Fishing Angling in Corbett

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Fishing Angling Corbett

Emanating from Dudhatoli, some 140 km north of Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) in the Himalayan foothills, the Western Ramganga is also known as the Corbett Ramganga or just Ramganga. Since Ramganga is not a snow-fed river, fishing is a throughout the year attraction. Fishing is permitted on the 100 km stretch from Nagteley to Masi in the Upper Ramganga reaches from 15th of June till the 30th of September. You can enjoy the thrill of sport fishing in the exclusive beats around Vanghat from the 1st of October till the 15th of June, each season.

The upper Ramganga is a typical Himalayan river with deep pools and glorious runs. Fishing is permitted along a 24 km upstream stretch-a delight for serious anglers who rate this stretch as one of the best organized in India for sport-fishing for mahseer, goonch, Indian trout and the lesser known kalabasu.
This part of the western Himalayas boasts a unique bio-geographical identify with a distinct icthyofaunal assemblage. There have been very few studies conducted on the ecology of freshwater fishes in this region. The most recent survey conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2005, recorded 43 species belonging to six orders and nine families of fish in this river system. Each July, the monsoon transforms the river into a destructive spate. However, the now replenished nutrients ensure that the riverine system continues to flourish ad nauseam.

The fishing beats teem with clever Golden mahseer and goonch, while the old forests with elephants and great hornbills-testimony to the protection afforded to the Corbett National Park since the end of 18th century for the Lieutenant Governor's yearly shoots.

The Ramganga upwards of the Marchula bridge shimmies past scattered villages adorned with terraced fields and small temples. This 50 km stretch right up to Jainal boasts interesting fishing opportunities with gillies willing to hike their way walks to very remote areas far from habitation, and holding a rudimentary campsite or temple premise as a base, fish in some of the best spots adjoining sites. The Hindu reverence for life has preserved the pristine nature of these regions and the locals have welcomed our philosophy of catch-and-release sport fishing.

The Ramganga is also home to the rare and endemic fish-eating gharial and mugger and a paradise for Otters-the Common, Smooth-coated and Small-clawed otters make the most of their larder which is well-stocked with turtles! Avian predators that thrive in this river paradise are Pallas', Grey headed and Lesser fishing eagles, majestic osprey, several species of cormorants, darters, herons, five species of kingfishers and several other waders. You can have the satisfaction of scooting away for a quick 2 day fishing excursion (from Delhi and nearby regions) or spend a languorous 20 days sport-fishing - and never at the same spot!

The Beat (Pools Description, Size, Opportunities, Bank, Climate)

In 2004, the State Government of Uttaranchal took a progressive decision of issuing management rights to fishing associations to patrol and manage beats on the Ramganga to protect the riverine system, in replication of the successful conservation story of the Humpback mahseer (a larger cousin of the flamboyant Golden mahseer) of the Cauvery River in the state of Karnataka.

With the local community taking ownership of the initiative and with the help of local angling associations, a 24 km stretch of the Ramganga, upstream of the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) is maintained exclusively for sport-fishing. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in both the size and quantity of fish in the river and also nurtured the riverine eco-system to great health.

The top notch spots along the 24 km exclusive fishing zone in brief for you:

1. Awala Rou:Named after the numerous awala trees that grow in the hill above the pool, Awala Rou (local term for a deep pool) is a large pool just before the Marchula bridge from where the river curves south. Marchula is the most accessible of all points on the river-barely 100 ft below the main road. Many monster mahseer and goonch have been snagged here.

2. Amgari Rou: About a kilometer downstream stands the Amgari (mango) Rou just below the Jamaria village. From this grove of wild mango (some of the trees reach over 100 ft), a small stream emerges and gushes as a waterfall into the Amgari Rou. Mahseer and kalabasu are regularly catch here.

3. Fera Rou: About km downstream from Amgari and below the Baluli village, a large rock in the middle of the river creates as whirlpool. This is Fera Rou which translates to "back to the sender". Fish are visible even from the path snakes its way up to the Baluli village. Mahseer catches above 60 lb are not uncommon here.

