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Hooked – Fishing in Goa Part 4

6 Jun The Sails of Tiracol

The Sails of Tiracol

If Goa boasts of deep waters, then it’s at Tiracol. Bashfully beautiful, with the river at her stern and the open sea to her face – Tiracol’s water is deep blue, at times transparent enough to see down into her cobalt depths. Sitting on a wooden stool with his back to the wall, an old seasoned fisherman recounts in a plaintive voice, “from third finger rock I saw them in the moonlight, their huge fin like sails, sticking straight out of the water as they rushed past, in those days we did not know what they were or where they came from, but these big fish had come here to stay a while, to hunt at will and then disappear – to go back from where they came”. The old salt was walking us through a nostalgic tale about the mighty sailfish that once haunted these waters along with a profusion of other gargantuan predators – ranging from the Giant Trevallys, Barramundis, and Red Snappers, Groupers and Threadfin Salmons to the mighty Sails. The story might seem a little farfetched but even today if you were to stand on third finger rock and gaze into the swirling waters, like I did – on a moonlit night with the salty wind in your face – you would believe… just like I did and believe everything else about Tiracol – big fish, folklore, strange stories – there’s a lot in the offing.

This story is not only about fishing and yet it has everything to do with it. It is about the outdoors, places, faces, the fatigue, the highlights and disappointments, which all eventually converge to shape a nostalgia memory. I have tried humbly, to highlight the little things that every angler experiences, when he picks up his rod and reel, and sets off to catch a fish. The fish of his dreams beckons him along, but it is the very essence of being one with nature – that is his ultimate reward.

Tiracol river

Crossing the Tiracol river

We crossed the river at first light. The south side is called Keri and the north side – Tiracol. The crimson sky with its green purplish tinge reflected over the water, giving it a dark look. The tide was turning from low to high and the water was still on the ebb. The previous night’s sluggish current made the river look tired. I stood there in the cool morning breeze clicking away with an old SLR, but I was restless as I could only think of fishing in the upcoming tide, which would soon turn and come in fast.

“Ken what do you make of it?” I shouted over the hum of the old barge’s engine.

He shouted back from the stern – “Looks great, full of potential, I can almost feel the fish at the end of my line”.

Ken’s had 65 years under his belt and can walk many miles a day – but only if there was fishing to be had at the end of it. He’s passionate, easily excitable and has been a friend for quite some years now.

I lit up a cigarette and we drove off the barge down a winding road which had the river on one side. I could smell the brown grass on the other and it made me happy; the thought that I could get away from it all, even for a short while, made me smile. There is only one road from the jetty to the village; as you enter the village you pass through a time machine which takes you back a good 50 years – right into the Portuguese era, with partially cobbled streets, newly whitewashed old houses, the ancient church, all wearing a deserted look. We stopped at the crossroads and counted four bars which were all shut but come noon when the sun burns down on you, those very shutters would open and the aroma of fried fish would float through. That along with chilled beer and fresh mussels marinated with a liberal dash of palm Fenny would take centre stage – a much needed sustenance to recuperate both a tired body and soul.

Tiracol Village

I knew that if we stopped for breakfast we wouldn’t make the tide and there was no one serving breakfast anyway. We took the left road and drove up a steep hill until we reached the fort which had an imposing gate with a rather well dressed guard who was asleep in an upright position. The fort has now been converted into a posh boutique hotel, but such places hold no fancy for me. There is a small pathway to the right and as I scrambled up, passing Ken and the wait -a-bit thorns hooking into my rod case trying their best to hold me back, I could smell the salt in the air. Excited, I ran past the bend and was suddenly faced with the open ocean – it was like a benediction. From the top of this headland you can see the vast expanse of the open ocean and all the way down the coast – 250 nautical miles… maybe more and below the deep cobalt waters with three rocky ledges pointing like fingers right out to sea. These were some of the best waters I have seen in awhile.

View from the top

From the top of the hill we made our way down to the water, descending onto the second flat finger-like rocky ledge. The water was deep blue and very clear, in fact at some places where it was shallow we could actually see the bottom. Ken got his gear out and went straight into action; he arched back casting far out, and then did a slow retrieve. The anticipation and excitement of a strike on the first cast was killing me. The lure came in untouched and then again with a whooshing sound, it immediately shot out to sea. While Ken was busy I was attracted by some movement on the far end of the ledge – a man suddenly arose from a hunched-up position; he was an angler dressed in bright blue overalls just like the ones worn by an oil rigger. He was bait fishing, so I walked over quietly so as to not disturb the spot and whispered “What are they biting on?”

“At the end of my line” was the sardonic answer and in the same breath his rod lurched backward and out came a palm sized bream.

He smiled and with a heavy Portuguese accent said “not big but very tasty”. I smiled in approval.
The Sea Bream is one of the most well flavoured fish I have ever eaten in Goa, in the monsoon you will find that they sport a layer of fat which comes through when you pan fry the fish.

Rocky ledge with deep water

He introduced himself as Santana Fernandez, an original son of the soil, but who now works in the Middle-East, drilling oil for a living. He was down on holiday and he had only one passion – fishing; well that ironed things out for us and we started to chat. Santana had caught many a good fish; in fact he’d pulled out a 30lb Giant  Trevally from the very rock we were standing on. He told me about the very big snappers that were hiding underneath which wouldn’t bite. He spoke about better days, days when he never went back empty handed and there was always something for the table – Barramundi, Grouper, GT’s and so on and so forth. In fact on a good day, three to four Thread-Fin-Salmons were taken on the feed. But now for the past 5 years things were getting from bad to worse – the fishing was on a steady decline; in fact most days he drew a blank and it was only on rare occasions that he caught anything worthy of mentioning over an evening drink. Nowadays it’s rare that anyone else has a story about a fish anymore. In fact it’s a regular complaint – overfishing, lack of policies, the Government does not have the time or the inclination and do they even care? How many of us really do? Well once we go over the brink, we will probably awaken to an abrupt end… but it’d be too late.

