After a couple of wet summer holidays in France the family and I where committed to getting some sunshine in 2016! We decided to treat ourselves to a trip to Khao Lak in Thailand (and I got the fishing experience of a lifetime at Exotic Fishing Thailand!)
Above: Mia waiting for our plane from Bangkok to Phuket.
Our flight with Thai Airways took about 14hours. Not as bad as it sounds as there was loads of great movies to watch on your own personal screens – by the time you’ve watched a few films and had a kip you’re there. I was really looking forward to a ‘proper’ holiday with Sam and the kids. We’re very much an ‘outdoors’ kinda family but after years on campsites in various European locations it was going to be nice to do something completely different. Sam and I had been to Thailand around 17 years ago and agreed that it’s the most amazing place we’ve ever been. We knew what to expect and couldn’t wait to share it with the kids.
The transfer to the hotel was around 1.5hours and the kids could immediately see that they were somewhere very different to what they were used to. It was very hot and looked quite rustic and it all felt like a proper adventure!
Our hotel was called Hotel Mai Beach Resort and it was stunning. It had a huge pool with a bar in the middle of it (perfect!), in fact it had two pools, a couple of restaurants, a gym and it led straight out onto a long, white, sandy beach – it was pretty much paradise. Amazing to think that on Boxing Day in 2004 this part of the coast was completely flattened. We were actually staying in one of the worst hit areas along the coast of Thailand and it was nice to visit the Tsunami Museum and pay our respects to the 230,000 people that lost their lives that day.
Our accommodation was upgraded to the most perfect little pod (which is great as I didn’t like the idea of 2 weeks in a hotel room). Everything was perfect. It actually felt a bit like glamping in paradise 🙂
Above: We somehow swerved staying in a concrete box – our own little pod!
We quickly slipped into a routine of big breakfasts, sunbathing, swimming, walks along the beach, happy hour in the pool, lots and lots of tasty meals and glorious sunsets.
As I said the beach was on our doorstep so you’ll be surprised that on this occasion I had not packed my little travel rod in my suitcase. Typically I would be up early most mornings casting a lure out into the surf to see what was about but I had something else up my sleeve 😉
There were various excursions on offer from reception – elephant trekking and temple visits which we did and they were fantastic. There was one excursion that I had kinda planned in advance 🙂 Thailand offers the fisherman so much. It really is the land of freshwater monsters and there’s was a couple of ‘bucket list’ fish that I had to have a go at! These include Siamese Carp, Mekong Catfish and at the top of the tree is the Arapaima – an absolutely huge fish that’s covered in silver scales with amazing bursts of pink along its flanks. This is the ultimate freshwater fish and definitely one that I’d love to get under my belt! These are the kind of fish you see Jeremy Wade fishing for on River Monsters and I wanted a piece of the action!
Above: Jeremy Wade with one of my targets – the Mekong Catfish!
I made a call directly to Mike at Exotic Fishing Thailand – we’d been swapping emails on the run up to the trip. No need for any agents or middle men! Mike’s a great guy and he arranged for a driver to pick me up from the hotel and drive me around 1.5hours to his fishing resort up in the hills near Phang Nga. This was going to be a bit special!
On arrival you can’t help but be impressed by what Mike has achieved here. The buildings and the landscaping around this unique lake are unbelievable. It’s like heaven! There’s a restaurant, bar and it’s quite an incredible place.
Above: The rear of the main building as you enter the fishing resort.
I was offered breakfast and coffee and was treated like a real VIP. They can’t do enough for you. Really, really nice people. The setting was breath taking as the lake itself was set right in the mountains with walls of rock reaching up to the sky all around you – unbelievable.
Above: What a setting. Fishing in the mountains.
I had a really good chat with Mike. I took my cup of coffee to my swim where I was introduced to my guide for the day. He showed me the tackle I would be using and it was pretty hefty gear. The reels were spooled up with very heavy breaking strain braid.
Above: The shelter supplied behind my rods. A bit like a bamboo bivvy!
The rods would either be baited with big chunks of chicken or fish. In addition to the 2 ledger rods, I had a float rod. This came with a big bowl of groundbait that contained loads of tiny insects. The balls of groundbait were moulded around a cage feeder that sat underneath the float with the hook swinging freely under the ball of groundbait. The idea is that lots of small fish would attack the ball of groundbait but then a huge fish would come along and engulf the small fish along with my feeder and hook!
Above: Simple, tough gear built to deal with the situation!
Fishing with the float rod was hard work in the heat (it was over 40 degrees) as this was continually re-casted every 10mins or so. Having said that, I was really looking forward to seeing the float go under and having a monster attached. Unfortunately on the day this technique did not prove to be successful however the rods being ledgered most certainly did get some interest! All the rods were cast out way into the lake and I sat back to finish my coffee.
Above: Plenty of groundbait mixed with small insects. This was fished ‘method style’ below the float.