4. Rani Rou: Legend has it that queens from the local royal family come to Rani Rou (Queens pool) for a picturesque bath. A massive perennial pool cocooned between high cliffs and fed by upstream rapids, the pool is located just before the point from where the Ramganga takes a north-eastern turn.

5. Amdali Rou: A cluster of mango trees overseeing a pool over 100 meters in length is Amdai Rou or mango bunch pool. An ideal pythons lair- the pool is fed by a tiny fresh water stream that emerges from the dense patch of wild mango trees.

6. Panbhara Rou: Directly in front of our lodge is a small waterfall borne by the forest above. There are excellent prospects of fishing in the long and narrow, yet deep pool created by fall as it hits the river.

7. Chari Dhunga Rou: Chari is local for a species of reed and Dhunga is local for a large rock. The Mecca for most anglers is a massive pool with a gargantuan rock that provides an awe-inspiring view of the pool which is literally packed with mahseer ranging from lb to 70 lbs. Otters and terrapins are regularly sighted here. The path along the Rou is strewn with large rocks and takes you to the next hot spot.

8. Gauchia Rou: An azure blue stretch named after the endemic goonch (Bagarus bagarus).

9. Govind Rou: The last of the large pools before the river enters the jungles, Govind Rou is by a nice sandy beach and we have rechristened it Paradise pool because of its sheer beauty. Tigers have often been sighted here in broad daylight.

10. Saja Rou: Barely a hundred feet downstream is a massive Sanja tree overshadowing another massive pool-a promising spot for anglers.

11. Dhawla Rou: A profusion of Dhawla bush marks this long broad pool which has many 10 pounders teasing the angler. One has to tread carefully through tall elephant grass to reach the next fish stronghold.

12. Patbhara Rou: 100 meters further, we come to a landslide below which this pool stands. Strangely, each monsoon when the river is in spate, this pool boasts clear waters! Goonch seem to be partial to this pool as also many varieties of turtles.

13. Ghantu Rou: Across the almost abandoned village of Jamun, this pool marks the spot where a villager by the name of Ghantu died under mysterious circumstances when fishing! You can see large schools of fish careening about in water collectionn.

14 Samal Row: A giant Silk cotton tree stands in the forests about 50 meters above this pool. Though the fishing at this pool is good, the tall elephant grass that stretches out behind you over a huge distance, obscuring everything in its path, often raises goose bumps on your skin.

15 Shayal Row: Despite being deprived of sunlight most times of the year, this moss laden pool abounds with fish. Till some years ago, chunerey-a highland tribe frequented this spot each year to fashion pots from the hardwood harvested from the forest in this region.

The Vanghat (also known as Banghat or Barghat) beat or No: 3 begins just below the Baluli village. Pools after pools of glorious water characterise the beat making it the best fishing beat-as any regular sport-fisherman on the Ramganga will endorse! Our beat runs rich with the spectacular Golden mahseer and catches of up to 65 lbs have been recorded in the recent past. A cult fish for anglers, the thrill of landing the mahseer in wild terrain is indescribable as it is a legendary fighter, a trait that has earned it the nom de plume of 'Tiger of the Waters'. Other common fishes caught here are kalabasu and Indian trout. Lately, goonch-a giant catfish that grows well over 100 lbs has elicited a great deal of interest amongst the angling community.

There is all year round access to 4 km of the beat from at least one side of the bank. The lower half of the beat is accessible from the lodge by foot only February onwards till the start of the monsoons in June. We do offer rafting and elephant safaris along the length of the beat for improved access. The lower half of the beat can also be accessed via a road connection followed by a short walk, but this is a time-consuming roundabout journey that can eat away almost 2.5 hours of your time.

