mahseer Magic

The Magic of the Mahseer

How many anglers out there have read about or maybe seen on TV stories of fishing for the legendary mahseer. The majority of those anglers might however only see a trip to India to fish for mahseer as a dream, some might be put off by the cost or the fear and hardships that living in an Indian jungle for a few days might bring. Now thanks to the efforts of the various travel companies that operate mahseer fishing trips to India those distant dreams can become reality and at a reasonable cost and in the relative comfort of an organized jungle camp.

Ade Kiddell has just returned form his second trip to Southern India to fish for Mahseer at the Galibore camp on the banks of the famous River Cauvery.  In this article we are going to look at the planning and tackle thats needed and join Ade on a typical day in the jungle camp.

Planning Ahead

Most of the organized trips that go to India require the angler to take his own tackle, this can be a daunting to the first timer and its very easy to end taking more “just in case tackle” than is actually needed. With the airlines now putting some serious restrictions on luggage allowances its essential tackle taken matches what is required. British Airways up until a few months ago operated a free sporting luggage allowance, that has now gone and they have also imposed a restriction on sizes of luggage, the maximum length now set at 1.9 metres. The end result being that any rod section must be less that 1.9 metre and unless you can get all your clothes and tackle in a rod tube you are going to have to pay out for some excess luggage. I would suggest booking and paying for an extra 23kgs of luggage allowance online before you leave, you make a big saving and take much hassle out of booking in at the airport. If you are traveling in a group I would suggest that you try to combine your rods and share the cost of the extra luggage, if traveling on your own then contact your travel agent who might be able to put you in touch with someone who is willing to share costs with you.

Travel to India also requires a Visa even for tourism purposes, this needs to be applied for a few weeks before departure. The online procedure is quite detailed and follows strict procedures, so don't leave it until the last minute as you went get in without it. The best fishing times for mahseer are from early December until March and all the guided trips tend to go during this short period. The area of India visited is not of high risk for Malaria but your doctor may suggest some general vaccinations may be required against Rabies, Typhoid and the likes

The Journey

Leaving the U.K. in the middle of winter is not difficult especially when you know a few hours later you will be arriving in a country much warmer and drier. The flight from Heathrow to Bangalore is around nine hours. The Galibore camp is around 120kms south of Bangalore with the nearest town to the camp being Kanakapura, with the nearest small village to the camp being Sangam which is about 10kms. The four hour journey from the airport to the camp is a real eye opener, traveling on every class of road from motor-way to rock strewn dirt track. The traffic is manic the standard of driving is concerning and the ever present blasting of horns is worrying.

The Camp

Once in the camp the hustle and bustle of the long flight and the sweaty dusty journey from the airport are soon forgotten. Galibore Camp is controlled by Indian company Jungle Lodges on behalf of the forestry department. Jungle Lodges supply the staff around the camp and maintain the infrastructure and buildings, consisting of staff quarters a kitchen and office as well as the twelve tented buildings that form the guest accommodation. Each of the tented buildings is raised off the ground by about one metre on a concrete base, with plenty of room for two anglers and each tent has the luxury of a flush toilet and shower.

A central covered area forms the focal point of the camp, all meals are served here and its also possible to buy all your bottled water and soft drinks requirements twenty four hours a day. The ice cold Ki
ngfisher lager also available goes along way to lubricating a dry throat at the end of a days fishing. This central area always has a great atmosphere and many friendships have been formed here over the years, if you like a drop of Scotch  for a night cap don't forget to pick up some duty free at the airport on the way out.

The food at the camp is very good, don't expect international cuisine, but do expect traditional Indian dishes cooked to a high standard, mainly chicken in one form or another with plenty of veggie options. Coffee is served at meal times, I would suggest if you are an avid tea drinker to pack a few tea bags in your kit. Fresh fruit is always available but I would recommend packing a few snacks and sweets for a treat during your stay.

Mahseer Tackle

The best rods for mahseer fishing are uptiders in the 6-10oz class, couple that with a multiplier in 7-9000 size and you have the ideal combination. The criteria that choice is based around is two fold, firstly the rod must be able to handle casting the large balls of Ragi paste bait which can weigh around half a kilo and secondly the reel must have the capacity to hold 300metres plus of 40lb mono.

One of the problems with an up-tide rod is to give the rod a better action they are often made up of a short butt section coupled with a longer tip section, when choosing your rod ensure that the tip section isn't longer than the 1.9 maximum luggage size. During my last two trips to India I have seen a total of four rods damaged, none of these whilst playing fish, but on three occasions whilst casting with rods not up to the job and the other a tip shattered on a rock. Multi section travel rods and lightweight uptiders just aren’t man enough and end up getting smashed.

