Mary Ann Issac
Koggala-Where to find the stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
Everyone who comes to Sri Lanka has an image of fishermen elegantly seated on stilts with their arms outstretched holding fishing rods extended into the ocean below.
I too knew that I needed to find these acrobatic men to photograph them at this seemingly ancient tradition.
But as it turns out, stilt fishing (Ritipanna in Sinhalese) is not that old a tradition. They started fishing using stilts only after the II World War. This was a method used by those who coudn’t afford modern fishing equipment, or couldn’t go out to sea. They were able to earn a living off of fishing from the stilts a few hours a day.
The best time to see stilt fishermen fish
At sunrise and sunset they come out to fish, but it is only in the morning that they get a good catch. In the evening they gather mostly to entertain the tourists who want to capture their pictures.
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Life of the fishermen
During the monsoons, stilt fishing can’t be done, so the fishermen have to buy fish from those who go out to sea, or go out to sea themselves to make a living.
The tsunami that devastated the southern coast of Sri Lanka resulted in the alteration of the coast, and made it difficult to get fish from stilt fishing. Now most stilt fishermen either rent out their stilts to those who want to pose for tourists as fishermen, or they pose themselves.
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Photographing the stilt fishermen
The tourist interest in photographing them at work has created a new avenue for income for them. Most of the fishermen here lost their homes, and some lost their families in the tsunami. Now they have moved further inland to be safe from the wrath of the ocean.
So it isn’t common to see fisherfolk in large numbers on the beaches anymore.
Where to find the fishermen
The main beaches where you can find people practicing stilt fishing are in Koggala, Ahangama, Welipenna, Kathaluwa, & Thalarambe.
I visited Koggala late in the afternoon, and I was disappointed to see the stilts abandoned, but with the help of our tuk-tuk driver, we tracked a couple of fishermen down.
There is a possibility that you too will be in Koggala at a random time of day when the fishermen are not fishing. But not to worry, there will be a couple of fishermen (or maybe just the posers, you will never know), at a hut nearby. You can approach them & request for a photograph, they will happily oblige, so long as you have agreed to pay them well for their time! They also help tourists climb on the stilts for photographs, or will even pose with you. I didn't want to pose on the stilts since I came to photograph them at something that was part of their tradition.
Do you have to pay for the photographs
You do have to pay a hefty tip to each of the fishermen who pose for you.
It is best to agree upon a price before you take the picture. If you feel you can outsmart them by waiting for a large group to arrive, and photograph them for free, you are highly mistaken! I’ve heard that they follow you even up to your vehicle to get their dues!
But don’t deny them the opportunity of getting paid, if you think about it, these tips from us tourists are their main source of income, and why take that away by photographing them stealthily.
So please, pay the fishermen (or posers) well.
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Hope you find the stilt fishermen & capture some great pictures! Leave me comment below to let me know your thoughts on the article!