After the problems I had last time fished the rivers of far western Nepal, (November 2000 - see July articles 2001) this time I chose to return for a five-week expedition starting 23 February.
I left early one Friday morning for Heathrow, lucky to avoid the lorries that had been blown over due to 60/70 M.P.H. winds. My mind was now on what disruptions Nepal could throw at me, as just one week before I was due to leave there were reports of Maoist freedom fighters attacking an army base and killing 140 government personnel only 80 km’s from where I planned to be. Still, who would want to hurt a fisherman!
I arrived at Kathmandu airport with all gear intact thanks to Gulf airlines, only to find there was a strike on, instigated by the Maoists. So, what would have been a £2 taxi to the hotel escalated to £8. Fortunately, it was the last day of the strike. My first day in Kathmandu was spent stocking up on basic essentials. It was good to see the street vendors bless their goods before the onslaught of the tourists. Sunday morning I was all set for the mid-day flight to Nepalgunj.. This normally only takes 1.5hrs.but because of freak storms, the flight was held up till 4pm. Still it was good to see the tops of the mountains again, a sight one that never seizes to amaze me. Thankfully my contact was still waiting for me on arrivel, because the checkpoints close at 4.30. We had to spend the night in Nepalgunj in a basic hotel with lilac covered walls, and a shower that leaked all night. Thank God for the BBC World Service on the telly.My stomach was not ready for the local food, so biscuits and black tea had to suffice.
Tuesday morning we set of for the lodge I normally use as a base; again problems. We had been held up at army checkpoints, they took a keen interest in the plastic tubes I had with my rods in. One roadblock we passed had just been attacked 3 days earlier, killing 47 personnel. At the last one we were advised to get permission from the army before taking the raft down the River Bheri, so I met up with the army major who spoke very good English. After a 1 hour discussion in which I was told that that it would not be advisable to go down this route, as there was a possibility I may be kidnapped. They also said that that no harm was likely to come to me and they could not stop me from going. That was all I wanted to hear, but the next problem was convincing my guide that it would be all right. I told him that I had been through similar circumstances before when I was in South Africa and that there was nothing to worry about, that took a long time but I got there. All we had to do then was get all the food ready for what was going to be a 7-day trip down the river.
The roar of a tiger woke me up Wednesday morning. With an average temp of 70f, most of the day was spent gathering frogs and grasshoppers while my guide sorted out what food would be required. Due to the recent troubles there were few tourists in Bardia - so few it would have been easier to spot a tiger!
Thursday we set off for our start point, taking 4.5 hours by road crossing the river Babia that is very low at this time of the year. Taking a raft down could prove very difficult. By mid day, shortly after Surket road bridge, we put the raft in with help from the locals who helped carry some of our gear. It was not long before we found a suitable site to camp for the first night, although it was close to a local school it was ideal for sorting the gear out and get everything organised for what could prove to be a eventful expedition. There were a few small fish rising in the late evening sun, it was great to be here again,
Friday morning 10 am we were of looking for a suitable site with Mahseer in mind. After passing over what would have been a class four rapids with a greater volume of water, it still gave us a challenge, one that we got through unscathed. After that it was not long before we located a pool in between two rapids which looked promising. After numerous attempts with lures, I set up with frog as bait, a partial success in as far as small Mahseer were caught, but not the size I was looking for. With an average weight of 6-7lbs they still put up a decent fight.
We left early the next day. From here on I was familiar with the area from my last trip. We reached Ranighat, a reasonable size village, in 2 hrs as, like last time, a chorus of ‘Bye bye’ from all the local kids standing on the bankside met us. After Ranighat, it was a further 3 hrs of rafting, passing boulders as high as a double decker bus in the middle of the river. I certainly would not want to be here during the monsoon period.