I walked over to my kit, took out a brand new Strike Pro lure which I had planned to field test and carefully tied on the Fluoro-carbon trace to my 17 pound test line, while Santana gave the lure a look over. He carefully examined the shiny, sardine like tapered body, the hooks and the trace. Finally with a look of approval, we were ready. I was using a light, flexible, custom-made Japanese rod along with a beautifully matched Okuma Avenger 12 ball bearing reel.

The lures

I cannot stress on how important it is to have a rod and reel that’s well matched – not only does it enhance your casting distance and fighting technique but it also lets you cast longer without  tiring. Sometimes that extra hour on the water makes all the difference. So standing at the edge of middle finger rock, I casted and the line hissed out seamlessly. On hitting the water, the lure made a light splash. I start to reel in slowly keeping the rod tip down; this made the lure swim deep. I could feel the strong action of the lure as it swam but every now and then it had a sudden burst of erratic motion; this is important to entice a strike. As the lure came in close we could see its dark profile swim deep through the clear water.

Santana said “you are sure to get one if only the time was right, it’s too hot now the fish will swim deep”. With that he turned, said good bye and left but not before shouting over his shoulder
“Fish in the night and you may get something… maybe something big”.

Ken was resting on a rock; the sun was now beating down on us mercilessly. I was just about to cast when I suddenly saw something rather large come up very quickly out of the water and then disappear. I shot out a low whistle to catch Ken’s attention and then all at once, in front of us a head with a snorkelling mask popped up, gasping for breath. Here was a diver with a harpoon gun right under our feet! He waved to us and shouted back in a thick Russian accent “not a fish in sight” and then plunged back. The last thing an angler wants is a diver with a harpoon underneath his feet; fishing then makes no sense. We watched him for some time as he skillfully swam about poking around underwater rock formations, occasionally coming up for a breath of air. With our luck out, it was time to head back. As we climbed the steep hill we could almost sniff the fried fish and feel the chilled beer trickle down our parched throats. The sun’s unforgiving rays burned the back of our necks, yet we struggled on, trading off an arm and a leg for a sip of that chilled beer, which later turned out to be a costly trade.

The diver

We made it up and back to the car fairly quickly. And just a stone’s throw away we found a restaurant that was perched on the very slope we had driven up earlier. On seeing our fishing gear, the owner, Francis – who himself is a fisherman, got excited and a heated fishing discussion on spots and tides ensued which ended in him offering us food, accommodation, fishing tips and a fishing guide thrown in for good measure. With this stroke of luck we settled in. First a glass of chilled beer and then a long shower; while I stood underneath that spray of deliciously cold water, it felt like paradise, especially after that steep walk in the sweltering heat. I couldn’t help but thank my stars for chancing across Francis and his warm hospitality. We had a grand lunch which consisted of fried fish, French fries and some tangy fish curry rice along with a simple green salad. The discussion on fishing continued and once more we were regaled with stories on the abundance of fish. When Ken lamented the fact that the place hadn’t produced a single fish yet, Francis stood up abruptly from his lunch and declared confidently, “Anthony (the local guide) will definitely put you onto a fish, and it will happen tonight!”

There was little to say to that but await the prophecy. So we retired to our rooms for an afternoon siesta. I left the door open to let in some gentle sea breeze and with that we immediately slipped off into a deep slumber. We awoke around 4 o’clock – sweating profusely; the sea breeze had long vanished and the old ceiling fan stared down at us motionless. The famous Goan power-cut had descended upon this quiet town, making it all the more silent. Thankful for the power shedding, we jumped out of bed, dressed up our tackle and rushed off to the river. Francis showed us a spot up close to the lodge, where the river met the sea.

En-route to the fishing spot

The rocks there were slippery and the outgoing current was fast; I could see leaves, branches, logs, all the flotsam and jetsam rush swiftly out to sea. On the opposite side of the river, the low water exposed the sand banks. These were the banks of Keri – which were famous for its Barramundi fishing. On full moon nights, many big Barramundis were caught spinning off these very sand banks – which incidentally are still one of the best places to fish for Threadfin Salmon. I sat on a rock watching the ebbing tide while Ken casted out into the fast current. An hour or so passed by quickly. It is funny how time flies by when you are on the water and especially before sunset. I often feel everything happens quickly or is it the sun hurrying back home after its tiresome ascend from east to west? It was time to head back and it has always been and is difficult to get Ken away from the water, so whistling out to him, I said,
“Ken you do the best of three and then we leave”.

Three best casts, is always a good thing to do before you leave a spot for the day – there is no logical reason, it’s just a belief. On the first cast, I saw Ken stiffen up and knew he had a hit. I could hear the drag start to sing as the rod tip arched over. The fish did a long hard run and then again a short one. After that with each turn of the reel Ken gently played in the fish. I stood close at hand in readiness – to hold the leader in-case the fish showed early. After about 10 minutes, we were able to hoist a beautiful silver Finger-Mark Snapper out of the water, it was about 4 pounds, and its flat shiny body glinted against the rays of the now low sun. Carefully unhooking it, I let the water from the current flow through its gills. Once revived, I gently released the fish, it shot off – to live another day. With that triumph, we hurried back to the lodge, to meet with Francis’s fishing guide.

