Catching Dinosaurs in Thailand
by Mike Green
After three consecutive disappointing trips abroad, I was rather hoping my luck would change for the better, and when my good friend Martin Bowler suggested a visit to his villa at Jurassic Mountain Lake in Thailand, it seemed like a really good idea.
My usual escapades consist of fly fishing in fairly remote locations, so Martin thought that fishing in comfort for ‘captive’, albeit monster, lake fish might not be my cup of tea. He needn’t have worried! Maybe age is catching up with me, but the luxury of spacious air-conditioned accommodation, delicious cool ‘Chang’ beer on tap within yards, and a full English breakfast delivered to our swim by a pretty little Thai girl, all went down very well, I can assure you!
Unlike one of last year’s trips, when my adventure travel company had neglected to book our outbound plane tickets(!), all went very smoothly this time, and it was champagne all the way for the comfortable 12-hour journey to Bangkok. After this, our cheerful taxi driver transported my pal Rod and I to the attractive resort, and a cold beer, in just over two hours – a great start to a delightful week.
My aim was to catch a red-tailed catfish, which I had never even seen previously, and if possible an arapaima, but at any rate, to have a relaxed and enjoyable time. At the resort, all tackle and copious amounts of bait are provided for each angler, consisting of 3lb-test-curve rods and Shimano reels, one set up for carp (hair-rigs etc.), and the other for predators using fish baits. Our first day didn’t see a catfish banked, but it was all action, with numerous hard-fighting Siamese Carp taking centre stage. Rod and I caught seven each up to 65lbs – outstanding sport, and they really do go!
After nearly 12 hours of fishing and a nice shower, all we wanted was a nice meal and a good sleep, and the meals provided at the lodge were so reasonable and delicious, that neither of us felt the need to leave the complex during the entire week.
The order of the day fishing-wise was to put the hair-rigged large pellets well out in the deeper water for carp, but for the catfish the fish baits were most effective in the shallow margins. The reason for this was undoubtedly that armies of tilapia live there. These spiky-finned handsome little fish had been introduced as food-fish and have flourished to an amazing degree. They stripped our frozen horse-mackerel baits to skeletons in under 60 seconds, and we discovered that the best bet was to use tilapia fillets instead of the provided baits. Seemingly they were reluctant to devour their own kind – unlike those red-tails, which gobbled them up greedily! The tilapia were a doddle to catch on almost anything from bacon rind to fish eyes, less than a metre from the bank, and although I was slightly reluctant to kill and fillet them, it became a must.
One day I noticed that they were pumping water in from a nearby canal, and figured that the fresh water must be attracting bait-fish – and possibly the predatory fish as well. With this in mind, I took the 14-weight fly rod I had brought with me, fixed it up with a floating line, sixty pound breaking strain leader and an attractive golden dorado fly, tied for me by my good friend Rick Varley, and took to the water. It felt strangely pleasant, bare-footed in the margin with tiny fish nibbling on my toes. In the warm water it was certainly no hardship, and indeed necessary to get some sort of back-cast. I started covering the area of moving water, and was amazed and thrilled when fourth cast there came a sharp tug, and everything went solid. The fish took off in an unstoppable run of 80 or 90 yards, as I shouted for Rod to bring the net. As you may imagine, an angry 60lb red-tailed catfish can put up quite a battle on fly tackle, and it surely did! Eventually however we managed to get it in the net, and Antony, the guide, ran along for my camera. My week was made!
Following this early success, I spent considerable time and effort persevering with fly tackle. I hoped for another catfish, or perhaps one of the huge arapaimas, which were constantly rolling and gulping in air in front of us. Sadly, I was rewarded with only one more ‘pull’. Nevertheless it was all great fun, and “he who dares wins, Rodney!”… Maybe next time?!
This time, it was Rodney himself who dared, and won… Rod managed ‘the holy grail’ – a 100lb-plus arapaima caught on the last morning of our trip – hooked just 30 seconds after casting in. It was a wonderful, awesome, and truly prehistoric-looking fish.
That fish capped a wonderful week’s fishing, which resulted in 66 fish between the pair of us, for a total weight of well over a ton! My ultra-keen pal, Rod, fished more or less constantly in the extreme heat, while I mostly took a midday break for a swim, beer and, on two occasions, a relaxing (and very reasonably priced) massage.
We shall almost certainly return for a rematch next year, and if you fancy a sun-soaked week of aching arms in very pleasant and comfortable surroundings, with some immaculate monster fish, you could do a lot worse than think about it yourselves!