Angling is mainly double bank with bank fishing in the immediate location of the lodge as well as at other allocated beats and pools further downstream or up the river. We encourage not more than four anglers on our stretch, but in case of a larger group or should you have more time at hand, you can base yourself at the lodge and fish other beats on the Ramganga. The undercurrent is mild hence wading across the mostly gravel and sand bottom is easy. Wading across the rocky stretches could be challenge in winters as the rocks become slippery with moss. The whole stretch offers a wide variety of fishing and provides excellent chances for both the experienced and the novice angler.

Some of the Rou's that characterize our beat are:
1. Rani Rou
2. Amdai Rou
3. Panghat Rou
4. Charidhunga Rou
5. Gouchi Rou:
6. Govind Rou:

Our beat extends further till another 2 kilometres up to Kalakhand right across Chaknakal that finds mention in Corbett's best seller 'The man-eaters of Mohan'.

Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora)
Monarch of Himalayan waters: The undisputed lord of Himalayan rivers is the handsome golden-scaled highlander. Undeniably, the mahseer is one of the fiercest fighting freshwater game fish that exists. Pound for pound it had unparalleled strength and endurance. Mahseer does 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.

The mahseer shows more sport for its size then a salmon and therefore considered the best sportfish in the world....this is what snobs (??) of the Raj era had to say. Mahseer have overjoyed generations of anglers and time after time lived up to being called the "Mighty Mahseer".

A Legend: One of the fascinating narrations of Jim Corbett in his book "Man-eater of Kumaon" is about his fishing for mahseer in a river that flowed for some 60 km through a beautiful valley teeming with wildlife. The chapter titled 'Fish of my dreams' narrates how the air then was filled with the fragrance of flower and the spring songs of a multitude of birds. Corbett exclaimed that angling for mahseer in a sub-montane river in that atmosphere was a sport fit for the kings!

While Corbett felt that the 50 lb mahseer he had caught could be forgotten, what would remain etched in his mind was the sublime surroundings in which he had caught the fish. His description of the river and surroundings seem to bring to life the Ramganga valley of the Corbett Tiger Reserve which is till one of the few strong holds of mahseer in India.

A Brief: The Mahseer is a freshwater fish that can attain a huge size. A 70-80 kg catch has not been uncommon in this area which boasts fish which can grow to weights exceeding 100 kg.

Most mahseer take the bait quite avidly which perhaps has helped cultivate an erroneous impression of it being carnivorous and rapacious by nature. Studies have proven that mahseer are omnivorous and take almost anything-weeds, snails, crabs and live fish. The etymology of 'mahseer' throws up interesting clues. The word could mean a fish with 'Lion's gameness', 'large-scaled fish', 'large-headed fish' or 'fish par excellence'!

Distribution: Mahseer inhabit most river and reservoirs of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka. Mahseer experts have recognized six to eight different species in India but no detailed information on the present status and distribution of each of these species is available. Different species of mahseer inhabit different habitats ranging from tropical water where the temperature in summer goes up to 35C to sub-Himalayan waters where the winter water temperature drops close to 0C. Mahseer can be found in streams a few metres above sea level and also in fast moving waters at altitudes of 2,000 m or more.

Ramganga: The mahseer species found in the Corbett Tiger Reserve is the golden variety (Tor putitora), graces the Ramganga river and weights up to 25 kgs. The biggest caught, weighed and photographed on the Vanghat beat was a 68 pounder in April 2004 by Mark Fielden from UK. Another Mahseer almost caught by Vish Satappam and George Fanthom, presumed to be over 70 lbs, literally dragged the rod away (which was later retrieved) and escaped.

Endangered mahseer: Accurate data on the catches of mahseer from different parts of the country is woefully lacking, however compression of figures from a few isolated surveys as well as observations of anglers and biologists indicate that there is a serious decline in the mahseer numbers in the country.

The decline is due to a combination of factors -unchecked and indiscriminate fishing, dynamiting and poisoning of rivers which destroys even the brood fish and juveniles, pollution and siltation of river bodies and construction of dams which has impeded the migration of mahseer, a factor crucial for its spawning. Unfortunately for mahseer, when compared to other commercial fish, it is more prone to depletion and extinction.