The sand banks of Keri

Anthony had already made his appearance; he stood up as we came in. In the candle light – the relief of his wiry physique against his dark tan spoke of many hours spent toiling in the sun. He had an honest face and I believe that at forty a man earns his face, whether good or bad. We shook hands and then got straight down to business. He gave our gear a once over, speaking only when necessary.
“Be ready at 9‘o’clock” he said and turned to leave.
“Hey Anthony, do you know anything about the Sail fish?” I asked. He stopped and his eyes lit up.
“Yes, but that was a long time ago, they came in around October, with the sardine run and stayed till January. We used to see them feeding in the deep waters off third finger rock.
“Did you try to catch any?”
“We tried for sure, but in those days we did not quite have the equipment to land them. Once a friend of mine hooked a big sailfish, it was a full moon night; we could see the fish’s big top sail-fin break the water surface as it came in to take the lure. After that it ran, until we were completely spooled out. There was nothing we could do; our reels and rods were no match for these strong fish.” He continued, staring off into the dark “I knew someone at Chapora, who once caught a sail using heavy hand line; the fish cut deep wounds in his hands. But now they are no more, I haven’t seen a sailfish in many years. Tiracol was an angler’s paradise, but now it’s all lost”, with that he concluded his conversation and left.
We had a quick dinner and started assembling our gear – torches, kit bags, etc. getting ready for what they call an “all -nighter” of fishing.  Francis, who’d decided to accompany us, sneaked some fresh squid as bait from the kitchen.

Third finger rock – the fishing spot we were head too on that faithful night

At 9 o’clock sharp, Anthony arrived out of the dark with his fishing rods and armed  with a head lamp which was switched off. He obviously knew the terrain so well that he had no need for light. So our party of four set off accompanied by a couple of local mongrels, who came along to watch the fun. With Anthony in the lead, it was a silent trek through the jungles. The air felt crisp, mixed with a strong assortment of jungle fragrances. I noticed that there was no moon, just myriads of stars that twinkled above in the clear, steel grey sky. We reached a plateau on the top of the hill, here the jungle thinned off and land was interspersed with fields. Francis mentioned that he owned quite a bit of property up here and during the monsoon when the fields were in cultivation, wild boars, civet cats and foxes were a common sight, as they came in to raid the crops. Ken nervously glanced around adjusting his torch beam. After a while Anthony took a sharp left and as we took the turn we were faced with a sharp drop off. Down below we could see the dark rocks and the white surf breaking on the rocks. This descent was a tricky one, with Anthony again in the lead, followed by Ken, Francis and me bringing up the rear.

Every one of us was slowly making our way down with rods in one hand and the other clutching onto anything we could get a hold on – the bushes, rocks. I don’t remember exactly what happened but somewhere towards the bottom, I miscalculated my step and slipped, the next moment I felt the sharp twist of my ankle. There was a rush of intense pain and a sinking feeling that something was seriously wrong. With my adrenalin pumping I straightened up and took a few steps, at first I felt nothing but then the pain came back in waves of increasing intensity. Using the rod butt as support I made it down and onto the rocks. The party below was waiting for me, I immediately sat down inserting my ankle into a pool of cool sea water, I then confided to the group about my twisted ankle. Francis quickly suggested that we crepe up the ankle with Kens cloth rod case. In the process of doing so we saw that my ankle had turned blue with a serious swelling, this clearly was a concern to everyone.
To diffuse the situation I said “Why don’t you guys fish, while I take some rest?”
“It’s a long way back, and this ankle does not look too good” said Ken
“At this point I think some rest would do me good, we came to fish so let’s fish”

Anthony and Ken went off down the third finger rock to spin off the edge. I couldn’t do much so Francis helped me get a bait rod ready using the squid and we casted off the rock. As the line went out, the water below seemed fairly deep. Firmly jamming the rod between my thigh and the rocks I lit up a cigarette and took stock of the situation. In the starlight I could make out the dark silhouette of Third Finger Rocks undulated formation point out to sea. The wind had picked up, and every now and then I could feel the spray of salt water on my face as the upcoming tide surged in.

I said “Francis, this sure looks like sailfish country, the water here must be deep”

“Very deep” was the answer and he continued “We used to catch big snappers here on squid, sometimes they were so heavy that we could not pull them up on the ledge, the hand lines used to cut in to our palms. Then we used to tie wrap cloth around the line and then pull them up.”
I said “ Sure thing, this spot has certainly got a strong aura”
“Yes it does, there is also a cave, not far from here, in fact it’s at the bottom right of the path where you sprained your ankle”
“Francis tell me more about this cave, is it a deep one?”

In a plaintive voice he then started narrating a rather strange story “Some years ago and all the way from Belgaum, two young Muslim men used to come here to fish, in fact they were very skilled fishermen. They used to collect their food and supplies from my lodge and then come across and stay here in this cave. When they had a good catch they used to present me with a fish or two. After a while they started to get their families along, to camp out in the cave, staying there for almost a week. They were a nice lot, always stopping over to collect their food and water supplies and also to have a short chat with me.

Then late one night I heard some loud banging on my front door, I being a light sleeper, quickly got up, arming myself with a stout lathi and went to see what the ruckus was all about. On opening the door, I found my Muslim friends, in-fact the entire family panting away in perspiration and looking terribly scared. After making them comfortable and offering them some hot tea, I inquired what made them desert their camp in such a hurry. They said that after some late night fishing, the entire family had assembled in the main part of the cave with the intention to call it a day. Just as they were about to snuggle in, the youngest child spotted something with a nebulous glow, floating about near the entrance of the cave? Soon everyone was wide awake and watched horrified as the nebulous glow started to take the form and shape of a young woman, whose head hung down with a rope round her neck. That was all they could take and in unison the entire family took to their heels.”

