de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2003). Hook, Line and Sinker. LMD. April 2003. Page 158. Volume 09, Issue 09. ISSN 1391-135X.
Exploration of the opportunity to establishing high-end sport fishing in Sri Lanka.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne joins angler Dicky Delpachitra on a troll for Barramundi

Yeeewe …. yew the reel screamed as the line played out at speed. A startled Chandrika Maelge looked up in amazement. There had been no forewarning of this strike. Dicky Delpachitra moved over to assist as Chandrika’s line was in danger of snagging on some loose play on the reel. But it was too late, the fish had gone, taking with it the bait. “A big one” said Dicky, possibly a 40 pound Barramundi. He gestured with his hands to indicate a size. “Then again” he said smiling, “fish that get away,are always bigger than they really were, getting bigger with each time the story is told”. He gestured again, his hands scooping out a larger volume of air.

We were on the Bolgoda Lake where Barramundi are found. These fish are internationally prized by anglers. Important sport fish like these maybe a key to establishing high end sport fishing in Sri Lanka. Barramundi spend a part of their life cycle in freshwater rivers but go out to sea to breed. Many of Sri Lanka’s freshwater rivers employ a traditional style of fishing known as Ja Kotu. These are a series of barriers built with sticks, which serve as catching compartments for fish and crustaceans. The sites of these Ja Kotus are handed down from one generation to another. Traditionally, the fishermen understood the importance of allowing room for fish to continue unimpeded to the sea so that breeding stocks could be replenished year upon year. However, Dicky voiced concerns that under commercial pressures that these practices are breaking down and that fish are increasingly becoming pocketed with no room to continue with their seasonal migrations. This would ultimately endanger the fish stock and the livelihoods of the local fishermen.
A well managed and commercially successful sport fishing industry could serve as a influential voice on wider conservation issues. This was one of the factors which had motivated me to bring my team to learn about sport fishing from Dicky and Viren Baddeliyanage of Palm Jardine. In the UK I had noticed that the anglers were one of the key lobbyists for conservation of water bodies. Their local and national associations would not hesitate to initiate legal action against companies or individuals who pollute water bodies. They would issue licenses and introduce fish stocks to ensure that the waters were not over-fished. Anglers have become conservationists and this was benefiting the birds, dragonflies, butterflies and a host of other wildlife.
The fish, anglers would take out, were more than compensated by their conservation efforts which ensured much greater numbers of fish had habitats of adequate quality. Would the growth of Sport Fishing in Sri Lanka, a Buddhist country, raise its share of ethical concerns. Perhaps not as anglers are a common sight, and have been for centuries, everywhere in the country. Furthermore, the fish taken by anglers are far less a threat to fish stocks than large scale losses due to pollution and other poor management practices. What about pain? The fish must be feeling pain. But anglers would argue that the fish and meat we consume at home, would also have caused pain.
Dicky cast Chandrika’s line again, well away from the boat. Viren took the boat along at a steady one knot, with three fishing lines trailing behind us. This is known as trolling. Dicky read the anxious look on Chandrika’s face. The Jack will rub the bait off against a rock, he reassured her. Dicky has caught many fish which have shown signs of having taken hooks before. He also explained how many anglers adopt a system known as capture and release. Once the adrenaline rush of capturing the fish is over with, it is released. Barbless hooks are also used. This makes it harder, but is a greater test of skill. The lines on our rods were of 5kg breaking strength, deliberately low, so that skill would have to be employed to bring the fish in.
A Whiskered Tern plunged into the water catching a fish. A pair of Purple Coot took off from the reeds fringing the shore. A flock of lesser Whistling-duck took to the air, wheeling around and uttering their whistling calls. We continued to troll, catching only the pieces of debris, which had to be cleaned off regularly from the lures. The excitement is in the ‘going fishing’ explained Dicky to Amila Salgado. “I can relate to that” replied Amila, it is a bit like going search of leopard. Sometimes you strike lucky, sometimes you don’t”.
The writer is the CEO of a wildlife and adventure travel company. He is the lead author of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Sri Lanka (OBC) and A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka (New Holland). To subscribe to his free, wildlife e-newsletter, e-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk with “subscribe wildlife news” in the message header.