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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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!
Thorke & 38kilo Mekong Cat. As
hard work as it looks...
That crabstick moment.
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
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.
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
Banana Eating Pacu and their gnut crunching gnashers.
Kik gets his arms pulled off by another ugly lump.
Thomas & Chao
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?
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!
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...
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
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!).
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...
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!
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...
f***ing dog just sat on my face!!"
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.
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.
variety of species we encountered at the reservoir.
cunning Tinfoil Barb.
beautiful Thai Mahseer caught in a net. How we'd have loved one of
Asian Redtail Catfish
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.
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.
Francois (right) with his jungle buddy
view from the hammocks as dawn breaks, and inset, Thomas &
his IGFA record Cobra
Snakehead. Good work!
& Right: Big Giant Snakehead- On the speargun
Junior "Giant" Snakehead.
On Rod & Line Though!
More Bloody Nets!
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
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!
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.
street food, Bangkok style. You just
gotta try it.