The songs from an impressive number of bird species awoke me at 5 AM. Still tired from the grueling trip around the world I was confused. Those weren’t the robins singing in my backyard – where the heck was I? Then it hit me and the excitement of awaking in India took hold. I burst from the tent and there it was – the valley of the Saryu River near the village of Pancheshwar– home of the golden mahseer.
The first thing you think of when you look at the Saryu is a steelhead river. There are long waist deep runs that pour into swirling pools. The tail-outs are too deep and fast to wade across. Today the river was slightly muddy because of a major thunderstorm that occurred yesterday. This is always alarming as if it gets much worse it will be chocolate, however, on my last trip I caught a 15lb mahseer on the Ramganga River when it was like cake batter.
Two miles downstream the Saryu meets the mighty Mahakali River, a sacred river that separates India from Nepal. Although we plan to fish the Mahakali later in our trip, today it was gray from yesterday’s storm and possibly Himalayan snow melt. Gray colored water is a step above chocolate and this could put a halt on fishing the Mahakali. For now it’s not a concern as we’ll stay camped where we are now and fish the Saryu for two full days.
By 7 AM the sun was up and the heat was flowing. Average temps hover in the mid 90s this time of year in north India. Yes it’s hot, but mahseer are jungle fish – they love hot so this week we will too. After Misty’s camp staff served us a delicious breakfast I got to work setting up my mahseer fly rods.
Westerner fly fishers know little about mahseer so I’ll fill you in. Mahseer are basically carp like fish. Don’t think of them as some city dwelling grass carp however, these guys thrive in the clean waters of roaring Himalayan Rivers. There are many species of mahseer, this week we’ll be fishing for the golden mahseer.
I use a 9-weight; in fact I’ll be using my Ross RX. I have my classic sturdy Ross Momentum LT reel armed with a Scientific Angler Tropic Express 250 grain sinking line. I should be able to swing and strip flies right in front of mahseers stubby noses. Last, I’m fishing my standard level two streamer rig and it’s of straight 20lb mono. Nothing fancy – just a big fish rig. If I hook a giant the hook will bend on my fly before the line breaks. And mahseer don’t eat big flies – I’ll be using various streamers sizes 2 – 6. Brown has proven to be the best color for me and Misty also.
Once rigged Misty led us downstream fishing. We fished the primmest looking spots all the way to the confluence with the Mahakali and at 2 PM wandered back to camp. We are 12 hours ahead here so even though it was 8 AM it still feels like 8 PM. It generally takes me three days to adjust. Nonetheless, casting a long line with moving water around my feet was exhilarating even though we never touched a fish all the morning.
After our lunch break Misty had us hoof it directly back down to the confluence pool. This is his favorite spot for evening claiming some very large mahseer often move in from the Mahakali River at night. Our walk to this spot is about two miles. So we’d already done four in the morning session. That doesn’t add in the zigzagging around the river. Still doesn’t seem like a big deal but trust me, with some heavy jet lag another round trip down was strenuous.
Luckily the hike has numerous incredible sites along the way. First off, there are no roads here so we travel on ancient rock paths. They are absolutely incredible. These paths actually weave all through the Himalaya Foothills from Pakistanto Bhutan. The most modern site here is an incredible suspension bridge that crosses high above the Saryu above the confluence that is literally hundreds of years old.
The locals you pass and meet along the way are extraordinary as well. India is colorful in the way people dress. The women all wear bright colored dresses with glittering stones and eye catching jewelry. They are beautiful people. And the land is covered in small sacred places including a major temple at the confluence hole.
The best news is that we stuck some mahseer tonight. I landed four – three little guys and one respectable five pounder – just enough action to raise our confidence. Misty and Whitney each landed one. If we keep our flies in the water there’s no doubt we’ll hook a pig.
We fished till it was black dark then turned on our headlamps and hiked back to camp. It was a slow walk. I felt like a 90 year old. Then the usual, a great dinner with a few beers around camp. Misty and his Himalayan Outback team really know how to make guest comfortable even in the remotest of settings.
Being filmed doesn’t allow me to take pics. A SPECIAL THANKS is in order to Jim Klug and Chris Patterson who not only brought me on this trip but also provided most of the blog photos.