself has a rather healthy population and of good average sizes too. We were unaware of their presence ourselves until a local taxi driver in Goa called Angelo showed us a few photos of some very nice fish from his local estuary system. It was a ‘Eureka Moment’ for us and became the focus of our fishing attention.
Barramundi are closely related to the Nile Perch of Africa except they don’t grow to the same colossal sizes as their freshwater brethren. However, a fish of 30 lb is a realistic target in India, although they can reach 90 lb, so you never know. They are a thrill to catch with their tendency to go airborne, engaging in some serious acrobatics, cartwheeling and drag screaming runs. They are lovers of the nearshore and estuary regions with sporting tactics such as lure fishing and fly fishing the preferred methods for targeting them. They share many similarities in their habits and methods of capture as our Bass, except these bad boys are much bigger and stronger so the tackle needs to be matched accordingly. They always give you a fight to remember!
The West Coast of India features many rivers that flow down from the hills of the Western Ghats, snaking their way across the land to the ocean. There are literally hundreds to choose from and careful scrutinising of ‘Google Earth’ enabled us to select a few estuary systems that absolutely screamed fish. Our plan was to investigate these areas over the course of our 6 week stay and squeeze in a little sight-seeing while we were at it.
Angelo had explained to us that the only way to catch the Barramundi was to fish at night and under the moon, he swore by the moon. ‘No moon, no fish!’ he told us. The rivers we chose were natural and largely untouched by the hand of man, characterised by huge sand bars across the mouth formed by the tides and current. These were the ideal spots from which to cast our lures and intercept these fine, sporting fish. We planned to ambush them as they entered the river systems looking to feed on a rising tide under the cover of darkness.
We checked out the river mouths during the day at low water and they were mostly sandy and wide which meant that we could use fairly light tackle. There was little in the way of rock or obstructions that could give us any problems. At the time (2006) there weren’t so many travel rods available on the market and I had a 9ft multipiece rod with me which was decidedly ‘floppy’ but would suffice, they’re much better nowadays. This I paired with a small Shimano Stradic reel loaded with 30 lb Fireline and finished off with a few feet of 80 lb monofilament as my leader. Our choice of lures was mostly small hard baits in the 4-6 inch size and rubber paddle tails.
After dark on our first session in the estuary, everything looked so good. The tide was pushing in and rushing round the head of the sandspit which created a bottleneck effect. In the moonlight it was clear to see where the current lines were and the huge back eddy that was created behind the sand bar on the inside. This also formed a large crease which was the perfect ambush spot for predatory fish.
The fishing was very much by feel in the dark and quite methodical as we were casting from our vantage point out on the end of the sand spit. We tried to swing our lures across and down the current allowing them to come round into the back eddy and then fish through the crease and slower water back to our feet. It didn’t take long until I got my first hit. It was a feisty Mangrove Snapper that put up a spirited fight but gave me no real problems. I was off the mark.
We went on to catch several more snappers that first night and then late into the session Scott got the bite we were looking for. He set the hook and we were treated to the sight of a nice Barramundi cartwheeling in the distance with the moonlight reflecting off its plated silver sides. It was an impressive fish and led him a merry dance on the light tackle, making many good runs and leaps before we were able to beach it. They are such beautiful creatures, prehistoric and fierce looking. It was nice to know that our lures and tactics were right.
That first successful session paved the way for the rest of the trip and was just the confidence booster we needed. We pretty much turned nocturnal and put as much time into the Barramundi fishing as we could. We didn’t always hit the jackpot but there were some occasions where we had some excellent action catching several good fish each. I would guess they topped out at around the 30 lb mark as a rough estimate. The moon certainly seemed to help but was not essential. We also enjoyed success on the new moon phases. Its amazing how the fish could find our small 4 inch paddle-tails in the pitch black swirling waters, but find them they did. They are a finely tuned predator and perfectly adapted to hunting at night.
We experimented a little as well and tried fishing different areas. We found that the rocky shorelines of the open ocean were also their hunting grounds. The common theme was the darkness. We fished on headlands and heavy rough ground but the barramundi would only ever show once the sun had slipped over the horizon and into the night. Fishing from the rocks required much heavier tackle to keep the fish out of the snags but was equally as effective. Rather than move around too much in the dark, we’d stick to one spot and keep working the lures. With the rising tide, the fish would patrol the rock ledges looking for prey and more often than not it was common to get several bites or fish in quick succession as the shoal moved through. It was exhilarating stuff from the rocks as the fish leapt and fought for their freedom at close range. Some of the most exciting I have ever experienced without a doubt.
My first trip to India completely blew my mind. Not just the incredible fishing we found but the experience as a whole. I have been fortunate to travel and fish in some interesting places over the years but India is truly crazy and unique. It left its mark on me for sure. It inspired a further two trips where I spent much longer in the country travelling 1000’s of kilometers on a scooter, camping and fishing and we even bought a van one year. I’ll share more photos and stories from these adventures in next months issue. Until then….tight lines!
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