The quest for a perfect Barra: (Part-1)
The quest for a perfect Barra: (Part-1)
My fascination with Barra dates back to my first salty trip with Freddie Divecha a few years back. It was not that I was unaware about this fish and had even heard many a stories about this elusive and beautiful fish and its fighting characteristics. As we were trolling, Freddie as the captain of boat and I on the wings with Wayne, I hooked into something which took off like a rocket and then I saw the most wonderful sight of my life, a fish tail walking on the surface, spraying water around it, directly attached to my line. Amongst the general excitement and shouts of Channack, Channack, by all and sundry (As Barra is called here), and instructions from all present on the boat not to allow the fish to jump out, I managed to control the fish which was heading towards the rocks. The fight lasted for an eternity (Only few minutes) but I did bring the fish in. Freddie was holding the landing net and asked me to bring the fish a bit closer. As I was maneuvering the fish it dived in for a short while. Brought it up again and as Freddie was going to net it, it got unhooked! I saw the most beautiful fish of my life, looking like a streak of gold in the clear water, bathed in the early rays of sun, going away from me, leaving me dumbstruck and hollow. The only word I managed to utter was ‘Fredd, what did I do wrong’ and to the amusement of every one present on the boat, I kept on repeating the same words, what did I do ‘wrong’. Freddie, the true friend he is, tried his best to console and cheer me but for me the trip was ruined. Little did I realise that a singular encounter with this fish and a bout of depression will turn into a blooming love affair which will bring me out of my methodical and patient ways of carp fishing to a wild hunt for catching my perfect Barra.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was busy developing a method to target Catla (Catla catla) at that time and did not get any opportunity to indulge in salt water fishing. All my mind and energy was devoted to catch a specimen Catla, hitherto believed an impossible fish to hook in the mouth but somewhere in the corner of my heart lurked the image of the most beautiful fish, swimming away from me. A year passed and I did develop my method and caught my specimen Catla and had almost forgotten about this fish when another catch of this fish brought about the itch to go after it once again.
Rajat Mukherjee, like me a novice in the lore of saltwater fishing then, and I decided to take a break from the rigorousness of Carp fishing and indulge in some saltwater fishing for a change. We explored a few general spots, interacted with a few locals and finally chanced upon a spot which was said to produce some good Barras and Ravas (Indian Salmon). As hardened bait anglers, we cast out our rods, and waited patiently for a strike. As we were sitting there, chatting with some friendly locals, suddenly there was a commotion and some locals started pointing toward the sea, shouting ‘feeding-feeding’. As we glanced toward the general direction, I saw a white streak moving on the surface and many small fish flying around it. Fortunately, during my stay in Himachal, I had learnt the art of casting to target Mahseer from a very old gentleman guide from the British era and had some spoons with me. Santosh, a master by then in saltwater fishing had also explained in detail, during our long chat during the time spent in Powai Lake, the way to intercept a predator feeding on the surface. Though I had few lures in my collection at that time, I was more confident in my ability to use spoons. Hurriedly assembling my rod I ran over a treacherous outcrop of rock and taking a strong foothold on the slippery rocks, cast out my spoon. To my experience and knowledge till then, everything was perfect about the cast and retrieve except that the fish madly feeding by now, did not find it appetising enough to attack it. Waited for a moment and as I saw a mullet breaking surface, re-casted the spoon and retrieved it. Nothing again! I did cast out again and again but without any result. Till now I was oblivious to the happening in my surrounding and constant cheering of locals but suddenly realised someone standing beside me. Rajat had also assembled his rod by now and had managed to reach the outcrop I was standing. He had rigged a X-rap black silver and as the fish was not taking my spoon, I snatched the rod from his hands to try the lure but then realised the folly and un-sporting intent of my action and returned the rod asking him to cast his lure just beyond the feeding and retrieve it slowly. In the excitement of the moment, he forgot to open the bail arm and as he cast out, the lure circled dangerously close to my head. I implored him to take his time and a deep breath before casting and sat down beside him. As he cast out I saw the lure flying towards the general direction, splashing on the surface and as the lure went under water, a white streak moved towards it and then his rod lurched forward in an ark and with a mighty pull, Rajat set the hooks. It was a short fight as Rajat dragged the fish onshore and within no time, we were standing quietly, shivering with excitement and gazing at the most beautiful fish with colour of molten silver and amazing yellow eves. The slight longing in my heart to meet this beauty till then had turned into a burning desire by now.
