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I've finally got round to doing it! Part one of the RTW trip comes from red-hot Thailand, where my good friends Johnny, Thorke and Thomas came out from Denmark to join up for some sport in the sun - both in the put & take puddle of fish soup they call Bung San Lam (and great fun it is too), and some more rustic areas in the reservoirs north of Bangkok.

I'd left England feeling a bit numb about it all really. I don't know why. I thought that my departure would have me nearly crawling the walls with excitement, but it didn't. Maybe it was something to do with being so busy with last minute domestic and work problems before leaving that I just couldn't get excited. Or maybe it was just the sudden realisation that I had a year ahead of just me, alone and out in the world with only my camera and fishing rods for company. I can't be sure. But arrival in Bangkok sure gave me the shock treatment I needed; like landing on another planet, one with no rules that was stationed a few thousand miles closer to the sun. I wasn't to be alone for long though. After a couple of days of mooching around the insanity of the city, watching hoards of overweight, pasty Europeans perving around the markets with girls a quarter their age, height and weight, my Danish buddies Johnny, Thorke & Thomas arrived in town for a spot of fishing. 

Jean Francois had arranged for us to be allowed to look around the Bangkok University Aquarium, a place laden with tanks full of species we wanted to catch, and after wandering around for several hours we were all aching to get the rods out and give some Asian fish some grief.

We had only a day to wait. Our first bit of fishing was to be done by way of a nice and easy break-in for a couple of days at the infamous Bung San Lam Lake in search of Mekong, Chao Phraya & Striped Catfish, Pacu and the elusive Siamese Carp. To be honest though, the only thing nice and easy about it was getting some bites- no problem there! The humidity was somewhere up around 137% (ok, so I’m exaggerating, but you’ll get the idea) and the temperature up in the high 30s. After the first day, our arms ached, our backs ached, and yours truly had a nasty case of ‘Mekong Arm’, which involves sunburn to the top of the right forearm from playing fish out all day long, while Johnny just sat sunning himself behind me saying 'You have this one - I've caught these before dude...' So as he sat with his feet up and a cool drink, the sweat just kept rolling down into my eyes, and my arm kept getting redder, and redder. Lazy sod! It really was quite frenetic sport, to the point where you actually had to wish that the fish would leave your bait alone for long enough to finish a nice cold beer. Quite why we didn’t just wind in and leave it a while I don’t know - I guess it just doesn’t feel right when the fish are feeding like crazy!

The Mekong Catfish has to be one of the most stubborn fish on earth. They never (and I mean never) give up. They are as tough as they are ugly, and when the fish average between 10 and 20 kilos a throw, you really know about it. At numerous times we had double, treble and even occasionally quadruple hook-ups, but Thorke stole the show with a lump of 38 kilos- a fish that made him sweat and turn a brighter shade of pink than the tropical sun could. And with some pretty spectacular sunburn, he was already looking like a Crabstick. 

The mountains of Tilapia in the lake also saw some attention, catching heaps of them on surface fished bread crusts- and missing as many of them again on the strike, and we all caught Pacu on pieces of float fished banana under the careful tutorage of Francois’ lovely

The skeleton of a huge Mekong Catfish in the university. We planned to taffle with a few of these critters over the week or two to come.

 wife Lek (who is a mean fisherwoman in her own right). The rods we put out for Siamese Carp lay unmolested by their intended quarry on both days (not by the bloody catfish though), despite some incredibly precarious rod placement in the middle of the timber pilings, the rods being tied to the structure by rope! But as is often the case, yours truly got jammy by catching one- albeit a little junior- on a piece of float-fished banana while after the Pacu. It really is worth keeping 'em polished you know… 
"Oh but darling; of all the baits I've used during my extensive career in pursuance of the elusive Siamese Carp, I'd have to say I've always found the humble banana to be the most successful..."

Jesus H... Mind that post Johnny... Enough to make anyone sweat!








Mekong Ugly.


Thorke & 38kilo Mekong Cat. As hard work as it looks...


That crabstick moment.

The Bananarama. My all-time favourite Siamese Carp rig.

To try and complete our species list from Bung San Lam, we also had one of the lads living and working at the lake try and set us up for the capture of one of the huge Giant Gourami taking refuge under many of the snags and bridges littered about the place. Francois just told us to tip him a few Baht and he'd be happy. So we got our rods rigged up, and he set all the lines with a piece of Banana just touching the very surface of the lake, with Coke bottles looped in the line as indicators. Who needs Delkims eh? Unfortunately no Gourami was daft enough to eat a lump of fruit resting in the surface meniscus, although one of the Catfish was. This was amusing in it's own right, as we gathered round to watch Thomas carefully play in his prize... only to all walk off in disgust once we realised what the fish was! In fact, the only daft things about were us lot, cos, well, I tipped him 100 Baht... and Thorke tipped him another 200 for his trouble... which I hadn't realised... Nor did Johnny... You're getting the picture... 

So one very happy Thai kid cycled off into the sunset with a week's money in his pocket. And thus a new guiding service was born. Watch out JFH...

