hooked to a fishy tradition…
The intermittent monsoon downpour has infused life into the water. Majestically, the water from the river and ponds has risen, overflowing into and submerging the village. Two boys lean over from a skimpy boat, while another navigates it towards greater depths. They take in a languid whiff of wet clay, a common smell in this season, grab the ends of the boat, wishing for a breeze to blow in and tousle their hair. Slowly they open their eyes. The boat stops. Had it not been for the dense mass of water hyacinth on the surface, it would have mirrored the charcoal build-up of clouds overhead. Nodding to each other, they reach out and feel the smooth foliage. And out of the blue, they grab a handful of the leaves and tug. 'Koi' fish tend to get tangled in the roots of the hyacinth, and now with the yank, half a dozen fall into the boat…
One of these boys has grown up to be Biswajit Sharkar. What started as a mere hobby turned out for him to be a life-long passion- that of fishing. "I think it all started when I was in grade four or five. My father was working for an NGO, and we had to move around a lot. It was at that time that he brought home a fishing-net. It was too big for me, but I had to give it a try. So I started out by folding the net for my convenience."
Pulling 'koi' out of the 'kochuripana' (water hyacinth) became a ritual for these children. "My uncle's home was in Gopalganj. There was more water there than there was land. So people opted for fishing- even for a living- rather than cultivation or agriculture. So, boats were not uncommon and my brothers and I used to take them out into the water. Fishing was so much fun out there. We would grab the ends of the 'kochuripana' and yank. Usually we would catch eight to ten fish at one go."
Years have passed since, but his love for fishing is still very much intact. "Although villages are the best place to fish, it is inconvenient to go out of the city so often. Fortunately, Dhaka City itself has many fishing spots to offer." Most lakes permit fishing but on a ticket basis. Popular spots include the two Airport lakes, Nikunja, Boshumati and the National Zoo. One of the places most frequented by these "fish-lovers" is the Dhanmondi Lake. But as always popularity has its downsides. Mr. Sharker notes: "I personally do not like the Dhanmondi Lake for fishing. It is often overcrowded. And with too many fishing rods, the likelihood of catching a fish is very slim."
However, there are those who disagree with this opinion. "This is a great place to fish in the evenings. You can come with friends and family, and socialize while you are at it. The greatest benefit is that it is close to my house and after a day's hard work, I am thankful to not have to push through traffic jams. It is truly a treat to be fishing here," maintains Tanvir Siddiky, another fishing enthusiast.
Another such individual, Nicolas Mondol's favourite fishing point is the National Zoo. "It is both cheap and as well as close by since I live in Mirpur. Moreover, finding a big fish in the City is difficult. If you are looking for a big catch, the Zoo is the place." He loves to unwind after a day of hard work, and joins his friends in a fishing spree.
Fishing in the urban water bodies is not free. Generally, there is a system of ticketing. The ticket prices for these spots vary widely. Bashumati charges Tk.1500 for a whole day of fishing. The lake in Shonargoan charges Tk1000, while the Zoo charges Tk.500. There is no ticketing system for the Dhanmondi Lake, and fishing is open only to members of the Association.
Getting back to Mr. Biswajit Sharkar, he had to face the most obvious of questions: 'What is so interesting about fishing? How can sitting for hours holding a fishing rod be a source of enjoyment?' He just shrugs, "There is no logical reason to like fishing. It is just fun, and once you start liking it, you are in trouble- it stays with you. But what captivates me is how a thin, frail-looking length of string can pull in fishes as heavy as 20/22 kilograms."
In reality, fishing does not involve only "sitting for hours holding a fishing rod" as the stereotypical view holds. It is a game. Like any other sports, you are required to master its finest techniques and skills. You need to know about every single species of fish like the back of your hand- what they eat, how they swim, where they feed, where they live and so on.
Catfish, for example, feeds on coarse and tough food. On the other hand, the 'Kaatol' fish never consumes the food at one go- it breaks it down till it is considerably soft. Given this discrepancy in feeding habits, the two types of fish are captured using different baits. The lures for catfish are, as a result, hard while those for the 'Kaatol' fish are softer and spongier. So it is important to keep in mind what sort of catch you are aiming at, and prepare beforehand. Also, if you are going to any particular fishing spot, it is necessary to know the different types of fish that can be found there. Not only are the baits different for different types of fish, the method of the catch would also vary. The 'Telapia' does not take in the lure. It makes its home in shallow water, and feeds nearby. It has to be caught directly by the hook, thrown into its feeding ground. There are also many tactics with the fishing net that one can employ. These nets vary in size, shape and design- to suit different levels of water. In Cox's Bazaar, the schools of 'bhaata' fish prefer to skim the surface of the waves. So, they have to be caught with the net being pulled in the direction of the flow. Pulling the net against the flow in this case would break it.
When asked to take a walk back down the memory lane, Mr. Sharker recalls: "In Pabna, the land is high, so there is not much water there most of the year. But in the rainy season, water overflows from the 'Cholon Beel' and draws in many types of fish. We used to set up fishing nets all over the water, with their ends tied to bamboo poles. I was sitting by the water waiting for a catch when a small bird flew in and sat on one of the poles. I was jolted from my reverie when I felt a tug on the net and swam up to see my luck. The water was so deep that it reached up to my chest. All of a sudden, the huge 'bowal' fish that I thought I had caught leaped up into the air, swallowed the bird whole, and swam away. The fish must have been at least 10 kilograms. It left me there, completely awestruck."
And his biggest catch? "It was a 22 kg 'kaatol' fish. I caught it in the National Zoo, along with six other large catches (all of which were above 15 kg!). I took it home, but it was too big to make pieces at home. So, I had to take it to the bazaar. I asked the fishmonger to cut it up for me. He himself was overwhelmed by the size, and offered me Tk.1000 to sell it to him. Of course, I refused. After all, it was the product of a lot of patience and hard work. But in the end, I left several pieces for him to consume."
Faced with the question: 'why fish?', Mr. Mondol responded, "I just fish, because I like it. But the most thrilling aspect of fishing is when a fish takes your bait and you demonstrate your expertise. You need to manoeuvre the fish and bring it to the shore."
One of the intriguing aspects of fishing is the preparation of fish-food as bait. There is a wide range of food fishes like- ant eggs, dried up plants and foliages, "khoil", grounded seeds, etc. Often crushed biscuits are stored in with biriyani for a week, such that the mixture rots. Then, it is combined with ant eggs, rice grains and the other materials to 'cook up' the food. Different combinations are used for different fish.
Fishing used to be a much practiced tradition in Bangladesh even a decade ago. These days, as we move towards a modern, workaholic life on the fast lane, we have less and less time for such fun-filled activities. We are working hard, doing over-time, sleeping over more and more at the office. But it is important to escape this life once in a while. Perhaps we can all become lover of this game of fishing, sitting on the edge of a lake, dangling our feet, holding a fishing rod and waiting…
By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky