Stilt Fishing in Weligama, Sri Lanka

This is no ordinary fishing, there might be several methods of catching a fish but this one is mind-boggling. Fishermen in Sri Lanka use stilts to catch a fish. Yes, stilt fishing is an old tradition practiced by around 500 fishing families in Galle, in southwestern-most Sri Lanka, especially around the towns of Kathaluwa and Ahangama.

It had disappeared after the 2004 tsunami that struck Sri Lanka and other countries bordering the Indian Ocean, but resumed after things got back to normal. Its a beautiful sight looking at fishermen balancing on a thin plank, but at the same time its tough too. All this effort and toiling only to preserve their old custom, wonderful!

They usually fish during sunset, noon and sunrise, with each one taking their elevated position and balancing about 2 metres above the water. As you can see in the picture below, there is a vertical pole engrafted into the sea bed, attached to it is a cross bar, called petta, on which the fishermen do the balancing act. So with one hand they hold the stilt and the other hand they have a fishing rod or a line to catch spotted herrings and small mackerels, which are then kept in a plastic bag tied around their waist or the pole. Earlier bags woven out of coconut leaves were used, but now they use discarded plastic bags. Why don’t they use nets instead? If the tradition is being carried on for so long, there has to be some reasoning behind it. Stilt fishing is done on the banks and is unobtrusive, so the fish stay around for a longer time because they don’t get disturbed. But with nets, if the fish gets disturbed they might not return for a long time. So the fishermen of Galle don’t mind sitting for long hours to get their catch, it seems they don’t use a bait either on the hook. Since how long this custom is practiced is not known, but I came across a government document which says that according to old fishermen stilt fishing started after the Second World War.

Unfortunately such traditions generally

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