Propelled by shutdowns, Kashmiris ‘fish’ for pastime at Dal

Srinagar : Their eyes are fixed on the fishing line bobber, watching for the slightest hint of movement. Sitting on the pillar-studded embankment of the world famous Dal Lake, this crowd of men usually comes early with their fishing rods to try their luck.

A slew of shutdowns and curfews in the past few years have made many Kashmiris turn to fishing as a pastime. They are of varying ages, but they are united by a common interest: fish and the art of catching it.

Mohammed Ashraf, 36, a travel agent by profession, is one such enthusiast. “Hartals have made us turn to fishing as a pastime,” Ashraf said.

Sitting next to the clear waters of the Dal lake, they would be happy to lay their hands on its rich offerings of mirror carp or trout.

“To be a good angler, one needs to have patience. You should know when to pull the fishing line out of the water,” says angler Niyaz Ahmed from Shalimar while giving preliminary lessons to a first-timer on the Chashm-E-Shahi side of the lake.

At some distance, some novice anglers learn it the hard way as their impatience causes the fish to fritter away.

“You should know when the hook has perfectly pierced the mouth of the fish. You should be a good reader of your ‘penkait’ (Kashmiri for bobber) and take out the catch at the right moment,” says Muhammad Hussain.

The other anglers are staring enviously at his bag, half-submerged in water, where his enormous catch of about 10 medium-size fish frolic about. While some anglers take the fish home, others release it back into the waters.

Hundreds of tourists come to the spot for sightseeing and enjoy the delights of fishing.

For bait, the anglers prefer flour over things like chicken offal or earthworms, which are mostly used elsewhere in the Kashmir Valley. “Chicken offal and earthworms are mostly used in muddy waters. The Dal’s waters are usually clear,” says Hussain.

Hussain claims to have once caught a mirror carp weighing 7.5 kg from the Dudhganga river in Yusmarg near Srinagar.

While some anglers get a fresh fishing rod from shops at places like Dal Gate, others carry their favourite ones along every time they are out for the activity.

“It is the craft of your hand and not the cost of the fishing gear that decides your catch,” says Hussain while showing his old-fashioned fishing gear.

For many anglers in Srinagar, the most favourite place to buy fishing gear is H Goffar and Sons on the Jhelum Bund. It is also the oldest shop of its kind in Kashmir. It was established in 1849 by the great-grandfather of the present owner, Mushtaq Ahmed.

In the past, many important personalities including British Viceroys and officers holidaying in Kashmir used to buy their fishing gear from this shop.

“Even after the partition of the subcontinent, many Britons used to visit our shop to buy fishing gear,” says Ahmed.

“We have a variety of fishing gear used for catching the mirror carp, trout and the schizothorax (snow trout),” says Ahmed while showing the different brands of fishing gear available at his shop.

“My shop has fishing gear suiting customers of all tastes and financial backgrounds. While one brand of fishing gear costs just Rs.250, other sophisticated gear costs about Rs.5,000.”

“Angling tells you the value of patience and after a couple of stints with your fishing rod, you are no more the same person,” he adds.

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