Grey clouds cast a sullen gloom over the city as gusty winds bend umbrellas and scatter the litter carelessly left lying around by the inhabitants of this overpopulated city. The monsoons have hit Bombay. I stare out of the office window looking at the crowds scurrying along like bait fish, hurrying back home to their lives. Caught in the sudden (but not unexpected) deluge, their joys, their triumphs, their tribulations and their insecurities are washed away momentarily by the rain. Right now the warmth and familiarity of the evening meal with the family are their only priority. When the monsoons hit, I need to get out of this place. I need to go south. The rains tend to make Bombay seem just ever so slightly more crowded. It’s no surprise to me anymore, that when the monsoons arrive, more often than not I find myself pining for Goa.
Ahh Goa, the scent of fresh rain on hot earth, all nighters on the jetty, under the bridge sessions for Barras, casting out in knee deep waters or just walking … walking long and hard across those endless sands, a walk that does good for both your soul and your body. I have saved up a few days leave for just such an occasion. I think I’ll pack my fishing gear and head down south, way down south.
The Threadfins of Zuari River
The Zuari River is the largest river in Goa, its salinity content is quite different from that of the Mandovi which runs through the capital Panjim. To get here you will need to take the main highway 17 from Panjim towards the town of Vasco and stop at the Zuari Bridge. It forms an unofficial divide between the north and the south of Goa.
The Zuari has is its share of surprises concealed within its banks. To begin with, there are the crocodiles that thankfully confine themselves to the marshes upstream. I have seen a 9-foot long croc basking on the banks. As I approached it (intending, of course, to maintain a good distance while looking for a photo opportunity) the croc slipped off into the river. They are quite harmless, or so the locals and the forest department officials assure me, but you won’t find me rushing up to one to pat it on the snout.
The next one is (in my humble opinion) the legend of these waters, the Black “Ravas” (Threadfin salmon). The locals claim that just under the bridge are a bunch of Salmon that have gone rouge, in the sense that they don’t migrate anymore. They stay put and decimate the shoals of mullet that make their way upstream and on the turn of the tide they put on an aerial show for hapless fishermen who have tried every trick in the book to snare one. I don’t know about them being black but I certainly know that hapless feeling, of casting jealously hard at the pilings and yes; they don’t take the bait easy or matter of fact not at all! This article is all about not making the mistakes I did.
If you don’t mind normal migrating threadfins, grouper, snapper and barramundi, then the Zuari has a lot to offer. Fishing is good along the river particularly the mouth. The bridge gives you good overhead access to the water. The local’s fish from the top of the bridge with heavy 100mm lines, using live mullet as bait. I have seen some 20 pound threadfins landed in this fashion. The fishing from the bridge is productive, but landing the fish from here is difficult; the drop down is a good 50 meters and you will need a “buddy” to help drag the fish to the end. Having done that, one of you will have to go down and land the fish. I suggest the jetty under the bridge; here you can cast off with plugs or use bait. Standing on the pilings near the pillars gives you the extra reach – as you would need to cast right into the flow of the incoming or outgoing tide. Remember once you have a fish hooked up you would need to fight hard because if the fish does reach the pillars, chances of you getting snagged it is very high. The game here is mostly Barramundi, Threadfin and snapper. I have seen a lot of rays and eels caught on dead bait. I would recommend – light but strong casting tackle, 20 -30-pound braid or Fireline and trace wire (as threadfins can slice the best of lines). The silver spoon is best when the Threadfins are feeding – the spoon is also easy to swallow as threadfins have a hard outer lip which makes hook penetration difficult with big lures. The bridge is best fished at night. When the tide turns you will hear splashes – heavy splashes. The Black Ravas is in the swim!
