A Fishy Childhood Tale: A Close Encounter with Giant Snakehead

Written by Ranjeet Kumar Sahani

It was August, 1996; I was six years old then and used to live with my grandmother in a village called Ghataha in Darbhanga district, Bihar. It was a sunny afternoon with wind gushing from all directions when I reached Anhari Pokhair (The Pond of the Blind lady).I had come prepared with my fishing rod made of bamboo stick and bait of apple snail and earthworm in a leaf pouch of water hyacinth. The pond was covered with Makhana (Euryale ferox) plants with other aquatic plants in between such as water hyacinth and algal blooms.

My uncle Kamalu, who lived in my neighborhood, had already reached the pond and was fishing with a strong and long fishing rod using an agile live frog as bait. He was hanging the bait over the nest of a Giant Snakehead (Channa micropeltes) with great patience. Careful not to the disturb him; I walked around the pond with my fishing stick. I lowered the fishing hook with my bait in the space between the two Makhana leaves and splashed it a couple of times to attract any hidden fishes. In a fraction of seconds, one fish took my bait and started pulling it beneath the Makhana leaves. I was thrilled due to sudden pull on the fishing stick and rapidly pulled the fishout. My first catch of the day was a big Goroi (Channa punctata).

It was a very good start to the day. I made one Gatha (string of grass for hanging the caught fishes) and hung my fish catch. I then prepared my hook with the bait and started casting it into water through gaps between the Makhana leaves. The bait was taken yet again but as I was pulling it back the fish fell on the Makhana leaf and disappeared into water. It was a big Perch (Anabas testudineus). While I was gearing up for my third attempt, I saw my uncle pulling his fishing rod. He hadn’t caught any fish yet.  I wondered why people waste their time waiting for big fishes when they can catch smaller ones like I do but it was his choice. I started my search for fish again.

As I passed through the corner of the pond, I found a nest of Goroi (Channa punctata) close to the bank in between the floating water hyacinth. Immediately it struck me that if the nest was there, the hungry parents must be close by.  I quickly and cautiously cast my bait and splashed it in the water for sometimes. There was no movement. Perhaps someone else had caught one of the fishes. I was about to withdraw my bait when I felt a heaviness on the thread. It was a signal that a fish had taken the bait, and so I pulled the hook quickly towards the bank. The fish flew in the air and then landed some 20 m away from the bank. The ground it fell on was covered with thick grass. I ran to find it before it disappeared into the grasses. It was a big Goroi (Channa punctata), about 25 cm and weighing 150 g, the biggest I had ever seen or caught.

I had now covered almost half the periphery of the pond, and I noticed my uncle still at the same place, splashing his bait over the nest of the Giant Snakehead. I continued fishing, my next catch being a medium sized Singhi (Heteropneustes fossilis). I was really thrilled with my success that day, as the fish I had caught were quite big. I went on to catch three smaller Goroi and one Chenga (Channa gachua). I was nearing the place where my uncle was waiting for his big catch. This time, he whispered to me and warned me to be quiet in order to not disturb the fish, who might then abandon the nest. I followed his instructions and went close to him.

He told me that the fish tried to snatch the bait two to three times but he couldn’t pull it out successfully. I decided to wait there for a while to see him catch the big fish. While we waited, I told him about my fish catch and he lit a bidi to smoke. But the very next moment, he noticed some movement in the water and ran towards his fishing rod, throwing his half-finished bidi away. The fish caught in the hook was so big that it started pulling him into the water. My uncle was no less powerful. He collected his strength and managed to pull his catch onto land.

I was stunned on seeing it; it was about 80 cm (2.6 foot) in length and weighed around 7 kg. Even my uncle had not expected that he would catch such a huge Giant Snakehead. While we were celebrating the catch, we saw that the fish had started sliding towards the water. We both ran after it and somehow managed to pull it back over the land to a safer place. I was shaking as if I had seen the devil in bright day light. My uncle was more worried that the fish would slip back into the water. It was hard to believe as none of us were expecting this catch from such a small pond. I felt both excited and scared at the same time, because as a child I had heard about churrail (water demon) taking the form of different animals. I kept thinking that it might be that water demon appearing as a big fish, but I didn’t worry too much as my uncle was with me.  Now we had the task of carrying the fish to the village. It was very slippery, and so my uncle rolled the fish into a cloth, and hoisted it onto his shoulder. I trailed behind him in amusement, wondering how I would control such a big fish if I happened to catch any in the near future.


A Basketful of Fishes

About the author:

Ranjeet Kumar Sahani joined the ATREE PhD programme in 2013. His ongoing study is on Floods and Environmental Justice in North Bihar. He is looking at contextual vulnerabilities of historically marginalized communities in the Kosi Sub-basin. He is extremely passionate about fishing.


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