Stilt fishing is a method of fishing unique to the island of Sri Lanka. The fishermen sit on a cross bar called a petta tied to a vertical pole and driven into the sand a few meters offshore. From this high position, the fishermen casts their lines and wait until a fish comes along to be caught. One may assume this to be an ancient practice with an engaging history, but stilt fishing is actually a recent tradition.
The practice is believed to have started some 70 years ago during World War II; when food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots prompted some clever men to try fishing on the water. At first they started fishing from wrecks of capsized ships and downed aircraft, then some began elevating their stilts in coral reefs. The skills were then passed on to at least two generations of fishermen living along a 30 km stretch of southern shore between the towns of Unawatuna and Weligama.
The practice is unlikely to last much longer other than as a tourist attraction as the catch is pretty much always meager. The 2004 tsunami that devastated much of the Indian Ocean coastline forever altered the Sri Lankan shoreline and reduced access to fish using this method. Fishing also stops entirely during the annual monsoons. The best time is when the currents are flowing in the right direction; which is mostly between October and December during sunset. And the sunsets are as beautiful as ever, which makes for amazing photographs!
Today, few fisherman are willing to pass their stilts to their sons, instead renting them to “actors” who pose as fishermen for photographers and tourists. Definately one of the many attractions to check out on the spectacular island of Sri Lanka!