Marine Predators of the Malabar coast of India & Goa

In this article I strive to describe the fish we spend hours, sometimes days at end chasing down, many a times they have eluded us but every now and then we win and success always taste sweet.  Through all these jaunts I have learned a bit about them and the more I learn the more I’ve come to love and respect these albeit formidable yet marvelously crafted creatures of the blue.

I believe similar species of fish behave differently elsewhere and in accordance to the environment they live in. I have based my observations on the fish caught off the west coast of India and Goa in particular. They are my personal experiences and you may have a different point of view which I do respect, I also respect the fact that like humans ‘no two fish are the same’ each has its own personality.

Below is a list of fish species I hope to write about and that can happen only over a period of time. So please bear with my sporadic ability to cover only a few just now, and more as and when I get down to it.
Barramundi, Threadfin Salmon, Red snapper / mangrove Jack, Giant Trevally, Yellow Fin Trevally, Sea Bream – Pallu, Grouper / Rock Cod, King fish / Surmai, Tarpon, Croakers, Scats, Queen fish, Sail fish, Black Marlin, Gar fish, Sweet lip, Barracuda, Bonitos, Wahoo, Tuna, Parrot fish, Cobia, the elusive river mullet.

Red Snapper /Mangrove Jack and Grouper / Malabar Cod.

red snapper
red snapper

These blighters are first on my list as they provide some of the most entertaining sport and are relatively easier to find. They live in estuaries, thrive in mangroves, love rocky reefs and are sometimes not adverse to aimlessly swim around open beaches. The Snapper is tenacious and unpredictable. Once he launches his attack there is no half measure – in short he thoroughly hooks himself. The grouper is happy gulping down anything and everything he deems edible, which sometimes includes things that are bigger than him. Once he figures that the situation is unhealthy – which means being hooked good and proper, he makes a B line to his rock den. If he does get home he spreads open his gills and locks himself securely between rocks, no amount of pushing and pulling will then dislodge him. I have seen my trace wires come back baldly mutilated from such engagements. Once hooked both snappers and groupers will tend to foul you against rocks in hope to cut off your line by diving deep and rubbing themselves against rocks on their way down. They posses immense strength but lack in stamina, not that u going to feel the difference if a big one is on the other end of your line.  I have caught snapper off the coast in relatively deep water and the initial fight gets you thinking that you are hooked onto something huge, the sheer power and brute force exerted on the first run is incomparable. They always come in kicking and screaming alternating with a solid but short burst of energy as soon as they see the boat. Once out of water the snapper tends to give up and die quickly while the old grouper will tenaciously hang on to life.

Mangrove habitat

Sappers love mangroves in fact they live, breed and thrive in there. They are ambush predators and love to hide in dark shadows underneath mangrove trees and rock pilings.  When a potential victim presents itself, a snapper literally pounces on it with amazing speed and agility, a powerful bite from the jaws and the prey is done for. The business end of both snappers and groupers sport a row of sharp teeth that can grow to almost half an inch, a powerful tail acts as rudder providing that instant thrust. So when casting for snapper try to have your lure reach right beneath those over hanging mangroves and into those dark corners, then slowly retrieve it at an even pace, occasionally giving the lure a slight twitch – this excites the fish a bit inducing a quicker hit.

Mouth of a grouper

Bait
Both fish feed on almost the same diet crustaceans, fish & prawns. But they are both extremely partial to squid and crabs. When it comes to dead bait squid works the best as opposed to mackerels or sardine unless the latter are extremely fresh. Most live bait is readily accepted. I have found live crab especially the black variety to deliver excellent results. Firstly it’s easy to insert the hook  near the tail-end (not the shell) and after that the crab does not slip off the hook easily; secondly once dressed up on the hook they live longer than most other live bait, third and most importantly with a little bit of practice crabs are comparatively easier to catch in the wild and will stay alive all day without a peep of complain.  Catfish infest the waters of Goa and I learned from the locals how to hook them up in the tail and present them to groupers, frankly it does not work for me all the time, but when it did, I caught my biggest grouper from shore – a 50 pounder! (Read Fishing in Goa – part 2 – Illegal Fishing at Vasco)

