Fishing - Story

Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett

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As an independent journalist who writes for fishing magazines, and as the Vice Chairman of Mahseer Trust, Steve Lockett explores angling both personally and professionally. For him, this has meant over four decades of great locations, fun company, and studying the defined science of understanding fish behaviour. How would you define ‘experience’? Is it a factor of quantity or quality? Is it about ‘how’ one pursues an interest, or for ‘how long’? Is a hobby best enjoyed in the company of your loved ones, or a hobby best understood alone?

These questions may turn into dilemmas for a lot of people, but Steve Lockett was not one of them. This Torquay-based angler has sustained his passion for over four decades, dipping his fingers in photojournalism, filmmaking, writing, and event reporting for UK-based and European publications, apart from, of course, eking out time to go fishing for personal satisfaction. Needless to say, his angling knowledge was deep and wide-ranging, often delivered in the awestruck tone of a true nature-lover.

Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett
Releasing mahseer from CWS coracle, Coorg, 2002

Angling in the UK

“I started out like many people in the UK, by going for fishing with my father, though he wasn’t really an angler. I was around 7 years old then, and we would go to a nearby canal that didn’t have a lot of fish,” he recalls. Tricky start indeed, because to learn fishing, well, you need to catch fish! But Steve did just fine, starting young and gradually expanding his circle of influencers as he grew, picking up valuable tips from a circle of friends whose elder relatives were more seasoned anglers. “Though I started with my dad, he was definitely not a mentor in this respect,” he chuckles. “If you don’t have somebody to learn from, then you spend a lot of time being very frustrated.”

What also helped was the organized structure of match fishing in his small home-town, where junior competitions would expose young anglers to expert guidance and support, a fact that could be supplemented through angling camps. Steve recalls a childhood phase of the 45-minute walks from home to the fishing site accompanied by friends, all jauntily carrying the equipment. This is how they would spend weekends and holidays. As a teenager, Steve got interested in carp fishing, his enthusiasm possibly fed by the fact that carp was then considered a relatively difficult fish to catch. “But I did manage to catch a 10-pound carp. I am talking about 40 years ago, so a 10-pound fish in the UK was a big deal!” he says.

The earliest catch, however, used to be small, and of local fish called ‘perch’ and ‘roach’. “If you were fishing the correct way, in a few hours you could catch 20 to 30 fish very easily,” he says. Nowadays, though, that landscape teems with carp, considered a non-predatory fish in the UK. A popular member of the carp family is the ‘chub’, a completely omnivorous variety. “If it comes anywhere close, it will eat first and ask questions later,” he laughs.

Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett
Float Fishing a River Demands Great Concentration

The expansive and commercial fishing industry in the UK exerts a great influence on the substance and quantity of the fish caught in the country, and has, in the years shifted most of the focus of carp as well. “The fish most people want to catch now in the UK is carp because it grows to a big size, and they are also very easy to catch. We call them ‘pigs with fins’!” But for all their popularity, carps can be serious fighters, and Steve finds his match fishing experience, of landing a fish into the net as soon as possible, an advantage while dealing with them. “Landing a fish quickly is better for the fish as well, because it has a chance to recover faster,” he says. “If you play the fish for many minutes, or even an hour, the fish can get completely exhausted. You may enjoy, but that fish could be in serious trouble. Because when it is put back in, it could become an easy prey to something else.”

Angling Internationally and the India Connection

Till date, Steve has fished across the UK, Ireland, France, Croatia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and has gone sea-fishing in Cyprus and Spain. “I think that’s it,” he laughs. He has also covered angling events and competitions, work that has taken him to Portugal, Hungary, and Finland. “Angling for me is either about the people or the venues,” Steve says when asked about picking a favourite spot. “I have visited some fantastic venues in India, and some very interesting places in Java. And I work with a close community of anglers in Malaysia. So, I can’t really pick a Number 1, though India would definitely be in the top 3! For the record, the other 2 would be Malaysia and Croatia.”

Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett
Mahseer from Babagon River, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Steve’s Indian connection began in 1999, and since then he has kept coming back, sometimes more than 3-4 within a year. “The first time, it was just for family holidays. But I very quickly got interested in doing some fishing, because, well, I like fishing,” he laughs. The opportunities for recreational fishing were sparse then, but that scene has since then become immensely fertile. In the past few years, the majority of Steve’s attention in the country has been directed towards the Mahseer Trust. Founded in 2008, it is committed to scientific research in favour of mahseer biology and conservation. Steve got involved with Mahseer Trust ( www.mahseertrust.org ) when they wanted someone on board who understood the river Kaveri and his many years of exploring various spots in Kaveri made him the perfect candidate.

