Continuing the story, to the reason I started contributing to the IA in the first place, is that I caught a fish a few have talked about here and perhaps not caught photographed on the net, but documented in India. After searching the forum and the net was/am convinced of what I have caught. I have been looking to catch this fish for about 6 years now at a spot in the Muvattupuzha river, south of Cochin, Kerala where I have seen it multiple times in the clear water. This spot is behind my grandparents house so have been coming here all my life! Its close to the same spot that I caught my first two murrels. But no matter what bait or lure that I cast over the years I have had no success at all with the species.
On the 23rd of March 2012, I come to the bank of said river, where I have glimpsed it over the years, with the tide at its highest I have seen for some time at 4pm. There is an acute bend in the river of about 80 degrees and my spot is at the far bank of the bend where the river digs the bank out during the monsoon flooding and is quite deep(30 to 50 feet in some places) for a stretch of 700 feet or so with good water vegetation near the banks. I am here though not for that fish, but targetting my usual quarry - the murrel.
I am equipped with a Chinese baitcasting rod about 6'6" long, that I have been using for a year or so, that I have had no problems with but for breaking and repairing twice. As I had been having trouble with the Zebco spincasting reel I had paired it with, I was in the market for a baitcasting reel. Since I had broken the rod twice in already, I decide to pair it with a chinese baitcasting reel that I bought the day before from an importer for a third of the price of a decent branded baitcaster. It was pretty solid when I checked it and was meant to be nothing more than a reel to keep the mended rod company and for me to learn how to use a baitcaster. I spooled it with 20Lb Shakespeare Mono and a 15Lb green Spiderwire Braid leader. I tie on my Snag-Proof Moss frog and am ready to start, basically, learning how to use a baitcasting reel.
So after reading up on baitcasting reels I try a couple of small casts into the river which gets me tangled line and a good backlash . Not having set any braking pressure on the spool I feel like a fool after all the research and have difficulty getting it separated, especially since it has reverse spooled during the backlash. My practical testing wasnt going so well. While I am trying to sort this out, a disturbance on the extremely still water to the west, at the highest tide, catches my eye.
There was a fish streaking out to the middle of the river, from thick vegetation, about 40 ft away from me. All I could see on the surface of the river was a small bow wave that was in front of it. In less than 2 seconds it was close to the middle of the river and taking a fast U-turn to head back at even greater speed back to the cover whence it came. But when said wave came to about 10 ft from the bank, there was a small explosion and a small bass? or mangrove jack? measuring maybe 20cm shot out and up from in front of the wave and ran back into the cover. The wave though, turned towards me after that moment and disappeared/dissipated as the fish dove. You can imagine the effect this had on my poor heart, all I remember is frantically pulling at the nest of line in my reel and getting nowhere. I am pulling at this for almost 15 to 20 seconds and still making no headway. But a strategy is forming in my head about the placement of the lure.
The next thing I know, I see a bubbling up of fry each 15cm long and actively foraging for food. I have seen these before over the last 6 years in varying stages of development. They start out bright red and couple of centimeters long but on getting bigger turn orange to deep yellow and green with two lateral black stripes and a white belly and are always followed closely by their parents. With this sight I am pretty sure of the identity of the big fish chasing the bass/mangrove jack. I can hardly contain my excitement and was barely able to get the line untangled before I can feebly cast it a lousy 20 feet with my hands shaking, but have had the sense to brake the free spool to its highest and am also using my thumb on it effectively . Within seconds, to my utter surprise, the enthusiastic fry which were 40 feet away are at my frog lure - biting and trying to gobble it, but the lure is too big for any of them to swallow and the weedless nature of the lure leaves no hooks exposed for them to hook on to! I pull it up when they no longer seem interested and submerge. I cast again after they have gone down but am immediately greeted with heckling fry as soon as the frog hits the water, I can feel their little tugs on the line. They loose interest again and disappear.
The next cast gets a completely different response, the fry come rushing in but before they reach the lure they are shoved aside by a streak of black and white/bordering on orange - It’s the father - about 2 feet long, which comes rushing forward and wacks the lure with his tail !!!
I have not seen this behavior before but have read about it. Its actually trying to stun the intruder with its tail. My little ones could not eat you so I will bash you! Its got hooked by others using spinners and spoons like this in the tail but as mine is a snag-proof weed-less lure it dosent hook onto anything.
I twitch the lure a little more and he comes back at it and gives it a big gulp. The lure is in its mouth! I give the standard 1-2-3 count (for weedless lures), feel for the fish at the end of the line and give a tug, the lure comes flying out of the depths with a few fry flying out of the water behind it. I quickly real in and hazard another cast, this time though I get no enthusiastic fry gnawing the lure but there is a big up-swell of water followed by the circling male. While looking at the male I take my eyes off the lure for less than a millisecond and hear a mighty SNAP!-Spalsh' from where the lure was. So I settle quickly for a 1-2-3 count before feeling for the fish and setting the hook as I am pretty sure that the big momma has come and dispatched the nuisance once and for all, but I watch forlonely as before i can do anything the lure comes slowly rising by itself, out of the depths.
By now the lure is only 10 feet away from me and I can see everything close-up!
