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!
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.
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 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.