The Experimental Angler
After witnessing the project on the Assiganga, there was a lingering thought stuck in my mind. I wanted to survey the rivers on which projects were already installed and running, to see if the trout survived the human onslaught. Two river valleys immediately come to mind, the Pārbati and the Sainj. Along with the Tirthan, all these tributaries of the Beas drain into the river between Kullu and Aut. Pārbati and Sainj, both have projects that have been introduced for over 5 years, the Pārbati project has been up and running since 2001. Having already seen the Pārbati valley as recently as 2009, Sainj turned out to be the first choice, on this exploratory drive. Sainj and the Tirthan converge at Largi and then flow into the Beas. A weekend drive plan was now set and we headed to the Trout House in Nagini on Friday night to arrive Saturday morning.
The Tirthan is a beautiful trout stream, fishable all through the year barring the annual post monsoon flood and winter. This summer, the water level was relatively lower that the last Summer I had visited. Being glacial-fed, the river levels vary throughout the year and through different years as well. The water was clear, with a tinge of green to it.
The Sainj is a sister valley to the Tirthan. Both rivers start at the same glacier, carve out two consecutive valleys, only to converge again at the end of the Range separating them, at Largi. When you look at the scenery around, both Valleys seem to be identical twins, with similar Rock formations, Flora colors and level gradations. What separates them is primarily is the color of the water. While the Tirthan is clear and green tinted, The Sainj is silty and muddy, giving the illusion of liquid concrete. Someone told me that the Sainj valley was the Happier, Sunnier twin (before the projects), and the Tirthan valley is the edgier, darker alter-ego. Before making this journey I thought I may, still be able to assess these subtleties for myself, but it wasn’t destined to be.
As perceived by me, The Sainj valley is now a disaster zone, a leftover mine field overlooked by the entire machinery of Himachal governance. Not being of any Tourist or Agriculture significance, it seems like the valley was handed over to the projects, blindfolded. The road, beginning at Largi, all the way to Sainj town is a wide, dusty road with no metal surface. It’s wide enough for two dumper trucks to pass easily, leaving enough space for a bike to cruise ahead on either side. When you brave the twenty or thirty odd kilometres of bouncing on pebbles and small boulders , after driving for an hour and a half, uphill most of the way , you find yourself awed by the ability of us humans to destroy and corrupt the inherent beauty of these mountains. But isn’t this what we’re doing all over the planet. All this Human Excess…the price to be paid by our children. The generation before us is being blamed for the mess, would we be labelled as the ones, who just stood by?
Entire mountains have been covered with a layer of concrete, to avoid landslides. A mountain tunnel has been dug up to divert the river into turbines. While digging this tunnel, enough gravel has been generated, so as to form mounds of debris, as high as some of the mountains surrounding you. Entire villages have been wiped out to make space for these monster dumps. I marvelled at the technology behind all this, moving mountains. But I wonder why couldn’t the same thing be done is a more sensitive and humane way. It’s not that it’s not possible, or feasible. What only lacks is public will and awareness. During the drive at one point my three year old daughter noticed “Papa, all the leaves are all white”. The entire valley was coated with a thin layer of white sand, the By-product of all the blasting, digging and transporting.
The Tirthan is the only river, in the Kullu District, which has no power project. This was possible due to a local level participation to block all efforts to plant a project on the river. Headed by the MLA, this movement has consistently worked to preserve the river’s wild nature. Two adjacent valleys, one difference: Awareness. The locals on the Tirthan are proud of their achievement, and aware of the plight of their neighbours on the Sainj.
Still, we WERE there. No point going through all of this and not making a cast or two. Running the risk of contracting yellow fever or asbestosis, we though best the family to stay in the car, while I give hope against hope, for a bite or two. The car was parked on a pass perched about a kilometer up from the river bed. The old routes have been submerged or destroyed by the debris pits, so the new roads are all much higher up across the range. I’m told the old road used to travel right next to the bank, for most of the way. Anyway, braving the dusty onslaught, I made my way to the river. To tell you the truth, it wasn’t half as bad right next to the bank, as it was up there on the road. You could breathe easily, and if you black out your vision above a certain point, you’d feel hope again. Long story short, nothing!! No bites, blips, tugs, snags…ANYTHING!! In desperation I even through a few spinners in there, but it wasn’t to be. An entire river has been cleaned of trout. This may be an exaggeration on my end, but that’s what it felt like.
