Few anglers in the West realise that India, with its dozens of rivers and thousands of streams, offers vast opportunities for sport fishing and angling. Whether you’re the type who likes to string a worm onto a makeshift line and catch your own dinner- or a thoroughbred professional angler with the latest in fishing tackle- India’s waters, both fresh and salt, can be a pleasant surprise. The country has an estimated 50,000 km of waters- rivers, streams, and lakes included- and an additional 3,000 km of coastline, and although sportfishing is still the preserve of a very select elite, there’s definitely a lot of scope for some satisfying angling. Major rivers like the Ganga and its tributaries, the Yamuna, the Brahmaputra, the Mahanadi, the Krishna and the Kaveri are home to a wide spectrum of fish, including mahseer, rohu, katli, and trout. The coastal waters lapping the shores of peninsular India harbour marine sportfish such as mackerel, marlin and sea bass.
What makes angling or sport fishing easy in India is that most major cities lie along rivers, as a result of which getting to a suitable fishing spot is generally not a problem. Furthermore, most states have well-organised Departments of Fisheries, where special hatcheries ensure that there’s always a gene pool of local and exotic fish. Fish sanctuaries and hatcheries in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and other states through which major rivers flow, maintain a vast stock of fish which are specially bred for re-stocking rivers.
It probably won’t be long before veteran anglers will be able to attribute some of the 'biggest ones’ to Indian rivers.
Timing your trip Angling or sport fishing is possible on Indian rivers almost throughout the year, although most state authorities forbid angling during the monsoon months, when fish are breeding. Regional variations in climate, can however, cause hindrances: most of the Himalayas, for instance, are too cold to allow any angling during the winter months. On the whole, October to November and mid-February to mid-May are the best times to go sport fishing in India.
Licenses and permits Fishing licenses are mandatory for all eager anglers, so go to the designated official before you throw your line into the water, or you just might find yourself being hauled off and penalised. In most cases, fishing licenses are not issued during the monsoon (when most fish species breed); in addition, most licenses are issued for only a specified stretch of water. Furthermore, there are stipulations that all fish caught must be released into the water, and anglers are restricted to a specified number of fish per day.
Angling licenses can be obtained from the organisations and offices listed below, for fishing in the corresponding state or region:
Kerala: High Range Angling Association, Munnar
Coorg: Coorg Wildlife Association, Madikeri Karnataka: Wildlife Association of South India, Bangalore
Tamil Nadu: Palni Hills Game Association, Kodaikanal Assistant Director of Fisheries, Udhagamandalam
West Bengal: Fisheries Department, Mirik
Assam: Angling Association, Tejpur
Maharashtra: Fish Association of Powai Lake, Mumbai Tata Hydroelectric Works, Lonavla
Delhi: Assistant Warden of Fisheries, Delhi Administration,(at Okhla Barrage, Okhla)
If you’re a foreigner, and heading off to the Lakshadweep or Andaman & Nicobar Islands to do some sport fishing, you’ll need a permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi- or an authorised official in the state. The same applies to certain areas of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and other border states.
Things to bring
Patience- and lots of it. Angling requires oodles of patience, and the ability to keep still and quiet for hours on end- and then the skill to battle it out with a heavy weight fish of up to 200 kg for the next hour or more.
And now to the more mundane. The basic fishing equipment required includes rods, lines, hooks, reel, flies, spinners, spoons and bait- in the form of worms, paste or other lure. Light, waterproof clothing- brown or green in colour- is essential, as are waterproof shoes or light sandals which can easily be slipped off to drain out sand or water. Sunscreen, a light hat and dark glasses are necessary, and during the winter make sure you’re well clad with sufficient woollens and a macintosh.
High quality angling equipment for angling is not widely available for hire in India, although some outfits in popular areas like Garhwal and the Nilgiris do provide equipment on hire. Other Travel Tips.
Accommodation and Other Facilities
In most cases, finding suitable accommodation shouldn’t be too much bother, as many of India’s biggest cities and towns lie along rivers. Even if there’s not much fishing within an urban area, fishing beats will usually be close enough for you to stay in a town and drive out in the morning to the beat you’ve chosen. In cases where beats lie far from urban areas, there are generally state-operated forest lodges or fishing lodges in close proximity. These won’t be the height of luxury, but you can depend upon them for basic necessities. In rare cases you might need to take along a tent and pitch camp.
In an attempt to encourage game fishing in India, the national and state tourism departments have started providing leaflets and brochures on areas where fishing is possible. These leaflets usually contain fairly accurate and detailed information on where to go, what are the facilities available in the area, where angling equipment can be hired, and what licenses will be required. More information can invariably be obtained from the state tourism departments in India.
Some travel agencies and tour operators in India cater to anglers and will provide everything from equipment and experienced guides to boarding, lodging and transportation. Major cities and those close to angling and sport fishing grounds often have such travel agents; further information and assistance can always be obtained from the local wildlife, forests or fisheries department.
Rivers 'n' Beats
The main river stretches suitable for angling are in the lower Himalayas, the Satpuras, and the Aravalis, all of which have rivers teeming with a wide range of fish. India’s rivers have approximately 31 species of freshwater fish which are of interest to anglers; these include trout (brown and rainbow trout, both introduced species); murrel, catfish and cyprinids.
Unfortunately, some of northern India’s best fishing beats, on the rivers of Jammu and Kashmir, are no longer recommended, because of the ongoing turmoil in the state. In quieter times, rivers like the Lidder, Indus, Jhelum and smaller tributaries like the Bringhi, Aru and Sheshnag- all replete with fish, especially brown trout- were a haven for anglers. Until peace returns to the area, however, it’s unsafe to venture out.
