Coming into this adventure, my ultimate goal was to fish the entire country of Nepal and document what I saw.
Here is my epic journey – start to finish on one the best and most meaningful trips I have ever taken. If you love adventure fishing there is nothing more exhilerating than exploring new rivers in a foriegn country.
If you would like more information on my trip, or have some questions about Nepal in general please let me know and I will be happy to help.
From east to west I searched the Himalayas for cold water streams with a spey rod in hand. My time frame was two months and my journey started in a very remote town called Simikot of the Humla province.
Detained by the Nepali Army for not having proper paperwork we pleaded our case to the government and access was granted for 20 days to explore the upper Karnali River. We were dubiously told that the last travellers had all died on the path we had chosen to hike along. If we did not return within 20 days we would have to deal with arrest warrants and the financing of search parties. Upon approval, we began our 4 day hike to fish below the highest up stream water on the Karnali River.
The beautiful Himalayan landscape was breathtaking. Terraced rice fields were cut out of the mountains a thousand years ago and large, rough hewn stone huts housed the people of Humla. I fished in the towns of Gopka and Tali where the river had beautiful gravel runs but found out an impassable waterfall was still a day’s hike down river.
It was in the town of Gopka when the village elders told our translator that we are the first white people they had ever seen. At that moment reality set in. I crossed the threshold from fisherman to explorer. Marten Domanichuck, Lauren Taylor and I, Nick Karol became the first Canadians to enter deep into the Humla province of Nepal. A valley ravaged by war less then a decade ago. It was quite the experience to have people touch my skin and ask how we changed it’s colour. Ultimately, it blew our minds to know people can still discover new unspoiled lands, but I guess that is also the hopeful feeling that ties all steelheaders together.
This was an experience we did not expect. Unipani is a beautiful village about a 2 day hike down river from the Simikot airport. Blistering heat and chilly nights made life difficult. In addition, the aftershocks from the deadly earthquake was still a major concern as we traversed miles of river valley. It was in Unipani where I started to fish with the locals as they tossed nets into the river. For the most part fishing with my spey rod and net fishing left us empty handed. As it turned out, spring was not the best season to be fishing. All regional fish time their migration to the monsoons. With no prior knowledge of Asian fisheries we continued and fished on. Live and learn.
An adventure like this is bound to test you in every way. On week 2 we were stricken by sickness for days due poor drinking water conditions. It had its moments howerver, like when I found myself smoking a hukka with a local. Communicating with hand jesters he taught me how to smoke. It was beautiful, the purest form of Himalayan tobacco I had ever smoked.
While sitting by the fire sharing a bottle of apple moonshine with Marten, and smoking the hukka I asked the translator what had happened to the man’s face. The story as he told to us by the fire that night was horrible. We knew we were in a conflict zone but to see the scars of war on the faces of good people was heart breaking. The man told us he was beaten to near death by Maoist soldiers when they were caught helping children flee from conscription into the Maoist army. The man wouldn’t allow me to take a photo of his face. He had a visible scar of the butt end of a Soviet AK 47 which crushed his eye socket and flattened his nose. As the tears of war began to fall from his face, I decided to change the subject and pass the bottle of moonshine to the old man. I asked him if the Humla people liked to dance. With a chugging swig he somehow understood me and knew it was time to dance (even before the translator spoke).
For the next 3 days we healed our weakened bodies, danced and partied the nights away. After hiking 2 more days we found the town of Raha. There we saw fish in abundance but with more days of sickness upon us, we were spent, too weak and could not hike or fish anymore. Fearing the army’s warnings, we decided to go back to Simikot and try to heal our bodies. Unipani was beautiful and I will miss this wild and untouched land.