Once it reaches the surface though, I give it a few twitches to impart life to it. What happens next takes place within a fraction of a second but as time turned to honey - with a heavy taste of midichlorians in my mouth and the smell of post-lightning ozone playing on my olfactory nerves - I saw the male horizontally streaking back in and missing the lure with his flailing tail followed immediately by a large mouth ascending vertically from the depths right behind the male. There was no warning as I actually saw the lure go right into that mouth before a larger version of tiger stripes on black swelled to the right and disappeared towards the riverbed.
You see, I am standing there with a dumb look on my face with my reel screaming away to glory, no wits about me to do the 1-2-3 counts nor to even try and set the hook! I take perhaps half a second to return to earth but as is the experience of all time travelllers seemed like, the eternal infernal, 42 to me! In all my twenty six odd years of serious fishing, I have never seen or experienced any thing like this.
Then abruptly the reel stopped running and with that lack of sound I suddenly have the use of all my faculties. I notice that my rod is pointing towards the sky and I have loads of slack line.
So, first things first, I prepare for a fast reel-in to take up the slack but within 4 to 5 cranks I hit something like rock, I let go of the reel and grab the line and rod together in a vice-grip as I have no clue what I have set the drag to! A strong tug with a couple of back ward steps just to be safe and the rock took off for a properly hooked run. I was careful to keep tension on the line as it took off straight to the middle of the river neatly cleaving a straight line in the water for about 30 feet. Both the reel and my thumb were contributing ample drag to the line but the fish did not seem to notice that nor that it had helped the line give me a friction cut on my thumb (not that I noticed my cut thumb at the time either!). Two much shorter runs later, it came to the surface, a mother of a fish, big bad momma "Toman" giant Indian snakehead herself! Beautiful white markings bordering on the orange on her sides like tiger stripes (thus the Local name Puli-Vaaga Varaal, tiger murrel) the black on her head was almost turning blue.
I knew I could not pull her up right there, took her to the small outcrop of rock where I could reach the water. Grabbed her behind and below the gills where I knew my fingers were safe. No sooner had I pulled her out than she was snapping (yes with a loud snap/clap – like the the sound you get from the lid of a stainless steel tiffin box) her jaws with a mouth that was lined with half centimeter long fangs and unhinging to display a cave within. That mouth could take out a hand easily! But I held on and noticed that the hook had gone through the side of the top lip and was holding fast with out damaging anything.
Of all things I had caught and ate, this was not going to be one. The fry and the male were roaming the same spot they had lost contact with the mother. The time it took for me to unhook her I noticed them come up for air at the same spot up to 3 times. I had to release her back but not before showing off and getting a few pictures. I take a small run back to my granparents place and and grab a tape and spring scale and get the measurements
She was just below 3 feet and 4.55Kgs.
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Beautiful markings. Black body with flecks of gray and blue especially the head. White markings tinged with orange.
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Full white undersides. Fat sides and broadhead with a thick tail. Thats the moss frog I used hanging in my hand as well!
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While taking her measurements I noticed that she had cataracts developing on both eyes and guessed that she was a wise old crone that had quite a few broods already. And there were parasites shaped like small white cockroaches jumping out of her gills. After I saw that I knew I had to get her back in the water fast. No time for more photos(which I would regret later, should have got a top shot of that shovel like head! etc..) as I announced that I was sending it back into the river and was greeted by shouts of disbelief from my grandparents and silent circling-of-index-fingers-near-temples from their hired hands!
But ran I did, with her, back to the river and looked for the fry. I had to wait hardly 10 seconds before they frothed up at the same spot mommy had left them. I went down and and placed her in the water, where that massive head came up for a few gulps of air pushing the bubbles back out both sides through her gills. Kept her there for a few seconds as I wanted to do it by the book. I aimed her towards her fry as I held her under water to regain her strength. Within 20 seconds she was straining to go as she had strong flaps to her tail. I eased my grip and pointed her in the direction of her fry, with one lazy flick of her tail she was heading towards them but before she got to them, turned away and headed towards cover forty feet away. I was disappointed that she hadn’t stayed with her fry.
My feelings turned for the better when I noticed her come up for air 15 feet from me followed by bubbling fry. She came up for air along with her fry couple of more times before reaching the cover of wild pineapples? (Kaidha), the same spot from which the initial wave I spotted had emanated, where I think the den is. Never understood the elation of catch and release (even though I have sent a few fish back) until those moments.
All in a great day with unproven tackle and dumb luck!
I call her the Crone! A true River Monster, Toman, the Giant Indian snakehead/ Malabar Snakehead. Channa micropeltes/Channa Diplogramma,The big momma!
Okay that was the catch that got me wanting to share my experiences with IA. I have been reading the discussions about Toman in the IA and have a slight trepidation about calling my catch a Toman, especially since no one seems to have verifiably caught one in Kerala much less the whole country and published on the net. I have though seen them in fish markets and am pretty sure am holding a big mamma Toman here. So I think I have caught 3 species of channa (Murulius, Striata and Micropeltes/Diplogramma) now, correct me if I am wrong or have I thrown a little light on an enigma.
Now here is the curve ball guys. This could also be the rare and extremely endangered Channa Diplogramma or Malabar Snake head. Top body markings match only that. Try these links http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channa_diplogramma http://ibnlive.in.com/news/malabar-snak ... 0-123.html
or just do a google search for Malabar Snakehead or Channa Diplogramma
I will leave it to you guys to dissect. Pls be gentle! Just remember you heard it first from Suraj at IA!