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Stilt fishing is a method that is unique to Sri Lanka, especially on the Southern Coastal belt. The fisherman usually sits on a crossbar called a ‘’petta’’ in the local language which is tied to a vertical pole, that is driven into the sand several meters deep offshore. From this high position, the fisherman proceeds to cast his line and waits patiently till the fish bites. While this approach might initially look rather primitive, stilt fishing happens to be a recently developed tradition.
The technique is believed to have been started during world war two when there were food shortages. Overcrowded fishing spots meanwhile promoted the cleverer men to try fishing on the water. At first, they started fashioning from the downed aircraft and capsized ships then began putting up their stilts in coral reefs. Today the skills are still being passed down from generations of fishermen living along the long and beautiful stretch of the southern shores between Mirissa, Unawatuna, and Weligama.
The catch is meager- wither a variety of small mackerel or spotted herring, and the return these fishermen catch from the sea are also dwindling. Unfortunately following the 2004 Tsunami that devasted much of the Indian Ocean coastline, definitively altering the island’s coastline and has also reduced access to fish when using this method. Another fact is that stilt fishing also stops entirely during the yearly monsoon seasons.
The scenic view of stilt fishermen has proven to be a huge attraction for tourists. Usually one of the top things to do in Mirissa includes testing out one’s skills at stilt fishing.
The stilt fishing season is at its peak during the southwest monsoon. At sunrise and sunset, the fisherman line up, and the morning session usually goes till 9.00 am as it can get unbearably hot after that. The evening sessions are usually there to entertain foreigners and end towards sundown. Visitors have the opportunity to climb up on the stilts, try their hand at the activity while having some great photographs captured.
A spot to try this activity in Mirissa include the Parrot Rock Bridge in Mirissa Beach or one can also contact the Mirissa Eco Lagoon Safari