Red snapper on shad

Most lures work well especially on an upcoming evening tide, snappers and groupers tend to get much bolder once the sunsets, expect a frenzy of hits at twilight. But the Shad is the clear winner in the artificial arena. I think when presented well, it’s almost irresistible; the shad not only looks but also feels real. Both fish gulp it down which is big help in setting a hook. Another advantage with shad, that sports the hook on the top-side, is swimming it close to rock pilings and reefs without the hooks snagging up on them. I have caught most of my snappers on shads which also accounted for the big fella on the left, he was hooked from the shore.

General and specific observations
Just after the monsoons you will find juvenile snappers ranging from about a pound or two, congregating at the mouth of small brackish stream or pools.  I have spend hours at end playing around with them, they are extremely moody and at certain parts of day they shy away from everything, including a small splash of chummed bait while at other times they come up close to investigate. If u happen to throw a piece of prawn at them they will quickly gobble it up, attach it to a hook and they will stay away.
Once the sunsets, there is a noticeable change of behavior, they get quite edgy and once curiosity gets the better of them, you can then have a some very entertaining sport on light tackle, I would recommend using a fly here. Once caught, be sure to release these feisty little fellows, if u must keep just one for the table. Back home I have a snapper in my fish tank and she’s extremely moody – feeding veraciously on certain days and completely ignoring food on an another. There’s nothing much to deduced from that – except that unpredictability is a common trait in females of all species.
The Malabar grouper sport a beautifully spotted coat which is dark brownish in colour, there are lighter variations but they all built to merge perfectly into their surroundings, making them almost invisible to the naked eye. The Snapper is distinctly reddish brown and in some cases pale grayish yellow-ochre. They sport vertical stripes, which tend to further break up their profile providing them some extra camouflage (the stripes fade quickly once caught). I have seen snapper exhibit  colour variations depending on the background and temperament.

Spotted Malabar Grouper

In all – both the snapper and grouper are extremely adaptable fish inhabiting a wide range of habitats – from deep oceanic reefs to almost fresh water rivers. These fish have provide me with many hours of entertainment not just at the end of line but by sitting by the edge of bank and watching the youngster squabble away at hook-less lure.
Long may they live to see another day.

To be continued…

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5 thoughts on “Marine Predators of the Malabar coast of India & Goa

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  1. dean

    great site you have here .,all my years visiting goa and now i get the info ive been craving via your excelent blog
    interesting reading that you have much faith in soft plastic as a preference to hard rapala /storm type lures …i to prefer the fishlike action of shads and the like !
    i always go to the same place [benaulim] for my annual goan holiday . nice to meet up time n time again with freinds from here as well as fellow tourists…
    my rods consist of travel freindly shimanos that come in protective tubes robust enough to get through baggage handling with the need to worry if their goin to make the journey here !

    dean i would love to catch up with you if your ever down south for very obvious reasons
    as well as making new fishing buddies , i have transport and some knowlage of the area from madjorda to betul [river sal]

    could type here for ever dean but need to get ready for my goa trip
    will be in benaulim sunday 25th feb for a month ….

    keep up the fine work here dean
    regards

    billy

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  2. good idea writing about these different species with an anglers point of view,you can include some scientific information mixed alongside if u have any access to it.I have tried but did not find any good books which talk about these local fishes in any meaningful detail.Do let me know of some books in case u know of any,ive tried at BNHS but they dint have any good books on these fish.looking forward to your new write ups,thanks.

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    1. Sure Maulik, thanks for the feedback. I have intentionally stayed away from scientific data, I have loads of research material which I refer to from time to time (will send a list of reference books). In my articles I try to keep things simple, and the information is more local and personal in nature. But will keep in mind your inputs and try to add on some interesting scientific facts wherever possible.

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