Third finger rock at night

“Very interesting story Francis, but if the ghost of that woman made an appearance right now, I wouldn’t be in a position to do much, not even swim”
At this comment, Francis looked visibly hurt and said plainly “I just told you the story, as it was said to me”
I tried to salvage the situation, saying “I absolutely believe you, in fact all this makes good material for a story that I may want to pen down someday and even mention you as a part of this escapade”
That got a smile on Francis’s face, he got up and walked ahead to see how the others were faring. The condition of my ankle was not looking good; in fact it was deteriorating. With this current predicament, I wondered how I would ever make it back and I must confess – that the thought of Francis’s nebula woman floating around was quite discomfiting. At that very moment I felt an immense tug on the rod and as I turned around, the sudden shift of my ankle made me scream in pain. There was something big on the other end and it was quickly taking yards of line from the spool in quick bursts. Armed with the heavy Penn Conquer 8000, boasting 50lb braid and a strong Rapala boat rod, I confidently tugged hard to set the hook and possibly stop the run. But that had no effect on the fish!
The line just kept going out. In desperation I tightened up the drag ever so slightly, slowly pumping the rod, at which the fish showed signs of relenting. I started to get back some line. With my hands occupied and my headlamp off, I was doing all this in the blind. But then there was another stronger run and the fish started taking off the line faster than before. From the way it dived I instantly knew it was a rock cod in the 30 pound rage. And I also knew for sure that if I didn’t get it to surface soon, the chances of the fish snagging the line down on the sharp reefs below were high. While this tug-o-war was on, the tide started to rise dangerously close to my rocky perch. I shouted out for Francis, then for Anthony and again for Ken, but there was no response. The sound of the thrashing waves drowned out everything. The fish had started to tire and was circling around close when I managed to turn my headlamp on. That was when Francis suddenly showed up.
“Have you hooked something” he said.
“Yes, yes and it’s big” I cried out.
“Give me the rod, let me land it”
“No, I will manage, the fish is down below, but there is no chance of us hoisting it up this rocky ledge, so go and get Anthony”
On the side the fish was, the ledge was at least 8 feet from the water below. Shuffling over closer to the edge, I peeped below. Through the surf, the light of my headlamp faintly revealed the huge brownish body of the struggling fish; at that moment I nearly lost my grip on the rod. I quickly sat back and started slowly guiding the fish around in small circles, but never letting it dive deep. By now the rest of the crew had arrived and were anxiously shouting out advice, sometimes contradicting each other. I hung on to the rod while Anthony was looking for a foot hold to get down below. All of a sudden, I felt the line go limp and the sinking feeling that something was wrong! The fish was off, the end was sudden. So close, yet so far, separated just by eight feet.
“Francis here take the rod, it’s all over”
“Damn it! Have we lost the fish” said Ken
“Yes, it’s gone, the hook slipped off”

There was nothing much to say, I leaned back to have a smoke. There was a feeling of relief that came over me. With the fish gone, my ankle pain was back with renewed intensity. It was unanimously decided that we should leave. Anthony and Ken crafted a pair of make-do crutches out of a fishing gaff and some sticks, and so began the long and arduous return. I will spare my readers all the anxiety that I experienced ascending that steep cliff. Anthony was by my side, gently coaxing me along and after much pushing and shoving I made it to the top.

Asking the rest to carry on, Anthony and I sat down at the top to have a rest. We gazed below into the dark abyss from which we had just ascended, while from above the stars twinkled back at us unassumingly. I thought about the sail fish and their free spirit, their ability to roam the oceans at will. I thought about fishing and all the risks we take, the geometry of chance which even knowledge and the best equipment cannot surmount. That’s fishing, and its very nature of unpredictability is what draws us to the sport. And we must never get bigger than the sport.
“Anthony, will the sailfish ever come back”
“I don’t know, maybe they will, maybe not, but will you ever come back?”
“Definitely I will! For there is a sail to catch”
“You may then need to catch some breeze first” he said with a broad smile.

Nostalgic & Beautiful Tiracol

Hooked – Fishing in Goa Part 3

6 Feb Casting Sunsets

The Last Asylum
Polem, Goa

Polem’s secluded shimmering blue waters, thick jungles and jagged headlands have always held a special place in my heart. Polem makes a perfect fishing paradise; in fact it’s one of the last intact and unspoiled beaches of Goa. But what really makes Polem my favorite haunt is that it lies in close proximity to one of lesser known and extremely beautiful wildlife sanctuary called Cotigao WLS. The locals know very little about Cotigao and to garish tourist it’s invisible. The sanctuary boasts of small but cozy self contained cottages (I believe built more for the angler than for the wild-lifer). The staff consists of some warm and dedicated individuals who stretch themselves backwards to make your stay as comfortable as humanely possible but don’t expect any 5star luxuries!

Cotigao WLS

Cotigao WLS

After a long drive it’s a privilege to sip off a piping hot pot of tea and listen to last of the evening birds chirp their way into dusk. The sun sets as the cicadas continue with their unvarying hum, the last calls of the “Did you do it “plover backed with the bark of deer serves as a reminder – that you are now in the jungle and its dark shadows looming large all around. An old forest guard unhurriedly walks up to make conversation, firstly about the local wildlife and then by the look at the salt on your shoulder he drifts invariably to fishing kabbar! The cook butts in with his vivid version of a large grouper weighing at least 50 pounds – which he more likely saw at the weekly markets than caught. So on and so forth the talk continues into the night while the pot of tea is surreptitiously replaced by a mug of rum.

Polem is about 60kms from Margao and about 30 kms before the border of Karnataka in the district of Canacona. To reach Polem by road you will need to ride the NH17 highway pass the famous beach of Palolem (the name of which one must not get confused with) and then carry on pass Cotigoa WLS, 10 odd kilometers after that is a small right turn with a sign board on which the words Polem Beach are barely legible. Watch carefully or you may miss this turn off. There is fuel pump before you reach the turnoff and a restaurant or a highway beach shack which provides some excellent fried fish to be washed down by chilled beer. Having taken the turn off, a quick steep descend will take you down to the palm fringed beach, passing by few small tiled houses and a bar. Polem does not have a variety of restaurants or fancy places to stay (at least when I used to frequent this place many years ago, but sometimes Goa can change at a blink of eye) so if you plan to make it an all-nighter then you must carry your sleeping bag and enough of food & water, let me caution you before we start as there is a trek to be undertaken via the jungles to the headlands.

