Stilt Fisherman in Weligama Sri Lanka

Stilt fishing, also termed as ritipanna in Sinhala language, is a traditional fishing method practiced by fishermen along the Southern coast, mainly in areas like Koggala, Kumbalgama, Midigama, Weligama, Thalarambe and Kathaluwa. These are the fisher folk who engage in fishing from a narrow pole tied to a stick installed on the sea bed. For the scenic picture it creates, stilt fishermen become a huge attraction for those passing-by, especially tourists. Weligama beach is famous for its stilt fishermen.

How Stilt Fisherman works?

The majority of fishermen who practice this method of fishing are those who do not have sophisticated fishing equipment, the Funday Times learns. All they need is a ritipanna (the stilt) which is made by tying a small cross bar on to a pole, (made of Kaduru wood) and the pitta (the fishing rod) made of kithul. Fishermen themselves create the equipment, using their expertise. Activity reaches its peak during the monsoon season because those who go on fishing boats also take to stilt fishing when the sea is too rough.

The art of stilt fishing requires a great deal of patience and endurance, according to the fishermen. Once they learn to maintain their balance on the narrow wooden pole, the rest of the process involves waiting for several hours in complete silence, to catch the fish. The slightest disturbance in the surroundings and the fish swim away. At the end of this laborious task, they feel a numbness in their feet, the fishermen lamented.

Where you can see Stilt Fisherman in Weligama

Gurubebeila in Weligama area is one of the places you can find a friendly local to challenge you to a bit of stilt fishing. You can always find a way to make it worth their while to lend you some time on their family pitch at daybreak or sunset. Each stilt is carefully positioned in the shallow water, and fisherman perch themselves high up on the cross bar so as not to cast a shadow on the sea, with a plastic bag wrapped around their waists to fill with the fish.

Stilt Fisherman Fake?

As many of us might already know, this brave and particular way of fishing has been made famous worldwide by the iconic pictures of Steve Mc Curry in 1995. Unfortunately for the villagers, the tsunami of 2004 destroyed most of the reef so this part of the coast is not anymore an ideal habitat for the fish. It is therefore quite difficult now, to see large groups of men fishing together, and especially real fishermen. Today, we mostly see men posing on stilt, waiting for the tourists to take the picture in exchange of a remuneration. These fishermen, who are the poorest of the poor, spend hours with their lines cast out to the sea to catch small fish and sell them in return or use for their daily meals.

Ideal time to see Stilt Fisherman

Sunrise and dusk is the ideal time where one could catch a glimpse of these stilt fishermen in the Southern coastal belt. Fishermen conclude their morning session by about  9 a.m., after they sell their day’s catch to the buyers who come to the location. This method of fishing generally targets small fish, like spotted herring and small mackerel. It is to pose for photographs and entertain the foreigners that these fishermen come back a second time in the evening and stay on till dusk. Some of the foreigners even climb the the stilt to experience this activity and the fishermen are given souvenirs and money in return.