Illegal Fishing at Vasco (at your own risk)
When a good spot is deemed illegal to fish for no apparent reason then I must fish it! It’s in my nature, I suppose. The fact that this is Goa, where rules and bans are at odds with the laid-back nature of the state only acts as an aggravation for me to bend the rules a bit. However one does risk a hefty fine and I would not want my recommendation to land a fellow angler in any trouble. However, I do believe that fishing is not only about catching fish it’s the about the adventure that comes along with the sport – like the adventure Vasco da Gama had when he set foot in Goa in the early 1500’s probably at the very place which is now deemed illegal to fish ….. just imagine those waters, virgin and pristine, no nets and trawlers to wreak havoc – just huge Barramundi and Threadfin going about their business as usual. I often wonder how things would have been if I could go back in time with a rod in hand, I bet it would have then been a “fish a cast” in the midst of those fluttering palms, the excitement of it all accentuated by shots of cashew fenny (local potent hooch) and the prospect of a good spicy curry made out of my catch and a yarn or two of long lost sunken Portuguese armadas (told by an inebriated local of course)!
The Vasco port has an old disused jetty which is attached to the dry docks. The jetty runs out into the mouth of the bay giving you access to some of the deepest waters. Huge Threadfin and Trevally are caught here every season, the barramundi can run up to 60 pounds and I have caught a 50-pound grouper (estuary cod – Epinephelus malabaricus). There are stories afloat of fishermen who while fishing the jetty with hand line, were dragged into the water by Giant Trevally (apparently the fish released the men, to swim back to shore and tell the tale), and tales of divers that have harpooned monsters are rife. I would like to quickly narrate one particular story that got me ticking. At the dry docks near the jetty worked a commercial diver. On one of his routine dives, he spotted a huge grouper weighing about 300 pounds! The grouper got used to the divers routine and soon started feeding off the scraps of fish he brought down. The diver boasted about his new underwater friend – the huge monster that he fed with his own hands. Soon this became the talk of the jetty and subsequently, the disbelief of his envious landlubbin friends got the better of him. One night over a drinking session, his friend the crane driver cajoled the diver into executing a devious plan – to hook the monster and bring it to the surface with the help of a dock crane. I don’t know why the diver agreed, whether it was just for kicks or whether he wanted to prove the authenticity of his adventures to a disbelieving crowd. At dawn everything was set, the crane, long chains, gaffs and an assortment of gear that was crude but lethal. The diver slipped down with a huge hook camouflaged with some fresh squid, the unsuspecting grouper turned up as usual and swallowed it up – hook, line and sinker. The hook set in deep. As apparently planned the signal was given and the crane driver powered up the motors, the heavy creaking chains slowly but steadily hauled up the grouper. It’s believed that the grouper did put up a very tough fight but the powerful torque of the crane was too great a match for any fish. Finally, it surfaced and the waiting henchmen along with their gaffs hit hard into the fish’s midriff and under it’s jaw like whalers would. After an intense tug-of-war the grouper was landed. That afternoon the dockyards entire workforce had turned up while this majestic Piscean’s life slowly ebbed away. The diver and his henchmen were christened heroes; there was much song and dance that night. The next day dawned with last night’s adrenaline quickly ebbing. Now sober and a little unsure, the diver doubled checked his gear and slipped into the water drifting silently down. But as the story goes, he never resurfaced, his guilt laid to peace in a watery tomb within the lonely depths.
Coming back to the present – the gates to the jetty are always locked; a barbwire walled fence adds glamour to greed. Do not try to jump the fence and get gaffed for trespassing; you cannot fish here in the day. But at night, there is an easier way. I did my homework, chatted with a few locals and waved the magic fishing-rod, the results were encouraging. For a small (unofficial of course) fishing fee (I like to call them green passes) the watchman will let you in with a warning that every thought and action of yours after the gate is at your own risk.
Once on the jetty you have the (albeit illegal) options to fish the outer sea-facing side of the breakwaters or the inner side which has calmer waters. The outer side is best for spinning with big plugs or popping for Giant Trevally and in the month of October, the chances of hooking into some fairly large threadfin are fairly good. The calmer tide on the inside of the breakwater is best fished with live bait for grouper, snapper and barramundi. Live prawn or mullet is excellent while squid and mackerel also do well as dead bait. At the end of the jetty there is a tall structure that houses a harbour light. From there you will have direct access to the deep foaming sea – a good place to use a bait caster but remember to have a long harbour gaff handy.