Arising in the Himalayan mountains along India’s easternmost frontier with China, the Brahmaputra works its way through the far eastern states of the country, foaming through gorges and gushing over rocky beds till it reaches the Sunderbans delta in Bangladesh. The Brahmaputra, its tributaries and a number of smaller streams and rivers in eastern India- including the Rangeet, the Teesta and the Lohit (as the Brahmaputra’s known in Arunachal Pradesh)- are home to two main sport fish, locally known as the katli (or bokar) and the jhungha. In places, brown trout and mahseer can also be found. The Teesta, in particular, is known for its excellent mahseer.
Arunachal Pradesh, one of India’s easternmost states, is also one of the best places to go fishing in the east. The state is bisected by the Lohit river and a number of smaller streams, all of which offer ample opportunity for reeling in some of the biggest fish you’re likely to catch. Try Tezu, on the Lohit, or Tipi and Bhalukpong (on the Bhoroli river), and Pashighat (on the Siang River). Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, is connected to the nearest airport (Lilabari) and the closest railhead (Harmuty) by road. Beyond Itanagar, accommodation and other facilities are rather sparse, so you’ll probably end up staying in a camp, or, if you’re lucky, in a guesthouse.
In Assam, mahseer fishing is possible on the Manas river, at the Manas Tiger Reserve. Manas is about 176 km from Guwahati, which is connected by air to most major airports in India. The nearest railhead is Barpeta Road, 41 km from Manas.
The Mahanadi, Kaveri, Krishna and Godavari:
The four major rivers of peninsular India- the Mahanadi, the Kaveri, Krishna and Godavari- have the advantage of being open to angling almost throughout the year, barring a short spell in the monsoon when the fish are breeding. Prominent species in the peninsular rivers include the high-backed mahseer, the purree, the khudchee and the white carp.
The Nilgiris have a number of streams, rivers and pools where good trout fishing is possible. Among the best trout streams are the Peermund stream, Kalkundi stream, Portimund stream, Mekod river, and the Chembar stream. The Mukurthi Lake and the reservoirs created by the Avalanche and Emerald rivers also are well-stocked with trout.
Good angling is possible in the streams around Munnar, and Elephant Lake (in Munnar) is particularly renowned for its excellent trout. Munnar is accessible via road from Kochi- it’s a four hour drive- and from other cities and towns in southern India.
The Kaveri, in Karnataka, is the prime angling river. Mysore, one of the main cities in the state (and with road, rail and air links to the rest of India), is located conveniently close to the Kaveri, and anglers can stay either in the city or at the Kaveri Fishing Lodge, slightly outside Mysore. The waters around the lodge, which is on the banks of the river, are a good place to fish for mahseer.
The Ganga and Yamuna
The Ganga, the Yamuna and their tributaries:
The rivers flowing southwards from the Himalayas harbour a vast number of fish, including the well-respected and much coveted mahseer, a cyprinid which is considered by veterans to be one of the most difficult fish to reel in- as good, some feel, as the famed Atlantic salmon. The mahseer’s been dubbed the `king of Indian sportfish’, and with good reason too. The largest of the carp and minnow family, the mahseer includes a number of different sub-species such as the red-finned mahseer, the yellow-finned mahseer and the copper mahseer. The largest can weigh up to 220 kg, and they’re capable of putting up a very stiff fight. The time taken to pull in a mahseer is supposedly in ratio to its weight- 5 minutes for every 5 pounds.
Other game fish found in the rivers of northern India include trout, rohu, katla, alwan, chhiruh, kalbose, murrel and catfish. Catfish are a particularly popular choice with Indian anglers, as they’re easy to bait, are good fighters, and are prized for their tasty, boneless flesh.
Although the polluted and muddy waters of the Yamuna at Delhi may not appear very promising to most anglers, they actually harbour about eight species, including catfish and a local humpbacked species known as the moh. The best beats in Delhi are along Okhla.
Ever since Jammu and Kashmir became off-limits for eager anglers, Himachal Pradesh has acquired the status of prime fishing locale. The Kullu Manali region, especially the Larji Valley, is crisscrossed by a number of streams which finally meet the Beas river. Most of these streams have good brown trout, besides other local species. Kullu, linked through domestic airlines to most major cities in India, is also accessible via road from almost anywhere in northern India. Kullu has ample accommodation, and is a convenient base for angling tours around the valley.
Further north, the Baspa river is replete with trout, and along the Sangla Valley are dozens of good beats where prime specimens can be caught. Kasol, Bathad and Banjar are more acclaimed for mahseer.
Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal:
The Shivaliks, stretching across the mountainous state of Uttaranchal, offer good fishing- both in rivers and streams as well as in lakes. The Ramganga and Sharda rivers and the area’s lakes- Nainital, Dodital in particular- are great for trout and mahseer fishing. On the Ganga, the stretches around Beasghat and Gangalehri are good for mahseer. Convenient bases for fishing beats include Rishikesh (linked by rail to Hardwar and by road to the rest of the country); the Corbett National Park and Nainital, both of which have road connections to cities and towns all over northern India.
The Coastal Waters
India’s 3,000 km long coastline offers abundant opportunities for angling, and port towns like Mumbai, Kandla, Nhava Sheva, Marmagao, Kochi, Kolkatta/Haldia, Paradip, Vishakhapatnam, Chennai and Tuticorin have facilities for coastal fishing. Fishing is possible in coastal waters and in estuaries, and also at Chilka Lake in Orissa. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep Islands too are rich in marine life, although conservation laws in these areas have put a large portion of the waters off-limits for anglers.
The main saltwater fish found along India’s coasts include snapper, perch, sea bass, shark, jacks, mackerel, marlin, tuna, tripletail, sailfish and snook.