Polem Beach

Polem Beach

Once you find yourself on the beach there are 3 immediate options – Fish the beach with bait casters, I have caught guitar sharks and big rays here so front with some solid trace -wire. The second – go south and fish the rocks but be careful as these rocks are the size of huge slippery boulders with foaming white water at the bottom.  The third is north, cutting through the jungles in order to fish the deep waters off the headlands rocks.I prefer the third. If you look out to sea you will notice a small island in the center of the cove, this makes an excellent spot for a quick trawl and it sits in the middle of the tidal currents. I am crazy about islands it’s almost a fetish and someday soon I am going to camp on this island under a full moon and fish both tides thoroughly – I can just about imagine the water exploding with GTs and Threadfins while huge snappers test the drag to burning point.
Now that I have given you the basic lie of the land lets proceed to some fishing. Start walking on the rocks which lie to the northern end of the beach, be careful as these rocks are covered with slippery moss, and after about an hour of walking you will reach a rocky cove which is nearly abreast with the island. The cove sports its own small patch of sandy beach with thick jungle in background. Here is a fresh water spring close at hand, which makes it a capital spot to pitch camp. Just before the jungle begins there is a large shady tree and underneath here you will find ashes of old campfires and spare wood left behind by fishermen on overnight fishing sorties. I have spent many a night sitting around a camp fire grilling fresh fish. On a starlit night the sand on this beach sports a eerie nebula’s glow which is amplified by the surrounding dark rocks.

The sandy beach

The sandy beach

The water is averagely deep (10 – 15 ft) with rocky reefs, some that surface only at low tide. The best time to fish here is when the tides receding. I remember the first time I fished Polem was on a biking trip with John who’s an old friend of mine. It was about 6pm and John was out buying supplies while I pitch camp and watched a beautiful crimson sunset over shadowed by a rapidly building thunderstorm. I decided to do a few quick casts.  The water was an opaque blue green and I had on a florescent Rapala fire-tiger which was on a slow retrieve, suddenly bang! a Trevally  took the lure mid way and rushed off with the drag screaming, I managed to quickly subdue its run just before it got to those submerged rocks.  After a few tense moments the fish was landed, it was approximately 10 pounds in weight and I quickly chucked it into a nearby pool to keep it alive. On the second cast I got hit very close to shore by a huge snapper, he fought like a demon, rushing into the surf it somehow unhooked itself and dash off leaving me shaken up, it was a big one in the 15 -20 pound range, without a landing net it would be a hard haul on the rocky ledges. This was unusual because snappers generally hook themselves rather thoroughly, they attack the lure or their prey with real gusto, pulverizing it with a huge bite. That evening we had the fish for dinner fried in oil we extracted from some ready to eat tinned food and as a finale we washed it down with some famous Goan port wine. Next morning was a day of tough fishing. We struggled the entire first half without a bite and then lost a huge grouper which tenaciously cut Johns line over the reef. Finally we managed to land a 12 pound red snapper. This fish was caught in middle of the afternoon on the outgoing tide and I hooked in standing on a rather high rock, this precarious hookup called for some very quick gaff work by John who managed by acrobatically clinging on to a rock with one hand and gaff in the other.

The red snapper

The red snapper

Night fishing here produces some excellent game on bait; you need to use squid or some very fresh mackerel. During the monsoons I have seen locals using hand line pull out huge groupers, an assortment of snappers, croakers and guitar shark.

Leaving this pristine small cove and clambering over the shoulder of the hill you will come across a treacherous gorge. This gorge can only be negotiated by climbing higher up the hill and then through thick jungle. Here you may come across wild boar, the elusive fox, hare and I have even found pug marks of leopard, thou sightings are extremely rare. After cutting down through the jungle and onto the rocks  you would eventually reached the headlands. The water here is a deep blue reaching depths of 15 – 20 feet and churns around like a washing machine. Huge snappers lurk close to shore, at casting distance you will find Barracuda and Trevally. First and most importantly find yourself a good foothold, arm yourself with some strong braid (30lbs), double check your drag setting and cast out, a slow retrieve will work the best. I would suggest u keep ready a landing net or good pair of gloves as pulling up a fish from the turbid soup could be quite a task. I have caught GT’s here in the 10 – 15 pounds range and lost some nerve racking fights to what I can describe as monstrous beast in the range of 30 pounds and above.
One early November morning I casted out a plug right into the incoming current and as I just started to retrieve a huge barracuda ( 4.5 feet) hit the lure and ran off like freight train, as he tired me out and  I tired him in he suddenly threw himself straight out of the water with a  tremendous leap, this leap was so sudden and startling that I nearly slipped off my rocky foothold; of which the consequences would have been disastrous. After a lot of kicking and screaming I landed him. That faithful November morning we had 6 fish between us – 3 snappers, 2 barracudas and a grouper  in the 20 pound range which we promptly released.
Polem continues to be one of my favorite haunts away from Goa’s madding crowd and yes the last asylum for a fisherman like me.

Polem Bay

Tight lines
Dean

Hooked – Fishing in Goa Part 1

5 Jun Casting Sunsets

Sunset casting

The thing about Goa is that it wants to make a man put his roots down. Even an essentially rootless person like myself. It is laid back (almost horizontal at times) and compared to the rest of this money mad country, a haven for the senses. Yep I could almost feel myself putting my roots down. But that is another story.

Being a coastal town you can’t get away from the seafood. Beautiful, shimmering, fresh seafood of an unbelievable variety, redolent of the taste of the ocean.  I have a friend who visits this town only to spend all his afternoons eating fried mussels washed down with cold beer at the various beach shacks. He loves Goan seafood because there is always someone catching it for you, gutting it for you and cooking it for you in ways only Goans could have imagined. Personally I prefer to catch it myself.

