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Once I caught a fish alive

Children get an up-close, and personal experience of angling

Children get an up-close, and personal experience of angling

It’s vague to talk nature conservation with kids, sitting within the confines of four walls. But bring them out on a beautiful lake, give them an opportunity to touch and feel fish, earthworms, guess how many venomous snake species are there in India. Far from their TV-distracted city life, throw in a lesson or two on conservation, and you know it opens them up better.

The All India Game Fishing Association (AIGFA), in its hope to build a league of gentlemen anglers, has decided to catch them young. The idea is to teach children safe and ethical sport fishing, encourage record-keeping, preserving water bodies in which fish are found, and to promote the “catch and release” philosophy as against “fishing and eating”.

“Fish On” is the phrase of the day at the AIGFA Young Angler’s Camp on a quiet lakeside where the Wildlife Association of South India (WASI) runs a 25-year-old campsite, close to the famous Shivanasamudra waterfall in Karnataka. “Fish On” is what you’re supposed to call out loud when your line starts whirring, your fishing rod begins to curve and bend with the promise of fish tugging at the other end.

With quick and cheerful hellos, the kids are kitted out with caps and tees. AIGFA founder-member Derek D’Souza, president Ali H. Hussain and Mahseer Trust’s Steve Lockett instantly strike a great rapport with their friendly banter, with the 10 kids and parents on board the camp. The youngest on the final day of the three-day series is only four-and-a-half! The angler in Steve is raring to go, giving the first demonstration to children on how you catch a fish, and then, most importantly what do you do after?

There’s a hush as all eyes are on Steve and then oohs and aahs as the first silver mahseer (a game fish and endangered species) of the day makes its way to the shore. Expertly reeled in and gently netted, it’s then quickly pulled out onto the banks, with all equipment ready — measuring tape, collection vials, camera, notebook.

As Steve takes a scale from a Mahseer, the kids go “eeeee” and wince like something’s been plucked off them. Steve promises that it’s painless, “like cutting your nails or hair”. Scales, like the rings inside a tree’s trunk, tell us how old a fish is, how fast it’s growing, and even, what it likes to eat! “We also cut a small piece from the fin to test its DNA and fit it into a family of fish,” explains Steve. The fish’s length is measured — mouth to tail tip, and it’s girth also recorded. And all this in 60 seconds flat, so as not to harm the fish.

Then it’s the children’s turn. But one must start from scratch and as they are helped with holding the fishing rod right, they get cracking on the basics of rod, reel, line, knotting the hook and bait; fish here apparently love ragi, jaggery and chapati even!

Rods are set up along the lakeshore, and there’s palpable anticipation in the air. The first shout-out of “Fish on” comes and everyone gathers around as the little one is helped with reeling the fish in. And then it goes on, one by one — the anticipation, the tension, the joy, — till each child has held a fish in hand, measured it, taken photographs and released it back into the lake, and then written in his own record book all the details of the fish he caught.

As the sun heats up overhead, children are drawn into a wonderland under the shade of the trees, on the banks of the WASI Lake…How do fish hear? What if we had gills? How do we swim? What if fish had lungs? Steve explains how fish are kept under water for as long as possible so they continue breathing under water. Even while releasing the fish, you wait for the fish to reacclimatise to water before actually letting it go.

Lunch, cooked by neighbouring villagers (in an attempt to boost the local economy) is wolfed down after all the exertion of the morning.

The children get a hang of many things around them. The camp doesn’t obsessively talk fish. There’s a lively interactive session about snakes in India, by herpetologist Sujan Bernard, and children take a guess at how many are venomous and how many actually dangerous to humans. Kids pore over pictures in their little handbook and identify the various kinds of snakes, and learn how to deal with a snake bite. They hold wiggly earthworms in their hands. A little huddle gathers under the tree around Steve who asks everyone to name their favourite animal — hands go up and slowly; the choices tumble out — from cheetah to rabbit!

As the sun seems kinder going down, the children get busy deciding who will sleep in tents. Energetic pillow fights break out in the dormitory. After a quick evening break with generous helpings of tender coconut water, kids watch how to start a campfire — camping style, using the bow-drill method. The campfire rages bright orange as the children gather around eagerly to toast their marshmallows on long sticks. Munching on, they gather around Ali Hussain, who regales them with tales of Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson, the Jim Corbett of South India. The skies thunder threateningly, but there’s only a drizzle in answer, as the camp winds down for the night.

With daybreak, and cooler temperatures, comes renewed enthusiasm. The children are all alert on a morning walk, learning to “walk quietly” in the surrounding scrub jungle, as Sujan points out bird nests and industrious ant lines, and possible shrubs where snakes might choose to be. The day-long camp has come to an end too soon as 10 little strangers become friends and shake hands over the strong possibility of meeting again at the next camp.

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(The author was at the camp on invitation of AIGFA)

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Printable version | May 28, 2022 12:53:25 pm |