Before flying back to Tokyo I stayed one night at the fishing village Negombo (map) which is on the west coast of Sri Lanka, about 15 miles north of Colombo. It is a wonderful place and I would have loved to stay there longer. Since I was leaving on an overnight flight I had a morning spare, so I walked into the nearest tourist agents office and booked a fishing boat to take me out for a few hours. It cost Rs.7500, and included everything (boat and crew for five hours on the water, licenses/paperwork, all tackle and bait and pickup/drop-off at hotel). All I needed to do was bring drinking water, and be waiting for them at 5.30am outside my hotel the following morning.
We headed out to sea in a small fibreglass panga-type boat. Sadly, unlike the previous day it was overcast, windy and the seas were very rough. The bad weather and high winds prevented us going far enough offshore trolling for wahoo as originally intended but in the early morning I snagged a nice fish topwater. I asked the skipper what it was called but all I got was a smile and a wobble of the head. It had a rather fearsome set of teeth and was quite quarrelsome when landed, and before I could pose for a photo the deckhand smashed its head in with a bamboo stick. Still, I got the skipper Jude to take a photo for me, holding the fish in a way that would disguise the hole in its head:
The wind got progressively stronger, so we headed inshore and the skipper said we would do some traditional Sri Lankan fishing in the shallows, just like the oruva canoes and the other skiffs were doing around us. In fact there were numerous little craft, some no more than a few planks lashed together with one man standing on them, out fishing despite the bad weather. The oruva canoes with their distinctive square sails, unchanged since Roman times, were picking up quite an impressive speed from the high winds and whizzed to and fro before us, while the crew (the usually have three or four on board) seemed utterly fearless while clambering about the boats structure just inches above the rushing seawater. If I weren’t so busy with fishing I would have taken more photographs or even a video. Anyway on the way home I managed to snap one oruva that was beached:
Some of the smaller vessels came alongside, if not to have a closer look at the interesting passenger on board then to indulge in the great Sri Lankan past-time of friendly chitchat. One boat came to see if I had cigarettes, but sadly, I could not indulge them.
The traditional fishing we did was a simple line with a sinker at one end, with two hooks fitted to short branched leaders about 5 and 20cm above the sinker. These were baited with the local specialty, Negombo lagoon prawns, that looked so good I wanted to eat them rather than use them as bait (I was able to indulge some of these in a restaurant later that evening, so I was satisfied eventually). The line was held in hand much like the traditional Japanese octopus fishing I had done here in Japan, and the baited hooks jigged very lightly on the seafloor.
Captain Jude shows me how it is done:
The tackle itself:
With this technique I snagged a number of reef and benthic fish. I got a very good hit the second time I put the bait in the water, and landed a nice grouper-type fish that looked very tasty.
I also caught a good few poisonous critters. A little stonefish, just like the ones we call onikasago here in Japan, a salt-and-pepper coloured little beaked fish with venomous dorsal and anal fins, and a kind of colourful wrasse about 40cm long, which according to the skipper had a poisonous spine on its caudal peduncle. The skipper was very good and made sure I didn’t get stung by any of my catch. Apparently the large wrasse makes good eating, but I gave it to the crew.
The wind was consistently strong and made for poor fishing. Once we had used up all the bait, we headed home at high speed. We landed straight on the sandy beach and I said my thanks and paid up. The skipper and his No.2 seemed a bit downcast that we hadn’t been able to catch any wahoo or monsters, but they were so nice and I enjoyed the fishing trip – regardless of catch – I gave them a tip in US dollars and promised to visit again in the future. I took the long silver fish and the little grouper and gave them the rest of the catch. The booking agent gave me a lift on his scooter back to my hotel, where the night shift manager asked me if I wanted the restaurant to cook my catch for me. Would I! After a hot shower, a relaxing pipe and a little nap (after all, I had been up since 4am) it was time for lunch, so I went to the dining area to see what delights the chef had produced. Of course, being my last day in Sri Lanka and Sods Law, as the waiter laid out the most amazing rice and curry meal before me the battery on my digital camera ran out; I had no way of photographing one of the best meals of my life. Sat right on the beach under the shade of coconut palms and tropical plants, the meal consisted of the grouper caked with spices and deep-fried whole till crisp, the other fish chopped into chunks and cooked in a curry with coconut milk, curry leaves, whole garlic cloves, tomatoes and onions, with side dishes of cinammon and clove-scented green bean curry and a caramelised brinjal curry, a basket of straight-of-out-the-oil papadums and little bowls of sambol, mango chutney and lime ditto, all served with a mountain of samba rice and not a small amount of Sri Lankan hospitality. It was quite excellent; you will just have to take my word for it.