World Wide Fishing!

The Mahseer of India

Text & photos by Misty Dhillon

"There he stood the Mahseer off the Poonch beside whom the Tarpon is a Herring and he who catches him can say he is a fisherman". ~ Rudyard Kipling

The great Indian Subcontinent enclosed, in the north - stretching to the northeast by the grand Himalayas and in the south delimited by the Indian Ocean. It's been home to various civilizations in the past 10000 years, the foundation place of Hinduism and Buddhism. A land of colossal history where one is over whelmed with culture, places, shrines, forts, languages, crowded markets and lively cities.

In the midst of the vast subcontinent, which has such diverse landscape, and in the many rivers, which drain the nation, swims a classic game fish, still unheard of, by a lot us, the Mighty Mahseer of India.

Undeniably, the Mahseer is one of the fiercest fighting freshwater game fish that exists. Pound for pound it had unparalleled strength and endurance. They do have a transitory likeness to the carp and the barbell of the English waters, but as they say, the similarity soon ends in the turbid waters of the Himalayan foothills.

Often weighed against the lordly salmon for their sporting competency, the Mahseer have overjoyed generations of anglers and time after time lived up to being called the "Mighty Mahseer."

The Legacy of this absorbing sport was brought into the country by the English during their reign in India and was passed on over the years to the Indians.

The 18th century brought about a few accounts on the Mahseer by some ex-partite anglers who were captivated by the excellence of sport the Mahseer had to offer. Over the decades the word of its sporting abilities spread. The Mahseer of the south, which grew larger than their northern cousins we obviously given awareness and any avid angler who traveled to this part of the world would try his hand at the Mahseer of the South.

The early 19th century saw a number of records being broken and the word on the Mahseer's mightiness had spread far and wide. A number of anglers acquainted to the southern waters of the Kabbini and the Cauvery, made the most of the so-called golden era of Mahseer Fishing. The Van Ingen's, famous Dutch taxidermists from Mysore, established many records, as they were perhaps the most frequent anglers on those waters. In 1922 the Van Ingens were guides to possibly the most eminent team of anglers ever seen on the Cauvery, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII).

The Kabbini and the Cauvery were soon known for their heritage of monstrous fish lurking in their turbid flow. J. Detwet Van Ingen still holds the record of the largest rod caught Mahseer of a 120lbs caught on the 22-3-1946.

After India achieved its independence, the angling scene suffered a setback, as the population shot up and India was soon one of the most populous nations of the world, pressures on all resources were high and the new government did not have an understanding for the sport, besides the government then had other priorities. 1947 to 1978 could be said to be the neglect period of angling in the Subcontinent.

The Transworld fishing expeditions brought about the much-needed break through, in terms of the initial conservation efforts for the Mahseer of the Cauvery in the eighties. It was the re-introduction of these forgotten monsters, to the angling world. Robert Howitt, one of the team members soon convinced the government to protect a stretch of the river Cauvery by announcing a complete ban on killing the Mahseer.

This lead to the quick revival of fish populations of the Cauvery, which were previously, suffering the effects of uncontrolled poaching in the region. The years ahead saw prestigious events like the Mahseer Maharaja world cup at the Cauvery and the consistent enforcement of controlled angling with minimal impact to the habitat of the fish. Over the year efforts of following up the example of the Cauvery are being made by various angling bodies all over the nation and results are showing.

The Cauvery as its somewhere most enthusiasts visit in pursuit of the Mahseer, hence ignoring a very interesting fishery up in the north and north east of India, home to the commonest of them all, the Himalayan Mahseer, there's an opinion a lot of anglers might have already formed on the Mahseer of India after fishing in the south, but till one has not had an encounter with the Mahseer up north, I think ones experience is incomplete.

The Himalayas are indeed the perfect setting to take a Mahseer, and if one is keen on the spinning or the fly, its just very well, need less to say that there are few fresh water fish in comparison to its sporting aptitude and which inhabit such torrential waters.

Prior notes on fishing for the Mahseer in the north mention the capture of some giants too, A. St J Macdonald's book, Circumventing the Mahseer, has mentions of fish over 55 lbs caught by him and others including a 75lbs fish in the early nineteenth century. Though he goes on to say that that there would be few anglers in the north who could count the fifty-pound plus fish they've caught in their life on more than five fingers. A fifty-pound fish in the north is considered a trophy, these Mahseer though are taken best on a lure or a fly, and something the Southern giants do not do. The Southern Giants are taken on a local form of Millet flower (Ragi), this paste is hardened and dressed on a 6/0 hook before it's hauled into the current.

A lot of the former accounts on the Mahseer of India have focused mainly on the Mahseer of the north, the Himalayan Mahseer, due to the enormity of area they are to be found i.e. their distribution, the multiplicity in techniques they could be taken on and as they were to be found in all the rivers in North and in the river which drained the rain forest of the east.

India has quite diversity of these fish, spread thought the subcontinent, to be found in all rivers, though perhaps the commonest of them all are the Himalayan Mahseer. This fish occurs all thought the north, north eastern and even parts of central India, the Himalayan Mahseer are one of the two most popular game fishes of India, the other ones are their larger more illusive cousins of the south called the humpbacked Mahseer. The fish are to be found in the Coleroon river system of Southern India, primarily the rivers Cauvery and the Kabbini. These fish are given an superior status due to the size they attain, above and beyond these two common types of Mahseer there are six to eight types acknowledged species of Mahseer, which are said to have comparable sporting features.