I found a place just on a bend in the river with a long straight following. There was also evidence that local fishermen had been here not too long ago. After seeing a few good fish rising I thought I would try natural baits again. Although it was slightly overcast with a bit of rain, the weather did not seem to threatening. I was soon proven wrong, as just after we got the tents up the heavens opened. The rest of the evening was spent sheltering from a hailstorm, then the thunder kept up till the early hours of the morning. Needless to say I did not catch anything that evening,
Sunday morning, after a short spell fly fishing, we set off again and after 3-4 hours passed some long shallow parts of the river and three picturesque villages, Taranga, Chapang and Guit. These are all set amongst some wonderful scenery. When we stopped at one village for supplies we found the locals celebrating, after one of them had caught a 70lb Mahseer that day. So my hopes were getting up.
It was not long before we found the place I was looking for - a pool just before a rapid. Although a few good fish were spotted rising, we did have a take that evening which pulled the rod in. Fortunately I had learnt from past experience that should you leave the rod unattended, then at least use some rope to tie the rod handle to a rock. On this occasion the fish shed the hook.
Early next morning we had a visit from a local fisherman. He explained it would be better to use live fish as bait and offered to get some for us by means of netting just below the rapid, so we decided to stay here for a bit longer. The fisherman was extremely helpful, as a gift for his help I passed a few hooks, when I explained they were British he was highly delighted. Then he showed me a hook he had made from the thin steel you see supporting the cloth on the end of umbrellas. Going by the size of the hook it was plain to see that his intended prey was not small fish. That evening we picked up just one small mahseer, although there were plenty of other fish rising - not mahseer, possibly snow trout, but as there are over 70 species of fish in this river I could be easily mistaken.
Tuesday morning we made up an anchor from some boulders and rope then took the raft out to the edge of the pool along with the local fisherman. We had just got started when there was a shout from what to me was another local. As it turned out he was a Maoist. On his person he had two pistols and a kukri knife, not that he was threatening us, all the same we had to pull up the anchor and go see what he wanted. The Maoists are of no threat to the tourists and after a 2-3 hour discussion with my guide he asked for a donation to his party which was the equivalent of ten pounds. In Nepal that would be quite a lot of money. At no point in him being there did I feel threatened, also he did keep his pistols hidden, but by the time he had gone the fishing was over. After 11 am the bites stopped coming and although we stayed that night no large mahseer were forthcoming so we bade farewell to our fishing companion and moved on.
With the Karnali gorge only 2-3hrs away we spent most of the day picking up small fish from the locals. On reaching the gorge we looked for a suitable camp site. Fishing in the gorge can be difficult as the river is very flat and it’s difficult to find a productive place. Still, as we were setting up camp we had a visit from another fisherman who explained to us that we should move further up river to a place he knew and also to beware of the tigers, as they came down to this spot to drink. Well, we did not sleep too well that night! Needless to say I did not do much fishing that night either! I think I can safely say it was the sound of the jackals that kept me up that night. Yeah. Right!
The next morning we set about the arduous task of rowing up river in what is a very powerful current, until we were met by the fisherman and were told about a mahseer of 50kg that had come out of this place two days ago. I must admit I was a bit sceptical at the time. Our campsite was next to where one of the Mountain Rivers flows into the Karnali, but it was just a stream at this time of the year; though going by the size of the boulders it must have been a very powerful river during the monsoon.
That evening I had two takes but failed to connect. At 6 am on the following morning, Thursday, the local fisherman advised me of the best way to set up on this particular stretch. At 9am I hooked a fish which was swiftly snagged, so the local fishermen followed the line out, removing any weed as they went along until they were close to the fish. Then by way of holding the line till they felt the tug of the fish just to make sure it was free, they let the line go and came back to me, whereupon I had to get in the canoe and follow the fish. It was then I was told they estimated this fish to be between 50-60kg, and almost certain to be a mahseer. What followed then was 3hrs of chasing the fish up and down the river in a canoe that is carved out of a tree - locally known as a dunga. When we finally got to some slack water the fisherman took hold of the line and had just started to guide the fish to the bank when the fish bolted under some underwater rock and the line snapped.
Over the following three days I had a number of takes which resulted in either the hook being shed or the 25lb line breaking. I was offered some local hooks, which were much larger than mine and accepted them. On the Sunday morning at 5 am, I had a fish on and there was only the local fisherman and myself awake. Off we went out in the canoe. As he could not speak English, communication was difficult. As we were taking up the line and getting close to the fish I had to start removing the weed off my line, I felt the fish tugging and turned around to my companion. I could see he was struggling to keep up in the fast current, so I had to let some line out. To my horror the line got tangled around my wrist! I tried to explain to him what was happening but it was too late, he could not keep up. The fish was suddenly going in the opposite direction and with 25lb line around my wrist, consequently the line broke.