After two days of ‘red hot Bangkok Mekong action’, it really was time to get away and do something new (and less knackering), and it was with relief, to be honest, that we headed east of the city to the Chachoengsao District and the Bang Pakong River in the hope of contacting some freshwater Stingrays- some of which reach over 200kg in weight. We set off in a pair of wooden boats downriver in the bright sunshine, and stuck out some heavy-duty rods adorned with livebaits and huge river prawns for the Stingers, and in the interim had a dabble with some ‘Yabbies’ (small freshwater crayfish type things) and worms to see what turned up. Catfish (again) were what turned up. Loads of them. To the point where they became a pest, even whittling away at the big river prawns until the big metal hook was found. Still, it was another species or two on the list at least.

But of course, it was bound to happen, and Noi, one of the boatmen stuck out a prawn on a light rod… just to pass the time... and while the heavy rods laid undisturbed, a 15kg plus Cowtail Stingray went and hoovered up the bait on his hook! A long while later the 



















The Banana Eating Pacu and their gnut crunching gnashers.

 

 

 












Kik gets his arms pulled off by another ugly lump.

Thomas & Chao Phraya Catfish. 

And yours truly gets lucky with one too. Not exactly handsome, but certainly more going for them than the Mekongs!


Hmmm. Bait... But to cast it or to cook It?

thing finally surfaced, after it had taken a lot of hand-lining to get the thing aboard with Noi's toothpick rod being incapable of shifting the thing off the bottom!









Thai Tilapia for Lek.

























Noi really enjoyed the capture of this Cowtail Stingray. "Look! No hands!!" was the title of the next picture in the sequence...

We spent the night out on the river, kipping in the bottom of the boats, but it all got a bit messy when a tropical rainstorm swept through, rattling on the makeshift awning across the boat for hours on end. At least the rain was warm. But trying to grab forty winks lying on the duckboards of the good ship Enterprise as torrential precipitation fell all around us did not make for the most relaxing night ever- especially when I slipped over the transom of one boat into the other, my arse overtaking my tits and slamming my back hard on the timber. Not big, or clever. The night passed without incident, four Thais, three Danes and a Brit whiling away the hours in a haze of Pot Noodles. The Thai's amused themselves by free-diving for prawns on the riverbed in the pitch darkness, periodically heaving themselves back aboard with their shorts stuffed full of the things.

At dawn the next day, the rain had finally abated and we packed away the gear a little disappointed to be free of Stingray action, but ready for the next phase of our adventure. This was to entail a long journey out into the Kanchanaburi District and the Sri Nikharin reservoir some 150km or so north west of Bangkok, with our target here to be Snakeheads (both Cobra and Giant varieties) and hopefully Featherbacks, along with a multitude of smaller jungle species.

The reservoir is an isolated place, but beautiful with it- mountains surrounding the flooded river valley, misty dawns clinging to the forest and relief inducing dusks when the temperature finally dipped down close to manageable. Unfortunately, due to the extremely low water levels caused by three consecutive years of drought in this part of the world, and the extremely high temperatures, the fishing was difficult to say the least. However this should not detract from the fact that the whole experience was a unique and memorable one, and many new species of fish were caught and photographed. We spent our time here sleeping on the bamboo floor 






Gimme Shelter From The Storm!

slats of our floating shelter, while fishing by day from slim wooden longtail boats, which were perhaps better designed for a couple of Thai fishermen and a net rather than two lardy Farangs and a tackle shop full of gear. Good fun though, once we’d bailed them out!

One thing that couldn’t possibly escape our notice was the nets: hundreds and hundreds of them, some old and unused, some new, but all left exposed and entangling the naked skeletons of the deceased trees by the low water. It really was quite disturbing to see, since there were very few trees without one hung from them, and especially when we spotted a couple of very dead 

Thorke & a surprise Jungle Perch taken on a surface popper while all I could catch was trees!.

Kingfishers entangled in the mesh. Add the kilometres of deadlines decorated with tiny live Tinfoil Barbs along the margins, and you start to wonder how any fish makes it to adulthood. But some do, and Thomas caught a huge Cobra Snakehead on the very first day of 3.85kg (if I remember correctly (I was wrong, Jean Francois has since corrected me to 4.1kg- sorry!), a capture which would make it a new IGFA all tackle record. This was excellent stuff. Each of us managed to catch some juvenile Giant Snakeheads during the week, but the big girls just didn’t want to know… But what we really needed was a spear gun, because on three occasions the local boys donned the facemask, disappeared under the floating raft next to which we were staying, and surfaced a few moments later with a huge Giant Snakehead impaled on the end. I’m convinced they did it just to say “Look you lot, forget that rod and reel rubbish- get one of these; it’s easy!!” Perhaps we’ll soon have the Fox Spearmaster, THE essential accessory for those difficult sessions? 

Amongst the other species encountered were some huge Tinfoil Barbs- although I lost the biggest one when hand-lining between the bamboo slats of the floor (where they hid from the intense heat during the day) because it got jammed in the gap!, along with Tyretrack Eels, small Featherbacks- the big ones, again, didn’t want to know, numerous catfish species (again) including the Asian Redtail, Thai Jungle Perch (Hampala Barbs), juvenile Giant Gourami and various smaller Barbs (erm, bait!).  


