Asia Sri Lanka

Where To See Stilt Fishermen in Sri Lanka?

Where To See Stilt Fishermen in Sri Lanka

Remember Steve McCurry’s famous photo of Sri Lankan stilt fishermen? Where men sit perched far from shore trying to catch a fish in a rough sea. From the moment I knew I was going to Sri Lanka I wanted to photograph that scene. „1500 rupiah please, and you can take as many photos as you want“, said an older, smiling fisherman in Welligama. Well, to be exact an actor fisherman. 10 euros for a few photos? Nice business, man!

Where To See Stilt Fishermen in Sri Lanka?

The practice of stilt fishing, traditional method of fishing in Sri Lanka, started during World War II when food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots prompted some clever men to try fishing on the water.

Nowadays ‘real’ fishermen rent their stilts to people who pose as ‘fishermen – actors’ for tourists. The story goes like this. You come on the scene, pay some money to actors and the movie begins. Actor pose to the camera and you can shot good unreal scenes of one of the most iconic landmarks of Sri Lanka. Authentic? Not at all!

Where are ‘the real fishermen’ than? Living from fishing is very hard so many of fishermen find it more profitable to work in the tourist industry. They’ve found that they can make a better living posing for the cameras than by fishing.

Where To See Stilt Fishermen in Sri Lanka?

The tradition of stilt fishing is dying by becoming a tourist attraction. How much longer it will survive? Hmm… As Steve McCurry explains, “So many of these young men now find it more profitable to work in the tourist industry. We’ll look back in years to come and be amazed at the method of fishing and how we once were as a planet. It’s very important to document these kinds of events.” Dear Steve, I can’t agree more.

Is there still exist the genuine fishing in Sri Lanka?

Yes, you can still find some places that are not ‘tourist fishing spots’.  There’s a place not far from Welligama. Near the city of Matara is Polhenna Beach. This beach is not so pretty as Mirrisa and similar ‘tourist beaches’ so usually local people go there to swim and have fun. There are quite a lot of fishing poles.

Where to see stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka

Where is the best place to see stilt fishermen?

The whole area between the towns of Welligama and Unawatuna is full of fishing poles so if you are keen to photograph some stilt fishermen head to the south shore of Sri Lanka. Welligama is a small coastal town located in Matara District, and it’s famous for its stilt fishermen, not the ‘real ones’. I took all this images there.

Where To See Stilt Fishermen in Sri Lanka?.

What do you think about traditions like these of stilt fishermen that are dying by becoming a tourist attractions?

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  • Reply
    Charlene Keiko Rezende Comerton
    March 22, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Hi Petra, I am thinking of going to SL next month and I am curious to know if there are genuine fisherman. I saw a couple of articles like yours, but they are from 6 years ago. When did you go there? Do you think Polhena beach is still a recommended place to visit?
    Cheers, Charlie.

    • Reply
      Petra Fruk
      April 5, 2017 at 8:56 am

      Hey Charlene,

      hope I’m not too late with this reply, I’m in Africa at the moment, most of the time off line, in the wilderness where you can only connect to the trees 🙂
      I was in Sri Lanka last year in August. Yes, Polhena beach is still a recommended place to visit fishermen, although I would suggest you to ask the locals when you come there where you can see ‘the real fishermen’. There are a lot of hidden beaches on the south coast of the island where they still remain genuine and authentic. I captured them on Welligama beach, very touristic place, although not ‘the real thing’ it was nice to experienced it and see ‘the performance’ of how it looks once before (I didn’t have time to search further places, but yes Polhena beach should still be the most authentic place to see them).
      Hope you’ll have a wonderful time in Sri Lanka,
      Let me know how it was!

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