India is one of the most unlikely places I have ever been fly fishing, it is perceived as being hot, arid and polluted. But the area to the North of Delhi on the border between India and Nepal is a paradise of clear rivers and giant Mahseer.
Landing in New Delhi I felt a real excitement; I was going fishing to the Himalayan foothills to follow in the footsteps of the great British Rajas of old. Having read the book ‘Circumventing the Mahseer; and other Sporting in India and Burmah’ by A. MacDonald I felt that I was ready to tackle this elusive fish. We know that the old British rulers of India would take months off to fish for Mahseer during the late 1800’s and up until the mid 1940’s when there was little time for pleasure and the British Empire was starting to come to an end. Since then Mahseer fishing has been in decline with the locals dynamiting certain stretches of river for food.
After two days of traveling across the stunning Indian countryside we finally had our first glimpse of the River Saryu. The river was very different from what I was expecting in that I could have been standing on the banks of any small Atlantic salmon river in the northern hemisphere. The river was gin clear, meandering around bends before coming to fast rapids followed by classic looking pools. That combined with the looming Himalayan Mountains as a back drop made this a real visual feast, I could not wait to start fishing.
The guides were waiting for our arrival in sturdy inflatable rafts and we were handed tackle before embarking on our journey to the first of our two camps. We fished from the boats as we floated down the river and it wasn't long before my rod was almost snatched from my hands as a result of a frighteningly aggressive take and just as quickly the fish was off. Fortunately we didn't have to wait long before a Mahseer was landed, my companion managed to land an 11 lb fish on only her third cast and what a fight it gave her. Mahseer tend to fight very doggedly on the bottom rather then jumping and flailing around on the surface. A struggle with a Mahseer is a long endurance test of you, the fish and your tackle.
After catching five more Mahseer, we reached our first camp which was positioned on a beach on the banks of the river overlooking a nice pool. The tented accommodation consisted of modern sleeping tents that are very comfortable complete with bed, table and chair. The dining room is a covered area on the beach. This is essentially an eco camp with no running water or electricity which all seemed to add to the ambiance of our surroundings but did not interfere with the good food and cold drinks that were readily supplied by our host.
We found fly fishing for these wonderful fish a challenge but this is one challenge that is definitely worth taking up. The principle is similar to salmon fishing, you cast down and across but the fact that caught us out, before our guide put us right, is that when fly fishing for Mahseer you need to concentrate on the fast white water and not the enticing looking pools where you would expect to find them. However, Mahseer are as canny as permit in the fact that they will refuse to take your fly more often then not but when they do you quickly understand why they are called the "tiger of the river". The rod bends and the reel screams but the fish is rarely seen until it is ready to come to the net. There is a massive sense of achievement when one manages to hook and land a golden Mahseer on the fly; it is only a very small and lucky group of anglers that can claim to have achieved this feat.
The fishing is not the only amazing experience you can expect whilst in the Himalayas, it holds so much more. There is a wealth of culture in the hills and the people are the most hospitable I have ever come across. Plentiful wildlife can be seen everywhere in the hills and along the river banks and you could probably identify a species that you have not seen or heard of every day of your visit. Combined with amazing photographic opportunities this trip would be perfect trip for a non fishing guest as well.
India is a remarkable place with remarkable people and scenery, the fish are a challenge to catch especially on the fly but I would recommend this as a trip for the real adventure fishermen