Before I even managed to finished my cup of coffee off ripped the right hand rod! I had hooked what felt like an express train – I’ve never felt anything like it. I was fishing with thick braid and the clutch on the reel was almost as tight as it would go, yet it was still stripping line off the spool. It was tightened further but now I was almost being pulled off my feet – I had obviously hooked something that was possibly bigger than myself and so this really was man against fish! The guide started frantically blowing his whistle which could only mean one thing – Arapaima! I was told on arrival that if I hook an Arapaima then a whistle would be blown as several guides from all round the lake would be needed to be on hand. It’s quite an event here when one of these are hooked – everything went a bit crazy! People come and fish here for days to try and catch the Arapaima and I’d hooked one within 20 minutes!
The fish went to the other side of the lake. I was worried about it stripping all the line off the spool and it very nearly did! I was running out of line and had no option but to clamp down on spool and try and turn this monster otherwise it was going to be game over. I gave it everything and managed to keep my feet planted on the floor. It was lunging so powerfully but amazingly I managed to turn it head and it now headed off to my left at speed but I was managing to gain line. It headed off to the far end of the lake down to the left and once again it felt like there was very little I could do. Again the spool was looking empty and again I had to tighten everything back up and give it everything I’ve got! It was heading towards some pads at the bottom of the lake but I just about managed to turn it’s head before it buried itself in the snags. Again I was gaining line but each time I did this I’d get the fish about 30yards from the bank and it would just turn and take off and there wasn’t much I could do about it!
After a number of powerful, deep runs the fish felt like it was starting to tire. By now I had been fighting this fish for about 30mins and I was also getting very tired. It was very hot, sweat was pouring off me but I was determined to land this creature. I knew that it was going to be the fish of a lifetime and to lose it would have been devastating!
After about 45mins it finally came to the surface and I couldn’t believe the size of it! These fish are far too big to fit in a landing net so a couple of guides waded into the water with a cage which they bring up from under the fish. After a last ditch run I managed to draw the colossal fish over the cage which was then lifted quickly by the two guides – the fish was ours! They waded back towards the bank and immediately give the fish oxygen to aid its recovery. This is done via a hose pipe that simply pushed water through the cage. We waited 10 minutes or so for both the fish and myself to recover before we even thought about checking its size or taking any photos.
Above: A huge Arapaima sits in the cage recovering whilst I also recovered up on the bank!
Above: An absolute zoo creature! Does it get better than this!? A monster arapaima from exotic fishing thailand.
Above: We strain under the weight of the fish. It’s completely unreal!
Above: Estimated at over 120lb (we’ll never really know). You can’t easily weigh a fish this size without putting it at risk – so back she goes, the fish of a lifetime.
The rods are re-baited. One with a huge chunk of chicken and the other with a fishes head. The searing heat seemed to have knocked things on the head a bit. The rods were recast every hour or so but we were constantly recasting the float rod which was hard work in these conditions. Thankfully I had a couple of beers in the coolbox so all was good! It was very quiet through the day without too much else happening. I started to realise how fortunate I’d been to hook that biggun almost on arrival.
Above: Basic but strong gear. The rods fell quiet through the middle of the day.
I started to have a few indications towards the end of the afternoon. I had moved the left hand rod down towards the pads and the guide was occasionally throwing in chucks of fish. It only felt like a matter of time. You could see big swirls appearing on the surface over my spot and sure enough eventually it ripped off! It was obviously not as big as the Arapaima but it was still a very hard fighting, substantial fish. After a fight of about 15 – 20 minutes I had a big catfish in the net (this time we did use a very large landing net).
Above: An Asian Redtail Catfish – approximately 50lb.
After returning the catfish the activity down to my left continued. As the light faded the guide chucked loads of chum in all around the margins directly in front of us. You could see the swirls and flat spots as large fish were coming in and eat the fry. I place a bait amongst them and within minutes it was away. And this was bigger and unbelievably powerful. I hooked it within a rod length of the bank so you can imagine how it took off. The reel was absolutely screaming as it took off across the lake. After about 20 minutes of absolute mayhem I had it in the net. It looked so wide across the back of it’s head. It was obviously another catfish and I was informed that this time it was an Amazon catfish. I’d seen these it photo’s and they look incredible.
Above: A big Amazon Redtail Catfish from exotic fishing thailand. An awesome creature. Very thick across it’s back with a large flat head and the colours and the patterns across its body were something else. Approx. 65 – 70lb.
Above: The Amazon Redtail Catfish from a different angle.
Above: My bivvy for the day! Complete with a cool box of beer!
Needless to say that was a days fishing that I will never forget. After tipping the guide and saying goodbye to Mike I returned to the hotel. I was exhausted but probably the happiest angler alive! I have already started to consider my return. After all, I never did get that meykong catfish or siamese carp which gives me the perfect excuse to return!
Above: I’ll be back for one of these! Mr Wade again, this time with a large Siamese Carp.