Dejected, I trudged back to the car, hoping to make it back to the Tirthan before sunset, for a quick late evening round between me and the trout. We reached Largi around 4:00 and we decided to fish there itself, right before the confluence. Short walk across a bridge to the other bank, we saw Trout rising and taking dries, “boiling” on the surface. I have to tell you, right there I felt like someone gave me a pat on the back. I was being rewarded with a boil, for all my efforts of exploring the Sainj. Dry flies are the high point of Fly fishing, it’s very visual and technical, but highly rewarding to see the trout take your flies, perfectly cast into their feeding zones.
Though the highlight of this trip was neither the Sainj nor the Boil. In my attempts to hit bottom, as described in my previous notes, this time I stumbled onto a new species, which can be taken on nymphs. The Ubiquitous River Barbel!! The Experimental Anger got his third species on the fly : Trout, Mahaseer and now Barbel.
Picture Story, following:
The Tirthan in one of her Dark Moods
Nice Healthy Tirthan Brown Trout.
Every Dark Could......
The Palachin Valley : The Palachin is a tributary of the Tirthan which joins the Tirthan at Goshaini. Its a beautiful, small and tight valley. The altitude is higher than the Tirthan and the air cleaner. These are some of the healthiest trout in the country, which is evident from their color. Getting to this valley is a bit of a walk as the road head ends at Bathad. For fineline fishing, this is one "must-see -and-fish" trip. The presentations have to be delicate, for fish that take even more delicately.
Fishing on the Palachin
Vivid Colors on a Palachin Brown Trout.
My Better Half spinning and outscoring me...as usual!
Bridge Crossing on the Palachin, Long Hike back to the car. The 3-year old refused to be carried up!! She relented after the customary choco-late bribe.
While deep Nymphing with a Pheasant tail, below a waterfall pool on the Tirthan, I felt a hesitation on the line. Giving the line a light tug, i felt nothing on the other end. Had this been a trout, all hell would've broken loose by now, so I figured I was snagged on a rock. I had a lot of weight on my leader for the deep sink, so a snag was a strong possibility. Strangely enough, after a few time tested manoeuvrings to free the snag, my line started running upstream, rather slowly. Confused, I gave it another tug , this time a hard one and the line made a run for it!! A fish for sure, but this wasn't trout-like at all. The fish kept at the bottom, not surfacing like a trout, and made runs downstream for the rapids. Fearing I'll lose another one, I started applying more sideways pressure, forcing it to surface. Within seconds, I had the fish under control and it surfaced in a pool adjacent to the twenty feet high boulder i was standing on. The boulder was the reason I was in no position to chase the fish downstream, but the boulder was the best spot to be on. You could cast both upstream AND downstream , allowing you to cover the depths of the pool without any hindrance. This fish, gave up the second it hit the surface. I was almost certain it wasn't a trout. My guide pulled it out and identified it as a Barbel!!! Having started Angling, fly-fishing for Trout , I love catching trout, but being a fly fisher and getting a new species on the fly...its something special!!
Barbel on Fly.....Alternate fish ID anyone?
Serendipity can be a concidince. To confirm, the experimental angler focussed his attention on his latest prey. The results, were not...how do i put it....Sainj-y.
And just to test it, Pheasant tail to the rescue of another Barbel...Again!!
To sum it all up, I have discovered that failure in angling is as desirable for us anglers, as accepting the defeats of our civilization. My experimental run on the Sainj may have been dismal, but it taught me a lot. The devastation of a natural resource in one valley and the resounding success of public participation in the very adjacent valley, gives me hope. In failure, I saw hope....without the Sainj as a backdrop the Tirthan always seemed to have it's fair share of problems.
Dealing with past angling failures has also taught me patience.If every cast caught a fish every time, would we enjoy this sport as much? At the end of it all, what I really enjoy about this sport is the chance to connect with/to something that's bigger and more important than me. The connection with a world that exists, in spite of us, perfectly....
All fish , save a barbel, were released....I HAD to give the guide a reward, Barbel on a fly