My Correspondence with the 'Old Sahib' - The 54 pounder at Bayansghat, Uttaranchal and the 94 pounder at Bhimeshwari Karnataka.
By Patrick Kerr a.k.a. Big Mahseer
I first met Jim Moorhouse on Platform No. 1 at the Katgodham/Haldwani Railway Station in what was then U.P. (now Uttaranchal) one early morning in October of 1998.
While I had driven in to reach Haldwani from Rishikesh as part of a Himalayan River Runner's Jeep convoy supporting a fishing expedition on the River Kali between Pancheshwar & Boom, the rest of the fishermen, a group of 8, including Jim, had come in from Delhi, an overnight train journey away, by the Nanital Express.
We all fished together for the next 10 days floating down the river in whitewater rafts, camping & fishing at all the best looking & likely-to-hold-fish spots. In addition to the fishing, or rather the lack of fishing on this particular trip, we had great fun as this very sporting crowd decided to run the river and take their chances anyways in spite of the river being chocolate-brown with recent rain and thus reducing good fishing conditions considerably.
I turned out to be the 'champion fisherman' of that trip.
The 'championship' was initiated by the Englishmen - ever ready to wager or bet on anything.
So the bets were laid out; twenty dollars per head to the person who caught the first fish, twenty dollars per head for the person who caught the biggest fish and twenty dollars a head for the person who caught the most fish.
... yeah, I did it all... and they paid me the prize money even though I had 'technically' lost the biggest and first fish - a drop-off-the-plug after she came out of the water and was miss-handled by one of the fishermen..... a 'huge big" estimated 10-pounder!
My score card?
The First Fish & Biggest Fish caught: 10-lb (estimated) Mahseer.
Most Fish caught: 30-odd 1 & 2-lb Mahseer, caught on hand-line using single hooks baited with aata, worms, bits of chilwa & hellgrammites.
Now Jim is as American as can be. His mannerism, his speech & his stories are all 'All-American'. Perhaps it was because all the other fishermen except him & me were from the U.K., that Jim sort of sought my companionship on this trip, as, again perhaps, he & I were 'different'.
He initially came to India as part of the American Diplomatic Mission and then stayed on to work as the South Asia boss of Westinghouse and during his stay, he got acquainted with the Mahseer.
Now there was no stopping him after this first meeting with the Mighty Mahseer... he fished the River Ganga and had a favorite spot at Bayansghat (You guys have probably seen the movie 'Casting for Gold'? That's Bayansghat, the confluence of the River Nayyar and the River Ganga.)
Jim fished here almost every weekend during the season when he slept on Surinder's (the same Surinder who lands Paul Boote's fish in 'Casting for Gold') roof in Village Baghi for three hundred bucks a day.
He fished the Ramganga on the periphery of Corbett National Park also in Uttaranchal. Here, his son Patrick, early one morning put a snorkel over his face & an 'Owner' single hook at the end of a line reeled up to to the top guide of a telescopic spinning rod, set the drag to 'big fight' level and then dived into the depths of the Ramganga under the Marchula bridge. Rod in hand, he went in close-up and put the 'Owner' into the lip of a monster-sized Goonch which had stuck itself onto a big rock and was clearly visible in the 20-odd feet deep gin-clear water. He came up gasping for breath and fighting the fish. He eventually won and landed a 99 pounder as mean and as ugly looking as the ugliest thing on this earth... but that's another story.
Jim fished all over; Murchison Falls in Uganda for giant Nile Perch, the River Congo for Goliath Tiger Fish, the US for Trout and Salmon and we've corresponded over the years, exchanging reports & sharing our experiences on the this common passion - fishing.
Jim fished the Cauvery in the mid-90's and got himself a 'Big 'un' - a 94-pounder at Bhimeshwari, at the head of a rapid at the base of a run which I know as 'Monkey Shit', about 1000-odd meters upstream of Camp Pool if one was to walk up along the river & straight through the weed-choked Murrel Pool.
"The fish of my dreams"... thought Jim & then I got this letter from him... and a letter in reply to my asking him how this Big 'un compared with the 94 from the Cauvery...
He's named himself "The Old Sahib" and shortened this down to 'OS' which he uses in his reports.
Here's Jim's reports on his fish of the 23rd of May 2004...
And what of this, Patrick, what of this?
India Report: Old Sahib Hits Jackpot - mulls retirement from the sport - First-timer Waynesahib Mehl notches 21 lbs. Himalayan Golden Mahseer
Operations for the 2004 two man All-American Himalayan Mahseer Expedition commenced in earnest over a dreary winter as hundreds of 4X hooks, O-rings and swivels were mounted and innumerable gear checks accomplished.
The team arrived in Delhi on 20 March and checked into a luxury Heritage Room at The Imperial. Since self-sufficiency is mandatory in the moffusil, massive quantities of rations were requisitioned and intense negotiations entered into with Kashmiri shawl salesmen. A snap visit to the Taj was also organized where Waynesahib commandeered a phalanx of professional photogs to record his every action.