Goa has always been an exciting destination for every foreign or domestic angler.  It’s sun kissed coast, 2 big rivers and numerous coves gives the fishing a picture perfect look, but you would need more than that to catch a decent size fish as I discovered in my stint with this beautiful paradise.  A fishing spot is of paramount importance to an angler visiting a new place with limited amount of time. I have often spent days on the wrong side of the river or in the right spot with the wrong bait or have got the timing wrong, displeased a local deity and so on. I have had to learn by trial and error ( with a few good souls pointing me in the right direction).

But all this has been part of the learning curve and yes all these experiences has taken me a long way in my fishing career with many a good memory to bring a smile on in pensive times. I hereby endeavor to make a visiting angler’s task easier by describing a few accessible fishing spots and techniques. This information I hope will help them produce a decent catch (though I do believe that a “decent catch” is a very subjective topic). But remember, every spot has its day and time – what it produces depends on that.

In & around Panjim

Since Panjim is the heart of Goa I will start off here. Firstly Panjim has a decent tackle shop called “Champs” which is close to the famous “Big Panjim Church” white in colour and in the heart city.  The Tackle shop offers you a range of Lures, spinning reels, rods, hooks and other fishing accessories.  A good place to stop by in case you need to stock up some basic tackle and lures at the last minute.

The Mandovi river flows through the heart of Panjim diving it into 2 parts, for reference we shall call it the Panjim city side and the opposite side Betim.

Old Goa Jetty (the Art of Live baiting)

View from Old Goa Jetty

View from Old Goa Jetty

To get to the jetty take a cab or drive down to the Old Goa Church – the famous St Francais  Church (about 1/2hr for Panim via Ribandar).  As soon as you reach the church take the first turn off to the river. There are 2 jetties a small one and a larger one little further off.  The catch includes barramundi, snapper, bream, tarpon, catfish, and grouper. Note, the jetty has been well fished for years and in turn the fish have become wary. I have only caught fish here on live bait. Live shrimp and small bait fish called “pittioes” locally.  I have caught quite a few barramundi, snapper and bream on shrimp and once caught a few tarpons too. The place has to be fished early in the morning, it’s a day spot. The tide has to be slack turning to high as that is a time when the water is perfectly still.  Cast close to jetty with live bait, as most of the fish are either under the jetty or come up close too feed. Arm yourself with braid 30 lbs and good stiff rod, preferably a 13- 30lbs test, as when hooked up most of the fish head underneath the jetty and you would have to play it hard to keep it from snagging or cutting your line on the jetty structure.  Now the other trick in live bait is that the fish in the river are very sensitive to visibility of line, heavy line like braid and fire attract far lesser hits and hence I usually front with a foot or 2 of flora carbon 25lbs.  Use a small hook and work it lightly into the shrimp in the far end of the tail as this does not kill your live bait. Let the shrimp swim around a bit, weighed down with a small bit of lead to give it some depth. When u get a hit do not strike immediately but let the fish take some slack line this will enable the fish to swallow the bait, strike too early and you will miss it.  Strike when the fish is on the run and set the hook in well. Remember a snapper will gobble up your bait the instance it hits it but a barramundi or tarpon will need some time. I have lost a few barramundi with early strikes and seen tarpon spit the hook out.  If you wish to obtain live bait you need to talk to locals, especially to the owners of the prawn farms that are close to rivers, u will see them on your way to Old Goa via the Ribandar road.  The live bait has to be kept in a plastic container with holes on the top half for water and air to enter in and out freely.  The prawns will die fast (about 15 mins) if not immersed in the river to replenish the oxygen supply in the container while the “pittioes” bait fish will stay much longer (1hr). When fishing, tie the container well to a good holding and immerse it into the water attached by a strong rope. Remember to tie it well as quite a few containers have been lost in strong currents.

here is where they trap the prawns on their way out with the tide

Prawn Farm

I have found dead bait (dead mackerel or sardine) practically useless on this jetty; the only fish caught in plenty on dead bait is catfish. I have met with limited success with lures too.  On the whole the old Goa jetty is easily accessible, scenic and safe place to fish with friends and family. An easy days fishing.

Reis Magos Jetty & Rocks.

You need take the ferry across from Panjim to Betim or use the bridge, and take the road to Resi Magos. The road winds beautifully along the river side with the hills on the other.  The first landmark is the small White Light House facing the river and immediately after lies the jetty. The jetty being is close to the mouth of the river makes this a fairly good spot to fish but seasonal, you can catch a variety of fish depending on the season and the migration patterns of these predators. November to January is the best season to fish for barramundi.  Other species include snapper, Grouper, Sea Bream ( called Palu locally, caught aplenty towards the end of monsoons) and in the old days it used to be a favourite haunt for Ravas (Thread fin salmon).  Try to get to the jetty at about 5 am on a receding tide, stand at the edge of the jetty and cast straight out, the most effective plug to use here is the Red & White Rappal.  Remember the barramundi will strike very close to the jetty, and fight has to be quick as the side towards the light house has plenty of submerged rocks and this is where you fish will be heading for once hooked. If the fish gets into the rocks there where little chance of landing it.  Live bait (prawns) and dead bait (mackerel, sardine)  is also very effective, specially in the night. The best time to work the jetty is night, or early mornings.  The light house too is good spot to fish from but you may suffer from heavy tackle loss due to the submerged rocks.  It is preferable to use 30lbs braid or fireline.  A steel trace is recommended but I am not a big fan of traces because in clear water the trace is easily visible and this would seriously effect your strike ratio.  One can uses a mono or fluorocarbon leader of heavy line weight.

red snapper

red snapper

Down the road a little further from the jetty  is a restaurant called “River Rays”.   The rocks in front are an excellent place to fish for snapper and grouper on bait, of course there are plenty of rays to be found here. When fighting a ray, keep the rod tip up and continuously play with the fish. Do not let the rays sit as you will have a hard time getting them back up from the river bed.