Feeling a little stronger, we took a float trip down the Karnali River, the largest tributary of the Bheri River system. During this two hundred kilometre voyage I experienced my first encounter with the Masheer. I could see the large yellow fish rolling in almost every pool down stream in the lower part of the Bheri . For the first part of the float trip, again, I found myself in horrible health. Every time the river water touched my face I became horribly sick. I spent days knocked out and lying face first in the sand. I slept for two days in the sand thinking I was going to die. I had lost 17 pounds, my body was in poor shape and yet I still made an adequate effort to swing flies. Once the worst of the sickness had passed I got to enjoy some of the most unreal water I had ever the pleasure to spey fish.
To put it in Canadian terms, the Bheri is the Thompson River of Nepal. My understanding of the Masheer is documented in my journal and all my facts are related to my visual encounters with this species. I could only describe the Masheer as wonderfully puzzling and to fish for Masheer in Nepal was a profound experience. Nepali Masheer do not spawn in the first tributaries they find in India. They choose to run up into the lower parts of the Himalayas in Nepal. This creates a genetically stronger Masheer then those that are found in the lower Ganges River. It was very difficult to take photos of the Nepali Masheer because most important was their struggle to survive and to maintain just enough energy to reproduce.
In my journal I have detailed information of where the Bheri Masheer hold. I don’t not recommend fishing the Bheri nor do I ever plan to return. Due to the sheer wilderness of the Indian landscape, being overwhelmed by water borne sicknesses, and the inexperience of the rafter guides. Our food supply was continuously soaked by river water. Due to this I do not promote rafting the Bheri River. With only a raft to exit into total isolation, there is no way to help someone who is injured. Any injury would be left to infection as you make your way back to adequate help. If you try this trip it could ultimately be your last.
The Seti Karnali tributary was much healthier, better drinking water and we experienced less tainted food. Even though the Bheri has the highest population of Mahseer you are overwhelmed by sickness which will ruin your trip. Seti Karnali was blown out so we did not spend much time on it. I wish to fish this river more in the future because it was perfect and it had credible rafting companies to help you as they better understand western fly fishing. This river is awesome in September and October. A must to fish on my wish list. The Seti Karnali is a dream come true. I didn’t land any Karnali Mahseer on my spey rod and the sick days took a toll on my body. Ultimately turning a Mahseer onto a fly is very difficult. If you want to land a fish most people had luck casting Rapalas.
Pokhara and the Madi
The Madi Nadi River just east of Pokhara was a blessing for more reasons then just fishing. This river had pure clean water where we could see Mahseer in the pools. I spent days skating flies and using my dry line in this beautiful river system. This river saved my trip. To be able to spey fish Nepali Mahseer and sleep in a 4 star hotel could be described as a good vacation. Lauren and I fished the whole river in two days. We found ourselves lost in Nepali culture even though our guide had to yell at the local boys to stop swimming with their gill nets. We spent days tossing flies into pools of Mahseer -but the only yellow fish caught came from a teenager who swam past us with his gill net floating with plastic bottles. The whole time we fished out of Pokhara we had great food and clean water, in the end we didn’t get sick. Plus to swim in a clean hotel swimming pool was amazing. For quality of life and a good time where one does not have to struggle the Madi Nadi is just an hour away from Pokhara and I have to say that is a good classic piece of water. I will fully promote the Madi Nadi as Nepal’s best spey water. Even though it is tributary of the Seti Gandaki River, the Madi flows through the cleanest part of Nepal. This river is on top of the list for return fishing trips and the run below the highway is best. So even in a third world country one can eat good food, sleep in an air conditioned hotel room, and fish in classy water. Large gravel beds with easy access to the entire river, and smaller daily runs of Masheer in perfect landscapes make this river better than most North American Rivers.
