This yarn is well after the time when I relocated from Assam to Dubai. That move, a sea change for me, was what enabled me to spread my wings and widen my horizon leaving behind that extremely focused ‘pipe vision’ which, being the very nature of that profession, is what any planter develops without any effort and comes naturally to one working long years on a tea estate in a 100% tea-centric area. Three years into that relocation and with me branching out on my own, my fledgling Tea business kept me literally and almost constantly hopping from one country to the other, for my family and I ending up in Sri Lanka which, for the next five years, became our final ‘permanent abode out of India’.
Following that delightful and business-wise very fruitful period of stay in SL, with it having always been obvious to us that at some point in time we’d eventually move back to India, when that did happen it was with absolutely NO advance planning in that direction. A spur of the moment decision (which is my very nature and has always been the way I function) simply led into a series of coincidences which culminated with us finding ourselves in the Nilgiris. Having travelled extensively and after roaming around all over the world, now almost two decades since that twist of fate transplanted us here, we know that there simply could not have been any better outcome than for us to drop anchor and to settle down in the Nilgiris. The finality manifesting itself in the very name of our house – “Thikana” which, for those to whom this would not mean anything, literally translates into ‘final destination’.
The Nilgiris, besides presenting me with the opportunity to get fully immersed in my passion of producing stand-alone specialty teas which has culminated in the setting up of the unique Tea Studio, also opened up to me the great outdoors and the dozen or so water bodies (both lakes and rivulets) which nature has bestowed these hills with. While there is so much more which adds to the charm of this place, in very simplistic terms I had coincidently ended up with having killed more than two birds with one stone. These water bodies, each one located in the upper reaches of these beautiful hills stocked with rainbow trout introduced to these waters by the Scottish planters (bless their souls) back in the day, meant that I could now also go back to trekking and angling, activities which I have always been crazy about and which, perforce, I had ended up having to press the pause button on when I relocated to Dubai.
Having pulled out my fishing gear which had been gathering dust for almost two decades, the only other basic requirement was to obtain permission from the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to enter their beautifully preserved and very well protected areas in the upper reaches. The forests being almost jealously guarded by the department, obtaining that permission ever since the first one, has always been something of an uphill climb. The next step was to link up with at least a couple of like-minded folk. Having asked around, I was rather surprised that despite the fact that we are almost literally a stone’s throw away to these amazing outdoors, that there were not more than a handful of people who shared my fervour.
All arrangements having been taken care of, fishing forays to one or the other water bodies became quite a regular feature. Subject to who was accompanying on which particular trip, we’d either camp out overnight or else make a day trip to be back home by late evening.
The overnighters being a tale in itself, I’ll leave it to another day to ramble on about. This particular yarn being about one trip when I too asked the question which, in case one is not alone, is probably the most oft repeated by anglers worldwide – ‘did you see the one that got away?’
This particular one was on a day trip to the Mukurthy Dam which, in the Nilgiris, is the most easily accessible water body. Besides accessibility, I always enjoyed fishing there because for me personally the Mukurthy has always been the most productive in terms of catch. Accompanying me was Brig Rana Lahari, a retired army officer and a gentleman whom I consider to be a consummate angler and one whom, from the time we planted ourselves in the Nilgiris, has become a very good and steadfast friend and one with whom, regardless of the regular fishing related squabbles we get into, I’ve been on very many trips.
Having got to the catchment quite early, as is the standard practice amongst anglers so that one is not disturbing the other and having agreed that we’d both wend our way back to the dam around 2 o’clock for a quick bite, Rana and I headed off in opposite directions. Walking along the edge of water of this huge lake casting out at regular intervals, I headed towards one particular inlet, a small waterfall, which I had visited many a time before. Back at the dam face after a long walk, post our hurried sandwich lunch, we interchanged directions to eventually converge again at the dam by late in the evening. All day long, having studiously avoided casting around the dam face which we both knew to be a very fruitful spot we had consciously left that for the last.
The light was fading quite rapidly when casting out from a pile of rocks I was standing on, while reeling in, I felt an unusually strong tug on my rod which started bending over. This could mean either of two things, that I had a good sized trout at the end of my line, or else something which every angler hates, that my tackle had got snagged in some rocks or a branch of one of the many trees which had got submerged when the dam was constructed decades ago. Putting some more pressure on my line, a little way out I saw what looked like a largish trout shoot out and then dive back again into the water tugging hard at my line. A good sized bite! And then that surge of adrenal, which is what every angler thrives on and which literally hooks folk to this sport. Ten minutes of an intense tug-o-war with my adversary thrashing around wildly and pulling hard at my line, I reeled him in very close to where I was standing to be able to see that I had hooked myself a ‘monster’, albeit a little one!
Since I stupidly have no landing net, when the trout was about a foot away from the edge I flipped him out of the water for the fish to land on those pile of rocks. With the fish continuing to struggle violently not allowing me to get my hand on it, I did the next best thing and stamped down hard on the writhing body. So hard that some blood spurted out on to my calves. In the bargain this fighter managed to slither into a gap in the rocks, jerked hard and broke my line before swimming away without so much as a backward glance. To say that I was devastated would be a major understatement. The only consolation being that Rana, standing not more than ten feet away from me, actually witnessed the full drama and then said ‘that was a really big one that you’ve just lost’ giving me the satisfaction of later not having to try and convince him.
Despondent and with dusk having set in I sat down to thread another swivel at the end of my line when looking across the water about 50 yards away both Rana and I saw a fish jump out. Since I was standing closer to the spot than Rana he told me to start casting in that direction. Before I could finish with attaching the spoon to the swivel, what looked like the same fellow popped out of the water three more times to, at the end of the third leap, lie inert floating on the surface. It was MY fish and it had just died on me.
There was no way that I would let it end at that. Stripping down to my birthday suit I plunged into the icy cold water, ignoring the thought that my crown jewels had immediately shrunk to almost nothingness, swam out to where my victim was drifting on the surface. Reaching the spot, much in the manner of a life-saver, I swam back in a breast stroke keeping the fellow between my arms and pushing him along as I moved ahead. How can I ever even begin the describe that sheer satisfaction of having retrieved my catch. Back on shore, I dried myself as best I could and after getting dressed took out my tape to measure my 16″ beauty which weighed in at a little over 2 Lbs.
Satisfaction compounded manifold when I sat down and gutted the fish to find my swivel and the spoon embedded in its mouth.
And the beauty of it all – not having to boast to all and sundry about ‘The one that got away!’