Fishing - Experience

My Quest for Goonch - Monster Catfish of India

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My quest for Goonch started somewhere in 2006 after I watched Jungle hooks presented by Jeremy wade. I wanted to hook the monster, it was a dream. Most anglers target the golden Mahseer but for me it was the mighty Goonch, it fascinated me that a creature revered by many as ugly was, indeed a beautiful species. It fascinated me that a monstrous creature like Goonch dwelled amongst us and I thought to myself how difficult is that going to be to catch one, little did I know that this quest would be an adventure of a lifetime. I searched the net for more information on Goonch but not much information was found. My dream slowly started fading away as the years went by, only to be rekindled in 2011.

The Preparation

My rekindled dream started turning into a reality when I spoke with Vinay early March of 2012, after a few mail exchanges, I had a trip booked for Mid October, the biggest part was trying to find anglers to join me, the friends who had promised backed out. Then I contacted an acquaintance of mine who I had met only once and who had never fished with a rod and reel, to my luck he accepted immediately.

It was time to put the plans in motion, train Prashanth, buy tackle for the monster, book tickets and finalise with Vinay. All this was overwhelming, I decided to take Prashanth to a lake nearby to teach him how to cast and surprisingly on that trip I managed to catch a 37 Lb Magur African Catfish (Clarias Gariepinus), so my monster catch began in Bangalore. I was elated by my catch and I was targeting another giant catfish in Uttrakand.

The Goonch Quest begins

No trip is smooth even if you have planned it meticulously; the same was of this trip. We boarded our flight on 16th of October early morning to Delhi and of course like all anglers our baggage was overweight, we managed to wriggle our way through and boarded the flight. The flight landed in Delhi and we then called the designated driver, who was to pick us up, after a few calls with no answer the driver picked up and told us that the car had a break down and he was unable to reach the airport we were stranded without a ride, an anglers anxiety is only known to us we want to go to a water body as soon as possible and any delays are not handled well by us. After a few phone calls and with the help of Vinay our ride was finally sorted out. Thus began our ride to Ramnagar which seemed forever.

We arrived at Ramnagar early evening and were greeted by Vinay and his crew. The friendly welcome by Vinay and his camp manager wiped out our exhaustive ride till there, however I couldn’t wait to see the river but was told that the river was another 4 hours drive and a hours trek away and we were told that the journey would only begin the next day. To wet our appetite we went over to a nearby dam nearby to watch the Mahseer, it was the first time I saw real gold.

My Quest for Goonch
The river stretch at Ramnagar

The next day we sat in the comfortable car that was organized for our long drive to the destination, we passed through one of the most beautiful forest ‘The Jim Corbett Forest’. After a drive which felt like forever we arrived at the destination where ponies were waiting to take our baggage on the treacherous trek downhill. There we met Sanju an excellent gentleman with immense knowledge on the fish who was to be one of our guides, since I could not wait to reach the river, Sanju, Vinay and me decided to head down not waiting for our luggage to be loaded, Prashanth and Dada managed and ponies and were to arrive a little later. Now the trek down is a very challenging one, I was warned by Vinay about this and I have been training for this terrain all year long. Thirty minutes along the trek I caught a glimpse of the river. The river stretched as far as the eyes could see and she could not have been more beautiful than she was. We finally reached the base camp, I dumped my bag and ran to the river and dunked my head into it and paid my respects. Our hot lunch was ready and we tackled up to start the first session to catch the elusive Mahseer.

My Quest for Goonch
Base Camp location

The place where we were camping is hard to describe, it was surrounded by mountains on either side, with the river flowing in between, and the mountains stretch far and wide and you can see and the river starting between them and flowing beyond the horizon. The mountains at that time of the year were lush with trees and shrubs, there were innumerous pine trees. There was ambient sound throughout the day and night, rustling of the trees, wind and beautiful sound of the gushing river; occasionally you could hear a barking deer in the distance and the sound of various birds. This place can heal you instantly. The difference of being there and not was the absence of traffic, the cell phone, the human clatter or sitting in front of the computer for 16 hours. You can be totally mesmerized by the surroundings and easily fall into a trance. The camp was setup in the midst of a valley over a naturally raised platform, a makeshift kitchen, five sleeping tents, one kitchen tent and one dry pit tent.