Blasting down Sri Nikharin in the longtail boats. A retired Spitfire engine put to good use I reckon.

The final night saw Thomas, Thorke and myself decide to spend a night with the animals and insects on the banks of the reservoir some 2km down the lake from the camp, fishing with livebaits, deadbaits and worms in the hope of contacting a large Featherback. We slept on the bank for the night, but the only things that interfered with our baits were… you’ve guessed it… catfish of numerous species (again). It was still a great experience, and we were all amazed in the morning that nothing of any great size had taken our selection of baits festooning the area, despite fish rolling and crashing all over the surface. As a beautiful dawn broke, the orange sky broken by the black of the twisted tree trunks and mountain-tops, we disappointedly assembled our soaking gear and took the boat back to base-camp, Johnny as surprised as anyone at our lack of success.

The family at the floating trading station really looked after us wonderfully well, cooking us some very tasty meals every day, and I can honestly say that I had some of the most relaxing sleep I’ve had in some time- once Francois and the boys had finished their snoring contest and that bloody Gecko in the rafters had shut it’s noise up. Oh, and Francois won the snoring contest in the end, albeit with a little help from the occasional 'giant mountain frog' that rattled out from his corner of the bamboo hut... 

There was one occasion that filled and froze us with abject fear in the early hours of jungle darkness though. We were peacefully snoozing in the hammock with nothing more than the noise of the insects to accompany us. Thorke and Jean Francois slept soundly on rolled out mats on the bamboo floor. Suddenly there was an ear piercing scream, Thorke springing from his mat, shouting and swearing like Danish Banshee. We were all immediately petrified!
"What's wrong?! What happened Thorke??!" I asked as I got out of the hammock, expecting some nightmare encounter with some local fauna.. a scorpion maybe, some deadly reptile slinking into his bag perhaps...
"That f***ing dog just sat on my face!!" 
A wet mongrel sat unperturbed in the torchlight on the end of the bamboo floor. I wondered if Thorke reacted like that every time he's been woken up in the night with a hairy wet arse being rubbed in his face.

Sri Nikharin is a wonderful place, even when the fishing is difficult. I’d love to fish it with high water conditions, because we noted so many great looking spots which would undoubtedly hold fish once they have water around them!


A nice one for Kik too as he messed about with a lure on the side.


Baby Giant Gourami.

A variety of species we encountered at the reservoir.


The cunning Tinfoil Barb.

A beautiful Thai Mahseer caught in a net. How we'd have loved one of those.


The Asian Redtail Catfish

 








They start 'em young. The kids at the trading station were set on in some kind of 'catfish rig sweat-shop', making catfish deadlines to be set around the lake edge. But the stuff they made was virtually art.

We headed back to Bangkok with Jean Francois accompanied by a new friend he picked up from a floating hut on the lake - a tiny monkey which managed to eat cake and piss all over the van all the way back. Which was nice. And after a stop in Kanchanaburi town to view and feed the huge shoals of huge fish in the River Kwai there (they are all in the 100 metre "no-go zone" alongside the temple there... who says fish are stupid?!), we were soon back in the city and all the entertainment it brings as standard. Great food, late night drinking, hustle, bustle and hassle - I love it.

Our final fishing together as a group was spent drowning some worms on the canals linking the various pieces of the Chao Phraya River in and around Bangkok. And guess what we caught? Yup, catfish! Well, I say we, but it was mainly Thomas and Thorke since Johnny and I were sat in the shade nursing a fat head each after a playful evening the night before on the big neon streets of the city. It was still nice to see Thai river life in action up close, and to catch a couple of new species (Pangassius Catfish & Half Beaks) from my seat at the waterside café where we stopped for a lunch of more spicy concoctions served with rice.


















Jean Francois (right) with his jungle buddy

 

Our view from the hammocks as dawn breaks, and inset, Thomas & his IGFA record Cobra Snakehead. Good work!

 

 

Left & Right: Big Giant Snakehead- On the speargun Though!

Below: Junior "Giant" Snakehead. On Rod & Line Though!

 














More Bloody Nets!

 Then, finally, we got the size 20 hooks and gossamer line out and caught some Rasbora, Half Beaks and the like from the wooden steps of one of the riverside houses - while the owner swam around in the murky brown waters of the river hunting for river prawns with his hands. I dunno, but one mouthful of that water would probably have seen yours truly Superglued to the porcelain for a fortnight... A very pleasant day in the sunshine, hangovers aside.

Big thanks must go to Jean Francois Helias and his boys at Fishing Adventures Thailand for both arranging our logistics and looking after us on our visit- it really was as smooth as could ever be imagined- cheers! 

And now onto leg two of the trip, and heading down south to the Andaman coast to see what can be sorted out fish-wise in that neck of the woods. And to be honest, until I get there, not even I know! Laters.




                                                                                                                                          

Brilliant street food, Bangkok style. You just gotta try it. 

Onto Thailand Part 2

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