The Fort Aguada

Overview of Fort AguadaContinue up the Sinquerim road,  ask for Fort Aguada. You will eventually pass Sinquerim and the road will wind upwards. The Sequirm jetty is another place one can fish at, but the tourist boat traffic is heavy here during Nov to March which keeps most of the game away.  Climb the road up and follow the directional signs to the fort. You landmark is the light house on the top besides the fort. Remember before we start, the fishing spot is at the base of the hill. Getting to it entails a bit of walking and a bit of hiking back. So carry a light nap sack, plenty of water and wear a pair of shoes with a steady grip.

Follow the dirt track that winds it way pass the lighthouse, round the bend you can avail of the beautiful view of the Panjim bay. The placid blue waters stretch out towards the horizon and drop to the sea is frighteningly beautiful. One can imagine why the Portuguese build this massive fort at such strategic point to defend the city. On a clear day with a good pair of field glass on can look down to watch shoals of dolphins gamble along playfully in the blue waters of the Bay.  The track continues pass the lighthouse and about 300 meters you will come to a vertical drop. Look for the path leading to the base. Now carefully negotiate your way down through lose gravel. At the base you will find small ruins of the fort and on the other side you will see a tongue of rocks heading out to sea while behind you looms the massive walls of the fort and the hill. This tongue of rocks is your fishing spot. Walk towards it along the base of the hill, passing a dark cave (worth exploring with torch light). Once on the fishing spot you will find the water deep and a greenish blue in Nov – Dec.  Fish species range from Big grouper, snapper, Giant Treville, barramundi and Threadfin (during season, but rare).  Early mornings and late evenings is the best time for casting.  A strong rod with line weight of 30lbs and above preferably braid is recommended.  Live bait works excellent here, but you would need to get your hands on some large white prawns. The walk down with live bait is practically not feasible, hence your next option would be dead bait – a fillet of mackerel works best on a large hook. I have been hit by huge Malabar rock cods (20lbs- 25lbs) that dive into their rocky lair almost immediately on striking; the stopping power of your gear makes the difference.  Casting with rubber shads work quite effectively, attracting snapper of 6 – 12 pounds.  If you happen to camp here for the night (which by itself is not a bad spot and considering the long walk for an early morning session) work with dead bait, on a rotten bottom rig. The idea here is to tie your weight (generally a stone) with light gauge line or some strong thread, which you will attach to you mainline and hook. If your line gets stuck and in most cases this is probably because of your weight, pulling hard will break away the thread and you will retrieve at least part of your rig intact along with your hook. This limits your tackle loss when fishing rocky bottoms.  On a moonlit night casting out with plugs may land you in some explosive action with barramundis and snappers. Cast out and limit your splash, a slow retrieve, keep your rod top down making sure that lure is swimming deep. Be sure you have  a strong footing, because there is no guarantee on what my be lurking down in those deep waters.

The Fort extends right around the hill lock leading to the Taj Hotel on the other side which also boast of a fairly good fishing spot (which will be covered in a later chapters).  The Fort is a decent spot to fish giving you access to open deep water, which could sport some fairly good game in the 20-30lbs class. But the difficulty is in getting there.  All in all Aguada can provide you with a bit adventure and isolation, but on the other hand it can prove quite disappointing and tiring if the fish don’t bite.   I have had average success, lost most of the big groupers in the rocks, landed a few GTs while spinning and 6-12lbs snappers on bait and lure.

ALL CONTENT

Read more about fishing in the latest article  ” Fishing in Goa Part 2″ – we go south – far south where the fish get bigger and the fishing tougher ….

Fishing those Dark Waters

11 Jul

 

turbid waters

It is a land of undulating rocky hills, jungle clad valleys and jagged cliffs that drop right into the sea. The west coast of India is a remote and challenging place to angle in, but the rewards are unmatched. There are no fishing guides, no tackle shops and no traces of hotels. A small shack with fresh spring water on a deserted beach is your only abode, a canoe with an outboard motor – your only mode of transport. But in the ocean, it is a different story – mystical huge rocks which are surrounded by lurking predators, screaming drags and rods bending backwards trying to withstand the daunting strength of gargantuan oceanic beasts fighting for their lives. You need to have it in you to take on this fight or else you’re better off casting of a pier in Goa.

A firm hand awakened me out of a restless sleep. It was 4 am, darkness was all around and the moon had set a long time ago. Except for the soft lull of sea not a sound could be heard. A dimly lit lantern threw an eerie glow onto a rigid weather beaten face that was staring hard with anticipation at the sea.

I had been on a cross country motorcycle expedition for the past 15 days. Here on my last leg of the tour I decided to dedicate the remaining few days to discovering what lies beneath those dark blue waters of Vengurla. Vengurla forms part of an archipelago at the southern tip of the state of Maharshtra in India. Due to the inaccessibility its beautiful white beaches and forested coves have been ignored.  In fact this has been the plight (or maybe it’s a blessing in disguise) of most southern beaches of this state.

On the road

On the road

I had spent the previous day rambling these coves, inspecting potential fishing spots and chatting up locals for information. A reef which is an hour’s journey by boat was where the action was supposed to happen. Snapper, Grouper, Barracuda, giant Trevally, Spanish mackerel, Tuna, Sailfish, the blue marlin, Gar fish, Shark and the Barramundi swim these waters. The previous evening I had befriend a local fisherman “Gillu”, who knew the waters well and was eager to take me to the “Rocks”. He was not just merely being helpful; he had an agenda of course which was to find out how in the world was I going to tackle those monsters with just a strange looking flimsy rod and a few equally intriguing artificial “man made” fish with hooks sticking out of them. One must understand that the locals here have never been exposed to the fine art of angling; all they are used to are nets and some crude hand line gear- traditional methods handed down through generations. Fishing to them is not a sport; it is a necessity, a livelihood.