On the Monday evening I decided to fish the slacker water for catfish. I went through the night till I got a run in the early hours of Tuesday morning. After a 1-2 hour struggle, following the fish in the canoe, I finally got one in, to everyone’s relief - including myself - a catfish estimated at around 20kg. To my cost, I found out later the Nepalese are not good at taking photos; I recommend taking a tripod and a camera with a timer.
On the Wednesday morning my fishing was interrupted by the army, accusing the fishermen of fishing within the national park border. The soldiers came along, the canoes were taken away. There was nothing I could do to help the locals. I did manage to explain to the colonel that I needed a boat to get across the river because we had sent the raft back earlier as it was no longer required, so at least I managed to help one of the fisherman. We stayed a further two nights but it was not the same now, everybody was demoralised, so it was decided it was best we leave.
I was lucky to have a guide who was a keen bird watcher who spotted the following birds while I was in the far west. Yellow billed magpie, plumbs redstart, wall crepar, Himalayan crested kingfisher, osprey, scarlet minivet, dark kite, crested serpent eagle, great slety woodpecker, large parakeet, and jungle bablar,
We arranged to catch the local night bus to Pokhara on the Saturday evening, and after a gruelling 16hr journey I arrived in Pokhara and met up with some friends of mine who run a travel agency. Normally I would stay on the lake side of this busy town. Phewa Tal is the name of the lake I stayed by, in a cheap £3/night lodge on the opposite side to lake side, A bit quieter, but at night time the sound of the bars and clubs echoed across the lake.
I fished one evening catching only small carp on bread, then all the time I had spent on the Bheri and Karnali caught up with me, consequently I was laid up for a few days, so not much fishing was done. I did meet up with local fisherman, and after exchanging a few hooks and line we talked about the fishing qualities of this lake. Although there are mahseer here they only go to 7kg. The big-head carp which go to 40kg are best caught in June just before the monsoon, common carp can be caught almost any time. One of the favoured baits here is potato.
There are two other lakes close by Begnas Tal and Rupa Tal. Both have fish in them but Begnas has the biggest fish. Apart from carp there many other species to be caught. On one occasion I was caught in a thunderstorm while I was in the middle of the lake. Thunderstorms around 4pm are a common occurrence at this time of the year, but they only last a very short time as is due to the changing of the seasons.
I stayed on in Pokhara till Saturday morning (23 March), A previous arrangement had been made to fish the Trisuli River near Kathmandu. To get to the start point I had to catch a bus to Charodi, taking only 4 hours at a cost of £1.50. It was not such a gruelling journey as this was on a more comfortable tourist bus. After spending one night on the bank I felt a bit vulnerable being so close to the road, so I suggested we pack the gear and hitch a lift so as to camp up below Mugling. Not many rafting companies go down here at this time of the year due to low levels, and we were further away from the road. My reason for going down here was just to survey it for anyone who does not have the time to go to the far west. The Trisuli is a wide river but the scenic side of it is a bit of a let down. In the 4 days I spent on this river from Mugling to Narayanghat I spotted a few leaping Mahseer, but 3 out of 4 nights were spent sheltering inside the tents due to the thunder storms. Spectacular as they were, it did not help the fishing,
Once you get to the Kali Gandaki confluence, the river is extremely wide and not really worth fishing from there on. Note that the Kali Gandaki and Trisuli are highly regarded as holy rivers in Nepal. I did spend one night just below the Kali Gandaki confluence, with me on one side of the river and the constant burning of bodies on the other side.
On the Wednesday morning I was out of the river and heading back for Kathmandu, leaving me one day to catch up on some much needed sleep before heading back to the UK. on the Thursday evening flight.
I am now planning my next expedition to Nepal starting in April 2003; interested participants can contact me thru my web site www.adventurefishingnepal.com.