Saturday 16 April 2016

It's Fishing...But Not as We Know it. (Part 2).

OK, Part two:  "What about the fishing?" 

The fishing I experienced in Thailand can also be effectively split into two parts. 

 The target (or bigger) species, and secondly: any smaller types of fish.

I am probably not going to say too much about the larger species (although that may change as I write), far too many others have extolled their virtues. I am certainly not going to list them, fish by fish, as I caught them. All are hard fighting fish, and as I said before, a main objective of the trip was to get into contact with some real scrappers, some large fish of exotic origins.
At least a dozen red tailed Amazonian catfish fell to my rod. Some good sized ones, none of record breaking proportions though.   They were my favourites: beautiful spotty heads, with gaping mouths, long barbules and a skull you wouldn't easily dent with a large jack hammer. My first one took a deadbait, a small herring like fish, but I later found that even small baits were a suitable enticement for these cats. They seemed to prefer the marginal parts of the lake, but maybe that was because any unused fish baits were tipped into the lake by the ghillies each evening. Right into the shallows.

Red Tailed Catfish

The second species I caught were Siamese carp. Half a dozen or so.  I didn't get the largest caught during the week, but had fish to maybe thirty five pounds. Apparently that  is none too big for the species, but they all gave a good account of themselves.
Small and Peaceful Siamese Carp

 The fish above is probably the smallest I caught and is a lot better looking than the bigger specimens were.  Nice edging of red on some of the fins. The fish is being held by one of the ghillies. I wasn't about to get myself wet for the smaller fish. Some of the slightly larger fish were less than happy about my staying fairly dry:
Larger and Stroppier Siamese Carp

But I suppose any fish with a gob approaching the size of the Mersey Tunnel, is going to have something to say about being caught.  One of my carp surprised everyone by taking an eight inch fish deadbait.
Small Siamese, Big Gob.

I foulhooked one carp, and it went rather ballistic, charging off at warp 6 speed.   It was not long though, before the line went slack and the hook provided the evidence: a single scale was firmly attached, that to the best of my knowledge, was a scale from a Siamese carp.

Sizes mentioned here must be taken with a pinch of salt.   That is not to say they have been exaggerated, rather the converse. I erred on the conservative. Weighing the fish would have been difficult at times, especially for some species, so sizes were estimated.    One ghillie was on a work experience trip. Cheap labour maybe, but nevertheless, far better for him than selling fries in MacDonald's. I don't think he had much real angling experience.  Got on well with him. He was almost as daft as I am. He tried hard but didn't quite make my grade of idiot. The other was a dyed in the wool carp angler, one who had stayed on at the lake, having bartered some extra fishing in exchange for work as a ghillie on site.  He was OK, a good bloke but only the carp seemed to really matter to him, and he spent considerable time trying to get me to chase  carp as my main quarry.  He failed.    So the two ghillies, I soon realised, were less experienced at estimating fish sizes that I was myself.   And it had to be faced, fish of the sort of sizes caught in Thailand are rare in the UK, and no matter how much I measure the photos, and calculate lengths, girths and weights, there is always going to be a degree of guesswork involved, especially with the bigger fish.  Which brings me on to the third target species:  Arapaima.

Arapaima are another South American species, and one that grows very big indeed. They are a little different in that they breathe air, coming to the surface at intervals to take a breath. In Thailand they appear to be bred especially for fishing resorts ( but possibly also as a food source).  The weather conditions and climate certainly suit them, and they probably have comparable growth rates to those  in the Amazonian areas where they are normally found.  I read that in South America, they are somewhat endangered, so perhaps breeding programmes in Thailand can only be a good thing. It would be sad to lose such a really large and spectacular fish species from the planet. Better to have some specimens outside of their usual haunts than to have none at all. 

I landed three arapaima, all weighing into three figures, with the largest, best guess/estimate, being about 205 pounds.  This took quite some time to land, with my legs actually turning to jelly part way through the fight. I sat down to complete the process.   Now I don't think the fight should have taken anywhere near that long, but the lake's owners specified that they be played very lightly.   I had to allow the ghillies to set my clutch.  This setting was, I am sure, only about 3 or 4 pounds, to judge from the bend in the rod when the reel gave line. ( I may have sneaked the odd bit of finger onto the spool at times though).  I was told that despite their size, arapaima are delicate fish, and would suffer if played too hard.   My own thoughts on this differ: I feel that playing a fish for such a long time is bound to stress it more.   I would rather have had the fish in the net in about twenty minutes, and I saw no reason why that would not have happened had the clutch been set differently. 
200 Pounds of Fish Makes Quite a Hole in the Lake, After Surfacing to Breathe During the Fight. 
 I accepted that, when the fish came up to breathe air, that the line should be slackened. It seemed reasonable to assume that interfering with the fish's breathing would really have upset it, and caused extreme panic.  But I could see no reason why, for the rest of the time, much greater pressure could not have been applied.  My feeling is that the approach adopted was totally wrong.   I was sure that, with such a light clutch setting, a big fish such as this was just having a good swim up and down the lake and I was doing little more than waiting for it to swim near enough to the net to be encased in it.  It was only when I was allowed to tighten the clutch, so as to avoid having to play and land the fish in darkness, that I felt much progress was being made.   Light tension, combined with barbless hooks, means extra care was needed whilst playing the fish, but there was surely no need to be quite so gentle.

