Stilt Fishing in Weligama

Stilt fishing in Weligama, Sri Lanka
Stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka
Stilt fishermen in Weligama, Sri Lanka

Stilt fishing, also known as Ritipenna in Sinhalese, has been a traditional fishing practice found among the fishing communities in the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka.

Once prevalent in a limited number of localities including Induruwa, Koggala, Kumbalgama, Aranwala, Midigama, Thalarambe and Kathaluwa, stilt fishing has now spread deeper and further into the South of Sri Lanka as far as Weligama.

Fishermen seated on a stilt or a Ritipenna, made by attaching a wide bar to a large wooden pole carrying a rudimentary fishing rod is a permanent fixture of the scene that cannot be missed when traveling Down South of Sri Lanka on the coastal road.

The rudimentary equipment used in stilt fishing is manufactured by the fishermen themselves, using an ancient tradition and specific types of wood. The stilt is exclusively made from the wood of the waha-kaduru or the suicide tree (Cerbera odollam), which contains toxins that discourage speedy decay of the wood. Most stilt fishermen still use fishing rods fashioned with the Fishtail Palm rod (Caryota urens), which are easy to hold and comparatively long-lasting. Mainly seen at sunrise and dusk, these fishermen make a catch of small mackerels and herrings, who move closer to the shore for feeding and sell their daily catch twice a day to the small vendors of the neighborhood.

When they are not busy fishing, they also pose for photographs with visitors and allow local and foreign tourists to the area have a go at stilt fishing on their stilt. Yet none can match the patience and endurance practiced by the fishermen, who sit on their stilt waiting for the right fish to take the bait.