The chance of hooking a big fish that can quickly empty a spool of a couple of hundred metres of line are very high therefore a reel with spare capacity is required, because of this  and the need for some cranking power very few fixed spool reels fit the bill. A level wind is not essential but does make the whole job a lot easier. A few practice sessions on the local playing field before you go will soon have you casting ok, but don't worry all of the guides are good at casting and more often than not would prefer to cast for you to ensure the bait ends up in the area they want. Line needs to be 40lb mono any less and its not up to the punishment dished out by the rocks and any more and it will hamper your casting. The Indian guides seem to turn their noses up at brown colored line and prefer clear or green, I am not sure it makes any difference, and have used all three. Having used Diawa, Shakespeare and Berkley I haven't noticed any that stands out, it pays to keep checking the line for damage and changing it if in any doubt. Everyday I like to check my line before a fishing session. I simply hook my line to a tree and walk off around a hundred metres of line checking it for damage as I go, I then give it a bit of a stretch and a chance to untwist before reeling it back onto the spool again checking it as I reel.

Terminal tackle is simple, no swivels or knots, the mainline ties direct to the hook, the knot used to tie the hook must be a reliable multi whipping knot, the guides use a knot similar to what we use to tie a spade end hook, the Snell knot is the one preferred by many of the english anglers that fish for mahseer. The Snell is not unlike the knotless knot, but of course it has to be tied with only one free end. To complete the rig only requires a couple of beads some power gum and a homemade lead. To make a lead cut a strip of lead from a sheet of roofing lead, the strip needs to be about 6mm wide and about 300mm long. The strip then needs to be wound around a length of rigid rig tube about 150mm long, I make some up in various lengths and also carry a couple of spare strips of lead when fishing.

To tie a rig firstly tie a stop knot with some power gum about 1 metre up the line, then thread on a 10mm bead the lead and another 10mm bead before tying another power gum stop knot under them, the hook is then tied onto the line, if required a hair rig can be looped onto the hook once tied.

Over the years many mahseer have been lost due to inferior hooks being straightened and smashed by the powerful surging run of a hooked mahseer. The most important piece of kit terminal wise is the hook the most popular by far and the most reliable is the Owner SSW model 5311 in a 6/0 - 8/0 size, not easy to get in the UK but not a problem from the US or Far East via the internet.

All my terminal tackle goes in a simple tackle box which I carry inside of my Korum tackle bag, there’s enough room also for a couple of bottles of water and my camera which for added safety I put inside a waterproof bag. When you are wading out into the river to get to likely fish holding spots its a matter of a few spare hooks and leads in the pocket and leave the bag and camera safe on dry land.


The most popular bait on the Cauvery is Ragi, Ragi is made from millet flour to which spices are added, the powder is then mixed with water to produce a stiff dough, which is a dark beige colored, once its been boiled and left to dry it turns a chocolate brown colour. In the past the dough was formed into balls around the size of a football and then boiled for a couple of hours before drying out and leaving to form a crust in the hot sun. Once peeled back this crust leaves a stiff dough mix in the centre that once kneaded makes a great paste bait to form around the hook, a good bait being around the size of a small orange. With the Cauvery these
days teeming with small fish a soft paste bait can be destroyed in a matter of seconds in some swims to overcome this the trend has been to fish hair rigged baits that are formed and boiled to a much harder consistency, with the baits ending up about the size of a cricket ball and much more resistant to the small fish. Hair rigging these tougher baits has accounted for many of the large mahseer that have been caught over the last few years, it allows the angler to be more confident he still has a bait on the hook and therefore can leave it in position undisturbed for longer.

Chilwa or small live fish (not Mahseer thou) also account for plenty of fish on the Cauvery, each guide carries a small Seine net which he uses to catch a selection of bait for the fishing session. There are many different species of fish they use with some that look like small barbel and others that are not unlike a silver bream, a particular favourite is a loach type fish that that is caught from the rock pools, these are tough baits that the bigger mahseer find irresistible, the live fish are simply hooked through the top of the back in the region of the dorsal fin.

The other bait that has produced many fish is the small crab that is often under rocks in the muddy pools, years ago the guide wouldn't take you out without a good supply, these days they are harder to find and consequently not used so much, on the occasions I have used them the bites have been instant but have produced smaller fish.

The River

The river around the camps falls into 2 very different categories, upstream of the camp the river is mostly areas of rapid water with lots of rocks that channel the water through deeper gullies and areas of shallow water, these areas are interconnected by areas of deeper slower water that form slower pools. Downstream of the camp is much deeper and slower and the river is much wider in some places, the river here flows at a more mundane pace but in some areas there are rocks that funnel the water through faster running channels.

