Sport fishing or Angling is a growing sport in India and interest in the sport has been increasing every day. However, it’s not new to us. People, even though less in number, have been taking part in this activity since a long time and have gained tremendous experience and skill in the sport. One such person, who has marked his name in the sport, is Col. Pratap Nair (Retd.). Col. Nair caught his first fish, from angling, at the age of 18 while he was Cadet in the Indian Military Academy. Having been in the sport for almost 40 years now, he has seen it evolve over the years and continues to follow it passionately even now. Livingit’s Co-Founder and CEO Sandeep Shetty, interviewed him to get a sneak peek into his adventurous passion. Presenting Col. Pratap Nair’s angling story spanning 4 decades.
Col. Pratap Nair – Angling in Army as a Gentleman Cadet
“The first fish I caught was a Golden Mahseer in the year 1977, near Lakshman Jhula Bridge at Rishikesh, on the rapids where the flow of water is very fast. We would set up a camp near that area and fish near the rocks where the water would rush past. The Mahseer would be waiting at these spots and that is where the journey started.” Col. Nair recalls how his senior officers like Lt General HS Panag and other officer’s of the angling club at IMA used to take the team for regular angling sessions to Garud Chatti, near Rishikesh on the bank of river Ganges.
The IMA angling club had basic equipment which was available in the Army Canteens. These included now vintage brands like Ambassdeur, Mitchell ( 300 and 301 series), Herculy & Karman. For lures, they used spoons and spinners bought from India Hobby Centre in Connaught Place, New Delhi and the line used was a Japanese brand monofilament line of 10-15 pounds test.
“We used to catch fishes that weighed around 10 to 15 pounds max and avoided catching bigger fish, as the line used to get spooled out or break. The reels of those times had only 4 to 5 pounds drag and that meant if we got a big fish hooked then we had to cup the reel with our hands to stop the line spooling out and had to rush down the riverbank to keep up with the fish. Losing fish was very common, as in those days the fish were very big in size and our equipment was inadequate.” Col. Nair recalls.
Post his training he joined his regiment the 16 th Cavalry as a Lieutenant and there, as luck would have it, his Commanding Officer Col. J P Singh turned out to be an angler. One day he called the young, Lt. Nair and asked him to buy his own angling equipment. He remembers spending Rs. 100 for his first Karman rod and Herculy reel. He laughs while reminiscing “Our salary was Rs. 800 and spending Rs. 100 from that was a big deal”.
Through the 80s, while continuing his activities within the army, Col. Nair would pursue river fishing from time to time, replenishing his lines and lure stock of spoons and spinners from Indian Hobby Centre in New Delhi.
Towards the end of the 80s, Col. Pratap Nair got transferred to Ooty and there he had his first encounter with large-scale angling at the Defence Services Staff college, Wellington which had an established angling club with experienced anglers and extremely good equipment. “Lots of fly fishing and spinning gear” remembers Nair, now ranking as a Major. “The seniors and the teaching staff would take us fishing in the lakes around Wellington. At lakes like Avalanche, there was a trout breeding farm and it used to be our favorite weekend spot. We used to depart every Sunday at 3 am and travel 28 km to reach Avalanche and catch lots of beautiful trout, up in the hills.”
The 90’s to Mid-2000s
During the early 90’s, the anglers of Wellington Staff college decided to hunt for new angling grounds and went down further south, crossed Coimbatore and Pollachi and went up the hills to a place called Annamalai which had a reservoir within its reserve forest. This was a place where nobody had ever set foot, at least with the intention of fishing and the angling party was up for a jackpot. Col. Nair recalls that trip as one of his heaviest fishing experiences, with the whole party managing to catch over 200 Blue Fin Mahseers with the biggest fish being 18 pounds and every second cast getting a bite. Despite better equipment from Japan and even brands like Abu Garcia, nearly 100 plus Mahseer’s escaped because of their sheer size. Finally exhausted they returned to the base with a couple of fish after releasing the rest. From thereon they kept coming back regularly.
After Ooty, his next set of postings were up North in the Kashmir Valley. Col. Nair quotes, “throughout the 90s and early 2000s, wherever I was up North, whether it was Rajouri or Naushera or any other place, I used to go fishing whenever I had a chance and with whatever equipment I had. We only got Mahseer or trout in the hills of Jammu and Kashmir and hence, they were always my target.” Catching such a prized species in those sizes so regularly is just a fantasy for most anglers today.
2007 till present
“After reaching the rank of Col., I took pre-mature retirement in 2007 and moved to Bombay and joined TCS. A year later, got posted to Pune and somewhere around this time, I came across the group called Indianangler.com on the internet and got in touch with the whole gang – Ali Husaini, Santosh Kolwankar, Atul Chauhan, Darryl D’Souza, Neil Pimento, Derek D’Souza and many more. That was the time when I got involved in it in a really big way and even got better equipment from the US from my niece who used to come to visit the family every year to India.”
He acknowledges Ali Husaini, Santosh Kolwankar and members of his Pune angling group as his mentors and considers YouTube and regular reading as few of the ways he kept himself updated with all the technicalities and best practices of angling.
