Catching a Catla

Ali H Hussaini
Articles / Catching a Catla
Posted on: 2017-09-23 13:07:18 +0530 (IST)

Catching a Catla



For those die hard carp anglers, who have tried their luck in targeting the most elusive and coveted fish from Indian fresh waters, The Catla, it is an established fact that catching this fish is not easy using a rod and reel. Many a theories and hypothesis regarding methods and ways to target it are afloat, some with merits and some bordering on idiocy. There are many who will claim possession of such baits and brews, which if used will bring all Catla, hiding in every nook and corner in the water body, to the swim it is used. Many a stories one will hear while discussing this fish regarding masters who possess great wealth of knowledge of this fish and can catch it on any given day.

Tall claims may be many but in actuality there are no catches to substantiate these claims. Almost all the time, the catch is either accidental or the fish is foul hooked by snagging using multiple hooks, locally called as Jhuppy (झुप्पी). I will refrain from describing this method any further as it is neither ethical sport fishing nor a fish friendly method. It will suffice for our purpose of defining a correct method of catching this fish to note that the Catla comes on ground bait and filter feed from the bait of ball moulded on the multiple hooks.

It will not be prudent to discard all theories of catching this fish from Indian lore. The best way is to examine them with care and accept what is rational and discard the rest. For example everywhere you inquire you will come to know that Catla is attracted towards sweet and pleasant smelling bait. A rational theory on the basis of food habits of many carps and no harm in accepting it. Now take for example the most propagated theory of an herbal concoction, locally known as Charai (चराई), prevalent amongst some North Indian anglers, supposedly to give the fish such bad stomach that it will go on shitting whatever it eats and so it will eat more and more! Now consider yourself having a bad bout of diarrhoea, how much you will want to eat then! I have heard of few enthusiastic wannabe anglers, inspired by this theory using laxatives with their baits in hope of catching this fish! I don’t deny that there is no merit in the brew used by north Indian Anglers but I certainly am not ready to accept the theory of ‘shit more so eat more’ concept!

Understanding your adversary:

One of the most difficult fish to catch, and the hardest fighting Indian Carp, Catla (Catla catla) is the only member of genus Catla, from the carp family Cyprinidae. This fish is commonly present in rivers, lakes and ponds throughout India. Mainly a surface feeder, this fish feeds on plankton, zooplankton, insects, crustaceans and plant material. Crustaceans forms a major part of the food but the interesting part being the high percent of insects (8.082%) in its food chain, opening up the possibility of targeting this magnificent fish on a fly setup also. As evident by its large protruding lower jaw, it is obvious that this fish feeds by filtering a lot of water through its mouth.  We will discuss later that using fast dissolving bait and a critically balanced open hook is the best setup to target this fish.

Many studies have established that the feeding intensity of this fish remains high during non-spawning and post spawning periods of winter and monsoons but reduces during spawning period of summer. This fish feeds voraciously just after spawning to recover lost weight during the spawning period.

The IGFA world record for this fish is only 15.4 Kg. but catches as high as 36 kg have been reported (From Powai Lake, Maharashtra). There is no authentic record of Catla growing over 38.6 Kg. but unauthentic reports suggest that this fish can grow much bigger than that.

Ground Baiting:

In simple words, you cannot catch a Catla without proper and specific ground baiting. I have covered in detail the general philosophy of ground baiting in my previous article ‘Catching an Indian Carp Part-1 and now will try to elaborate on that, defining specific ground baiting for this fish. The best form of ground bait for Catla is a porridge kind of mix. A mixture of fine powders in form of semi liquid, preferably nicely fermented is sure to bring a Catla to your swim. Using particles like corn, maize, other pulses or such kind of bait is counterproductive and does not attract Catla. Using oily substance and sweetener is a must as the oil trail and carbohydrates released after fermentation are very good attractors for this fish. Mainly the base used for ground baiting is rice, wheat flour and oil cakes. Here is a very good ground bait which is prevalent amongst Indian Angler, known as Handia.

Handia (हंडिया):

The famous Bengali concoction to target big carps, Handia (हंडिया) is nothing but fermented rice. To prepare Handia (हंडिया), soft boil 1Kg rice and soak it with water, preferably in an earthen pot (हंडिया). Keep it for three to four days so that it ferments nicely. Care should be taken that the mix does not putrefy. A correctly fermented concoction will give a very pleasant and sweet smell.

It is best to use Handia with oil cake and wheat flour. Pre soak one kilogram of mustard oil cake so as it becomes a paste. While making your final concoction, hand rub the pre soaked rice in a paste and mix it with the paste oil cake homogenously. Now go on folding wheat flour to it till the mix becomes hard enough so that you can throw it by making soft balls. Pre-bait the swim for at least three days before putting your hooks in.

The above bait is good enough and many a time is successful in attracting a Catla but if you are hell bent on catching a specimen or want to develop a particular swim for continuous catches you have to add some other ground baits with the above one. Below are the recipes for Catla specific Ground Baits:

Wheat Flour:

Mix 10Kg of wheat flour (आटा) with water till it becomes semi liquid. The best way is to mix it in a 60Kg capacity plastic drum. Store the thick liquid like mix for a day or two. As the mix will ferment, it will rise and then settle down. Make sure that the drum you are using is big enough to accommodate the rise; otherwise the rising mix will spill over. The final brew will be a thick, pleasant smelling concoction which if you put in the water will not dissolve and settle on the bottom.

