Thursday, 4 February 2010

8th November – In search of the Subansiri…

I woke at 5:30 and noticed Rup was also awake. We decided to take a hike back upstream and fish one of the rapids that we’d rafted yesterday. We clambered one kilometre upstream and negotiated a short cliff section before the land opened onto a beach at the foot of the rapid. There was excellent water to fish in the pools and eddies so Rup and I leapfrogged each other for the next few hours fishing the entire rapid but without success.
We then walked above the rapid and fished the river where it was shallow and clear running over small pebbles and the occasional boulder. Rup was fishing behind me as we made our way back downstream whilst fishing. Rup let out a cry and I looked back to see his rod bent into a fish. He’d been using a silver spate spoon and the mahseer had taken it in a few feet of water. The fish fought well in the fast water but soon I was able to land it for Rup. It weighed 13lbs and Rup was justifiably pleased as I took some pictures of him holding it. Once again Rup produced the goods from water where I had just previously been fishing. We cast sporadically on the walk back downstream to the camp and arrived back in time for breakfast.
After breakfast I wandered off downstream from the camp to fish some likely looking water alone. I clambered on top of a huge boulder and watched as my spoon fluttered in the water below me. I could see mahseer darting out from the boulder and giving my lure a really good look before rejecting it. These are the sort of things that most of us miss when we’re fishing because we’re either too far away to see it, or else the water is too murky. It was good to see though, if not a little frustrating, because it showed that there were still fish here and as usual, the angler (me!) was quick to cite a host of excuses as to why we are not catching.
I continued casting and then hooked a supper-sized Boca that got off shortly after. I had three more fish follow my lure before I reached the head of another rapid. A shrill whistle from upstream alerted me that the camp was packed and they were ready to raft again. I marched back to camp and climbed onto the raft.
We rafted a total of four rapids. Highlights: Phil got stung by a bee and Arun broke one of the big raft oars so we had to stop and give him our spare one. His raft was driven against a cliff wall at one rapid and the sheer weight of the raft with people and luggage snapped it clean in two.
At one set of rapids the rafters did their usual trick of disappearing downstream for ages to survey the river. We were in the shadow of a mountain so lit a fire as best we could with the dampish wood around us. We snacked on biscuits and nuts while we waited for the rafters to return. As we were huddled around the fire, I caught sight of one of the rafts drifting downstream. I let out a cry and we raced across the beach to rescue it. I think Nino would have been a little shocked to have seen his raft (devoid of people) float by him as he was checking the rapids downstream. We secured the raft again and returned to the warmth of the fire.
The rafters returned and we all climbed aboard. These rapids twisted and turned their way ahead of us but the rafters felt sure that we were near the Subansiri. We were all cold as we crashed and paddled our way through a few kilometres of rapids and then finally, as we rounded a corner, the confluence with the Subansiri came into view with a welcoming sandy beach to camp on.
There were cheers and handshakes and hugs and laughter as we stood at the junction of these two mighty rivers. We had completed a journey by raft that no-one else had done. We had had a great adventure, sometimes frightening, sometimes frustrating, but it was an adventure that we’d all remember if only for one of the days. That was the day when an insignificant looking frothy patch of river dumped half of our party into the water and nearly claimed the lives of two (and a chicken!).
A huge fire was built and lit with the abundant firewood that lay strewn across a vast sandy beach. Leopard tracks criss-crossed the beach and we noted that some of the tracks were mother and cub so we would have to be careful. We were on a beach that locals would find extremely hard if not impossible to reach so the river around us was hopefully virgin water.
The Subansiri was running a little muddy and it was icy cold and very powerful. During monsoon, this confluence must be an awesome sight and sound as these two big rivers come together. The beach that we were camping on was a massive deposit of boulders and rocks covered with sand following the last monsoon. Huge decapitated trees rose from the Subansiri like dark pillars as the river pushed relentlessly against them.
We pitched our tents on soft level sand, warmed ourselves by the roaring fire and devoured a late lunch. Rods were hastily assembled and 10 anglers fanned out from the camp to fish excellent looking water on two rivers. I walked over the boulder strewn beach and started fishing the Subansiri. The speed of the river here was ferocious as it swept by me towards the confluence. I fished a few hundred metres down to the confluence and then fished back upstream. I was just started to think that the water was too fast to hold fish when bang!, my rod bent over and I was into a fish. It took the silver spate spoon a metre from the bank and swirled powerfully at the surface before surging off with my rod arched over. The force of the river made the fish unstoppable and it stripped off around 50 metres of line in a few seconds. I started hopping/running over the boulders in pursuit. The confluence wasn’t far away and I knew that if the fish reached this I wouldn’t stand a chance of stopping it. I leant as hard as I dared against the fish and cupped my hand over the clutch to try and prevent it from taking more line. The tension on the line made it whine in the stiff breeze blowing downstream as I held my breath. The fish stopped running and sulked on the bottom. I maintained pressure and started to retrieve line as I hopped from boulder to boulder. I managed to get below the fish and now put side strain on it to tire it further. The stand-off continued for a little while and then after a few more powerful lunges the fish succumbed so I dragged it into the side. It was a really plump good-sized Boca of about 12lbs. I considered releasing it but figured we had nothing for supper tonight so killed it instead. I whistled and waved to the camp and someone came running over to get the fish which I held aloft. We would eat well tonight.
We all continued fishing until darkness and then returned to camp to compare notes. Sanjay had hooked a golden mahseer by the camp in the Kamla but had lost the fish after a short fight. No-one else had hooked any fish or had any takes.
The rafters made an excellent celebratory feast for us all and the Boca tasted delicious. We spent the evening toasting ourselves by the fires and chatting. Spirits were visibly lifted as we were on known water now. Nino had taken a group of Norwegian anglers down this section of the Subansiri a few months earlier so knew the rapids and knew the camp sites ahead. The anglers had caught many mahseer too so our angling prospects ahead looked hopeful.
I left everyone talking and drinking around the fire and crept into my tent.

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