Angler’s test

I’m not a trekker. When I’m in the hills I want to go on easy walks. However, the Himalayas and Sivaliks are full of hardened trekkers, who, when they hear me say “easy walk”, suggest trips which make my heart sink into my boots. I found that a foolproof way to do easy walks with company is start angling. The Falachan and Tirthan river valleys are full of anglers, so getting into this sport was not difficult.

My instructor, Dev, taught me the basics in half an hour. With a little box full of artificial lures, he taught me how to thread them into the line and attach them to the hook. The art of casting was not too hard. It was a little harder to free the hook from underwater object where it had snagged. After that it was a matter of understanding the “psychology of the fish”, as Dev told me. Fooling a fish involved lesser skills like holding the rod steady and reeling in the line at a constant rate.

The exotic brown trout (Salmo trutta) was introduced into Himalayan water in the mid-19th century and have taken hold here since then. They thrive in glacier-fed rivers like the Falachan, whose waters are seldom hotter than 20 Celcius. These rivers are also fast-flowing and turbulent, strewn with boulders and rocks (see the featured photo) and with patches of sand and silt where the water eddies into relatively calmer pools. Dev claimed that the trout lurk under these stones at the edges of these clear pools, and dart in to catch insects which land in the water near them.

I practiced the throw and the reeling in until I was good enough for Dev to pronounce that I was doing fine. This was not enough to catch fish, as it turned out. I caught no fish that day, but Dev caught three (which were duly photographed before being released into the stream again) and hooked another which escaped before it could be reeled in. I recalled having read that the brown trout has displaced the snow trout which previously inhabited these waters, but apparently it is not clear that this story of ecological destruction is true. The brown trout mainly eat mayflies, caddisflies and mosquitoes, whereas the snow trout live on algae. There is no competition between them. It is amazing how little we know about our environment, how shallow the reach of our country’s science is. I wish there was some way to recruit anglers into a network of citizen scientists to monitor the health of these rivers, and the diversity of their fauna.

As for me, I had my first taste of fishy science while examining the photos of the fish that Dev caught. I admired the lovely spotted dorsal fin on its back, the adipose fin just behind it, the paired pectoral fins roughly where the forelegs of a mammal would be, the paired ventral fins on the belly, the anal fin behind the pair, and the caudal fin or tail. The ray-finned brown trout seems to be as good as a textbook diagram of fish physiology!

At the end of the day I had finished my walk, leaping from one boulder to another along the course of the river. I also realized that I don’t have the patience of an angler. I’ll keep with angling as a disguise for easy walks along mountain streams, but that’s all my skills are good for.