Beaten Rice:

To make this, you will require Beaten Boiled Rice, locally called as Poha (पोहा) 5Kg, Common Indian Sweet known as Jalebi (जलेबी) 2Kg, Peanut Oil 100 Grams (मूंगफली का तॆल) and Wheat Flour(आटा). First grind the Jalebi using a mixer. Mix this liquid Jalebi with 4 Kg of beaten rice by stirring and rubbing, using your hands. Keep the mix in a tub and fill it with water. Use enough water to just submerge the mixture and soak it overnight. Grind the remaining beaten rice in fine powder and store it separately.

Rub the soaked beaten rice as a paste mixing the peanut oil with it. Once the paste is ready, add the ground beaten rice with it and once again mix it thoroughly. Leave the paste for some time till the powder added soaks the water and the paste becomes a bit hard. Now go on adding flour and fold it till the mixture becomes hard enough that you can form balls which you can throw to your spot.

Once all the three mixes are ready, ground bait the spot with the Beaten Rice and Handia mix and pour the semi liquid Flour just inside of your ground baited area, using a boat. Grounds bait the area regularly for at-least three days on a given time, best being the night time when the activity of small fish is minimal. If you want to develop a spot for a long time, go on doing the same ground baiting on a regular basis.   

There is another method which gives very good result and for that you will be needing what is locally called as Ghee Gard(घी गर्द) which is the waste remain of Ghee making process. You will also need some black Jaggery (गुड) and oil cake, preferably Peanut (मूंगफली की खली) or Sesame Seed/Til (तिल की खली).    

Take 1 part Ghee Gard, 2 part Jaggery and 20 part dry soils from the bank of the lake you want to fish. Beat and rub the soil into fine powder. Remove any stones or other particles from it. Grate the Jaggery into small pieces by using a sharp knife. Mix the Jaggery and Ghee Gard with the soil and rub the mix by your hand till it becomes homogeneous. The final mixture will be such that if you press it by your hand it will form into a hard ball. For one ground bait 20 tennis ball sized balls are enough.

On the first day drop at least 50Kg Oil Cake and 20 balls of soil mix on the spot you want to fish. For the next two days ground bait the spot only with the soil mix. Start fishing the spot from the third day onward. To develop a permanent spot, ground bait it with Oil Cake every week and with Soil Mix every day.

There are few more things which are must for developing a spot for Catla, primarily spot selection and raking. Primarily Catla is a surface feeder but can be targeted from bottom. The best swim to target this fish is with a gravel bottom in the depth range of 15 to 25 feet depth. It is highly recommended to Rake the spot every month to keep it clean and enable any trapped gases to escape, presenting a healthy feeding environment.

A Note of Caution:

The mustard oil cake, when soaked releases Mustard Gas, which is highly poisonous. Keep it away from children and use it for ground baiting only when the gas is completely released from it.

Terminal tackle

The only proven method, which can catch you a Catla is a Feeder Rig, be it a bottom or floating setup. Before discussing the terminal tackle, I will want you to have a look at the gigantic mouth of Catla and then envisage this fish feeding from your ground-bait and subsequently from your feeder.


The anatomy of the mouth is such that the Catla applies suction to filter feed and a critically balanced hair rig will rise and go inside the mouth if this fish happens to feed near such presentation. Considering the above, a critically balanced pop-up rig, with a crok ball instead of a boilies is the best presentation to target this fish. Understanding the above, let’s try and master the rig we will be using in catching a Catla.

Rig for Bottom Feeder:

Although I have caught Catla using many rigs, the best results comes on a Pop-up, tied like a Blow Back rig. Below is the pictorial description of my choice rig.

The choice of the split shot is the most critical part of this rig. The weight should be enough to counter the buoyancy of the cork ball and the effective weight of the combination should be almost zero. To balance the rig, drop it in a bucket of water and observe the speed at which the rig sinks. If the weight is less than the buoyancy of the cork ball, the rig will not sink. If the weight is more, the rig will sink very fast. A balanced rig will sink very slowly and settle down on the bottom with the split shot resting on the bottom with the cork hovering above it. 

The above picture describes how this rig functions. When the Catla, with its big mouth starts sucking from your feeder bait, the suction created is enough to lift the cork ball and along with it, the hook goes in its mouth. When the fish tries and spit out the cork ball, it slides on the shank and then the bare hook turns and bites on the lip of the fish. As the fish tries and get rid of the hook by vigorously shaking its head, the weight of the feeder completes the hook-up.

The complete setup is shown above. The swivel attaching the rig and the main line is pulled inside the feeder till it locks lightly. You can use Lead core behind the feeder to pin down the line but it is not essential. Sliding the feeder on the main line directly is good enough. Catla is notorious for running on the bottom and there is a high probability of feeder getting snagged. Never tie any swivel behind the feeder as in case of a snag, or even a bump, Catla can either straighten the hook or can break the line. By keeping the line free through the feeder and push fixing the swivel, this eventuality is avoided. Keeping a swivel behind the feeder is also not fish safe as in case of a breakup the feeder will not fall off and trail from the mouth of the fish.

The last thing remains is the feeder bait. I have already described the feeder baits in my previous article, Advance Feeder Baits. Here is the link to that article.

Advance Feeder Baits

I am sure, using the above setup, you will all be catching your elusive Catla and hopefully, the unsporting methods adopted to catch this fish will be discarded from the Indian Angling Community.