Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fishing & other stories

Fishing & other stories by Pat Kerr

There are probably one or two tigers around in the parts of the Kumaon
that I frequent but it's infested with leopards. The river sands -
especially at the confluences -are full of leopard tracks & pugmarks.

One early morning, I tracked the movement of a leopard to a rock
overlooking our fishing camp of 6 tents. He had, at first, crouched
behind the rock & sort of spied on us & then eventually gathered up
the courage to climb onto the rock & watch us as we ate dinner around
the campfire. He crept closer when things quietened down as we got
into our tents, and then he walked through the camp to the outside of
the kitchen tent where he sniffed around before going down to the
river for a drink of water. Finally, he ambled back into the forest!

Then there was this cow/bufflow-herd who was set up on the opposite
bank to where we were once camped. We would boat over to his bank for
a chat & to share a 'Bidi' or a cigarette, but primarily for a supply
of fresh milk for the camp.

One morning, I went across to his bank to fish while my camp boy went
up to get some milk. About 20 minutes later, the camp boy & the
cowherd were down on the river besides me. The cowherd wanted me to
come up & take a look at one of his cows. Now I'm no Doctor, but a
self-taught paramedic & first-aider so I asked him what the hassle
was. "The cow was attacked by a leopard last evening" he said.

Apparently, the previous eveniing, at dusk, when calling in his cows &
bufflows, he noticed that one cow was missing. He went into the forest
to look for the animal thinking that it may have got it's horns stuck
in a bush or slipped into a hole or something. He went around a bend
on the forest track & almost walked onto the leopard!

The leopard had the cows face in it's mouth. It was hanging on &
trying to bring the cow down with it's weight before going for the
neck/windpipe. The cowherd yelled at the top of his voice - probably
in terror & shock - and hit the leopard a couple of times with the big
stick he was carrying. The leopard ran away.

The cow, when I saw it, was all swolen-faced & quiet. I could see the
deep puncture marks that the leopards canines had made & where the
claws had scraped the cows neck. Our hill cows are probably the size
of your sheep & this little one was in quite a bad shape.

I sent my camp boy back to camp to bring me the first-aid box. I had a
large bottle of iodine in it. I poured the iodine onto the wounds of
the unflinching cow & dabbed the neck scrapes down with an
iodine-soaked wad of cotton wool. I left the bottle with the cowherd &
told him to keep dabbing on iodine over the next week.

When I visited the spot again two years later, I asked about the cow.
That particular cowherd was not there and no one else remembered the
incident - it was probably too much of a day-to-day thing to remember!

Now here's the real unbelivable part - I've never seen a leopard or a
tiger in the wild - ever - in my whole life!

I've seen plenty of tracks, pugmarks, kills, victims, heard roars from
very close up, yes, but I've never ever seen one with my own two eyes!

We still have the dynamiters around, but yes, we're trying to educate
them and get them to change their ways - showing them how to farm a
tract of the river & for a sustainable existance rather than dropping
in a stick of dynamite & destroying the complete eco-system of that

Also, the Mahseer being the wiley fish that it is, has learnt, again,
this is my theory, to recognise the hiss & splutter of a burning fuse
for what it is. The big guys get out of the way in a flash - you
should see a Mahseer run/swim when it has to move - as fast as a flash
of lightning - a glitter of a silver scale & the're gone!

Then again, you have to experience the gut-wrenching 'take' of a big
Mahseer in fast, heavy water - it's got to be experienced as it cant
be described with the justice due!

Anyway, the dynamiters have noticed this 'hearing ability' of the
Mahseer too & being the lazy bums that they are, out to earn a quick
buck, have started cutting down the fuse to a stub & yes you've
guessed it....they're blowing their hands off!

Another grusesome operation is when these guys go into partnership
with the local Pujari (priests).

You have a poor family coming down to a confluence to perform the last
rites & cremate the body. The priest rushes thru the whole process &
announces it's done & gets these poor & illiterate people to immerse
the half-burnt corpse (medium -rare? juicy? in BBQ terms ;-) and the
Mahseer, being on the top of the food chain of a healthy river, moves
in for the feast.

The dynamiter & his gang are waiting around the next bend in the river
when down floats the bait with maybe a couple of dozen or more
Mahaseer, big & small feasting.....
Net stretched across the river.
Into the bags & a truck.
Race up to the local "Mandi" to sell the day's "catch".
Share the spoils of the outing.
Have a drink & get ready for the next poor soul on his way to heaven!

There's a great book writen by one A St J Macdonald titled
"Circumventing the Mahseer and Other Sporting Fish in India & Burma",
first published in 1948. As a tip to anglers in the Kumaon Hills, at a
beautiful confluence named Pancheshwar where the Sarju & the Maha Kali
meet, Macdonald suggests lighting a huge fire on the banks of the
river if the action is slow. This signals 'cremation' to the fish &
they get worked up! You then start getting into some action.

I've fished at this very spot on a very slow day, one of those days
when you've resigned yourself to going through the mechanical
movements of tossing out a plug & reeling it back in, over & over
again & again, knowing that you're not going to get a bite but you're
still enjoying being out of the city, on the river, listning to the
sound of the water, watching the sky, the clouds & the birds, soaking
in the jungle.....

& then it happned.....

A group of villagers came down to the confluence on the side of the
river where I was fishing - I was about 200 yards upstream from them -
and started the Hindu ritual of a cremation.

As I fished, another group came down to the river on the far bank
opposite me & it was another funeral.

Now you'll never believe this, but out of the jungle on the third
bank, (a confluence has three banks, I'll try to illustrate this with
a 'Y', now put a dot at each section of the Y & you'll see what I
mean) down came another funeral procession & I witnessed three
simeltanous cremations, spaced out by about 10 minutes between each
other !

I reeled in my plug.
I checked the hooks.
I snipped my knot & re-tied it with a couple of extra turns.
I inspected the last 20 feet of line for frays & nicks.
Satisfied, I re-set the 'drag' on my reel & was finally ready to catch
the 'fish of my dreams'!

I mean, Macdonald said 'build a fire if the action is slow'.

Now the action was definately slow & I had not one but THREE huge
fires going - "The fish must be going mad down there!" I gleefully
told myself, as I started casting.

I fished continously for three hours from that moment onwards & I
didn't get a saussage!

"It must have been one of those very bad days", I muttered to myself
on the way back to camp!

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