My Quest for Goonch
Team set for some Mahseer and Goonch action

Our friendly crew consisted of one Camp Manager, Two Gillies, One Helper, and Vinay. We had no people with the exception of a few villagers who were curious; they visited our camps occasionally and told us stories of huge Goonch in the river, we also had some school children who would visit us and were curious about our rods and reels they were always welcome on many of our slow days broke our monotony of our wait.

Warming up with Mahseers and Trouts

Elusive Mahseer they are, all casts yielded nothing, we saw the fish, the fish saw the spoon, the fish chased the spoon but shied away at the last minute. Prashanth was the first to hook a Mahseer and boy it was a beautiful one. After a quick picture, we released it. After a few casts I caught one and I could not believe the power the fish had, it probably weighed 750 grams or a Kilo and believe me when I say this, I used a 10ft spinning rod, with a Shimano Baitrunner 6000 D loaded with 20lb Ande An40 topped with a 60 Lb Berkley Vanish leader. So imagine this, a fish almost pulling the rod out of your hand and then you find out at the end of it that it was a small fish.

We did not have any bait to fish for Goonch, it was a dry season, no chilwa was caught to the fish for Goonch, so we were casting for gold. We caught a few small Mahseer, yet powerful ones. The next couple of days went by catching Mahseer; I hooked into an Indian trout or known as Trout Barb (Raiamas guttatus).

My quest for Goonch
Indian trout is also known as Trout Barb (Raiamas guttatus)

First Encounter with the Goonch

On the 19th morning we managed to catch a few chilwas, I hooked it on my Mahseer rod and casted it d own for Mahseer, the rod being Daiwa Catfish Whisker, Reel being the Tekota 700 loaded with 50 Lb Daiwa sensor XL line there was no leader. The morning session was blank with no fish caught, with a disappointing morning and after a superb lunch we went over again for our evening session. Two hours into our session without a movement, we heard the drag clicker make a short run, all of us were quickly alerted. I went over to my rod held it ready to strike, but 15 minutes passed without a sound, we discounted it for a passing fish and moved back to our relaxing but tense position. Another 15 minutes went by, but then suddenly a long run, I was quick to strike and then the fight began.

The instant the hook-up took place, I was made aware this is no Mahseer but a Goonch for sure, I was expecting a 20Lb+ Mahseer and was not prepared for a Goonch, the tackle was not prepared for a Goonch, no wire leader only a 50Lb line, what was I thinking. I was excited but at the same time scared. The only thing running in my mind was how do I stop this monster as it was stripping my line too tight and a line break too loose would have lost the fish to the rapids, playing this fish was very tricky, I moved over a little. After a grueling 10 minutes, we saw the monster, a little monster; it took us another 3 minutes before we could land the fish. It was a Goonch 32 Lb of pure power, a beautiful fish. I was thrilled and after a quick photo session, the fish was released. This was my first encounter with a Goonch.

My quest for Goonch
The first encounter with the Goonch – a ‘small’ specimen!

Goonch, as a fish is very unique, there seems to be confusion in the two species Bagarius Bagarius and Bagarius Yarrelli. After some research on the net, the species I caught I think is Bagarius Yarelli, apparently, the Bagarius Bagarius is a dwarf Goonch. Bagarius Yarelli reportedly grows to 6.6 feet and is over 400 Lbs. However, there has been a recent catch in Bangladesh, where one Goonch which was an accidental catch, weighed over 240 Kgs (530 Lbs). Goonch has a large head, a large mouth, with sharp teeth protruding both from the upper and lower jaws. Both the dorsal and pectoral fins have projected fleshy extensions which look like extended barbells, again both dorsal and pectoral fins have strong spines. They have five barbells at the bottom of their mouth. Goonch has a color pattern consisting of three dark pigmented bands or blotches on the body with dark spots covered all over the body. I think the coloration gets darker or lighter depending on the stress; they are perfectly camouflaged when they are in water over sand and rocks and are virtually invisible. Sexing of the fish is not known, at least I haven’t seen any material on it and Vinay too was confused over it. When we posed this question to some locals, they mentioned that the bigger lighter colors were females and the slender darker colors were males. However, when we caught the first Goonch, it had a small protrusion near the anal. We didn’t catch many Goonch to conclude our theory.

