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 backward 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 the 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 discover what lies beneath those dark blue waters of Vengurla. Vengurla forms part of an archipelago at the southern tip of the state of Maharashtra 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.
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 befriended 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 handline 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 henchmen 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 except 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
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, deep seaI had played along at the time with the whole show so as to not offend my host. Now in the boat racing out on 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 a Rapala 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 passed 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 Rapala 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 the 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.
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.
We trawled for about 2 hours 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”.