The grouper is caught here by using small palm size catfish as live bait. The hook is inserted into the tail and the catfish is thrown back in. Using this method I had a huge grouper hit me like a freight train in the dark. With my drag nearly locked and the sturdy boat rod bent to snapping point it was impossible to do much, if it hadn’t been for timely help by local fishermen I would have almost lost the monster. The fish took over an hour to land as it had to be wrenched out from under the jetty in a boat in a most unsporting manner. Having busted my arms, back and the drag of my trusted Penn reel for a grouper that weighed approx 25 kilos (50 pounds) – it was worth it! I released the fish after a quick photograph.
Now then, if you are still spoiling for some illegal fishing then you certainly know where to go! Of course, all this is at your own risk. I recommend terminal tackle but never chains.
If you need to stock up on your tackle, Vasco has a well-equipped tackle shop called Casa Ibrahim just opposite HDFC bank which is in the heart of the city. The owner Nasir Bhai can cater to most of your angling needs and of course, if he is too busy he’ll throw in a few fishing spots for free.
Cabo Da Rama
Let’s start by keeping the directions simple, South Goa starts off with a long flat beach that runs for kilometers, each part of the beach being called a different name. Where this beach ends, rocky cliffs start as do hidden coves. Here good fishing is to be had. To get to some of the spots mentioned below you will need your own hired getaway vehicle as these places are remote and local transport is terribly unreliable.
In the district of Canacona, South Goa lies the desolate crumbling ruins of a fort that pre-dates the Portuguese rule and dates back to ancient times. The steep fort walls fall directly into the sea, the view is spectacular and panoramic. Within its ramparts, the fort houses the church of Santo Antonio which lies silent and haunted. To reach Cabo Da Rama (Cabo) take the National Highway 17 from Panjim and head south past the town of Margao. A couple of kilometers after the town a road sign will point off the highway and onto a winding scenic road that will eventually lead you to Cabo. Keep asking along the way, once they catch a glimpse of your rod n’ tackle; friendly locals will beckon you along. In my experience, a rod in hand is the quickest way a stranger can be accepted in a foreign land. Strangers without definite direction are looked upon with wide-eyed suspicion. But with a rod in hand the motive is made clear and then the locals will come forward with detailed descriptions on where, how, when and why to fish! Lots of bluffs are mingled in to spice up the adventure and beckon you on your way. I had a family even offer me lunch after such a detailed conversation. However, I believe they were under the impression that I wouldn’t catch a thing and then probably starve.
Stop before you reach the fort gates unless you want to venture forth and explore the old bastion with its haunted chapel. Sadly, both are now a desolate spectacle of crumbling ruins. There is a small restaurant near the gates and besides, it is a pathway that will take you down to the base of the cliffs. If you don’t see it, wave your rod around and the locals will show you the way. To your left, you will find big rocks with the deep blue water thrashing against them. Your tackle here should consist of a strong spinning/casting rod with a stiff tip, 30lbs braid/mono, with a strong shock leader. The fish found here consist mainly of the larger Malabar groupers (estuary cod – Epinephelus malabaricus) and snappers (Lutjanus argentimaculatus), there are good chances of a Giant Trevally too. The best time to fish here is what I call the golden hours – start 2 hours before high tide and 1 hour after the tide turns.
The best early morning times are 6 am to 8 am and late evenings from 5 pm until sunset and beyond. Spin out from the rock and use a slow retrieve. The fish will hit you close to your feet and then tear off into the rocks; here is where the stopping power of your tackle and drag comes into play. A strong shock leader will save you from the fish cutting your lines against the rocks. I had better success with lures (Rapala – silver mackerel and the fire tiger) along with Storm shads. The best bait here is a squid. Fish ranging from 10 pounds and above have been caught here on a good day. I once hooked into a huge grouper that dived down into the rocks. After much coaxing and tugging, he did finally relent – a 20 pounder. I released him and you can bet he is still out there, eager to put up another fight. So if you get into a tug-o-war then you know whom to thank!
Stand on the top of the fort walls, look out over the placid water and you will see a small island at the tip of the landhead towards the north. I have heard and believe that there are some sizeable fish to be had around the island. The best way to do it is to trawl around it with a local boat. Since I have not yet gotten down to doing this and if any of my readers do beat me to it please write back on “what lurks beneath”.