Spawning: A prime habitat requirement of the mahseer is clean water, which is fast becoming a scarcity. Favored mahseer spawning grounds are calm, well-oxygenated waters with a bed of sand or gravel. Journey to such grounds is fraught with risk and dangers. The fecundity of mahseer as compared to the commercially exploited species is very low. For example the Deccan or Khudree mahseer (Tor Khudree) has 6,000 eggs/kg body weight of rohu (Labeo Rohita) and 1,33,000 eggs/kg body weight of catla (Catla Catla).

The eggs of mahseer are demersal or capable of sinking to the river bed and therefore, mud instead of sand or gravel on the river bed can cause them to simply perish. The hatching period for Khudree mahseer is 60-80 hours while that of Golden or Himalayan mahseer is 80-96 hours as compared to the meagre18 hours for catla and rohu. Further, the semi-quiescent stage soon after hatching is three days for catla and rohu, while it is six days for Khudree mahseer. We can safely infer then that the mahseer is more vulnerable to all forms of decimation. If it is to survive throughout its range, there is an urgent need to plan and implement strict conservations measures.

Mahseer Haven: Ramganga river, where Corbett fished for his dinner, has over this century undergone a major change due to the construction of a dam at Kalagarh in the late 60's and early 70's. Consequently, the water in the reservoir encompasses an area of 60 sq km in summers and 80 sq km in the winter months. With the monsoons of July-August, areas around the 16 km of the river from Kalagarh to Dhikala stands inundated. Fortunately, the 32 km stretch of river a little upstream of Vanghat, (from where it enters the Corbett Tiger Reserve) right up to Dhikala, remains what it was a hundred year ago-a spectator to the abundant wildlife on both the banks. Mandal and Plain rivers, the upstream tributaries of the Ramganga, are vital spawning grounds for the Mahseer of the Tiger Reserve. Spawning usually occurs in the month of August.

Goonch (Bagarius bagarius)
Widespread throughout Asia, India is known for the largest species of goonch. Owing to their voracity, their formidable teeth and general appearance, they are also referred to as the fresh water shark and grows to a length of almost six feet. Its body is usually dirty grey with large irregular black or dark brown markings. Its fins usually have a dark band across them and sprout from a dark base. They are scaleless fish and have fleshy feelers attached to their mouth.

Goonch is a predaceous fish and lies in wait for its food in the swiftest water of the rapids, where it maintains position by adhering to rocks by means of its smooth chest and fins.

Goonch lie at the extremes of white water and are partial to the depths of the largest pools if there is a current slicing through them. Though very strong, they are sullen to a degree and sluggish in their movements especially on being hooked.

They sometimes take spoons and plug but are best on live bait (eel) spun very slowly. Once hooked, they go straight for the bottom. It is then the pull.devil.pull baker act which ensues, sometimes ending in favor of the fish.

To wear him out once snagged, tie your line to a fair-sized bamboo. Cut the line and allow the bamboo to float in the water. The bamboo bobbing in the current will keep a continuous strain on the goonch and hopefully by the end of the day it will be played out. If not, look for the bamboo next day.

Mostly, the goonch runs to about 250 lbs, though the largest that has been caught on a rod line was 164 lbs near Marchula and we believe the American angler who snagged it in January 2001, had to use both hands to land the big guy.

At the Corbett Tiger Reserve, the Jhirna Jhali pool, also referred to as the crocodile pool, is the best place to observe (only!) goonch. The pool is virtually packed with this fish! This rare giant has also been caught in the Marchula area, Jainal and Govind Rou of Vanghat beat. Undoubtedly, goonch is one of the most threatened big fish of the Ramganga.