On 22 March the party set off for Garhwal well up into the Outer Himalayas. Eight hours of grueling heat, dust, go-slows and potholes were endured and the party finally pitched up at Byas Ghat in late afternoon. Shikari Surendra was on hand and promptly mustered a gang of porters (some only 3 ft. tall) and hundredweights of gear, tents and rations were humped across the Nayar river suspension bridge and down the goat trail to the Ganges confluence. Camp was established sans incident.
At dawn on 23 March the party marched confidently to the water's edge and The Old Sahib was into an 8 lber. on his first cast. An auspicious beginning . . . three casts later Waynesahib was tied into a good specimen and after a 25 mins. battle a classic 21 lb. Himalayan Golden was beaten, beached, weighed, photographed and released. His new rod and open face reel performed superbly and the nut behind the reel held up nicely. His winter reading of all known Mahseer literature was a clear asset. Five minutes later he signaled a larger fish on and running but it shook the hook and he followed up with a 10 lber . . . all on Lil Cleo spoons.
The party adjourned for breakfast at 9 AM and the OS scoured his memory bank for a parallel and could only come up with a single event matching this early and intense action on the Ganges: an exciting but ultimately catastrophic April 1991 dawn outing when three successive casts produced three successive and massive bustoffs.
The OS began rummaging for plugs and selected a consistent Mahseer producer - the 5 and 1/4" 5/8oz. jointed Rapala. Local Master Angler, Gul Anand, insisted that the Godawful fire tiger (also Aaveg Anand's goofy favorite pattern) be mounted which bears not the slightest resemblance to any known Ganges bait fish.
The OS reluctantly deferred to GA and presented himself back on the river bank at 10 AM. A half dozen casts later he had a major take and a screeching run which ran out three quarters of his 200 yds. spool diagonally across the river to the head of a heavy set of rapids. The OS does not credit himself with stopping the fish - rather she hunkered down in the current on her own and a vicious Mexican standoff ensued . . . . punctuated by jolting head shakes. Clearly a major beast was on and the battle of attrition joined.
After a half hour the OS's wrist and forearms gave out as his short handle bass rod provided little or no arm support. Undaunted, the OS reached up and over the bottom guide with his right hand and yanked back on the rod and got the tip up . . . Surendra providing essential lower back support by bracing himself backwards.
After 45 mins., sensing the OS's flagging energies, Mehl/Surendra urged a downstream move in an attempt to square up with the fish. The OS obstinately refused until he had gained turns on the reel which he finally achieved after almost an hour. The Sahib was then half-carried by Garhwali outriders and half stumbled some 50 yds. downriver where the angle against the beast improved.
Finally the horse breached in the main current and was babied into knee deep water where she glared at the crowd assembling along the bank. She promptly disappeared straight out into deep water 30 yds. off in a huge cloud of sand and repeated that move twice more. She then angled behind a rock in chest deep water and the OS could feel the line abrading but he leaped atop a 4 ft. boulder and got the line up and over top of the obstruction.
Finally she was brought into calf-deep water where she/we warily surveyed the situation for several tense minutes. Surendra wisely crouched behind a boulder and at the OS's urging made no move to scoop the fish prematurely. When she finally tipped gently he sprang out from behind cover and she was beached! A horse indeed.
She was strung up and weighed - the scale oscillating between 55 lbs. and 57 lbs. The OS declared the official weight at 55 lbs. and ignored (for once) Surendra's repeated entreaties to add weight since a portion of the lower tail was dragging in the water. A sure and solid 55 lbs. it was. Good 'enuff for the OS who was reduced to a shell of his former self having been battled into a daze for a full hour and fifteen minutes.
The Grandmother was recorded for posterity and released. A subsequent search revealed a 1962 report in The Statesman of a 60 lber. taken by famed angler, John "Baby" West, at Byas Ghat. Brigadier Pinto documents a fifty pounder caught by Brig. Harry Chukervuti in 1963; "Jumper Dhanju's" 52 pounder in 1964 and Pinto's own 50 pounder in '67. More recently Paul Boote's low 50's (as I recall) was captured on the classic "Casting for Gold" in 1989 or 1990. The Dehra Dun fraternity has had many big catches on the Nayar/Ganges and Thomas Moorhouse's 1991 38 lber. was red letter. JAM has heard of giants caught downriver at Phool Chatti and Misty Dhillon's big down stream catch in the 50's from a rafting camp on lite line a couple of yrs. ago also energized the angler community. Vijay Soni recounts mega fish at Hardwar years ago including a 60 lber. caught off a weir by him in his youth.
Moorhouse then opined that the high water mark of the trip had probably been reached on Day One (of a twelve day expedish!) . . . how dreadfully prescient. Mehl latched into another 10 lber that day and OS and Waynesahib both scored 10 lbers. the following day.
