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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Stilt Fishing in Srilanka- More a Tourist Attraction than fishing alternative

I first saw about Stilt fishing in Srilanka in a spicejet ad which showed that we can experience this in Hikkaduwa area. As I was drafting my Srilanka trip plan, I realized that areas popular for stilt fishing are near the cities I had planned to visit (Galle and Matara).

Stilt fishing is a unique practice seen only in Srilanka's western coast. This involves fishermen sitting on a pole erected few meters into the water, staying still with a bite and hoping to catch some fish. This method of fishing was reportedly ideated after world war 2, when most fishing boats were destroyed in war and all usual fishing spots (such as rocks in the ocean) got too crowded.After seeing the ad and reading about it I had made a mental note of exploring them during my visit.

However, eventually I forgot about it.

On our Day 1 afternoon, we met a person at the Galle fort entrance who identified himself as a staff of Archaeological department. He pulled out a torn photograph of stilt fishing and offered to take us there for LKR 1000. This sounded like a tout to me, so we walked away. Then I realized that going with him might be cheaper than taking our taxi which is 42.5 LKR per km and could have costed LKR 1500 or so for 30-40 kms ride. Then I realized that these spots where stilt fishing can be seen are enroute to our Day 2 plan which involved Matara to Galle section. So we parked this for day 2.

On Day 2, while returning to Galle from Matara, it started raining, I kept an eye open for Stilt fishing. Found a few spots but there were no one in action. Because of rains most folks had taken shelter I guess. Eventually I spotted one person in action


Our driver told us that stilt fishing today is just a tourist attraction and not a practical way of fishing. With whole day's effort one might only be able to catch a few fishes- good enough just for a meal or two and can't really make a living out of this. Thus most resort to Stilt fishing either when they are desperate for some money/food or as a time pass activity, hopping to get attention of some tourist and get money from them.

As I stopped to take above photo, a group of youngsters surrounded me asking for money. "You should give some money for fisherman's welfare" was their argument. While I was fine with paying a small amount, I wasn't sure why I should pay these guys and if the money will reach the fisherman and if the guy on the pole is indeed a real fisherman. I walked back to the car and left. A quick read of Tripadvisor forum  tells you stories experienced by various travelers- few were demanded as much as LKR 6000 (USD 50 approx) to be allowed to sit on these poles and get their own stilt fishing photo clicked.

So from what I have seen, read and understood, below is how you can experience stilt fishing in Srilanka

Option 1: Try your luck. During afternoon/evening hours, on the road adjacent to ocean, between Mirisa and Hikaduwa, you are likely to find fishermen trying their luck catching the fishes. But the sighting cant be guaranteed. It all depends on how desperately the fishermen need some more money, factors like heat/rain etc and your luck in being at the right time at the right place. We tried this approach and didn’t get too lucky. It was raining in the evening and because of that, there were no one on the poles fishing. However, we weren’t too disappointed either, as we managed to spot one person in action. I managed a few quick clicks, but if you plan elaborate photoshoot, locals won't allow unless you pay.

Option 2: Pay- If you go and stand hear the beaches where these poles are located, someone will come and approach you asking if you would like to experience this. If you are willing to offer a few thousand rupees, a bunch of people will appear from nowhere and stage a show for you. The amount depends on how rich you appear, how many people you want on the poles and how desperate the local people are for some extra cash. If you want professional looking photographs or want to sit on the poles yourself, then you might have to rely on this option

Option 3: Spend more time in interior locations: If you are very serious and can afford to spend some quality time, then do some research and plan to visit interior locations away from regular tourist route. You might find genuine stilt fishermen in action but you will need some local help be to successful (to identify the location, find/interact with fishermen etc)

Your hotel/taxi driver might be able to help more.
Above: Stilt fishing poles in Hiyare Reservoir

5 comments :

Ami said...

Ha ha...they stage a show for you. Interesting. How much do you have to shell out?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Nothing fixed. depending on how rich you look and how much you can bargain. Couple of thousand INR approx.

rupam sarma said...

Amazing , Thanks for sharing :)

Sujata Tawde said...

If only our Konkan- villagers take inspiration and fish out some dramatic activity like this Stilt fishing. Our Maharashtra, particularly the Konkan has so many breathtakingly beautiful beaches but the MTDC hardly offers any tourist attraction.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Rupam- thanks

@Sujata True- these can be tried anywhere. But it is very unlikely that anyone will catch large quantity of fishes this way