The years 2007 and 2008 were his most active, during which, Col. Nair and his angling group in Pune and Bombay, hit almost every fishing spot from south of Bombay to Goa. These weekend whirlwind road trips to the Konkan coast used to happen almost every month and were the most exciting in terms of catches and experiences.
In 2012, All India Game Fishing Association (AIGFA) was founded by a team of top anglers led by Ali Husaini and Santosh Kolwankar. Col. Nair was also a part of this founding team and became one of the trustees of AIGFA, which has now become the biggest association in the country for angling.
In 2009, attending his first angling competition at Harihareshwar, introduced Col. Pratap Nair to various new equipment that was prevalent in the market and was being used by people around the country.
In 2013, Col. Pratap Nair attended the AIGFA Surf fishing competition that happened in the Andaman Islands. This was his most memorable trip as the whole gang of 20+ anglers had attended this one week of angling in the pristine waters of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
In 2015, Col. Nair also won the second prize in AIGFA Surf Fishing Tournament. Recalling his account, he says, “We had gone to Ganpatipule for the competition. The first day was a washout and then on the second day, we ended up at the different spot where a couple of friends hooked on to some small sharks. On the second or third cast, I caught a sting ray which was about 14 pounds and it was very close to the first prize catch of a shark weighing 14.1 pounds.”
Encouraging such events, he states that these are a great opportunity to gain exposure by meeting old and new people, see the variety of equipment, learn new techniques and overall have a lot of bonding and fun.
Recalling his most memorable catch, Col. Pratap Nair says his toughest fight was with a fish in Bangkok, where he hooked on to a big Mekong Catfish of 45 kilos, which took about 40 minutes. “It was like having a truck on the other side.” He quotes.
Another catch was in a rough sea around the Andaman, where he caught an angry Giant Trevally(GT). There were several moments during this struggle where he thought he might probably fall over. This fight, which lasted for about 20 minutes, ended with his hands shivering from the intensity of the fight. He quotes, “The GT must have been 9-10 kgs. It’s a fish which generates a lot of strength and gives a tough fight. Even though it might look small when you finally see it, I think it’s the only fish except a Mahseer that can put up such a fight.”
After 30 years of being in the sport and as common to almost every angler, Col. Pratap Nair wishes he had better guidance regarding the equipment so that a hoard of things wouldn’t just lie unused in a corner and today he would rather procure better quality rather than a large quantity.
“I bought a lot of junk, you know they call anglers – tackle whores”, he says laughing. Talking about his collection of equipment he adds, “For surf fishing, I use a Shimano Baitrunner 12000D and Okuma Cedros surf rod and for heavy fishing, I use Shimano Beastmaster 15 feet rod. If I am spinning, I use Quantum Cabo PT80 reel or Penn Slammer, which is more than enough for our waters. I have also picked up Daiwa Sealine conventional reel which has a big spool nearly 500 meters for trolling.
For very light fishing, I have some very small Japanese reels 2500-5000 series. I also had a Shimano Stella 10000FA, a top of the line reel but sold it off as it was under-utilized. Currently, I have about 15 rods and 10 reels and there is always a churn going on, you keep buying and selling off stuff.”
Denying claim’s that it’s a rich man sport, Col. Pratap Nair states that while money might play a role in starting you off as an angler, it doesn’t exclusively make you a good angler, keeping in mind that there are a lot of people out there who do fishing with the most basic equipment. “For catching big fish, money is definitely a factor if you want to go to Andamans and catch big GTs. The sheer strength and size of the fishes there, demand top quality equipment & tackle.
Col. Pratap Nair has also picked up some more hobbies around fishing like making own lures. He has assembled a woodworking bench with tools and air brushing equipment required to make fishing lures including painting them.
A Message for New Anglers
Col. Pratap Nair’s advice to a new person who has just started angling is that, instead of rushing off into the unknown, one must join a group like AIGFA on Facebook and other such forums to identify which type of fishing one wants to get into. Going on trips to observe things and conversing with seniors who are aware of what they are doing, will help the person set his mind right. Regarding equipment, he advises that one must start small and not go for impulsive purchases.
He adds’ “New anglers also get discouraged very fast. You must be mentally prepared the first few times to face failure, but once the first fish has been caught, there will be no turning back. And do not forget to practice catch and release as that is the hallmark of a good angler.”
What Lies in The Future?
Thanking god for his angling journey till date, he plans to go for regular angling trips post retirement. His ultimate goal is to catch a Marlin, which he says he will attempt sometime in the near future.
“My biggest accomplishment is that I’ve managed to spread the sport of angling to novices in my own little way, at least in Pune. And I hope to continue doing that. Angling has helped me to meet a lot of people with similar passions and I’ve had amazing conversations them.” He continues, “Having a passion broadens your outlook and it takes your mind away from work pressures that stress you out every day. I would strongly recommend that everyone should have a hobby or passion.”
After four strong decades of angling, Col. Nair embodies the true spirit of Livingit. We wish him many more decades of angling filled with longer trips, bigger fights and monster catches.
Interested in more passionate anglers? Derek Dsouza – Angling as a Passion (Part 1)