One afternoon at the caves – By Owen
It was a very hot day in the month of March in 1988. We had been fishing the gorge area of the Kaveri called Mekadatu all morning without much luck. The heat had taken its toll on us, as we were perched about a hundred feet above the water line on this rock that gives the place its name. It literally means “goats leap”, and the story goes that the two rocks from both banks of the Kaveri were so close together that a goat could leap across.
Only one of those two rocks still exist, while the other has dropped down into the water below, and form’s a great spot for masher to collect behind and wait for food coming down the river to get carried to them.
Anyway, we were hot and thirsty and decided to take a break in the caves where we were camped (and is also high above the water level, and is located just before a bend in the river). The caves offer a great vantage point from which to look down into the waters and watch for fish activity.
We had had lunch and drifted off into a heat induced slumber, when I heard a soft sound from the other bank. I looked up and saw this old villager who was two days to Sunday. He had obviously had as much to drink as he could handle and was standing precariously close to the edge, and looking down at the water. I immediately thought that the poor sod was about to take the plunge and shouted out to him, but he took no notice of me and instead just swayed up there. Suddenly he attempted to climb down what I can best describe as a near vertical rock face, that was 75 feet above the water. I would hesitate to attempt this feat while cold sober, but this guy had something on his mind, and an old ragged bag on his back.
By now, all and sundry were up in the caves and watching the spectacle. There was chatter by “Chicken George” that the guy was going to make a spectacular dive to liven up the afternoon for us, and then old man Zabir piped in that perhaps he had seen something below and was going after it. I for one thought that he was totally mad to venture down the rock face in his present condition.
Every step he took down the rock was frightening to watch, this guy was in no fit state to stand up, let alone climb down the gorge. Anyway after what seemed an eternity, he reached a slab of rock that was about five feet above the water line, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We had been having visions of ambulances and police and a whole lot of problems for all involved. But what the hell did he want to climb down for (especially in his present condition and on such a hot afternoon). The water around the rock was frothy with scum as this was a bend in the river and the current was probably the slowest on that whole stretch. The old man became very cautious now, and very carefully withdrew from his bag what turned out to be a casting net. We were beginning to get the picture, but still couldn’t see his prey. He steadied himself and took stock of his position and distance from the water and then readied his round casting net. With one swift practiced motion he cast the net exactly where he wanted it, and gradually slipped into the water to tidy up the opening.
It took him a while to get back on to the rock, but when he did, he had his arms full with a huge fish. It was a Wallago Attu, the fresh water shark of the Kaveri, also known as Mulley or Bawal. The fish was enormous and we estimated it to be over 40 lbs.
The old man danced around in glee and shouted till the echoes in the gorge became deafening. We too decided to celebrate with him, and drank to the old bugger.
Although he was a poor poacher, at least he had used skill to capture his prey rather than dynamite which would have killed much more than his intended prey.
After downing a couple more packets that he produced from his rag bag, with renewed energy he climbed back to the spot he had started out from with a rope dangling behind him. He then hauled the huge fish up the rocks and carted it off home to feed his hungry family.
Unfortunately i did not own a camera in those days, otherwise there would have been some great shots taken. Especially of that beautiful fish which has become a rarity these days, though small ones can still be taken on worm in most parts of the Kaveri during the rainy season.
The record for Wallago Attu, caught on rod and reel on the Kaveri, should I think be credited to the late Chippy Briggs. I have no idea what the weight of that fish was, but it certainly was an armful. There used to be a picture of Chippy with this fish at the old Wasi office, and maybe we need to try and trace it out. Anyway, if anyone has a picture of a goodly size Wallago Attu, please post the same.
I am herewith posting two pictures of the area, taken in subsequent years that will give you an idea of the terrain and what the old man went through to capture that fish.