The Mahseer inhabits the torrential, rivers and perennial rivulets of sub mountainous terrain, in the course of the Himalayas, they could be found up to and altitude of 2500 ft above sea level. The following rivers are considered to be the strong holds of the Himalayan Mahseer - the Ganges and its tributaries, the Eastern and western Ramganga, the Maha Kali and its tributaries, the Kosi, the Beas and its tributaries, the Sutlej and its tributaries, the Bhramaputra and its tributaries, Ravi and its tributaries, Yammuna and its tributaries and the Indus which flows into Pakistan. Due to the diversity of regions they are to be found in and the assortment of techniques they could be had on, fishing for them makes a particularly interesting pursuit.

The Himalayan Mahseer too grow to enormous proportions, prior accounts pertain them to exceed lengths of seven feet. Now a days that would be a rare occurrence, though a 50 lbs fish is considered monstrous. The Mahseer have a prismatic range of shades on their large scales, in addition to their beautiful exterior, they have a firm appearance too.

For the ones of us who have experiences their first rush, recognize what the Mahseer feels like at the end of the line. Perhaps the most significant sporting feature of the fish and the most intense adrenalin charge is felt when a fish takes the bait and begins the rush, it's more sudden than you expect it to be, very impetuous, rash, impulsive, reckless or what ever you might call it. Some times it could be terrifying, as the bait is taken very rapidity.

In the north of India, the best time to undertake the large snow fed rivers is from February through the middle of May, this as they are most liable to be clear and the water at a reasonably low level, by the month of April mid the river begin to rise progressively and the real snow melt comes in by the end of May. This timing slightly alters from year to year as and when the summer approaches.

All chief river systems have a particular window period they produce the best fish in. Another good time to fish these snow fed rivers is, post monsoon, from the middle of September through till the middle of November. Confluences predominantly, during this time produce fine results, principally when the rivers are changing color and just about begin to maintain their usual color subsequent to the monsoons.

Most fishing in the north if preferably done in the region of confluences, due to the kind of results they have produced over the years and for obvious reasons. Mostly, post monsoon when the reciting river gives the fish an indication to move down, the fish after laying their eggs are exhausted and hungry start their journey down to the lower reaches of the river, this is considered to be one of the best times to be fishing in most waters of north India. Predominantly, spinning is the most killing way to fish. As a generalization it would be rite to say that the best months to be fishing in the north would be March and October.

The enormity of the Himalayan Mahseer's territory leaves even currently some rivers and their confluences untouched by anglers. With that said, deep pools, which are in abundance, too make great spots for the fishing both on spinning and on baits. What usually makes it harder though is the flow, which the Mahseer for understandable reasons uses utterly to its benefit. The flow of some of these rapids one fishes in is so intense that one can hardly hear anything.

The Mahseer of various regions of the country over time have adapted themselves to lakes as well. A fine example of this could be seen in the natural lakes of Kumaon, this region lies in the north Indian state of Uttaranchal, over the years it has adapted itself to the many man reservoirs in various parts of the country too.

By and large Mahseer fishing is compared to fishing for the Salmon, for the similarity in methods more so in fishing for the northern Mahseer than for the southern fish. The kind of tackle used for spinning or fly-fishing for that matter would generally be used for catching large Salmon. Truly the appeal of Mahseer fishing in the north is on either taking the Mahseer on the big river on spinning or the smaller clearer streams on the fly.

The Mahseer prefer taking in clear water, in fact the clearer the better. The rougher the better too, he'd rather take in turbulent water. Thunder or rain may or may not hold back his unpredictable craving.

His size is no indication of what he wants, the tiny fish of one pound or less will ambitiously take a four inch spoon, with the same readiness a monster of 30 to 40 lbs takes a half inch fly.

Feeding habits

It is and remarkably omnivorous fish. The Mahseer is noted to be a continuous feeder. Green filamentous algae and other water plants taken in with intent or while seizing aquatic insects on them, Figs, other things thrown by humans, other insect, fish, etc has been recorded from the stomach of Mahseer.


Mahseer migrate upstream, from the main river into the rivulets mainly during the southwest monsoon (July through September) for the purpose of spawning, this is when they ascend to substantial heights up to (2500 ft). Though migration process is not only due to the reproductive biology of the fish but also in search of fresh feeding grounds.

The migration is a very significant feature of the Himalayan Mahseer's life cycle and the fish moves extensively during this period. Over the years it has been subject to a fair amount of field research by ichthyologists, but still there are a lot of unanswered questions, which will only take years to reveal.

With efforts from the various angling bodies and with close vigilance on stretches of river which hold good fishing potential, the Mahseer will always live up being called a legendry game fish in the years ahead.

If you are interested in fishing for the Mahseer of India or need any kind of information on the fishery or if you're planning a trip do get in touch with me.

"The angler's first encounter with the Mahseer is one that he never forgets: A great wrench on the rod heralds its take, then the ratchet screams on a fast emptying reel - the sensation is electrifying. Few freshwater fish will set of with such speed, fight for so long and strike both despondency and joy to the heart of the adversary." (Robert Howitt, in Sports Illustrated) ~ Misty Dhillon

More Fly Fishing in India:

The Mahseer of India
Fly Fishing For Trout In the Himalayas
A Day at the Govind Sagar Resorvoir

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