Kalabanse (Labeo calbasu)
Known as Patthar chatta in Kumaon and Kali machli in Garhwalare, Kalabanse is a greeny-grey fish with the pink tinged scales. It is also characterized with pink eyes and grows to almost 3 feet in length and tipping the scales at 25 lbs in the Ramganga.

A true bottom feeder the Kalabanse, its mouth protrudes downwards when open and has a distinct fringe on the upper lip. It has a partiality for mossy, slippery rocks and sunken trees in the river and can be seen playing about in such places, sucking and rubbing its sides against the rock or trees, as the case may be.

Kalabanse is a game fish and takes bait-paste or worms as well as usual tank angling baits. When hooked it fights most gamely, coming up to the surface and going down as fast, though it may not have the mad rushes of the Mahseer, yet it will not give in.

Indian trout (Barilius bola)
Belonging to the baril family, there are 14 varieties resident in India. Most of these take a fly with great interest. Despite being sporting fish, barils don't grow to more than ten inches, except one variety-Barilius bola or the Indian trout, which tilts the scales at 5 lbs. The Indian trout can be found in any of the streams of Northen India and Assam. It prefers slow moving water above a rapid with fairly large boulders, to the actual rapid itself.

It is silvery in color and has two or more rows of bluish blotches along the sides. Its caudal fin is orange stained with grey and black, while all other fins are orange. It is a highly predatory fish and frequents the runs in search of food. A voracious feeder, it will take live and dead bait, worm, spoon and a fly, and possibly other things which you might not be able to think of. When hooked, it gets infuriated and often leaps out of water in an attempt to get free.

Domunda the confluence of Ramganga and Mandal is perhaps the best spot to hook the Indian trout in this area and on several occasions we have caught half a dozen in a morning session with fly spoon or fly. Indian Trout is also found in the adjoining Kosi river.

The Indian trout is a tasty morsel and so are the other barils. The best on the plate is the one which has blue spots in place of red and lacks the adipose dorsal fin. It has large irregular brown or black markings and cross bands and yellow flesh that makes a good meal. The Indian Trout is good Bait for mahseer-the small one are particularly loved by the mahseer, so they make an excellent live or dead bait.

Mulley (Wallago Attu)
Very few have fished for the Mulley or the so-called fresh water shark in the Ramganga. Mulley is far less abundant as compared to the mahseer or goonch. It is a monster capable of growing to six feet in length, though in recent times the biggest catch on rod and line at Bhumia Rou weighed 78 lbs. Just after monsoons, smaller specimens have been caught near Domunda.

Mulley is somewhat queer in shape. It is a greatly elongated and devoid of scales. It is armed with long feelers, the huge mouth is serrated with two broad bands of large sharp teeth. The head is the most conspicuous part of the fish and weighs more than half of the total weight of the fish. Its eyes are small, situated entirely above the mouth opening and are blue in color.

Mulley fights fairly well and is greedy when it comes to live bait. It also takes worm spoon, spinning bait and paste occasionally. It sometimes takes fly as well and springs out of water when hooked, lashing out with its tail.

Chilwa (Chela argentea)
Chilwa is the most common fish of the Ramganga. They run usually about six inches in length, the biggest specimens growing up to a feet in length. It has a long more or less compressed body with a small head and upturned mouth. A bright silvery fish, covered with minute silver scales which come off very easily when handled.

It usually keeps to the surface of the water. When freshly caught in running water, its coloring is most beautiful. The brilliant silver of its scales contrasts with the pale greenish sheen of its back, giving a fleeting radiance. Chilwa has a habit of continually throwing itself into the air on calm still evenings.

Chilwa make excellent bait for mahseer. It is perhaps the most appreciated bait by mahseer. If Chilwa is seen moving in the river, it can be safely assumed that the larger fish are on the prowl and good sport is imminent.

Chilwa love fly-takers, occasionally jumping right out of the water in pursuit of flies! Quick striking and small flees are two of the sine qua nons for catching them. Some anglers spend hours with a tiny fly, amusing themselves snagging this fish.

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