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August 15

Fishing for Catfish in Bangkok

Fishing Paradise in BangkokMy wife planned a family trip to Bangkok City to experience a different culture and indulge herself in its mega shopping malls. My mind started ticking away, thinking about fishing. Was it possible in this mega-metropolis? I very much doubted it. So, unbeknownst to my wife, I was a little disappointed. In the past we have traveled to tropical islands where I usually found a way to go fishing. However, I did not give up on the idea, and soon found myself trawling the internet for fishing options in Bangkok.

To my surprise, my first Google search came up with trumps, with heaps of different websites, blogs and advice telling me that there were giant Mekong catfish to catch here. The Bungsamran Fishing Park appeared to be the best place to go; it had good reviews and stories of anglers walking away with sore arms. Yee-haa! So despite remaining slightly skeptical about the idea of catching large fish in the middle of a city, I was now keen as mustard to venture off to Bangkok to enjoy their culture and mega-malls.

Shortly after arriving in Bangkok, I started inquiring about the Bungsamran Fishing Park at our hotel. The concierge knew it well and said, “Big fish, big fish!” He had been there a few times and highly recommended it. Nice! I arranged for a taxi to take me to the fishing park at 6am the next morning.

youvella-fella-cartoon

The following morning… The trip took 40 minutes, and the first thing that struck me was the two huge fish hanging in the entrance way. I was the first person too arrive there. So I paid at the counter and hired a guide too. He was called by telephone, and they said he would arrive in 15 minutes, giving me time to look around.

After walking through a restaurant, I came out on a deck cantilevered over a large lake. All around the edges, water hoses were sprinkling water around to keep the oxygen levels up.

Next, I started to see large swirls in the middle of the lake – and then, just a few metres away from me, a huge fish came up and porpoised right before my eyes. It was very big and so was the splash it made. I continued to look, and saw at least another dozen large swirls over the next 30 seconds. This lake was chock-full of giant Mekong catfish. I wondered how they’d fight, though. Couldn’t be anything like the fish we catch back home – these were freshwater fish and kept in a lake, so they probably were pretty weak.

My guide arrived and escorted me through another restaurant, past a vast tackle shop, and along a wooded walkway to our spot for the morning. This possie had a deck with a roof over it plus table and chairs. Fantastic!

My eyes were drawn to the outfit I was to use. The Shimano Baitrunner reel appeared to be filled with 24kg braid and was fixed to a short, rather stiff looking spinning rod. My guide also had a gimbal belt, which I was sure I would not need. Hanging from the end was a small 3/0 Gamakatsu hook with a large spring above it to hold the bait, and then a sliding float above that. (The guide was very particular about the hooks and constantly checking their sharpness throughout the morning; he changed the hook for a new one at least four times throughout our session.)

My guide mixed up the bait, which consisted of breadcrumbs with a small bottle of buttermilk added. While he was doing this, I heard the familiar sound of a line peeling off a reel, so I looked further along to the next fishing spot and saw a young Asian guy with a fully loaded rod and line being dragged off his reel under full load.

Fishing Bait

I briskly walked over to see him. He did not speak any English and I did not speak his language, but we smiled at each other. It was a cool moment, as we were both connected through our love of fishing.

I cheered him on and he kept smiling until a catfish of around 15kg came into sight. At this point, he turned and glanced at the landing net, and I knew this meant, “Can you net my fish?” which I did. Once the fish was landed, we both laughed, and then he removed the hook and released the fish.

By this time, my guide was calling me back to my spot; the hook had been baited up and cast out for me. The reel was put into free-spool, placed carefully on the dock, and we both sat down and waited.

But not for long, as the float started to slip below the surface… Leaping up, I grabbed the rod, but the guide yelled, “No! Wait!” before explaining that he wanted me to wait until the line started to pull off the reel. This duly occurred, and he said “Strike!” So I flipped the reel into gear and did my best snapper stray-lining strike. He told me to do it again, so I gave it two more full-on strikes. Then the weight came on. It was heavy, but only moving slowly to start with, and I worked it back to the spot on the deck.

Can you catch my fish?

However, upon seeing the deck, it came to life and peeled off at least 50m of the 24kg line under heavy drag. So the guide put the gimbal on me and I worked on the beast back again – something I had to do for another two more times – before it was finally subdued and expertly netted. The guide estimated the catfish to be 32kg – a big fish – but the guide told me there are 100kg Mekong catfish in this lake. Wow! I believed him. Some swirls and splashes I saw from my spot were made by truly large fish. I hooted and hollered when I saw these swirls, but the guides were so used to it they did not even look.

I went on to catch two more fish around 20kg, which fought pretty much the same, but the next fish we encountered was a bit different. When first hooked, it went on a howler of a run and I did not know how I was going to stop it. Then, when it finally did stop, I ended up tussling with it for about 10 minutes afterward. In fact, it turned out to weigh around 30kg, but it certainly put up the best fight of the day.

I ended up fighting and landing seven fish in the four hours I was there. During this time a waiter came by on his bike offering cold drinks and items from the Thai restaurant. So I ordered some, and later on sat at my table, eating my Thai food and sipping a cold drink. This was bliss.

Around the edges of the lakes were two-storied bungalow type houses for rent. They had beds and you could stay overnight.

Two groups of fellas looked as if they were on a “boys” weekend away and were having a ball, sitting around on deck chairs being served cold beers and food, having their hooks baited for them – you could even get a massage if you wanted one. Fisherman’s heaven in the middle of the city – this sure was something else.

After my fishing session, I wandered around a bit, took a few photos, and cruised through the restaurants (there appeared to be three). One had huge live prawns in a tank that could be ordered and cooked up.

I also checked out the tackle shops, which were loaded with thousands of different lures. I started talking to one of the locals, who showed me the latest in snapper jigs – which I promptly purchased and will be trying out soon back in New Zealand.

That is an awesome place to visit. The beer is cold and the food fantastic. You can sit on your deck chair overlooking the water and hook into large, hard-fighting fish – then have a sleep before doing it all over again. Or, if you’re hard core, you can have a line in the water at all times.

Next time, I want to go back with some fishing buddies and stay for a few days.

Paul Senior with a Mekong catfish