Series 3 - Episode 10: India and the Maldives

Episode 10: India and the Maldives

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Tue 20:00 28 Oct

As he arrives in the city of Kochi on the south-west coast of India, Robson has high hopes for this leg his journey. “I can’t wait to discover what treats lie in store for me,” he enthuses. The fishing starts immediately in the medieval port town of Old Kochi, where local fishermen continue to use a technique introduced in the early 15th century.

Known as Cheena vala, the system involves giant cantilevered wooden structures attached to large nets. Working from the shore, the fishermen lower the nets into the water with the aid of ropes and stone counterweights, then bring the nets back up after just a few minutes in the water.

Robson’s first attempt at Cheena vala fishing lands him a few tiddlers, including tiny catfish, sardines, baby tigerfish and an unusual-looking frogfish. After a few more tries, Robson accompanies his guides to market to sell the day’s catch. “It’s a great team effort,” he says. However, while the Geordie seems competent at landing the fish, he is less experienced when it comes to trading.

In the end, he sells the entire catch for a measly 20 rupees, but promises to make up the difference from his own wallet. “I’ve clearly got a lot to learn about selling fish in this country!” he reflects.

That evening, Robson gets the opportunity to brush up on his acting skills when he takes part in a kathakali performance – a mix of dance, drama and music. Once suitably kitted out in colourful costume and makeup, Robson takes on the role of a small female fish and performs a bizarre dance in front of a bemused audience.

The following morning, the intrepid angler embarks on a fishing trip from the popular Alappuzha resort. Robson’s quarry on this occasion is the helicopter catfish, a giant, aggressive freshwater predator. A local guide takes his Geordie guest out onto the river in a luxurious wooden boat, but the fish are nowhere to be seen. After hours of fishing, the pair have caught nothing for dinner and must rely on the wares of a passing fisherman. “I have seen some prawns in my time, but none that size!” says Robson as he buys a kilo of huge crustaceans. But these giant decapods are the closest Robson comes to a fish all day. In fact, after two days spent in Kerala with his guide, Robson nets nothing.

Hoping for a change of fishing fortune, Robson heads off to the Maldives. Upon arrival at the beautiful Hanifaru Lagoon, he gets straight into his snorkelling gear and is soon swimming amongst 20ft manta rays. “That has to be one of the most mind-blowing sights I’ve ever seen,” he says. But the treats are not over for Robson, as he returns to the water just in time to witness a vast whale shark drifting by. “That’s got to be a good omen!” he says.

However, Robson’s optimism does not last long. The next two days bring with them a rare spell of terrible weather, during which it would be too dangerous to go out to the open ocean. Robson joins local expert Atif, but only manages to land a small grouper on a miserable trip to the nearby reef.

Refusing to be beaten by the rain, Robson returns to the water with Atif on the last day of his trip and determines to stay out until he has caught a good fish. “This weather is not going to beat me!” he says.

It takes time, but Robson’s resolve eventually pays off when he brings in a beautiful red snapper. “They’re coming – at last!” he yells. Will this brightly coloured specimen signal a change in Robson’s luck?

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