Wallago Attu (Boal Fish): A Dreamcatch to Every Bangladeshi Angler

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Wallago attu
Wallago attu
Photo courtesy: scotcat.com

If you visit Bangladesh anytime from July to November and if you make a trip through any riverside village in the afternoon then you surely will see lots of people sitting on the banks in a row, side by side. Their lanterns will soon be lightened up and it will seem like a chain of lights from a distance and you will obviously ask yourself what they are doing. Yes, they are fishing. Some of them are professionals, some are just hobbyists.

This is a very common scenario of a riverside village in rural Bangladesh from late monsoon until the emergence of cold winter. They are the hunters of wallago attu, locally known as boal fish. We have observed that many of our foreign friends are tremendously interested in wallago attu. We get frequent queries from our visitors asking lots of questions about this particular fish, for example- where they are found, how to catch them, what is the best bait etc. etc. Well, in this article we will try to unleash some of the mysteries of wallago attu AKA boal fish.

Wallago attu from the Bangshi river
Wallago attu landed from the Bangshi River

Wallago attu is a freshwater fish, largely found in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma, Vietnam and Indonesia. It is a species of catfish and it comes from the family of Siluridae. It can grow up to 2.5 meters in length and weigh up to 60 kg (over 100 lbs). Wallago attu is also known as freshwater shark for its aggressiveness. It has no known enemy. It is armed with hundreds of razor-sharp teeth inside its jaws. This fish is an ultimate killer without any fear as well as a fast swimmer. Wallago attu goes for anything that goes around them. From small frogs to aquatic birds, from minnows to household pets, nothing goes unchallenged in front of this fish.

Local Boal Angler
Local Boal (Wallago attu) Angler with Traditional Setup

It is very common that you will find their stomach filled with different aquatic animals. Their are lots of local stories and myths about wallago attu and some of them are even as fascinating as killing of human beings (I promise I am not trying to flatter Jeremy Wade). Even in a Bengali nursery rhyme we can find ‘না নিয়ে গেলো বোয়াল মাছে, তাইনা দেখে ভোঁদড় নাচে’ meaning ‘the otter dances watching the wallago attu takes the boat’. I am not sure whether a boal of that size still exists or not which can take a boat but this particular fish has always been a part of Bengali culture and delicacy.

Wallago attu or Boal fish can be found all over Bangladesh. It is a deep-water fish, generally resides in large water bodies. During monsoon they migrate to upstream to shallower water for spawning. And during this time fishermen catch them in a greater scale. Sometimes this fish fall prey with full of eggs inside. Government should take extensive initiatives for creating awareness among the fishermen and locals not to catch fish during the spawning season. Besides, they should be given alternative ways of earning for their families during this time of year when there is no job for the village farming people as farmlands are still under monsoon water. Angling for wallago attu starts from late July up to Winter.

Wallago attu hunter
Traditional Wallago attu hunter

In Bangladesh people generally use a single hook directly connected to main line without any lead. For baits you  a have a wide range of choices. But rotten minnows are the mostly used. Earthworms are the best known bait for wallago attu. This is a bottom feeder fish, so hook must reach the ground under water. Bangladeshis generally fish in the evening for wallago attu as it is a nocturnal predator. It comes closer to banks in search of food and catches rats, insects, small fish, small snakes etc. So, we start with casting deeper and as night falls late we cast relatively shallower water.

Traditional Hook Setup
Traditional Earthworm Bait Presentation for Wallago attu

There are lots of places you can go for hunting wallago attu. All big rivers have plenty of this fish. The Padma (the Bangladeshi part of the Ganges), the Jamuna (a tributary of the old Brahmaputra river), the Surma river of Sylhet are the best destination for extreme anglers. You can go to Aricha Ghat in Manikgonj dstrict and set your lines in the Padma river for wallago attu. There are lots of beels, haors(large water bodies), canals  where you can go for this particular fish. Try to have some local knowledge before setting your lines. I promise this helps a lot. If you are after wallago attu, you must have an untold amount of patience.

This is a very sensitive fish. It doesn’t have a very good eye sight but it has super sensitive lateral lines,  and sharp hearing device which can detect slightest vibration in water and can hear even the sounds that we can not hear. Use a sharp hook for wallago attu, because its inner mouth is very rough and don’t drag instantly if your bait is taken. Because it runs a distance taking its prey in mouth before finally swallowing it. And most people do the mistake at this pint. They strike back and the fish leaves the bait. So, have a little patience and let it take the bait first. Count up to five then slowly tighten the line. You will have a great fight if you hook one. If you go to the bigger rivers for hunting wallago attu you should have enough line in your spool. 40lbs braided line is suggested in this case. And for small rivers 20lbs braid or mono-filament will do just fine. Anyways, practice make perfect and this fish will give you a really great experience.

By: Nasim Hasan