Gillu wasn’t the only one; I too had reservations as to just how I was going to tackle big oceanic game with my light rod and tackle. Hurriedly splashing some water on to my face, I grabbed my gear and followed Gillu into the dark. The crisp chill of the morning air added some fresh flavor to the excitement as Gillu and two of his hench men singing a low, deep chant slowly dragged to boat from the shore into the sea. As I splashed my way into the boat, there was hardly any conversation expect for Gillu’s low, stern voice giving directions out to his men. The outboard motor sputtered to life and we were on our way out into the grey

Gillu and his boat

Gillu and his boat

dark sea. All aboard the canoe sported a sober, featureless look. I stared out into the grey expanse while I seriously contemplated my predicament – the dark sea ahead, trusting my life in the hands of strangers in a canoe and the impending battle with the so called “monsters”. The previous night Gillu initiated a sort of religious ceremony to appease the sea gods and ensure a safe and productive fishing trip. Not being very religious ,I had played along at the time with the whole show so as to not offend my host. Now in the boat racing out on to dark deep sea I was hoping that the sea god would look down on my disbelieving soul with a little more compassion than I deserved.

After an hour on open water I could make out the hazy shape of a huge rock formation emerging out of the mist. Gillu pointed to water and made a hand gesture that I should now cast. So I let the rappla plug into the dark waters, a medium rod loaded with 30lb line.  We started to trawl as we passed the first huge rock that made up the formation, I couldn’t help but notice its rugged, weather beaten outline superimposed onto a dark background. The rock was intimidating; it stared down at me as if I was an intruding into its private domain.

Suddenly I felt a strong tug and the drag began to scream, as if hit by a hurricane. I tightened my hold on the rod, something big, real big, had hit me. Things were happening fast, the line just kept going out at high speed 20, 30 yards – damn, wrong drag setting? to light a drag ? — a minute or 2 had past before I could figure out what was happening in the dark and then the line suddenly went limp, I had lost a huge fish within 10 minutes of trawling.  I could estimate the fish to be definitely above 40 pounds from my usual drag settings. Gillu smiled. The game was afoot. I picked up the larger rod loaded with a diva which sported 50lbs line and put on a large legendary red & white rappla and as I cast off the first rays of the sun broke through the east. Our boat rounded of the second rock formation, these were a set of two huge rocks and Gillu negotiated the canoe through a narrow opening in between them. As we were just coming out of the chasm I was hit again, the drag, this time tighter was well behaved and I started fighting my first fish. The sun had risen and after a 10 minute of fair fight the water at starboard side broke and splashed. Out of the deep blue emerged a  barracuda with a set of jaws that could make milk curdle. We dropped the trawling speed down to about 6 knots and went round the rocks the second time. There I was hit again. This time we hauled in a large barracuda. We did 2 more rounds which yielded a couple of barracuda’s.

The crew was now excited, Gillu mumbled something in local dialect to his men and asking me to reel my line in. He told me that I had had enough of a “warm up” and that we were now off for the “Konkar”, the big game. We sped out into open sea and Gillu cut the engine just before we could reach a small rock which had its dark head peeping out of the water.

hit by the monster

All around bait fish were jumping out of the water chased aggressively by something just beneath the water. Gillu reach into the corner of the boat for a packet and started casting out its smelly and slimy contents. The water churned with excitement. He started the motor and I cast into the centre of the action as we slowly trawled around the rock. As expected I was hit immediately, the lure was ambushed on the surface and the drag began the scream. I gave a firm tug and out went the line. After about few minutes of line running out it was my turn to reel in, as soon as I started the fish did another aggressive run. Gillu cut the motor and started to very wisely row the boat away from the rock. We started to guide the fish into open water now and let it take its fill of line. I knew it was huge and there was no room for error. 15 minutes of hard fighting for every yard of line and the fish was tiring. I started the slow pumping action and beneath 10 feet below the boat I could see a huge dark shape of a Trevally! This was big and the way it fought it was definitely above 40 pounds. We started to put some aggressive action on the Trevally, and just at it surfaced it took off again and this time for a long run. To make a long story short to took me another 30 minutes of hard fighting to get the fish under the boat. By this time both the fish and me were tired, I had been fighting for 45 minutes now sitting in an awkward position, which alternated from my clambering on my haunches to sitting on hard planks.  The canoe, which tended to circle around its axis if not controlled, tossed me around quite a bit and made the fight a very trying and difficult one. At last it surfaced, it was huge! I could see the head, the tired eyes staring listlessly. Gillu was now desperately trying to align the boat which was ever so close to the rock, he shouted out to one of his crew to grab the trace wire
and lift the fish. It suddenly came to me that we had no landing net or gaff. The old man on the hull garbed the trace and started to lift the now calm Trevally out. As soon as the head lifted out of the water he realized how heavy this fish was. With its last surge of energy the fish trashed its head from side to side, which partially straightened out the hook. The old man did not stand a chance in this violent burst of energy, the heavy body fell back into water with huge splash and the trevally’s dark shadow faded into the deep blue. The hook had come off, it must have ripped through the jaw of the monster.  There was silence on the boat, the disappointment in Gillu’s face was hard to hide. I had done my part, I had fought his monsters on their own terms and the deal was I would get the fish to boat and if he landed it, the fish was his to keep. I sat back lit a smoke and smiled, my Trevally gave me what I came for and it had earned its freedom.

There was a heated exchange onboard between the crew and the captain. The old man swore on this life long experience of fishing, that the “Konkar” was well above 50 pounds, probably justifying the reason for dropping it back. Just from the size and fight I think it was about 30 – 35 pounds and one hell of a fighter.

The days Catch

The days Catch

We trawled for about 2 hour and caught about 12 – 14 fish. Later a 20 pounds Trevally put on quite a fight too and I released it to get bigger and fight better. I taught Gillu to use the rod too. Eventually we tired. On the way back we passed the spot where after getting my first hit, we lost the lure in a very sudden, suspicious manner. I questioned Gillu about the incident. He causally mumbled “Shark, they always here before the sun can rise”.

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