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A small Mahseer taken on the Ramganga River ©Norman Burrows

Many people will have heard of the Mahseer - that huge, almost mythical, denizen of India's rivers. However, India offers a number of other species to tempt the local and international aqngler. Some are set out below:

Goonch Bagarius bagarius

Widespread throughout Asia, India is known for the largest species of goonch. Owing to their voracity, their formidable teeth and general appearance, they are also referred to as the fresh water shark and grow to a length of almost six feet. Its body is usually dirty grey with large irregular black or dark brown markings. Its fins usually have a dark band across them and sprout from a dark base. They are scaleless fish and have fleshy feelers attached to their mouths.

Goonch is a predatory fish and lies in wait for its food in the swiftest water of the rapids, where it maintains position by adhering to rocks by means of its smooth chest and fins. They lie at the extremes of white water and are partial to the depths of the largest pools if there is a current slicing through them. Though very strong, they are sullen to a degree and sluggish in their movements especially on being hooked.

They sometimes take spoons and plugs but are best on live bait (eel) spun very slowly. Once hooked, they go straight for the bottom. It is then the pull…devil…pull baker act which ensues, sometimes ending in favor of the fish. To wear him out once snagged, tie your line to a fair-sized bamboo. Cut the line and allow the bamboo to float in the water. The bamboo bobbing in the current will keep a continuous strain on the goonch and hopefully by the end of the day it will be played out. If not, look for the bamboo next day! Mostly, the goonch runs to about 250lbs, though the largest that has been caught on a rod line was 164 lbs near Marchula and we believe the American angler who snagged it in January 2001, had to use both hands to land the big guy.

At the Corbett Tiger Reserve, the Jhirna Jhali pool, also referred to as the crocodile pool, is the best place to observe (only as fishing is not permited) goonch. The pool is virtually packed with this fish! This rare giant has also been caught in the Marchula area, Jainal and Govind Rou of Vanghat beat. Undoubtedly, goonch is one of the most threatened big fish of the Ramganga.

Kalabanse Labeo calbasu

Known as Patthar chatta in Kumaon and Kali machli in Garhwalare, Kalabanse is a greeny-grey fish with pink tinged scales. It is also characterized by pink eyes and grows to almost 3 feet in length and tipping the scales at 25 lbs in the Ramganga.

A true bottom feeder the Kalabanse, its mouth protrudes downwards when open and has a distinct fringe on the upper lip. It has a partiality for mossy, slippery rocks and sunken trees in the river and can be seen playing about in such places, sucking and rubbing its sides against the rock or trees, as the case may be.

Kalabanse is a game fish and takes bait—paste or worms as well as usual tank angling baits. When hooked it fights most gamely, coming up to the surface and going down as fast, though it may not have the mad rushes of the Mahseer, yet it will not give in.

Indian trout Barilius bola

Belonging to the baril family, there are 14 varieties resident in India. Most of these take a fly with great interest. Despite being sporting fish, barils don’t grow to more than ten inches, except one variety - Barilius bola or the Indian trout, which tilts the scales at 5 lbs. The Indian trout can be found in any of the streams of Northen India and Assam. It prefers slow moving water above a rapid with fairly large boulders, to the actual rapid itself.

It is silvery in color and has two or more rows of bluish blotches along the sides. Its caudal fin is orange stained with grey and black, while all other fins are orange. It is a highly predatory fish and frequents the runs in search of food. A voracious feeder, it will take live and dead bait, worm, spoon and a fly. When hooked, it gets infuriated and often leaps out of water in an attempt to get free.

Domunda the confluence of Ramganga and Mandal is perhaps the best spot to hook the Indian trout in this area and on several occasions people have caught half a dozen in a morning session with fly spoon or fly. Indian Trout is also found in the adjoining Kosi river.

The Indian trout is a tasty morsel and so are the other barils. The best on the plate is the one which has blue spots in place of red and lacks the adipose dorsal fin. It has large irregular brown or black markings and cross bands and yellow flesh that makes a good meal. The Indian Trout is good Bait for mahseer — the small ones are particularly loved by the mahseer, so they make an excellent live or dead bait.

Mulley Wallago Attu

Very few have fished for the Mulley or the so-called fresh water shark in the Ramganga. Mulley is far less abundant as compared to the mahseer or goonch. It is a monster capable of growing to six feet in length, though in recent times the biggest catch on rod and line at Bhumia Rou weighed 78 lbs. Just after monsoons, smaller specimens have been caught near Domunda.

Mulley is somewhat queer in shape. It is a greatly elongated and devoid of scales. It is armed with long feelers, the huge mouth is serrated with two broad bands of large sharp teeth. The head is the most conspicuous part of the fish and weighs more than half of the total weight of the fish. Its eyes are small, situated entirely above the mouth opening and are blue in color.

Mulley fights fairly well and is greedy when it comes to live bait. It also takes worm spoon, spinning bait and paste occasionally. It sometimes takes fly as well and springs out of water when hooked, lashing out with its tail.

Chilwa Chela argentea

Chilwa is the most common fish of the Ramganga. They run usually about six inches in length, the biggest specimens growing up to a foot in length. It has a long more or less compressed body with a small head and upturned mouth. A bright silvery fish, covered with minute silver scales which come off very easily when handled.

It usually keeps to the surface of the water. When freshly caught in running water, its coloring is most beautiful. The brilliant silver of its scales contrasts with the pale greenish sheen of its back, giving a fleeting radiance. Chilwa has a habit of continually throwing itself into the air on calm still evenings.

Chilwa make excellent bait for mahseer. It is perhaps the most appreciated bait by mahseer. If Chilwa is seen moving in the river, it can be safely assumed that the larger fish are on the prowl and good sport is imminent.

Chilwa love fly-takers, occasionally jumping right out of the water in pursuit of flies! Quick striking and small flies are two of the sine qua nons for catching them. Some anglers spend hours with a tiny fly, amusing themselves snagging this fish.

Circumventing the Mahseer: And Other Sporting Fish in India and Burma

by J. MacDonald - Natraj Publishers 2003
ISBN: 8185019975
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