Next few months passed by gleaning information and collecting all bits and sundry, supposedly required to target a Barra. During this period, I did try in spurts, off and on, many places which were reporting some good Barra action. Many a nights were spent beside a promising jetty or on extremely treacherous rock formations but this fish was refusing me the pleasure of a joint photo shoot. During this period of chase I did manage to latch into three good barras but lost them all after a brief display of aerial dancing! To rub salt on the wound, while fishing with Santosh and some other friends, trolling near a fort with some promising rocky formation, I hooked into a good Barra only to lose it within seconds and as I was standing rueing the loss of a good fish, Santosh hooked another one and landed it comfortably!
It was not that I was not catching any fish during this period but my quarry was giving me slip after slip, inducing a sense of frustration and self doubt in my ability to land this fish ever!
Finally my tryst with this elusive creature did happen, not very far from the place it had all started. I was trolling the same stretch of water where I had lost my fist Barra, this time with Javed Ansari, who was trying his hand on Indian Salt Water fishing for the first time, when the unthinkable happened. Santosh was also to join us on that trip but due to some unfortunate circumstances, he could not. As he was aware about my predicament, and as a true friend and gentleman, he very thoughtfully had given his lucky lure, a Halco Fluoro pink Sorcerer for me to use.
After a very disappointing session, where we did not catch any fish, I switched to the lure given by Santosh. Biswas, our boat man, a daredevil when it comes to inshore trolling had taken the boat dangerously close to a very promising rock formation and as the boat was sliding past the rock, a Barra took my lure! Till now, I had abandoned my practice of playing a saltwater fish and instead formed an opinion, rightly or wrongly, to yank it as soon as possible. I was using a Shimano TLD, paired with a very stout rod and the poor bugger did not even get a chance to run before I brought it close to the boat. Javed was holding the landing net, in anticipation of netting the surfaced fish when suddenly, in a last attempt to free itself the Barra jumped and landed in the landing net itself!
My First Barra which landed itself in the Landing Net!
I was ultimately holding the fish, which has given me many sleepless nights. The malaise and self doubt, created by the inability to land this beauty was weighing too much on my mind and after catching the beauty I was immensely relived and happy. This catch was like a soothing balm to my bruised and battered ego.
Indeed I was happy and relieved, but to say I was also satisfied will not be correct. The first Barra I had lost had given me a glorious fight. The ultimate thrill of guiding a powerful and determined fish through snags and prolonged song of an unwinding reel were completely missing here. Due to my desperation to catch a Barra, the tackle I had used was not appropriate and the first thing I did after this catch was to scale down my tackle considerably. Unfortunately I was not able to hook any other Barra on that trip but did enjoy some good fight by other fish on a light tackle. With the absence of desperation, and few catches of good fish on light tackle, the wrongly forced habit of yanking all saltwater fish was wearing off and I was once again enjoying the true fight of a running fish.
My next chance to come face to face with this wonderful creature came after a few months when I was fishing a sand bar bang on the estuary mouth with Scott Richardson. We had observed this lovely spot previously while driving past it on a previous trip and had decided to explore it on a later day. The whirl pool adjoining the narrow mouth of the estuary had seemed like a very good ambush point for predator fish and we were sure to catch few good fish from there.
The tide was to turn in the evening and it was our plan to intercept the fish after dusk, as these predators’ move up, chasing bait fish. The only problem in spinning from the beautiful sand bar was an overhead electric wire and as we reached there, the first thing we did was to mark it. It was a moonless night and as the sun went down the horizon, the rising tide started pushing water inside the estuary and along it came lot of bait fish. We were amazed to see lot of flying fish also moving upstream along with hoards of bait fish. It was time to start spinning and within no time both of us were lost in the rhythm of spinning, cast out, take the slack, twitch the rod tip, retrieve slowly, twitch again, pause and retrieve. With every passing minute, the fast rising water was pushing us back. As suggested by Scott, I was changing my lure after every few cast. It was after an hour or so when I randomly picked up a Yozuri Green Mackerel and after rigging it casted out. As I was reeling in, suddenly my lure stooped, as if stuck on a rock and as I struck, my rod lurched forward and the reel started screaming. Within no time Scott was standing beside me, uttering soothing words as I fought the fish on the business end of my line. As the fish had performed few aerial displays after hook up, I knew it to be a Barra. After two or three strong runs, the fish was tamed and landed with ease.
Although a much smaller specimen than my first catch, this catch was much closer to my heart. For its size, the fish has fought commendably and was more satisfying to me. To further my joy I caught another smaller Barra that night but on a different lure, Bomber Red & White.
Before coming on this trip, many friends have described the virtue of catching a Barra from shore and true to their description, catching these two fish from shore was really an exhilarating experience. Though we were not able to land any big fish for the rest of the trip, I was convinced about the potential of this spot. Next day, as we were breaking camp, I was already making plans for the next trip.
