If you are tired of catching snappers, trevallies, and groupers in most of the fishing trips, then pack up your bags and choose Fuvahmulah as your next game fishing destination. Located just south of the equator Fuvahmulah is home to Katteylhi – a unique large-toothed deep-sea fish -- only caught in this island of 11,000 people.
About a 50-minute flight from the capital Male, the 5-square km Fuvahmulah itself is a unique island. Fuvahmulah, loosely translated, means “island of Areca nut” and any visitor would notice the tall areca palms in the island. Areca nuts, dried, roasted and fresh, are chewed with betel leaves. Its popularity among some people may be attributed to the stimulating effect of consuming betel and areca nut.
Back to the outdoor adventure – game fishing -- that is more stimulating. Katteylhi fishing, popular among locals, enjoyed by the experienced fishermen as well as the novice, would also give an adrenalin rush of a different kind.
It was a year ago in February that I visited the island, having heard of the many stories about the deep-sea creature. The fishing trips start from the harbor located on the southern tip of the island, close to the airport. Every day at about 5pm small boats, (locally known as bokkora), fitted with outboard motors, can bee seen leaving the inner harbor for katteylhi fishing.
I have always wanted to catch katteylhi and it was a perfect day for a trip to the sea. It was a sunny day and the weather forecast talked of smooth sea, low southeast winds and a 30-degree C temperature. But it didn’t feel that hot. Thanks to the mild sea breeze.
I was there in the harbor by 5pm looking for the bokkora and its crew with whom I had talked earlier and arranged for the trip. It took a while for me to locate the boat and its crew of three. I knew one of them, Ibirehim Futhu, who was sitting on the bow of the vessel having his betel and areca nut – a single betel leaf, five large slices of raw areca nut and a piece of dried tobacco leaf. That was a fairly large serving and I could see the visible effects; sweats dripping from his forehead. The stimulant must give a good response.
The seemingly hyperactive Ibirehim Futhu loaded the fishing lines, reels, hooks, and sinkers to the vessel and we were ready to go. I was seated on the stern side and as we headed out there were few bokkoras ahead of us travelling for the same katteylhi fishing ground located west of the island.
Gone were the days when you have to use oars (called faali in the local dialect) to paddle the boat to the open sea. Nowadays the bokkoras are fitted with small outboard engines. Within 15 minutes of starting the engine we were out in the open sea, travelling over the Kedemoole faro (a shallow reef extending south from the southernmost tip of the island). There were four of us, the maximum for a small bokkora like ours, in this fishing trip.
By the time we reached the Katteylhi fishing spot we have caught enough baitfish. We can see clearly the big surf breaking on the island reef. We were about a kilometer off the reef.
It was about 15 minutes before sunset. With the clear skies, few cumulus clouds in the distant horizon, the sun was creating its magical effects casting rays in the twilight. The brightness of the day was receding slowly to darkness and it was time to cast the lines.
All of us, except Ibirehim Futhu, took the fishing lines, put bait, attached the sinkers and cast the line, sending them deep into the ocean.
As the bokkora has to be kept moving with the current Ibirehim Futhu was tasked to keep it stable. So he picked the oars and slowly paddled. Every now and then the bokkora captain Allidhi would say “elei” to which Ibirehim Futhu paddles the oars a little bit faster.
Few minutes before the sunset came the big bite. Allidhi hooked a fish. With a sudden jerk he swiftly started to pull the line. In about six minutes he brought the katteylhi, from depth of about 200 meters, to the surface. The excitement and euphoria started as everyone began pulling up the elusive fish. Few minutes into the frenzy it was my turn. There was a sudden and powerful grab on the line, and in the knack of time I gave a quick pull to hook my first katteylhi. It took a while for me to bring to the surface the fish. It was fairly aggressive, and strong.
By 7pm, we have caught 15 katteylhi, sufficient for the day, and it was time to head home.
Soon we were ashore with the catch. Within few minutes the katteylhi fish were sold out. The larger ones, about two to three feet long, earned MVR 80 (about 6 US dollars). Some days when fishing was poor a large katteylhi could fetch MVR 200.
I took one and headed home to enjoy my katteylhi, local style – katteylhi boiled in water with a dash of salt, curry leaves, onion, garlic, chilies and pandan leaves. Eating it the fish with cooked taro, grated coconut, lime, and habanero. That was the most exciting fishing trip and uniquely Fuvahmulah cuisine I had.
Katteylhi garudhiya (Katteylhi clear soup)
Catching a katteylhi, that is so enigmatic and unknown to most Maldivians is rewarding. And cooking a fresh katteylhi is exceptionally heartwarming. This is a very simple recipe for making Katteylhi garudhiya Fuvahmulah style.
1 large katteylhi (chopped into steaks, not filleted)
1 large onion (chopped)
2 stalks of lemon grass
Pandan leaf (chopped)
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves (to garnish)
You would also need to have the following to go with boiled/ steamed taro
Add 5 cups of water and all the ingredients except the fish to a large pot. As the water begins to boil put the katteylhi steaks. Bring water to boil and leave for about 5 minutes. Garnish with coriander. Now you are ready to enjoy a popular local cuisine. Eat katteylhi with boiled taro.