There are many varieties of fish in Indian waters, some few good for the table, but the larger number poor as compared with our fish in Great Britain.
Most of the fish take ground bait only, and it is slow work fishing for them, though many run very heavy. Only four kinds worth considering, at least in Upper India, take fly or artificial baits. These are mahseer, sowlie, trout, and bykri.
Bykri are found in a few rivers in the plains, but near the hills they are game little fish, seldom scaling more than a pound and generally less. Now and again they take the fly, but as a rule a small spoon is the best lure.
Trout are found in most of the streams close to or in the hills; they are not large, as a rule under a pound in weight. They are very pretty fish, as silvery as a fresh run sea-trout, and are very game, fighting to the end. Unfortunately they are one mass of forked bones, and it is suicidal work trying to eat them.
Sowlie are curious looking fish, marked like a boa constrictor; they are found in the water at the foot of the hills, but never come right up into the rapid hill streams. They take spoon or minnow, trolling, but dead bait is best. They are far better for the table than mahseer, but afford poor sport on the rod, giving in almost at once when hooked.
Mahseer are the only fish in Upper India that give really good sport, and the first rush of a heavy mahseer when hooked is a thing to be remembered. They run up to any weight under 70 lbs., and take fly, spoon, or minnow. So far as my experience goes, they are to be found in all streams rising in the hills and in them take fly or spoon readily. In the small streams they are light except in the rains, and the larger the stream the larger the fish.
When the rains come on, usually about end of May or beginning of June, and the rivers ris^, the mahseer run very high up the mountain streams in great numbers and return when the rain ceases, about first week in October. The very heavy fish come straight down to their old pools in the big rivers, and move about from one pool to another as fancy leads them. On some rivers they go down into the plain, but generally they keep fairly close to the foot of the hills. The medium and small fish in small rivers come down slowly and gradually ; the mediums find their way to the big rivers, but the small ones, up to 4 and 5 lbs., remain in their own little streams. The next year they move down to the big waters and their places are taken by younger brethren.
The fishing for mahseer in the small streams and in big rivers respectively is carried on in quite different ways. Nearly all the small streams can be fished from the bank or with a very little wading. In the big rivers wading is difficult and dangerous work, the streams are very rapid and full of big boulders. As a rule, a big fish when hooked rushes straight down stream as hard as he can go; it is impossible to keep up with him by running over the big boulders. He takes out all your line and then breaks. Here and there are pools with more or less smooth banks and bottoms, where it is quite safe to wade and land big fish, but in large rivers the only real way of catching big fish is by fishing from surnais described later on.
Personally, I think fishing in the small streams from the banks between 1st November and 1st January is far the nicest sport. Many good fish between five pounds and twenty pounds are caught, and the surroundings are charming; deer and game of all sorts are continually crossing the streams, and the scenery is beautiful, with a great variety of foliage. I always give my coolie a rifle to carry when fishing, and have got many good stags as they crossed the rivers. These small streams keep in fair order until near the end of December, being fed by water percolating out of the big hills which are saturated during the rains.
I do not think it safe to fish streams in the plains between 1st May and 1st November. In nine times out of ten you come back with a bad attack of fever and ague. Between those dates it is quite safe to fish the lakes and rivers high up in the hills. Not many can spare the time for fishing distant rivers, and the lakes afford sport for a few only; so for the mass of people the best time for fishing is between 1st November and 1st May.
I think the best way of giving an idea of mahseer fishing will be to describe one or two typical days' sport. Starting in the morning from Detna we reached our camping-ground about four in the afternoon; the roads were bad and jungle heavy, as no work had been commenced since the rains ceased. We soon pitched our tents and overhauled the tackle. I then strolled about with my gun and got three black partridges and two jungle-fowl; so food was secured for two days.
Up early next morning; had tea, bread and butter, and couple of eggs, and then started. I carried my rifle all ready and spare cartridges in my pocket, the shikarri carried rod and fishing basket, coolie carried luncheon and a change of boots and stockings. We had to force our way through heavy jungle for about four hundred yards and reached the river. It was not quite as high as I expected, so I put on a medium spoon and commenced work. I very soon hooked a small fish and landed him. Then put on a good-sized phantom minnow and fished the pool down again, with no luck. Moved to a lower pool and was soon fast on to a fish which by the rushes he made seemed a good one. After a time he kept sulking at the bottom of the pool and would not move. I made the shikarri heave in some stones, and down rushed the fish. I followed as best I could. I had plenty of line, but was much afraid of snags. However, when he reached a deep pool he halted. I soon piloted him near the shore, where the shikarri, getting the net under him, landed a pretty fourteen-pound fish.
I thought it was useless fishing the pool again, and was starting to go lower down when the shikarri gave me a slap on the back. I dropped down, as he and the coolie did also. He pointed to some reeds, and there, sure enough, I could see the tops of a spotted stag's horns. We stalked him with the greatest care; but I had the misfortune, as I was gazing hard into the reed-bed, to lay my hand heavily on a rotten branch, which went with a crash, and away went the stag crashing likewise through the reed-bed. Nothing more was to be done with him, so I called up the coolie and commenced fishing again, and continued until it was time to start for home.