Striking Pure Gold and the problem of Single Malt

I always carry a single malt (Aberfeldy to be precise) to celebrate a good catch, it was a single malt night, but unfortunately, I had only two bottles and we had finished one on the first day out of respect to the first Golden Mahseer we caught. So the second was a problem to open because we wanted to honor the catch, but at the same time we wanted to open it to a big one. So we decided not to open it and decided to go with the 100 pipers.

On 23rd evening Prashanth hooked into a 33 lb Mahseer on dead bait, Prashanth had a good time and after a few photographs the fish was quickly released.

Goonch quest
Pure Gold – a 15kg Golden Mahseer

Hits and Misses

A few bottles of Whiskey and Rum with no fish landed, we were getting desperate and disappointed. I would sit through sessions watching the tip of my fishing rod and at times I could swear I would see the rod tip move and sometimes I would hear the drag clicker, but in reality there was nothing. At one point we even thought of moving to a different location and fishing through the cold night. With Two more days to go, I was getting more and more desperate to catch the dream fish with a dream weight, I had a target in mind and it was no less than 100Lbs.

After a good session in the morning, we decided to wait through the night. We cast three rods into the water and the wait began. I had two rods, one with Shimano Tekota 700 and the other with Tyrnos 30II, both were on 100 Lb line. The terminal tackle included a 200 Lbs swivel connected to a 150 Lb coated wire trace with two hooks, one being owner 8/0 and the main hook being Kudako 7/0 rigged to hold dead bait, both had chilwas at the end of it. The third rod was with TLD 25 with the same setup. During our wait Alam asked a causal question to Vinay conversing in Hindi, he asked if the rod rigged up on the Tekota which was Daiwa Catfish Whisker could take the strain of a huge Goonch, for which Vinay replied that the butt of the rod was strong and was wrapped in Kevlar, but he wasn’t so sure about the tip. Until this time, I had complete confidence on the rod as my naive understanding was, if the rod was built by Daiwa and was a catfish rod which I have seen pictures of anglers landing a huge Wels, I thought it could hold on to the Goonch.

Around 19:00 hours, we heard a click but nothing happened. Our ears were cocked up to listen to the sound, and then suddenly we heard the drag run. I ran to the Tyrnos rod and struck it, but nothing, it was limp. I reeled the slack line and waited again. Then another drag sound, but again nothing on the line. I wound up the line to see the bait intact. I never cast that rod again and laid it down on the side. Now we had two rods in the water, the questionable Daiwa Whisker with the Tekota 700 and Yacob Wagner Never break with the TLD 25. On the previous day we had seen otters in the same location which we concluded it to be an otter moving as it was pitch dark and discounted it for the otters moving the line. Like every other Angler we decided that we would spend another 15 minutes and wind up for the night.

The Moment of Truth

I was thoroughly disappointed, I lit a beedi and stared into the sky and was ready to call it a night. I heard the clicker, I thought I was the only person and thought I was hallucinating, and not to make a mockery of myself I looked around and saw that everyone was up. Everyone had heard it, we were about to cuss the otter then we heard a run. In disbelief, I picked up the rod and struck it with all my might, something pulled the line like nothing that I had experienced before. The line was being stripped by a meter a second; at least that’s what I thought. I had set my drag to 8 Kgs and wasn’t expecting anything more than a twitch, but it wasn’t a twitch it was a bloody run. I knew from that moment whatever I had was not small and I had to get my head straight to ensure that I land the fish. The fish which we were certain of, by this time was none other than the Goonch. Goonch has a distinctive pattern in its fight, it strips the line and then there is a distinctive pause for a few seconds, you suddenly feel that your line is snagged as there is a slack, then again the line goes out by 50 yards and again there is a stop, whereas a Mahseer, there is a pull all the time and long runs. But at that time what I did not know was that the Goonch decided to head towards the rapids. There was another problem; I was told that if a Goonch decides to go to the bottom of the river and sulk then it’s very difficult to move the fish for hours. Thankfully, I had Vinay and Alam who knew the fish and its tactics very well and advised me all along. I was almost pulled into the river. When I was ordered to move to the sandy bank, I slowly released some line and made my way to a sandy bank, where my chances of landing the fish were greater. The struggle was like no other, it was like heaving a buffalo who didn’t want to move, believe me I know I have once tried to move a buffalo who was tethered to a rope, I could not move him so I gave up.

