Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora), Monarch of Himalayan waters, by Sumantha Ghosh

20061012_indmahsfengenls_0474The undisputed lord of Himalayan rivers is the handsome golden-scaled highlander. Undeniably, the mahseer is one of the fiercest fighting freshwater game fish that exists. Pound for pound it had unparalleled strength and endurance. Mahseer does have a transitory likeness to the carp and the barbell of the English waters, but as they say, the similarity soon ends in the turbid waters of the Himalayan foothills.

The mahseer shows more sport for its size then a salmon and therefore considered the best sportfish in the world….this is what snobs (??) of the Raj era had to say. Mahseer have overjoyed generations of anglers and time after time lived up to being called the “Mighty Mahseer”.

A Legend: One of the fascinating narrations of Jim Corbett in his book “Man-eater of Kumaon” is about his fishing for mahseer in a river that flowed for some 60 km through a beautiful valley teeming with wildlife. The chapter titled ‘Fish of my dreams’ narrates how the air then was filled with the fragrance of flower and the spring songs of a multitude of birds. Corbett exclaimed that angling for mahseer in a sub-montane river in that atmosphere was a sport fit for the kings!

While Corbett felt that the 50 lb mahseer he had caught could be forgotten, what would remain etched in his mind was the sublime surroundings in which he had caught the fish. His description of the river and surroundings seem to bring to life the Ramganga valley of the Corbett Tiger Reserve which is till one of the few strong holds of mahseer in India.

mahseer 2A Brief: The mahseer is a freshwater fish that can attain a huge size. A 70-80 kg catch has not been uncommon in this area which boasts fish which can grow to weights exceeding 100 kg.

Most mahseer take the bait quite avidly which perhaps has helped cultivate an erroneous impression of it being carnivorous and rapacious by nature. Studies have proven that mahseer are omnivorous and take almost anything—weeds, snails, crabs and live fish. The etymology of ‘mahseer’ throws up interesting clues. The word could mean a fish with ‘Lion’s gameness’, ‘large-scaled fish’, ‘large-headed fish’ or ‘fish par excellence’!

Distribution: Mahseer inhabit most river and reservoirs of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka. Mahseer experts have recognized six to eight different species in India but no detailed information on the present status and distribution of each of these species is available. Different species of mahseer inhabit different habitats ranging from tropical water where the temperature in summer goes up to 35°C to sub-Himalayan waters where the winter water temperature drops close to 0°C. Mahseer can be found in streams a few metres above sea level and also in fast moving waters at altitudes of 2,000 m or more.

inmahuvlk003Ramganga: The mahseer species found in the Corbett Tiger Reserve is the golden variety (Tor putitora), graces the Ramganga river and weights up to 25 kgs. The biggest caught, weighed and photographed on the Vanghat beat was a 68 pounder in April 2004 by Mark Fielden from UK. Another Mahseer almost caught by Vish Satappam and George Fanthom, presumed to be over 70 lbs, literally dragged the rod away (which was later retrieved) and escaped.

Endangered mahseer: Accurate data on the catches of mahseer from different parts of the country is woefully lacking, however compression of figures from a few isolated surveys as well as observations of anglers and biologists indicate that there is a serious decline in the mahseer numbers in the country.

The decline is due to a combination of factors —unchecked and indiscriminate fishing, dynamiting and poisoning of rivers which destroys even the brood fish and juveniles, pollution and siltation of river bodies and construction of dams which has impeded the migration of mahseer, a factor crucial for its spawning. Unfortunately for mahseer, when compared to other commercial fish, it is more prone to depletion and extinction.

mahseerSpawning: A prime habitat requirement of the mahseer is clean water, which is fast becoming a scarcity. Favored mahseer spawning grounds are calm, well-oxygenated waters with a bed of sand or gravel. Journey to such grounds is fraught with risk and dangers. The fecundity of mahseer as compared to the commercially exploited species is very low. For example the Deccan or Khudree mahseer (Tor Khudree) has 6,000 eggs/kg body weight of rohu (Labeo Rohita) and 1,33,000 eggs/kg body weight of catla (Catla Catla).

The eggs of mahseer are demersal or capable of sinking to the river bed and therefore, mud instead of sand or gravel on the river bed can cause them to simply perish. The hatching period for Khudree mahseer is 60-80 hours while that of Golden or Himalayan mahseer is 80-96 hours as compared to the meagre18 hours for catla and rohu. Further, the semi-quiescent stage soon after hatching is three days for catla and rohu, while it is six days for Khudree mahseer. We can safely infer then that the mahseer is more vulnerable to all forms of decimation. If it is to survive throughout its range, there is an urgent need to plan and implement strict conservations measures.


Sumantha caught a Mahseer

Mahseer Haven: Ramganga river, where Corbett fished for his dinner, has over this century undergone a major change due to the construction of a dam at Kalagarh in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Consequently, the water in the reservoir encompasses an area of 60 sq km in summers and 80 sq km in the winter months. With the monsoons of July-August, areas around the 16 km of the river from Kalagarh to Dhikala stands inundated. Fortunately, the 32 km stretch of river a little upstream of Vanghat, (from where it enters the Corbett Tiger Reserve) right up to Dhikala, remains what it was a hundred year ago—a spectator to the abundant wildlife on both the banks. Mandal and Plain rivers, the upstream tributaries of the Ramganga, are vital spawning grounds for the Mahseer of the Tiger Reserve. Spawning usually occurs in the month of August.

One Response to “Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora), Monarch of Himalayan waters, by Sumantha Ghosh”

  1. I really find this is a great interesting subject. Never looked over this subject in this way. If you are planning to create some more articles about this subject, I definitely will return in the near future!

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