By Murali Menon
Recreational fishing on surf beaches is a popular sport in many parts of the world. Indian angling fans gather on a remote Maharashtra beach to take part in the only surf fishing competition in the country
How do you read the surf? Why is catching — and releasing — a jewfish considered more of an accomplishment than snagging a stingray? Exactly how long does it take to catch a fish? Even if you are not remotely interested in angling, the Ali Hussaini World Surf Angling Championship 2022 appears to be a salubrious way to spend time in the last week of November.
The three-day event, organised by the Mumbai-based All India Game Fishing Association (AIGFA), will be held at the little-known, infrequently visited Tondavali Beach, near Malvan, in Maharashtra. (The state government describes the stretch of sand as “generally deserted, but the soft sea breeze blows continuously, giving it a refreshing touch.”) About 150 anglers from across India are expected to congregate on the beach between November 24 and 27 to vie for the title of India’s surf fishing champion.
Surf fishing is particularly popular in America, where it was born in the early decades of the 20th century and flourished after WW II. The nine-week-long Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic, which is in its 68th year and held between October and December every year, is among the oldest competitions in the United States.
This month’s Tondavali event is the fifth angling competition conducted by the AIGFA, which claims to be the largest angling body in India, with over 22,000 members. The AIGFA, a not-for-profit charitable organisation, was started in 2006 by the late Ali Husaini, a passionate angler and environmentalist, and aims to not just promote sport fishing, but also protect the fast-depleting stock of sport fish by getting the angler community involved in the protection of water bodies in which the fish reside. “We see ourselves as a ‘league of gentlemen anglers’, and promote ethical sport fishing,” says Santosh Kolwankar, president of the AIGFA.
Over the last decade, the AIGFA has organised several competitive events, including in Ganapatipule, in Maharashtra, Chennai, and a freshwater competition in Andhra Pradesh. The upcoming competition in Tondavali is the AIGFA’s biggest event till date. Here, Kolwankar breaks down the intricacies of surf fishing for newbies such as you or us.
What, exactly, is surf fishing?
In surf fishing, you are usually standing on the shoreline or advancing slightly into the surf. You can choose to place your fishing rods in the sand and wait for the fish to pull on your line, or you could wade a bit into the water and hold your line. Distance and accuracy are important to land your bait in the surf. What you’re looking to catch is inshore fish.
And what kind of fish are we talking about? The usual fish that are found inshore are stingrays, fish from the snapper family, including the blubberlip snapper, sand shark, and trevally. And, at times, jewfish.
What are the criteria for judging the competition?
The participants will be divided into groups, which will fish from various parts of the beach. This is, of course, a strictly catch-and-release competition, and every catch will be recorded by marshalls. The catch will be judged according to the length of the fish, but other factors also come into play. Stingrays, which are pretty big, will get you fewer points than, say, a jewfish, which is relatively rare.
How does one read the surf or the beach?
A typical flat beach, preferred by tourists, is not an ideal location for surf fishing. Anglers consider the structure of a beach closely. By structure, we mean sandbars; fish use the troughs between the sandbars to travel — think of them as underwater highways. Then you have rips, which are fast-flowing currents that are created by the funnelling effect between shoals. Or, there are points, which are a part of the beach that juts out, and holes that are deeper sections of water located next to a point. Holes are where smaller fish come to feed on crustaceans and they are followed by larger fish. Plus, one looks for stretches of coastline where there is a lot of life, and by that, we mean small birds looking for prey, and crabs running around. These are all pretty much good places to cast a line.
What kind of equipment do you need for surf fishing?
You start with surf fishing rods, ideally about 10-feet long. The ideal length for Indian waters is 12 feet. Surf fishing reels should have long spools or a bait runner/ bait-feeder mechanism. A lot of people use the Shimano Baitrunner D or the Okuma Coronado. Then you have fishing lines, weights, hooks, bait, and lures, and surf fishing rigs. Indian anglers prefer the fish-finder rig.
How long usually does it take to land a catch?
That’s a tough one, but that’s what sport fishing is all about. Sometimes, it can happen as quickly as five minutes, and at others, you have to wait for hours. But you are at the beach, it’s all mostly quiet, there is a gentle breeze, so no one really complains.
Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com