7 km of pristine beach, blazing sun, and 100 anglers with their lines out to reel in Sting Rays and Shovel Noses - angling seems to have come of age in India. From being an activity pursued by a select few to showing the bearings of becoming a mainstream sport. The Ali Hussaini Memorial World Surf Angling Championship 2017 organized by AIGFA (All India Game Fishing Association) on 3rd and 4th of Nov 2017 in the serene beaches of Tondavali, Malvan, has firmly putting Sportfishing on the map of India.
The Talashil beach of Tondavali Maharashtra saw the anglers arrive, with their gears, looking like gladiators descending in the arena. They came from all parts of the country and a few even from abroad. The prize was the coveted Ali Hussaini Memorial Cup given to the one who has the biggest catch(s). Make no mistake, the fight was not with the fish but with the fellow anglers. No one could be underestimated, as this sport is notorious for David beating Goliath.
The final results proved this when a first timer Surf Fishing angler MD Karman from Kolkata lifted the Ali Hussaini Memorial Cup. And not just him but 4 of the top 5 positions went to first-timers in Surf Fishing, where a total of 108 fish were caught and released back safely into the waters of the Arabian Sea.
Darryl Dsouza who from Dubai for the tournament remarks, “The event was a true leveler of men as it has allowed even newcomers to participate and win. This will serve to encourage many to pursue the sport.”
But first, let’s rewind to the evening of 2nd Nov 2017- the day before the tournament started. Participants traveled by road, rail and air to reach to the venue. A lot of them flew into Goa from where they took prior arranged cabs to get to the competition location, a 3-hour drive from Goa.
It was well into the evening by the time all participants gathered. Mr. Santosh Kolwankar, President of AIGFA delivered the keynote speech by urging all anglers to be responsible and practice catch and release. His speech was followed by Mrs. Anjum Hussaini, wife of late President and Founder of AIGFA Late. Ali Hussaini, in whose memory the tournament was being held where she spoke about his dream bringing anglers together in India.
Derek Dsouza, Vice President AIGFA, laid out the rules of the competition and clarified questions. The activities of the evening included participant check-in and kit handout; the kit consisted of participation t-shirts and fishing gear given by sponsors like Pelagic Tribe, Mustad, Agwetor, Crimson etc. As the anglers fraternized, a motley crowd from different backgrounds - doctors, IT professionals, businessmen, corporate cogs, bankers, government officers, etc were united by a common affinity for angling.
“This time it felt truly like a national event with participants from different states taking part, some even coming all the way from Nagaland. It was also great to see a lot of youngsters embracing the sport,” remarked angler Avinash Welinkar from Pune. Overall the age group spanned from people in their 20s to those in their 60s. Pukato Sumi, President of Angler Association of Nagaland, who had come all the way from the northeastern Indian state says, "Thanks to AIGFA for the event and platform for anglers from all walks of life to come together as a family at Tondavali, Malvan."
After the first evening dinner, competitors called in early as they had to report in at 5 am the next morning. As the sun rose on the first day of the competition, the participants lined up with their bait buckets/ice boxes to collect the bait and ice supplied by the organizers. The bait used were squids, sardines, and mackerels. It was going to a long day and everyone knew it and they stocked up as much as permissible.
Before the event kicked off, the participants were divided into two groups A and B with 50 in each group. The beach had two sections assigned to the groups for fishing. And the next day, the areas would be swapped between the groups for a fair competition. Marshals were appointed from the local fishing population who were authorized to measure and record the catches and sign off on the participant catch record card.
The participants dispersed to their respective locations to set up gears and cast the baits out into the sea.
Thus, began the waiting game.
Some early catches happened with stingrays and shovelnose rays biting. As the tide changed and the sun came overhead, the bites were lesser. Meanwhile, the participants also took a lunch break and returned to their positions for the late afternoon and evening session.
Throughout the day, the participants kept trying different baits, moved up and down the water line as the tides changed which brought the water in and out. There were moments of excitement when someone caught a fish and the fight was on to bring it in. The mobiles came out to take pictures and videos of the fight.
The waiting period was spent with some using innovative ways to escape the blazing heat, some caught up with the anglers next to them and exchanged fishy stories, while a few others took a wonderful beachside snooze waiting for the fish to bite.
The evening session wound up at 8 pm. The weary anglers flocked back to the resort and reported in their catches. The first day ended with a total of 34 catches with Sting Rays and Shovel Nose Rays being the most common with the leading catch being a 72 cm Shovel Nose Ray.
Quite a few 'the one that got away' stories from Day 1 were abuzz as the anglers shared their stories during the evening dinner. Some had big runs only to be unhooked while bringing in the fish.
Among the stories was the curious case of the runaway fishing rod!
The episode happened towards the late evening, all in a few seconds. The angler made a rookie mistake of leaving the drag on the reel too tight and moving away from the rod. Before he realized what was happening the fish struck the bait and pulled it with such force that the rod holder gave way and the rod popped out, disappearing into the depths of the ocean. Well, something that powerful could easily have been the winning fish of the competition. The dejected angler Glen who lost the rod says, "It’s not losing the gear which matters, but losing a potential tournament winning fish".
As a first timer in surf fishing, this was an expensive learning!
With such critical notes to take, anglers seemed better prepared for the next day. The second day of the tournament began with new hopes and knowledge of the previous day. They collected their baits and arrived early to their allocated beach sections.
Day 2 was more eventful with a lot more catches and a few more varieties of fish like - Bream, Barracuda, Mangrove Jack and even Catfish. Group B started immediately catching their first fish and overall during the day caught the most number. Group A had a lackluster day with very a few being able to catch. Well, that’s the nature of this sport, one needs to be in the right place at the right time and then get lucky too!
A total of 74 catches was made on the second day with a few participants getting multiple catches. It seemed that lady luck favoured the beginners this year because they were the ones who caught the most. As a senior angler theorized - the more experienced anglers were looking to cast farther with sophisticated bait presentations, however, the fish seemed to be taking the bait very close to the beach. The beginners who were not well versed in long casts got more catches by just choosing to go after the closer ones.
Well, whatever be it, first-timer MD Kamran from Kolkata surely reveled in the beginner’s luck with 5 catches and a cumulative score of 314 points, gaining the first position! The evening session ended and everyone came back to report their catches. After getting all the catch reports verified by the Marshals, the winners were declared on stage under a full moon night, who won a rich bounty of cash prizes, fishing trips, and goodies!
The List of Winners:
- First Place with 314 points - MD Kamran, Kolkata
- First runner-up with 258 points - Md B Hussaini, Mumbai
- Second runner-up with 234 points - John Paul, Chennai
- Third runner-up with 233 points - Vicky C, Chennai
- Special Prize of most species caught – Aboi Shamjit Laishram, Nagaland
Some quick statistics of the tournament:
- The total length of the fishes that were caught was 5686 cm.
- The biggest fish caught was a 106 cm Shovelnose Ray caught by Angler Madhanraj Palanivelu.
- According to computation data provided by Dr. Shannon Bower, Carlton University on the length-to-weight ratio of the fishes, a total of 292 Kgs of fish were caught and released.
- 22 fish were tagged for conservation study purpose
In the closing session, there was a vote of thanks by organizers and by Mrs. Anjum Hussaini, wife of late President of AIGFA - Ali Hussaini who congratulated Team AIGFA for the great success of the tournament. “It was an excellent platform to meet so many anglers and exchange tips on angling,” said Mrs. Hussaini. She further added, “I was deeply moved by the tribute you all gave to the memory of my late husband. I'm sure Ali's spirit must have acknowledged all your love and respect. I hope everyone had a great time and will carry home fond memories of the event.”
There was Mr. Md. B Hussaini, Ali Hussaini’s brother from Mumbai who said, “My brother created AIGFA to provide a platform and a voice to anglers in India. Seeing the number of participants in this event and their enthusiasm I feel my brother was successful in uniting the angling community and from here on if we remain united and dedicated we can take AIGFA to greater heights." He continues as he took the First Runners-up Trophy, " I am very happy to come second. I dedicate this win to Ali Bhai as I have learned most of my angling from him. He was an inspiration to me and his physical absence among us does not depress me much, as I feel his beliefs, teachings and his ways continue to guide me and give me strength in all aspects of life,”
Alongside the winners, the organizing team was also applauded for pulling off an event of this scale glitch-free. Darryl Dsouza adds, “Kudos to Derrick and Santosh for painstakingly organizing and setting up this meet. It was a thankless job but they saw it through to ensure that all went smoothly.”
Sharing similar admiration for the organizing team is Vicky C, Chennai who sealed the 3rd Runner-up position. “I had participated to meet all my fellow anglers and to spend quality time with them and learn new fishing methods and surprisingly I even won a prize which I never expected.” Vicky feels grateful and thanks, AIGFA organizers for hosting such an amazing event and his Chennai team who kept cheering and encouraging him all along.
The 2017 Surf Fishing Angling Championship winner, MD Kamran wrapped up the last evening with a few modest words- “As AliBhai said it is not about winning but the desire to learn and share is what is important and at the end, the result will always be positive. New friends were made for a lifetime and there is nothing more important than that to me.”
The night was long, the beach party continued as the full moon crossed the skies of Tondavali with the participants and organizers celebrating the success of India’s biggest angling tournament.
Well, all good things must come to an end!
On the morning of 4th November 2017, as the rods, reels, and tackle were loaded in the cars, goodbyes, phone numbers were exchanged with a promise to keep in touch.
The three days of the Angling Tournament went by in a flash. Unacquainted anglers from all over the country and aboard had shown up - some tasted fame, some gained knowledge, some found mentors and some discovered new friends. But the one common thing that each one of them took away were memories to cherish for a long time.
As angler Prassana T from Chennai remarks "After a few years we all realize that it’s not just the fish that makes fishing interesting...it’s the people that we meet and the quality time that we all spent together."
Cheers to that and we hope that next year AIGFA will take the Ali Hussaini Memorial Cup to greater heights.
As they say in Angling – Fish On!
Read all about the Pre-event backstory and preparation - Fish On! India's Biggest Surf Fishing Angling Competition Beckons
Cover Image Credit: Steve Lockett for AIGFA 2017