Manoj Chacko scans the skies, and grins from ear to ear. “Perfect weather for barracuda hunting,” he says cheerfully, as we set off into the sea in his 28-foot steamboat Mako Polo. Manoj promises to give us a taste of his addiction — deep-sea sport fishing with GPS, now also his profession. “It is eating into the time for my other profession — interior designing.”
In partnership with friend Mayilvaganan (a builder), Manoj runs Barracuda Bay Adventures, which takes groups into the sea for an experience of sea-fishing.
Manoj wants to get a large barracuda for us. “You can reel it in,” he tells me. The 120-hp, twin-engine steam engine can work up a speed of 24 knots an hour, but Manoj instructs his boat master Suresh to keep it at a moderate speed.
“Some people feel uncomfortable at higher speeds,” he explains. We peer into the screen with the GPS Navigation Chart, which shows the port and the route. Having marked the spots where commercial fishermen have cast their nets, the steamboat is programmed to avoid those areas.
Tracking the fish
Areas teeming with fish are marked too. Manoj switches on the sound navigation and ranging (SONAR) instrument, and explains how indispensable it can be. It displays whatever lies under the water up to 600 mt. As we bob on the waters, the instrument shows fish-shaped images, each giving an idea of its size. Manoj's mind is fixed on a barracuda. “The barracuda normally weighs five to six kg, but there are those that weigh even 15 kg.” His fishing equipment includes a gaffe, with which a huge fish can be speared and lifted into the boat. He uses three lines — long, short and medium. Each of them is strong enough to reel in a fish weighing 130 pounds.
"They are good enough even for a really huge giant trevally," he says. Small bubbles suggest shoals of small fish. We head in that direction. “This area will have big fish. They are here to feed on the smaller ones. Suddenly, you will see a barracuda rocketing out of the waters.”
A few seconds later, there is a tug at the longest line. Manoj hurriedly reels it in. He thinks it is a barracuda, but is disappointed to see an immature giant trevally rush towards the boat. Another fish catches the bait — this time it's the shortest line, and another immature giant travelly. He's determined to get a barracuda for us. As failing light will make for poor photography, we head back to the harbour. Manoj thinks not hooking a barracuda means we've had only half the real experience.
“We take a group of five or six people in the morning or evening. Each expedition lasts two-and-a-half to three hours. If we don't get a fish within this time, we linger. We always aim for the barracudas and the big ones.” As a commitment to conservation ideals, the team releases most of the fish it catches.
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Know your sport
Deep sea fishing relies on technology and common sense
Shoals of small fish indicate presence of bigger fish
With GPS, the route can be mapped and danger zones avoided
SONAR instrument provides an underwater view up to 600 metres
In addition to the lines, a gaffe is used to hook and pull out a big fish