Weeks 5 and 6
Fish on! We paddled and trolled clousers flies for land locked Masheers for one week. It was a good experience. We landed a giant grass carp on a fly rod which took about 45 minutes to pull out. I gave casting lessons to locals daily and had beers on the beach, all within a ten minute walk from the hotel. Fewa Lake is Nepali fishing capital. Never come to Pokhara without a fishing rod because the Madi Nadi River is near and the Fewa Lake is full of fish. Plus the Pokhara area has many hidden streams where only Chinese fisherman fly fish for Asala (a fish that is native to all of Nepals streams and takes small flies). The Pokhara area has a lot of options but the Madi is my favorite. We spent 2 weeks in Pokhara because of hotel swimming pools and cold beers. In a land locked third world country swimming is a luxury and Pokhara hotels are wonderful. There are many boat rental companies where you can get out at five in the morning and pull flies to rising fish. Most of the local fisherman cast small Rapalas and use fish pellets to lure the fish in. At the top end of the lake a river flows into the lake, this is where we came.
Week 7 and 8.
Dolalghat Nepal, Indrawati River.
While I was fishing I saw kids down river picking up rocks out of the river, picking off the aquatic bugs that lived on the rocks, and putting the bugs into water bottles. So I reeled in my fly line, walked over to my translator (who was also my taxi driver and guide) to ask the boys why they were collecting bugs. The kids said for “matcha” which is fish in their language. Then they baited hooks tied on tenkara style bamboo rods and swung their lines into the river. It was amazing, I found the Himalayan form of ‘matching the hatch’. At that moment I felt like my whole travel experience was justified.
I searched the entire country looking for something and what I found was an unspoiled and pure form of fly fishing. These kids had no idea about modern fly fishing techniques. They only knew what their fathers had past down to them. I spent weeks fishing for only 3 Masheer and these kids were feeding their families with bags of fish. I asked the boys where they lived. They all pointed to shanty tents built in vast gardens. I looked at the homes up on the hills to see that each home was broken or basically resembled a pile of bricks. My guide explained to me that I was standing in the second epicenter of Nepal’s earthquake. I now realized why there were so many buses with foreign aid workers driving over the bridge.
While I was making morning coffee a German volunteer asked what organization I was working for. I said, “I wasn’t a foreign aid worker”. He replied, “So how were you allowed to travel to this part of the country?” My answer was simple. “I’m here to fly fish and promote Nepali tourism. During all of this unfortunate destruction and loss of life, the world needed to read about the country’s environmental assets and good hearted people. I traveled the country looking for hope.” The man said “Hope is good”, and walked back to the bus. At this point, I noticed one boy with a fish on. It was small but he let me look at. It looked like juvenile Masheer. Thinking about the immediate future I called all the boys to come over and show me all their tenkara bamboo rods. I noticed they had poor rusted hooks and old twisted lines. I told them this is where my trip ends and I want to take nothing back on the plane. I told the boys to each grab two things out of my bag and keep it. The lines and hooks were first to go. Followed by the tools, glues, tapes and aspirin. Socks were the only things left in the bag. Seeing it was 41 degrees celsius by 10 am socks were not a priority.
Three of the six boys ran home like they stole it but I smiled. One boy started to yell, “Matcha, matcha, matcha”. Another boy ran home to get his father. His father came to me and said, “Namaste my friend”, and made his son say “thank you” in English to me. I said, “I hope the boys will catch a lot of matcha for their families. This should help them with that chore.” The father said to me, “Do you know how much matcha we will be able to catch now. The boys won’t have to fight for fishing rods, line or hooks.” It was surreal, in a time of darkness fishing brought us together. It was at this moment when I ended my 2 month long hike.
It was in on the Indrawati River where I rediscovered my love for fishing and to share it with a different culture was a magnificent experience. Even though my fishing team was on the Canadian missing travelers list in Nepal we were safe the whole time. We traveled beyond what was advisable and encountered much sickness from poor drinking water and heat exhaustion. It was an experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait to come back to see where my fishermen kids are one year later. I learned that fishing bridges the gaps even in wartime or natural disasters. Marten Domanichuck, Lauren Taylor and myself, Nick Karol spent thousands of dollars assisting others during their country’s time of need. Prior to our fishing adventure as volunteers we importing tents, reunited families, handed out school supplies, health products, and tools but nothing was more important and meaningful then giving away fishing supplies to the