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What is a Mahseer?

By Angie Bates
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Part of the carp family, mahseer is the general name for several species of fish from the genera Barbus and Tor. These fish are primarily found in rivers and lakes in India and southeast Asia. Mahseer, particularly the golden variety, are prized by sport fisherman and are considered the premiere catch in India. Many anglers come from around the world to catch these fish.

With powerful jaws and large, thick scales, mahseer can be up to 6.5 feet (2 m) in length and weigh 200 pounds (90 kg). One of the largest fish in India, mahseer are bottom feeders, with large, fleshy lips. They are omnivorous, eating mostly plant matter and insects. The young start out more herbivorous and increase their predatory behavior as they grow.

These fish resemble a salmon more closely than they do the European species of carps, however. In fact, British fisherman often call them Indian salmon. The term "mahseer" may either be derived from the Hindi words maha and sir meaning "great head" or from the Persian words mahi and sher meaning "fish lion."

Mahseer are strong, fighting fish that give sport fisherman a challenge. Fishing in a boat is best as the large fish like the strongest waters, which are generally found closer to the center of the river. The powerful fish have been known to pull fisherman into the water, and some anglers may need to jog along the river bank during the fish's initial charge to prevent being pulled into the river. Live or dead bait works for these fish.

The golden mahseer, Tor putitora is the most popular mahseer and the most popular game fish in India. These fish like fast flowing, rocky waters, and are seen frequently around the Himalayan foothills. Unfortunately, because of their extreme popularity as sport fish, the tendency of poachers to catch them in nets for mass commercial sale, and the creation of dams in their habitats which restrict their migration, this mahseer has been in danger of extinction since 1992.

Measures have been taken to prevent the extinction of these fish, however. Poachers are often rehabilitated and employed as guides and guards, which helps prevent further poaching. Additionally, catch and release programs have been implemented, replacing the previous catch and kill style of fishing that used to be prevalent in India. Also, the Coorg Wildlife Society (CWS) has been continually stocking mahseer in the Karnataka area, a popular fishing spot, since 1993, in another conservation effort.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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