My arms and my back were giving way to the Goonch, I broke into a sweat on a cold night. I struggled hard not wanting to give up, my mind was tired after fishing the whole day and the fatigue was driving it astray and to add to my misery the thought of my rod cracking into two after Vinay’s comment to Alam’s question was not helping me curb my mistakes. Also a few days ago we lost two fish which broke our 100 Lbs line. I got into a brief trance to be woken up by the sound of the voice or of my screaming reel. I was losing it, yet I knew I had to keep my focus and be calm. I worked my strength, bent on my knees dragging the fish away from the depths. I was put into various positions while fighting the fish which I not proud of but I didn’t want to lose the fish. After nearly 20 minutes, when I saw a glimpse of the fish and the glimmer of hope at the end of the line, the fish decided it needed to test me more as it casually turned around and headed straight back into the depths. It stripped my line as if there was no drag; it took the line effortlessly when I knew I had tightened my drag from 8 KGs to something I don’t know. I turned the star drag to as tight as possible, and I knew it was very tight, yet for the fish it was nothing. I was angry and fascinated at the same time. I could not understand how my 20 minutes of effort was in vain. I had to work all over again to gain the line that was stripped away.

A Dream comes True

This time I was awake, fully in my senses, I decided to bend backward and started using my thigh as support for the rod and slowly but steadily worked the reel. Inch by inch I gained the line, the time which seemed forever did not help my misery, but I was determined and at no cost was about to lose the fish after the long struggle. I saw a silhouette of the fish, I was confident, the water wasn’t deep out there, and the dorsal fin of the fish was sticking out of the water. By now I was dragging the fish on the sandy bottom of the river. I knew the fish was tired so was I, probably more, until Alam decided to jump into the water to get hold of its tail. The fish realized this and gathered its wits and did its third and final run. Luckily for me, the fish was more tired than I was, so it wasn’t very difficult to reel in after that. After over 30 minutes of vigorous, back breaking fight the fish was tethered to its tail and Alam had the other end of the rope. I was relieved and excited, I had finally managed to tame the beast, my 6 years dream of hooking into a big Goonch became a reality, my hardship, the pain, the wait and every other screw-up that I experienced which led to this magnificent catch, was worth the moment. Before me, there it was, a truly magnificent creature, where Anglers have spent years with the best of the tackle, have not managed to catch it, but I managed it on a single trip with my Daiwa Rod which I now praise as one of the best rods to buy and my Tekota reel which has surpassed its expectation landed me a catch of my lifetime. The Goonch weighed a little over 55 Kgs (121 Lbs), the length being 5.5 Feet, Girth 24 inches, Mouth opening 27 Inches.

Goonch quest
Prized catch, the 55kg Goonch – A dream comes true

We celebrated that night, the whole camp burst out into celebrations, the Aberfeldy was finally out. We drank into the early morning after our sumptuous meal and laid our heads into our tents nothing bothered me anymore, the cold wind the uneven ground, nothing. I was excited and could barely sleep, but yet I slept like a baby, I had a sleep of a lifetime. I woke up early next morning, I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was a dream. I picked up the camera and saw the pictures and dozed off again.

This angling trip changed my life; it was a new beginning as a species angler. I made some new friends who I will cherish for life; I fished with one of the most reputable anglers in our community Vinay Badola, I fished in one of the most exotic locations in the world and caught a fish of my lifetime, an unforgettable experience which I will cherish forever. I will go back, take my daughter one day, for her to experience and live the moment instead of her just saying “My daddy caught a Goonch” to “I caught a Goonch”.

My Quest for Goonch was complete with the desire to catch more…..

 

About the Author

Derek Dsouza – Angler, Fish conservationist, Angling instructor/promoter, Entrepreneur, Indian Representative for International angling bodies – the titles are many, simply put he also can be said as the face of angling in India. Having been in this passion for about 13 years now, the star angler has also led, very recently, an Indian team of anglers to their first International Competition.

 

Read more on Derek Dsouza!

Derek Dsouza – Angling as a Passion (Part 1)

Derek Dsouza – Angling Beyond Passion (Part 2)

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