The time when I caught these Barra was new moon, and within a month and a fortnight I was once again standing on the same spot, this time with Rajat and Hakeem. It was full moon and the spring tide was very high, leaving us a very small window to spin from the edge of the sand Bar. Rajat wanted to explore some bait fishing from a promising hole adjoining the mouth of the estuary and as the night approached, Hakeem and I found ourselves spinning in the whirlpool created by the water gushing up through the choked mouth of the estuary. It looked like a big shoal of small Barras had decided to feast upon the disoriented bait fish as they were being washed away by the strong current created by the now fast rising water. We got many hits and I managed to land a few small ones within an hour or so. Though the fish were still hitting, we had to beat a hasty retreat as now it was not safe to stand and fish from the spot due to the high tide.
Next day was spend exploring few other spots and a boat ride up the estuary, in anticipation of catching some fish from the fringe of mangrove forest spreading over miles along the banks of this estuary.
I had watched many videos of good fish being caught by spinning from a drifting boat towards the shoreline and was fascinated to see the Barra attacking the precisely casted lure being attacked by from under the mangroves. Till now I had gained sufficient proficiency to present my lure on the very edge of overhanging branches of the mangroves. As we drifted with the current, I casted toward both banks but to no avail. Tired after some time, we also tried some bait fishing in very promising spots but did not get any bite. The boatman, wise in the ways of local condition blamed the absence of any fish on the Otters, which we had observed previously, playing on the surface near the bridge on the estuary.
We were a bit disappointed but not unduly worried as the main aim of our trip was to target a good Barra from the mouth of the estuary. Once again, as the red ball of sun was beginning to sink in the sea, we were standing on the very same spot, rods in hand, in anticipation of the bait run to start.
It so happened that another group of anglers from Pune landed on the same spot for some fishing. Except for Atul Chavan, all the other members of the group were green horns and as a precaution I warned them to be aware of the overhanging electrical wire and further requested them not to make undue sounds or shine their torch, even if one of us hook a fish. One particular young boy from the group was fascinated to learn that I had caught a few Barras the previous night, requested me to whistle in case I hook any as he wanted to witness the fight. It was time to start spinning and accordingly we all took our positions, keeping a safe distance from each other. As I was spinning, this enthusiastic boy was coming again and again to me to inquire whether I had hooked a Barra or not and to remind me to whistle in case I do so!
It was the fourth or fifth time that he had approached me to inquire regarding any hook up and politely asked me with what lure I had caught all my Barras yesterday and was I using the same lure. Now a bit frustrated, I mumbled out that my previous catches were on a Jointed Rapala but right now I was using a Yozuri Blue Mackerel. Aghast at my stupidity, the boy started extolling me to change my lure to the tried and tested one. Now thoroughly annoyed, I once again casted out and did something wrong because as my lure flew out, I felt bird nest on my line passing through the guides. Putting the rod tip down, I was feathering the line through my fingers as I was reeling in to locate the bird nest when a brute of a Barra decided to take my lure. The line was yanked through my fingers and the next moment saw a white shape flying on the surface. Knowing that bird-nest had formed on my line and fearing that the line will give away from the knot created by the bird-nest; I loosened the drag of my reel completely.
By now my meticulously imparted instructions, in the heat of the moment were forgotten and the boy standing beside me was shouting hoarse for everyone to run as I had hooked a Barra! Within no time I was surrounded by a hoard of excited anglers, chattering excitedly and shining their torches all around.
The fish, without any drag was giving extraordinary runs and the line was ripping out of the reel for prolonged periods, making the onlookers more and more excited. Within no time the fish had taken almost 200 meters of line and fearing it will empty my reel I very gently increase the drag.
Basically I am a cool customer in handling the confusing emotions during a fight but the surrounding charged atmosphere and excited exclamation of ‘still running’ - ‘still running’ had started affecting my otherwise calm composure and I too was becoming pretty excited! With a slight shivering and increased respiration, associated with such condition of mind, I somehow managed to control the fish. Surprisingly I do not recall the complete fight except that I had to pull the fish from a long distance as a dead weight and I too was shivering uncontrollably when the fish was ultimately netted.
There was still time left to target some more fish but somehow I was not feeling any urge to try any further. After shouts of congratulations all around I walked away quietly and sat down beside the water. In that hour, I was a satisfied person, sitting quietly listening to the incessant waves crashing on the shore and watching a green horn youngster, spinning earnestly from the spot I was spinning, with the same passion and intensity, I was doing a few minutes ago. As I watched the lure flying out from the rod tip of the boy, I was smiling, knowing another love affair with this fish was blooming in someone else’s heart. I was also happy to see another Angler in making.