Beautiful landscapes, wild Himalayan Golden Mahseer fishing, amazing food and the warmest, friendliest locals: could my trip get any better? Well my third day was certainly different fishing; I didn’t get a single bite until the very late afternoon, and then I didn’t get a hookset and the fish was making her salaams and heading off back into the Ganges before I knew it. It was a little crushing, but after such an amazing day previously I had little to complain about and remained philosophical about the lost fish; it is not like my dinner or my livelihood depended on the catch, and the delicious prospect of Gajju’s heavenly creations and a giant Habano cigar by the fireside was a great comfort. My ghillie Prahlad on the other hand, who held great pride in his work, was very despondent; I must say the previous day fishing on Byas Ghat his knowledge of the river and the spots holding fish was amazing. He would wave over to an apparently featureless part in the shallows and say, “Here, sir” and often within two or three casts I would get a bite; sadly we were not in luck today and he explained that the colour of the Ganges had changed (it looked the same to a rank amateur like me) and that it had probably rained somewhere upriver. That evening Gajju didn’t disappoint; the paneer makhani and dum aloo he turned out were quite simply, out of this world. I smoked my consolation cigar and my spirits remained high as Ramesh regaled me with tales of trout fishing in Kashmir, something that has always been a dream for me, and the wildlife safaris the company runs from their permanent camp near the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve.
The following day we set out as per our usual schedule but the session was rapidly proving fruitless. However, at one stage there was a big splash and Prahlad said he saw a large mahseer jump; this is apparently very rare and at least proof that there fish out there. With such quiet fishing I became distracted and the rod felt heavier and heavier with each cast. Some of the local village lads who had gathered started an impromptu game of cricket on the shore: this is, after all, India, the most cricket-mad nation on the planet. Ramesh and Bobby from our camp joined in and I photographed them from the river.
Having had so much success with spoons the previous day, I neglected to use the other lures I had brought with me: J13 jointed Rapala floating minnow. The morning was looking to be a fruitless one, so I thought I would try anything. I asked Prahlad for the firetiger pattern minnow, he changed them and I waded back to my position. The minnows have a good action but do make for more work than the spoons, and the river current was very strong. With my second cast, I got a half-hearted bite: my hopes were up again. Then, as I was reeling in after a couple more casts, I saw a big fish jump. No less than ten yards away from me, a giant 70 – 80cm mahseer suddenly leapt clean out of the river and back in right before my eyes. It was not the lazy jump of a mullet as they roll over mid-air to flop onto their backs, nor was it the startled escape response of a baitfish; just a leisurely, graceful bound that reminded me of the way dolphins jump alongside ships or dressage horses leap fences, but the mahseer was completely clean out of the water and headed dead straight upstream, no mean feat for a fish that size in that strong a current. With that size of fish, her eyes looked very small and the scales on her back very big; and in a trip and narrative full of hyperbole this was really one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.