A Days Fishing

A typical day in the camp begins with a cup of coffee delivered to your tent around about 7am with a friendly smile and a “good morning sahib” from one of the camp staff. At around 7.45 everybody meets at the central camp area for another coffee and a round or two of toast. Dave Plummer head guide for Angling Direct Holidays who organised my trip, appoints anglers to guides for the day and makes plans what areas will be fished. Today I am going to fish with Dave and Ken Scott from Kent also joining us will be Indian guide Madhu. The plan is for us to go by jeep with two coracles upstream of the camp and launch the coracles at the top end of the stretch, fishing our way back downstream towards the camp stopping at likely looking spots as we go.

Madhu of typical Indian build and limited English handles the coracle with immense skill, bearing in mind in some places we are literally shooting the rapids. We fished from the coracles in a couple of places as we went with a small mahseer each to show for our efforts. Dave then had us stopping at an area that had been too deep to fish the day previous, but with the water dropping off overnight he had the feeling it might be worth a try. Putting a few items of tackle in my pocket I followed Dave across a faster flowing channel up to my chest in water and holding on to Dave for dear life, our target was an unseen rock in the middle of the river that would give us enough protection from the fast current to fish safely. Downstream and each side of the rock the water flowed with good pace with plenty of slower creases and slacks to explore with a bait.

Ken would fish the left hand run and me the right hand side, Dave warned us any hooked fish would make a surging run for the rapid water that was a 80 metres or so below our spot and once it was in there it would be in the next pool down and we would be clambering over rocks to keep in touch with it. Both myself and Ken had a couple of smaller mahseer around 5 or 6lb that gave some great sport in the fast flowing water, our soft ragi bait was getting attacked as soon as it hit the water, Madhu was working hard to keep the hooks baited.

Dave was contemplating a change to hard Ragi when I put a cast about 10 m
etres further down the run, the idea being the bigger fish might be holding back with the numbers of small fish attacking the bait. The large bait hit the bottom rolled a fraction and without warning the rod was almost wrenched from my hands. As Dave had predicted the fish made a beeline for the rapid water and the chute into the next pool, as instructed I pressed hard on the revolving spool with my thumb and held on for dear life several line burns later and only yards from the chute the fish turned. I wound frantically to keep up with it as it came fast upstream towards me, I caught up with it in the deep channel in front of me and just when I thought I was winning off it went again, this just has to be the most exhilarating fishing I have ever done, just to be in India and fishing the Cauvery is a dream come true but to be playing a large mahseer whilst chest deep in the river is spine tingling, I almost didn't want the fight to end. Madhu expertly grabbed the fish and had it resting attached to a stringer very quickly, then high fives all round celebrated its capture

35lb my best mahseer to date and a long lean fish suited perfectly to its surroundings and looking like it had just been made especially for me. We packed in around midday and took some pictures and returned the fish to its home. Just as we returned the fish a runner from the camp approached and out of breath summoned Dave to “come quickly sahib big fish come quickly”. A Colin McRae style rally drive had us go almost from the upper limit of the camp to the far downstream limit in record time.  There to greet us was fellow Norwich angler Paul Girling, Paul had just had an amazing mornings fishing, 5 mahseer going 7,10,17,30 and a monstrous 77 pound fish to top the haul. It really had been a good week for Paul having landed a 66 on his first session and a couple of other 20s during the week before his quintet of this mornings session. Photo's taken and fish safely returned we made our way back to the camp for some well earned lunch, served around 13.00 everyday its more a brunch than a lunch and is usually an English style breakfast.

Once lunch is over and until coffee is served again before the evening guided session begins about 16.30 you are free to do as you please, providing you remain within the boundaries of the main camp. It has to be remembered that you are after all in the jungle which is not unlike a zoo full of wild animals only this zoo has no cages.

I like to spend a couple of hours of the free time doing some fun fishing for the smaller mahseer or indeed some of the other species that inhabit the Cauvery. A heavy barbel rod about 2lb test, a 8000 size reel loaded with 15lb mono and a strong size 2 carp hook are all that are required for some serious fun. I simply tie the hook mould a golf ball piece of soft Ragi around the hook and free-line it through one of the faster paced stretches of water in the camp. Having had mahseer close to 20lb on this method then you have to believe me it is adrenaline packed fun. I have been close to being spooled at times before I have managed to turn the fish and regain some control. Another fish worth targeting are the pink carp, not unlike our own barbel, only gun metal grey with a pink tinge to its scales, they favour a worm bait but can be caught on ragi bit with 20lb plus fish not unheard off they are worth a shot. A light travel spin rod and a reel loaded with braid can also produce some great sport, small mahseer and the much sought after murrel will all fall to a small Mepps or Toby lure well presented.