Then, painfully, five blank days ensued as cold nighttime air killed the fishing dead. Daytime temps in the sun still soared to 120 degrees but fell back to only 60 at night: a full 60 degrees swing. 40-50 mile winds also battered the camp and torrid sandstorms filled every crack and crevice with fine grit. The duo was hammered by the same enervating winds which caused Brit officials to run amok during The Raj and self-inflict wounds as well as upon others. Fortunately we had no firearms in camp.
Fortuitously, Moni Nath arrived midway from Dehra Dun accompanied by a full contingent bearing a massive wooden toilet and portable shower. Moni's personable presence (and that of the thunder box and shower) made the interminable wait bearable.
Finally, in a desperate attempt to break the cycle of failure, Waynesahib rolled a gob of Uncle Josh carp bait along the river bottom and was seized by a handsome 17 1/2 lber. He proved his point conclusively as the locals had derisively greeted this strategy.
Other highlights included the fitting and distribution of a couple of dozen barely used garments from Karen's children which considerably spiffed up Village Bagi children and several visits to Bagi where the winter wheat harvest was being sickled and hand-threshed.
All in all, a successful expedish.., w/no medical emergencies altho the OS barely avoided a broken right arm in taking a fearful fall.
PS: Note to Mark Thompson: Pls. advise Terry Disdale that so-called "Mickey Mouse" gear (his terminology). i.e. 6'6" Fenwick medium heavy action rod, Ambassadeur 6500 and hi quality German 24 lbs. test Damyl Techtan line did the job! Also recommend he consult Silent Waters by Capt. C. W. W. W. Conway, 1942, for a primer on how it's done.
Got the prints this afternoon.
What a lovely fish! All prints are up on the pin-board above my computer.
I'm savoring the images - a great 'look away' subject for eyestrain while punching the keyboard!
Don't worry, you're far from retirement… you'll be out here again soon & looking for another grandmother!
But tell me, how did this fish compare with your big one out of the Cauvery? I remember one of the ghillies there telling me the story; there was someone fishing at the beginning of that run, just south of Monkey Shit, he had a couple of casts & moved on, you then moved into the slot & this ghilly - he was with the Brit who moved - looked over his shoulder 2 minutes later & saw your rod doubled over & you leaning back to contain the fish.
However, I suspect that this fish at Bayansghat, fought a tougher fight.
Tell me your feeling on this one.
Yeah Pat. . . Well, that fish at Byas Ghat wore me out for 1 hr. and 15 mins. It was very, very hard - I didn't even get a turn on the reel for almost an hour. It just sat out in the current and shaking her head once in awhile. My arms gave out - I had to reach over the bottom guide and yank the rod back w/my right hand just to get the goddarn tip up. Very, very fortunate that the rod did not break in so doing.
Surendra was great. I was sitting on a big huge rock and he braced himself backwards against me to give me back support. That was quite key for 15-20 mins.
The fish at the Cauvery was 94 lbs. It fought for 55 mins. It wore me out too - but then again I could put bigger pressure as I had the big 9 ft. rod and 40 lb. test.
The story didn't quite happen that way - I went with Venkta to Balu Madu @ 7 AM. We went out to a rock that was barely exposed midway down the pool. He hauled the coracle up on the rock. Not a tap for two hrs. Then Venkta said "There's the Memsahib." I looked up and Micheline had walked the mile and a half from camp and was along the shore with her binocs and bird book. I said "Let's go over and she if she wants to ride down to camp." We got there and asked her and she said "No, go ahead I'll walk back!!!!!!!"
So . . . . we went out to that rock and set up again. Not two mins. went by that I had a huge hit - preceded (fortunately) by a thump/bump - so I was ready. The Amb 7000C was making noises that I never heard it make before. Venkta said "We will move to shore." I yelled "No - we aren't moving." Then I felt the line tick on the rocky ridge running down the middle of the pool.
I yelled "Let's go - NOW" He paddled us over and I got out and fought it from shore for a half hour or so - then SUDDENLY (gasp) the line shot over the shore line and started clipping thru tall grasses and little bushes. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the hell was happening. Then it dawned on me = the thing had run into a little bay downstream - so I took off at a dead run with Venkta yelling "No - no - the rapids, the rapids." What was I supposed to do? Let the fish chop the line on a bush? Anyway, got down there and got the line over water again and lead the fish out and up. Went back to the original spot - got tired and called for the stool - fought it to a standstill - got it in close and then Ventka tried to land it. Like picking up a huge sack of jello - kept slipping. Finally, he sat on the head and I got the stringer in.
Weighed at camp - 94. They said "Too bad Sahib - this is the new scale - the old one was loose and would have given over 100!!!! I released.
Micheline said "Why are you not happier?"
I said "What now for an encore?"
If it hadn't been for her declining a ride to camp . . . .
Well . . . that 55 was the encore.