Vellavali—Unique Type of Fishing in Kumarakom Backwaters
Vellavali, a method of fishing used to catch Karimeen (Pearl Spot) is common in Kumarakom Backwaters. This method requires expertise in fishing and swimming.
First, a piece of coir rope, about a km long, is shaped into an inverted U. Tender palm leaves are attached to the rope and then two fishermen tie the ends of the rope to their waists while standing in water in bright sunlight. The men then walk through shallow waters using poles. The palm leaves tied to their waists shine in the water. The light reflected from the leaves scares the Pearl Spot and they hide in the muddy areas.
At this time, expert swimmers, who have been following the two men in country boats, dive into the muddy water and catch the prized fish with their bare hands.
One of the very strange way of fishing in these region is Vellavali, and only one type of fish called, Karimeen (Pearl spot) is caught by bare hand by fishermen by this way of fishing called Vellavali. Karimeen is a popular fish and is generally found in the Backwaters of Kerala. It is a very tasty fish and usually it may grow more than 200 grams and the general size will be the size of a human palm, but it is having bones also.
Small wooden country boat is used for the fishing, and in each Country Boat 5 to 7 people will be there for catching the fish in the backwaters. They will carry minimum 3 long bamboo poles; one man will use one of the poles from the backside of the Country Boat for moving the same and others will use oars to move into the pre planned fishing spot.
They will carry a long Valli (Unique fishing equipment) of around 85 Mar (475 Feet),this Valli was formerly made up of long thick coir and the tender coconut leaf. Thousands of the same leaf after removing the mid-rib will be attached to the Valli, each leaf will have average 1 inch thickness and 2 to 2.5 feet length. This leaf will be attached with the distance of up to 8 inch. Now a day’s plastic is being used for the coir and for the leaf.
Two men will tie each end of the Valli just above their hip and will take one bamboo pole each and they will jump down from the country boat to the water and they will start their forward movement by walking, swimming or jumping with the help of the pole,and they will keep the distance of around 75 feet, thus they will drag the Valli in a U shape through the down of the water. Two to three persons will be following at the back side of the U shaped Valli, they will make sounds with their hands and legs by swimming, beating and cutting into the water.
The fish (Karimeen) which is already in the U shaped valli,by seeing the peculiar glittering colour of the leaves of the valli usually get scared and move forward to the back side of the U shaped Valli ,very fast ,but when they reach at the down of the U shaped vally,they will get further scared by hearing the artificial sound of the fishermen diving in the water and immediately they will dip into the mud,to get escaped,when it goes through the mud at the bottom of the water,because of the movements of the back fin,mud will come up in the water.The fisher men at the back ,will be watching this by diving and looking at the bottom,then the fisher men will know immediately where exactly the fish is under the mud and the fisher men will dive into the bottom of the water and with their bare hand ,using only the fingers,they will catch the fish on the head,and dive back to the surface of the water and by keeping the balance in the water by floating ,they will throw the fish into the small country boat ,which may be in the distance of 5 to 25 feet away. One fisher man will be in charge of the country boat, who will try to keep close to the divers so as to enable them to throw the catched fish from the water, very soon into the Country Boat. The divers will go back soon into underground of the water as so many fish will be dipping into the mud again and again till the drawing of the Valli stops by the first two persons. They start their fishing by 8am and stops by 2pm, usually they stop the fishing which depends upon, the climatic condition (Severe breeze & waves and also underground water should be clear, then only the divers can see the movements of the fish) and also depends upon the volume of the catch of the fish. Generally they get from 5 Kg to 20 Kg fish (30 to 120 fish)
The surprising fact is that the diving fishermen even go down up to 24 feet without any diving materials, for catching the Karimeen in this unique way.