The sun at this part of the day is very hot and serious precautions need taking, high factor sun block and plenty of drinking water are essential. After a couple of hours of fun I decide its time for a half an hour on the bed to catch up on some zeds before a shower and shave to freshen up before the evening session begins. Over a coffee and a briefing for the evening Dave allocates the guides for the session and this evening I will be on my own with Tomas, one of the most respected guides in the camp, Tomas has a good grasp of English and knows more than most about the river, the tackle and the mahseer.

We are off downstream of the camp to an area known as Big Rock where we will use a coracle to cross the river to fish a channel between two groups of rocks, the channel is about 100 metres long and has a bit more pace than the main flow. The channel is very snaggy several big rocks alter the flow and hold the fish but require us to fish from the coracle incase we hook a big fish and need to follow it.

The first few casts with Ragi produce plenty of plucks and pulls before a 6lb mahseer puts up a healthy scrap, even with a tightly set clutch fish of this size will still take line. The next cast is taken with a bang as the bait hits the bottom and a hooked fish screams of taking line before it snags us on one of the rocks, I didn't even realise Tomas had pushed us into the flow and we were following the fish in the coracle, he had the feeling it was big mahseer and was trying to prevent a lost fish, as it turned out it was a carp of around 8lb not what we were after but Tomas smiled as he slid the fish into his bag, he told me that the carp would make a good meal for the guides that evening.

Tomas soon had us tied up again with the coracle this time about thirty metres further down the channel, again soft Ragi was producing plenty of plucks and bangs on the rod top. I like fishing the soft Ragi and find if you adopt a “soft Hands’ approach its possible to develop bites into hooked fish. A couple of small mahseer were landed and the bait was getting destroyed very quickly, a change of tactics was required, Tomas tied a hair rig to the hook and then peeled the skin off of a hard Ragi ball once mounted on the hair he finished of the bait with a thick skin of soft Ragi moulded around it. The resulting bait the size of a grapefruit hit the water with a resounding splash, it rolled around and with a bit of slack line fed out took a good hold on the bottom. Almost as soon as it had settled the small fish started their incessant attack, adrenalin pumping and heart thumping I resist the urge to strike and try to remain “soft handed” when suddenly the plucking stops. Tomas pipes up “paste gone sahib now waiting waiting” my state of semi relaxation is disturbed by  a steady pull and then a violent tug before it all drops loose, Tomas explains he thinks a bigger fish may be sizing the bait up and not to strike until I am positive a fish his hooked His “waiting waiting” instruction does little to calm the nerves. After a few minutes the fish again has a slow tug I lower the rod to reduce any resistance the fish might feel, its hard to  remain calm when I am like a coiled spring ready to set the hook.

When the rod was almost wrenched from my hands a few seconds later there was no need to strike but my natural reaction was to whack the hook home and hold on tight, “big fish sahib” Tomas uttered as his experienced eye had us following the fish downstream in a flash. The coracle saved us on a couple of occasions as the fish went from rock to rock in an attempt to avoid capture, at one point it came up close to the coracle before making a crashing dive which had the rod crashing against the wicker frame of the coracle. Tomas beached us on an area about 100 metres from where we had hooked the fish and after a couple more runs into open water he finally got a firm grip and landed the fish, a lovely looking golden mahseer of 32lb. By the time we had rested the fish and then took some pictures and returned the fish safely it was completely dark. We fished until the all in about 2100 and returned to the camp for a well earned meal.

Back at the camp as always the craic was good and entertaining stuff, plenty of fishy tales and stories of the one that got away. The food as always was excellent the cold Kingfisher settling the dust on what had been a hot day in more ways than one.. After a large glass of scotch, purely for medicinal reasons you understand, it was time for bed, laying in bed and listening to the sounds of the jungle all around you is a fantastic way to end a day. Theres also the thought that in a few hours time one of our Indian friends will wake me with a polite “coffee Sahib” and another day in paradise will begin.

I traveled with Angling Direct holidays, who have a block booking at Galibore camp every year for around six weeks in January and February. Prices start from around £1900 for a nine day trip which includes 6 days fishing, price includes flights and accommodation at galibore and a one night stay in one of the top hotels in Bangalore. Non fishing guests are more than welcome and for lovers of wildlife the camp is a great place to be with many species of birds and animals present, the chance of seeing elephants in the wild is very likely during your stay.

Visit Angling Direct Holidays website at or call them on 01603 407596 it will be possible to request a brochure and price list or even a DVD of your desired destination.

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