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Tug of the testy trout

It takes 10 to 15 minutes of skilful manoeuvring and unalloyed suspense to land the big one. Photo: George N. Netto  

Recently, along with another zealous angler, I headed for a trout stream charmingly named ‘Gravel Banks’ deep in the interior of one of Munnar’s tea gardens. Tramping the length of the stream that sinuously snakes for four km through grassy meadows and scrub jungle, we caught eight fair-sized rainbow trouts and lost almost twice that number, thanks to the fish’s remarkable fighting qualities.

This exotic fresh-water fish was introduced in some of the hill-station’s tea estates as early as 1909 to provide sport fishing, thanks to the foresight and initiative of Munnar’s former British tea planters. To catch a rainbow trout, one needs plenty of luck and perseverance besides some knowledge of the fish’s habits. It is known to test an angler’s patience to the limit before condescending to snap up a lure. Basically, it boils down to a battle of wits between angler and fish and, specifically, to using the right artificial fly or lure at the right time. The trout is known to be highly temperamental and, if it is not foraging, even the most attractive artificial baits will be ignored. Outwitting it is no easy matter.

Yet, there are keen trout anglers who will sally forth at dawn, braving freezing weather, to try to outsmart this crafty sport-fish. I am one of the many who are hopelessly hooked.

Indeed, it is the spirited tussle the trout puts up once hooked that lures fishermen to this sport more than anything else.

It is a battle royal with a pugnacious opponent. One’s fishing rod arches sharply and the reel literally screeches as the fish streaks away thrashing about wildly, often leaping well out of the water repeatedly and sometimes getting away in the process. It usually takes at least 10 to 15 minutes of skilful manoeuvring and unalloyed suspense to land a big fish. A landing net is absolutely necessary.

Rainbow trout are bred in Munnar by the 1933-vintage High Range Angling Association, a legacy of the erstwhile British tea planters, using a modus operandi painstakingly perfected by them over the years through trial and error. That the Association has been quite successful in this venture can be gauged from the fact that its hatchery operations are often the subject of study by postgraduate and doctoral students of marine and fisheries sciences. Local waters are selectively stocked with fingerlings raised in the hatchery which, incidentally, was set up in 1943.

Appropriately enough, a former British planter, J.F.R. Brady, holds the record for the largest rainbow trout caught in Munnar so far — a 7.5 pounder (3.4 kg) taken in 1966. Several fish weighing over six pounds (2.7 kg) have also been recorded in the past.

In recent years, however, most of the trout caught have been well under two pounds (almost one kg), one of the prime reasons being the dwindling availability of natural food in the water due to increasing pollution. Nevertheless, several big fish have been sighted from time to time. Poachers and otters take a heavy toll of the trout population.

In keeping with a hoary British tradition, in force right from the beginning, live bait is forbidden: only artificial flies and spinners are permitted. According to a veteran British angler, the purpose behind this restriction is to give the trout a sporting chance, which both fly-fishing and spinning do.

Fishing is usually productive early in the morning or late in the evening when the trout feed, or after a light shower or when a breeze ripples the water. Trout, of course, makes scrumptious eating and is best relished lightly fried or smoked.

George N. Netto is a Munnar-based freelance writer with an abiding interest in wildlife and environmental conservation.


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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 11:26:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/Tug-of-the-testy-trout/article14477856.ece

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