Meet India’s Best Ethical Angler Derek D’Souza
Angling as a sport may well be a little-known pastime in our country but has a rich global culture of significant historical value. Angler Fishing, or angling, is a method of recreational fishing by means of employing an “angle” or fishing hook, attached to a fishing line and rod. We had the unique opportunity to sit down with our nation’s very own Angler Man, Derek Dsouza- prominent fishing expert and the face of Indian angling on the global stage.
Born and raised in Bangalore, Derek’s earliest memory of angling extends back into the days of his childhood when at the age of four, he was carted off to his grandparents’ home in Mangalore. Their house, which was situated on the banks of a brackish water river, was the ideal childhood retreat, where he spent his days swimming and climbing trees.
On such an occasion, Derek recalls a fishing trip with his uncles, who provided him with a rod fashioned from Bamboo, complete with a piece of line attached with a hook at the end. Though a young lad at the time, Derek fondly remembers his first successful catch- a catfish, drawn to his hook by bait made from small shrimp and fish.
It was this loss that fueled Derek’s immense respect for the fish, and for the formidable power that they hold. An urge to take on larger-scaled expeditions, and to catch big-game fish was ignited within him, and his life would never be the same. Today, Derek is a man of many titles, including, but not limited to Regional Director of The Mahseer Trust Board of Trustees, India Representative of International Game Fishing Association (IGFA), and Vice President – Environment for the All India Game Fishing Association (AIGFA).
Derek says, “India is blessed with a long coastline and a number of water bodies. All these bodies hold fish. Our only problem is the regulations, which do not exist on a large scale. Once these issues are ironed out, I believe it can be one of the most popular outdoor activities in the nation, as this is the only activity where people of all age groups and any group size can participate.
Angling in India
While the sport of angling is still at a nascent stage in its development in the country, subsistence angling has existed here for a long time.
Derek says, “We are in a continuous process of promoting the sport in India for all ages, we conduct and sponsor over 8 regional and local competitions every year and at least one to two national competitions. We also conduct over 10 workshops for new anglers, and conduct children’s camps to induct children into the sport.”
The angling industry in the United States is estimated to be worth 180 billion dollars, with the figure standing at 80 billion in Canada and 70 billion in the UK alone. The Indian industry, in comparison, is still in its infancy, without effective regulations and infrastructure in place to support its growth.
The sport of angling comes with many unexpected encounters, sometimes bordering on the dangerous and frightful. Besides the fish and the people have once been likely to come across, there are also snakes and scorpions that find their way into sleeping and travel bags, and angry bees and wasps lurking around vegetation. Besides Mother Nature’s periodic roadblocks, there is always Lady Luck to blame.
Derek declares, “From missing flights to stuck cars, from bad roads to landslides, it’s always a crazy experience. One such occasion comes to mind when we drove for over 72 hours to reach a spot where we thought we will catch some big fish, only to catch three small fish for an entire 8-day program!”
The Ethical Angler
Though most anglers employ the catch-and-release method of sport-fishing, there are many misconceptions that stem from the act, including the idea that the sport is painful to the fish, and that angling could lead to the decimation of a species.
“There are several theories about fish feeling pain due to the hook, as well as theories that contradict the same, but the basic logic is this- if the fish feeds on urchins, crabs, shrimp, and other fish, and also lives close to rocks and thorny bushes, they are likely to be resistant to pain in the lip area. As sports fishermen, we ensure we use equipment that ensures hookup in the mouth region, which is like our cheek cells and heal very fast.”
“With angling, it is impossible to target one particular species, which means in an area where you fish with several species, we can’t target only one type of fish to catch. Even if an angler do make away with all the fish that he can catch, it is still lesser in comparison to the commercial trawlers, which wipe out all the species at a time, and also in instances of discriminate killing that employ the use of dynamites, poisoning and electrocuting the fish.”
An advocate for the conservation of species, Derek was the first Indian member and trustee of the Mahseer Trust, a foundation that aims to conserve the dwindling global population of the Mahseer. Working alongside teams of stakeholders, scientists, conservationists, communities and anglers, the objective of the trust is to advance scientific knowledge of Mahseer taxonomy, biology, and ecology. The global decline in the Mahseer population can be attributed to such factors as changes in air and water quality, riparian habitat, habitat loss, forest cover loss, and indiscriminate killing.
With a large head, a distinct fold of flesh below the lower lip, the brightly scaled, multi-coloured finned mahseer is an attractive catch. It is also a fierce warrior, having a reputation for leaving anglers with broken rods and snapped lines.
A Pastime for the Patient
The requirements for a fishing expedition are few, with the only necessary equipment being a rod, reel, hook, line, and sinker, available for purchase at most sports’ equipment retailers. More specialised equipment required to target a particular species, like the Marlin fish, may be a little harder to come by in India, but are still available for those with the initiative to look.
Derek’s company, Pelagic Tribe, was started by three angling enthusiasts from Bangalore, and offers the best selection of fishing tackle brands in the world, supplying their products to wholesalers, dealers and retailers across the nation. Their goal is to promote the sport in India by increasing awareness, as well as make it accessible to the public by means of building a trusted network that connects industry professionals and sellers across the nation.
“Everyone should fish, only then would they realize the importance of fish. Fish are the most ignored species on this planet- if you don’t see it, you don’t care. The only way for people to learn about species of fish, other than the food-species and the aquarium-species, is to catch them. The good thing about this is, you can catch them, observe them, and safely release them back into the wild.”
-Derek, on why more people should try their hand at the sport
Known to enrich lives, angling could promote the youth of our nation to spend more time outdoors, than on electronic devices.
“You learn about nature, your observation skills improve, your dexterity improves, you become more aware of your surroundings. Patience is the key to angling, demanding stillness and attentiveness.” Derek adds, “The more time you spend angling, the more you will learn about fish.”
The images used in this article are courtesy of Derek Dsouza.
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