First Catch


I remember the jade green turbulence

Of the river Beas up in the Kullu valley

The summer I turned twelve and discovered rainbow trout.

When papa showed us how to bait the hook

And cast way out and stand on the rocky river bank

Making sure we didn’t stand in it as he did, knee deep in the water.

But on the side, waiting for the tug on the line

On my forefinger held against an already taut string.

Not for us the expensively bought silver flies

Imported from the UK because they didn’t make them here

And children learning to fish could so easily lose them

The Beas is a hungry river and runs almost as quick as thought.

And yet, we learnt to feel the fish as it nibbled squirmy worm

Painstakingly threaded onto the hook

Papa did that because the hooks might hurt our soft girls’ hands.

Stand still and quiet not a word, not a breath

The fish can hear us and will swim away

Instead look at the pines and the deodar silver green

Climbing silently up the Himalayan hillside smirking at us.

We watched them in the hush of nothing but the rushing river

And learnt to feel each breeze, listen to the birds

And the crickets in the growing evening light

And pay no heed to the insect that’s biting my thigh

A stern look from papa because I scratched

And then that creeping thrill when I first felt that other nibble

The one at the end of the line, different from the impatient tug of the river

The rainbow trout was having his last meal.

Tug, tug and reel it in, not all at once but slow

In the excitement I could wait no longer and pulled it all

Rod, line and fish arching over my head in a kaleidoscopic glitter

It caught the setting sun as it flew overhead scattering

Beas water clear as diamonds that came showering down on me

The trout landed on the grass behind

I ran to catch it

Papa at my heels – when did he reel in his line?

Now he was near me so that I wouldn’t try to get my trout off the hook.

Our first catch of the day was all of six inches long

And it was mine.

Palpitating gills and wide eyes.

We put it in a bucket of Beas water to keep it fresh

Later mama fried it along with the others we caught

Right there on the riverside in a pan on the primus stove

Everyone had a bit of my trout

The best fish I ever tasted, salted with success.

Note: The Beas is a river in the northern part of India that rises in the Himalayas and flows for some 470 km (290 miles) to the Sutlej River in the Indian state of Punjab.

Kullu, where my father took us on several fishing holidays, is located on the banks of the Beas River in the Kullu Valley. This valley, formed by the Beas, lies between two cities – Manali and Largi – and is famous for its majestic hills covered with Pine and Deodar Forest. Today, The Kullu valley promotes itself as a popular destination for trout fishing.  It is also the starting point of several trek routes into the Himalayas, white water rafting on the Beas river is also becoming popular. Back in the early 1960’s it was relatively undiscovered and as far as I recall, there weren’t any suitable hotels and so we camped in tents higher up the hill and walked down to the river every day in order to fish.


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