Blue-green waters, an unprecedented calm and the great outdoors…A small group of anglers have fallen for sport-fishing hook, line and sinker

The air is fresh, the soil is damp and there’s water everywhere. I’m in a picturesque locale, just 30km away from the bustle of the city. It’s 7 a.m. They’re alive and kicking, ready for breakfast. Down goes the float, there’s a pull on the line and the rod bends. It’s a fish at the other end, and everyone is excited. I’m with a group of high-spirited anglers that ritually frequents the East Coast Road, not for the seafood and beer at Mahabalipuram, but for a day of action-packed sport-fishing. And they are giving me an insight into the Real McCoy fisherman tales!

Anglers in Chennai have visited Muttukaadu and the surrounding areas on the East Coast Road for backwater fishing and sea fishing for nearly 40 years. “It’s an activity that gives peace of mind and provides wholesome entertainment. We use a catch-and-release mechanism, and don’t fish for food,” says Gangadharan, a septuagenarian. “However, in Chennai, this concept of sport-fishing is still primitive. Sadly, people kill even the smallest of fish to eat, which prevent the fish from growing,” he adds.

For many years, until early 2000, Chennai Port was the centre of fishing activity. The British ‘way’ of life resulted in a paradise for anglers, with a nominal fee and an angling license. However, this changed because of an increase in license fees and a subsequent ban on fishing permits. The enthusiasm towards the sport was re-kindled when the State Government proposed the idea of restoring the Chetpet Lake for sport-fishing last year. But the promises made have not been fulfilled, and anglers hope that the fishing scene recovers from dire straits. “It will be a progressive step towards developing the water bodies in the city to support sport fishing and outdoor entertainment,” says Gangadharan.

Still, there are many anglers in Chennai who reminisce about those ‘good old fishing days’. “It’s been a while since I last went fishing. We used to head to Ennore Port and North Madras then, or fish out at sea. I’ve caught barracudas and giant trevally,” says Cary Andrews, ex-VJ for Channel V. “Now the Government doesn’t allow private boats out that far,” he adds.

Looking at it from another dimension, the Chennai waters today no longer support the plethora of fish that they once boasted. “The constant coastal development from Pulicat to Marakkanam has destroyed the primary species of fish, and is driving them to extinction,” says Joe Lobo, a restaurant owner. He adds, “I’ve been fishing since I was a boy, and can see a constant reduction in the quantity of fish over the past 20 years.” Joe, like all other anglers, respects the art not only as a sport but also from the point of view of conservation, which go hand in hand.

However, the angler’s spirit never dies, and he never lets the line get slack. Michael Gagarin, 25, a young lover of the sport says, “It gives me an adrenaline rush. Spinning on the coast requires a lot of stamina and energy. It’s an exciting sport and we still catch some big fish.”

Sport-fishing in Chennai hasn’t still become a thing of the past as the anglers strive to keep their rods high.