The Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka

I was intrigued by the pictures of stilt (also known as stick) fishing I saw before leaving for Unawatuna in Sri Lanka. Watching stilt fishing was surely on my agenda . On our second day we decided to head to Mirissa beach. When we saw Stilt Fishing near Koggala we asked our tuktuk driver to stop. I have recounted that experience in detail in another post (linked above).

On our last day in Unawatuna my nephew wanted to laze around on the beach and I was in two minds. Half of me wanted to go back to the stick fishing area and click the activity at sunset and the other half told me to forget it as I had already done it. Then I asked myself a critical question, “would I regret it later if I did not try to click it at sunset?” The answer to my own question was an unequivocal yes. So my nephew went to the beach and played football and I went in search of stilt fishermen again!

A Stick Fisherman at Koggala, Sri Lanka

A Stilt Fisherman at Koggala, Sri Lanka

We stayed at the Thaproban Beach House and a few tuktuk drivers would always hang around our hotel. We got quite friendly with them during our stay. One of them drove me to the area. There were 4 fishermen near Koggala and when we stopped our tuktuk, the driver was once again quite apologetic saying they would ask for money. I told him not to worry, I already knew it and I was prepared to deal with it.

Stilt Fishing, Sri Lanka

Stick Fishing, Sri Lanka

 After our first encounter I went on asking around about the reason of the fishermen using sticks. I was told that this way they are sitting like a bird away from the fish and it is easier for them to catch it. I am not sure how true this is but it felt like a reasonable explanation. Then I asked the same question again to a waiter and he said, “it is all for the tourists, small fish do come in some months but these days it is done mostly for the tourists!” Now I was really confused.

I was also told that the stick is made of stout wood and can stay in the water for up to one year without decaying. But after an year it usually needs to be replaced.

Stick Fishing, Sri Lanka

Stick Fishing, Sri Lanka

So I paid the fisherman on the ground some money again and he let me click pictures of the three fishermen on stilts. I was not getting a good angle from the beach so I decided to enter the water with my camera again! The fisherman on the ground helped we to find my way and I was really thankful to him because I did not wish to take another expensive dip in the water with my camera. And so much so for my resolve for not taking my camera near water again!

While I was taking pictures a pair of tourists came along. I told my fisherman to go and talk to them, I would be fine by myself. That pair of tourists were surprised when they were asked to give money to take pictures. But in the end they did give something.

My fisherman came back again and stood by me. Before going he had pointed a black ugly creature in the water with protruding sharp fins and they were still lurking around. By this time the sun had gone behind the clouds and I told him that I wanted to leave. They also offered that I could go and sit on the stick but I told them I had done that before.

I requested my tuktuk driver to ask a few questions on my behalf as the fishermen didn’t speak much English. But the session didn’t go too well. When I wanted to ask how old was the activity I was told they started in the morning, they took a few hours break at the noon and then came out again in the evening. After a few such attempts I gave up.

In the end the experience did seem to be more for tourists and less about fishing. I also feel we tourist are so crazy about the photographs that the fishermen have sensed a business opportunity and are using it as such.

When I was about to leave they asked me (in a few broken words) if I was from India? When I said yes they asked me what was my age. When I quoted four decades they were quite surprised. Then they asked me if I had kids. I told them I have a daughter. The next question was if my family was around and I said no. My nephew was not there and it would have been a long explanation anyway. They thought I was a weird Indian woman going around without my family!

Will I do this again? For sure I will, the money they asked for was a small amount and they were genuinely concerned about me when I went into the water with my camera. But it did leave me wondering about the impact of tourism. I am not judging it but it has left me wondering for sure!

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38 thoughts on “The Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka”

  1. I know what you mean, but lovely photos all the same. I just love sunsets and (though I rarely see them!!) sunrises, the lovely colours and the luminosity.

  2. this reminds of speargun fishing i saw in one of the rivers we passed during a trek. the guy was sitting on a branch of a frail-looking tree by the banks of the river, waiting for the fish to surface. i guess stilt fishing is one of their traditional fishing methods a long time ago, before the tourists discovered them.:p like speargun fishing, this type of fishing is an ecologically sustainable form of fishing.

    i love your photos–the silhouettes and sunset make a dramatic subjects. great job!

    • Luna thank you for sharing your thoughts on sustainable fishing! And for the kind words about the pictures!

  3. Wow, these are awesome photos. The stilt fishermen are cool, they must have great ability to hang onto the poles, are there little seats? The sunset is beautiful, happy skywatching!

    • Thank you Debopam, this was on the cover page of a very popular HR text book I used to recommend for my class!

  4. lovely photos, Mridula!! they were certainly worth the second visit. but i am so surprised to hear that they keep it up only for the tourists…about language, do you think many of them speak Tamil? i guess Tamil and Sinhalese are the most spoken languages….

  5. Dear Mridula It was great to read about your travel regime and plans. I am a enthusiastic traveller and wish to share my exp with you. when is your next trip?

    • Aruna have been traveling a fair bit since I quit my job in 2015!

    • I forgot Rahul, it was not much, if memory serves me right it was more like a tip!

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