Currently, the activities of the Trust is focused on collecting data and anecdotal evidence from the locals, of various Rivers and water bodies in 3-4 countries in South East Asia and India, which host various species of mahseer. “The data collected will lead us to the issues and then we can tackle the problems in a better manner,” Steve says. “Our long-term objective is work closely with local bodies to make them self-reliant and accountable and Mahseer Trust becomes a central repository of information and knowledge sharing which can be accessed easily by these local bodies. India is the focus at the moment with most of the efforts directed towards saving the iconic Humpback Mahseer.”

Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett
Meeting with Members of Fans of Indian Mahseers (FIM) in Indore, MP

Approach to Fishing

Steve’s approach to fishing is refreshingly devoid of a need for trophy-hunting. “I am not obsessed with the weights of fish,” he declares. Only at competitions, he weighs or measures the catch, elsewhere he focuses on catching the fish quickly, possibly taking a zippy photo, and releasing the catch. “For me, it is more about being in a fantastic place to fish at. Or being in a group of anglers whom I know, or even being among anglers whom I have never met. These things are more important to me than the fish I catch.”

His favourite fish the ‘Neolissochilus wynaadensis’ is much easier to identify than his favourite spot. “When found locally, it is referred to as ‘mara meen’ in Kannada, to mean ‘tree fish’ or ‘leaf fish’. It is very similar in looks and in its habits to the chub found in the UK,” Steve says.

Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett
Katli – Neolissochilus wynaadensis April 2007, Amialla River, Karnataka, India also called Marra Meen in Kannada or Copper Mahseer

His most effective fishing technique has involved 8mm pellets, made from the fish meal that has been ground up to form small balls of bait. For his gear, Steve relies on the range offered by the brands Daiwa, Mustad (especially for some of their hooks), and Spro. “A good quality gear is priceless,” he asserts, warning against re-branded low-quality imports.

Memorable Moments

As far as memories go, Steve fondly recalls that one time he fished in the Mekong River in South-east Asia. “I didn’t catch anything!” he laughs. But the experience of being at the iconic river site made it special for him. Then there was that one snowy day in Croatia, when he had set out with 12 local fishermen and outdone them all in terms of catching a local variety of carp. “It is simply about thinking as to what to do by understanding fish behaviour,” he says. “They probably still had some old-fashioned ideas about what angling is. It may sound arrogant here, but it was not arrogant at all, as we had a lovely time! It was snowing, and we were fishing and taking photos. We had a picnic on the banks, and there was wine!”

But the fondest memory of all was forged in Coorg in Karnataka, India. “It was at a pristine river, a small tributary of the Cauveri right up in the hills,” Steve reminisces. “I was fishing and catching my favourite fish – the ‘Neolissochilus wynaadensis’ beneath a waterfall, while my wife was having a swim in the wash pool. There was forest all around me. No traffic, no people. That was it. That is Number 1!”

The Best Technique – Know your Fish

Steve’s decades-long association with angling, and the recent networking effort through the Mahseer Trust, has made him a much sought-after voice within the community. Many new anglers enquire about the best bait to be used, but he considers that to be one of the least important factors in angling. “You need to understand this about fish. If you have the technique and have the correct tackle, you will be able to present anything in front of a hungry fish and watch it try to eat it! It doesn’t even have to be food! The fish has to put the bait in its mouth to decide if it is edible or not, and that is your chance to hook it.”

Instead of fussing over baits, Steve recommends learning fish behaviour, including their swimming depth, their spawning grounds, and food habits. “To do this, you have to understand that fish are interested in reproduction, eating, and avoiding predators,” he says. “Whether it is a tank, a reservoir, a river, a stream, or the sea, you need to understand these three things to do it right.” Even walking up to the fishing site needs to be a gentle exercise, as fish are naturally adapted to sense vibrations and movements in and through the water. Which is what, in fact, makes 8mm pellets extremely successful baits, because the disturbance they cause in the water draw in curious fish. “The fish respond to the sound of the pellet hitting the water, coming in to investigate if it is an insect, or a worm, or a fruit,” he explains.

Study, Fish, and Conserve - Steve Lockett
Netting a Mahseer at Dhangarmola Dam

Advice to Anglers

Not surprisingly, Steve’s advice to anglers, especially those in India, focuses on sustainability. “We as anglers are extremely privileged to be allowed to use fresh water for our enjoyment because fresh water is such a precious commodity across Asia. So we need to be really careful about how we use it because if too much is pulled then there is not much water left for angling.”

Steve’s angling journey is another example of going beyond your passion. What started as a hobby soon turned to be a profession, then to the quest of knowledge and now focused on conservation and from here the future path can be found in Mahseer Trust’s tag line – ‘Because rivers need fish and people need rivers’.

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