11 Sep 2020 02:38 IST

Assam’s nets, traps and hooks for fishing

Fishing is serious business and an age-old tradition in Assam, aided by a wide range of nets, traps and baits made of bamboo and cane

Assam’s natural wealth has given it many rivers, tributaries, wetlands (beel), swamps and ponds. This makes fishing an integral part of Assamese culture. The people of the state have mostly non-vegetarian food habits, rice and fish curry being a favourite combination. Instead of buying fish from the marketplace, many in Assam like to fetch it from nearby ponds and rivers. They also practise a variety of fishing techniques using a wide range of nets and gear. Most of the gear is made with bamboo and cane, and sold at the haats (weekly markets) in villages and small towns. Villagers, especially, are adept at fishing and they sell a part of their catch at the markets.

The choice of fishing gear and technique depends on several factors: Season, shape of the waterbody and the type of fish, for instance. In Assam, community fishing is a tradition that sees villagers gather around a beel with nets and traps. On an ordinary day, people from over 20 villages come together for fishing. During festivals, the number of people can grow to thousands. This is when one gets to see the whole gamut of nets and traps in use (see illustrations) — polo, jakoi, juluki, koilengi jal, saloni and so on.

Community fishing is especially popular in the days following floods — a common occurrence in Assam during monsoon — and harvest. Men, women and children take part in it enthusiastically. On the eve of Magh or Bhogali Bihu, the harvest festival celebrated in January-February, villagers enjoy a feast dominated by dishes made with fish from the wetlands.

The varieties of fish, big and small, available in the region are innumerable, but among the more popular are borali (a kind of catfish), xol (snakehead murrel), puthi (a small freshwater fish) and bhangan (small fish of the carp family).

Fishing is not just an Assamese tradition. It is also a lifeline for the village craftsman whose only income comes from the sale of fishing gear.

Text, images and illustrations by Partha Pratim Sharma

Go fish!
  • Assam practises five methods — fishing with nets, traps and hooks, apart from fishing by filtering and dewatering.
  • Below is a list of the gear and techniques in use:
  • Nets (jal)
  • 1. Ashra jal (casting or throwing net)
  • 2. Koilengi jal (gill net)
  • 3. Parangee or tongi jal (lift net)
  • 4. Thela jal or ghokata jal (push or scooping net)
  • 5. Tana jal (drag net)
  • 6. Chack jal (round circular net)
  • Traps (fanda)
  • 1. Chepa (basket or cage trap)
  • 2. Chahara (conical trap)
  • 3. Polo (cover pot)
  • 4. Juluki (also a cover pot)
  • 5. Jakoi (conical basket)
  • 6. Bana (wall trap)
  • 7. Saloni (filter trap)
  • 8. Sunga (pipe trap)
  • 9. Dingara (box trap)
  • 10. Dalanga / jhapa (parallel barrier trap)
  • Hooks (barashi)
  • 1. Single hook
  • 2. Multiple hooks
  • 3. Line or floating hook
  • 4. Fixed hook
  • 5. Wheeled hook
  • Other tools (sajuli)
  • 1. Jathi (spear)
  • 2. Soli (harpoon)
  • 4. Konch (also a harpoon)
  • Dewatering (sicha)
  • 1. Siyani
  • 2. Tin basket
  • 3. Mechanical water pump

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