Another criticism was that the landing nets for arapaima: long bits of heavy grade knotted netting stretched between two eight foot parallel poles, were highly inadequate.  With largely untrained ghillies, two of my arapaima actually got out of the net.  One broke the line in doing so, leaving me with just two, rather poor photos. The other, my biggest, forced its way out, and then had to be played a second time, back into the net.  The nets were just a long rectangle of mesh.  There was no end netting to prevent a fish from swimming back out from between the poles, a fact they took full advantage of.   I feel a much softer mesh should have been in use, and that the net shape should have been more like a pig trough, with ends designed to keep the fish in place, once netted. Human muscles, without the help of a suitable net, just cannot control and compete with a lively thrashing arapaima in its own element.

I did make a few changes to the way I fished, rather than just accepting the prescribed methods and baits, and I feel this helped me hook this fish, the biggest arapaima, and also a few others.  But had I not anticipated there would be restrictions on how I fished, I would have gone home very resentful indeed, that I could not fish my way, with my own tackle.  I am sure I would then have caught more...and in perfect safety.  I have, after all, been fishing a hell of a long time. But I compromised...rather more than I would have liked, for the sake of a peaceful week.
200 Pound Plus. Lovely Red Edging to Most of its Scales.

  I found the end tackle odd: compulsory 4 ounce leads, even for short casts. Reason given: they need to be sure the fish won't swallow the lead.    Easily solved: just put the lead more than  9 inches away from the hook.  All rigs were 9 inches between hook and lead.  And I have never heard of any fish ever swallowing a lead. But all of the rigs I used were subjected to two or three JayZS special tweaks before I attached any bait to them.  I really hated the end tackle set up.   Even after the tweaks I did not find it was approaching an ideal.    My apologies to the ghillies, they will have to re-tie any rig I used, to get it back to the site standard. Heh heh!

I must re-iterate here: this trip was about catching a few fish.  It was simple fishing for large fish, and not angling for them. The fishing itself was not difficult.  Treated as happy hour, a lightweight trip, it worked just fine for me.  Had I taken it more seriously I should have been very unhappy.  I don't like others making decisions for me when it really matters.

One thing for me to think about is that they used the slipping clutch for all the fish. I prefer to reel backwards myself.  In using the clutch, week after week on the resort rods, they are applying a LOT of twist to the line. One twist for every rotation of the spool. This much twist on monofilament, would result in its twisting about itself, into "T" shaped offshoots from the main line.  It causes line to flip off the spool too, and can (and does!) cause major tangles.   I have a lot of problems with line twist when legering, and nothing I do seems to be able to avoid it.  Not even ball bearing swivels.   But line twist did not show up as a problem in Thailand.  Why?  Simple!  They use braid as a main line, which is so supple that any twist does not seem to cause major problems.   I might have to test this theory out on the tench this year.   I have high hopes....just need to check the club rules to see if braid is allowed.
I had more freedom with the smaller species: whether fishing for livebait or just generally passing a bit of time catching tiddlers.  I felt they would have preferred me to do this with the 3 foot long bit of bamboo, equipped with a small hook and three of four feet of light line, that they supplied to other anglers. Instead I used tackle I had taken with me and fished just a few feet from the bank.  What a rebel I was.  Not entirely ideal though, float fishing 5 pound line, 16 hook on a 3 pound test curve carp rod.  But I caught fish, some for livebait, others just to pass a bit of time.   I didn't in total spend more than 9 or 10 hours fishing like this, but maybe I should have done.  

The predominant species was tilapia. A cichlid species.
The tilapia is very widespread across warm countries because of its suitability as a farmed food fish.  They taste lovely.  We used to catch  and immediately cook them over a fire of coconut husks in the Philippines.  Few better tasting freshwater fish exist. Tilapia in the lake were prolific, mainly just a few ounces in size, but my tackle enabled me to catch them up to a couple of pounds or so.  They have a chunky body and a lot of finnage, so punch well above their weight on the end of a line.

Java Barb

Next most common species was the java barb. None of these were over about 12 ounces, but they looked very much like a brighter, shinier version of our own silver bream.  The anal fin, body shape were similar, and they even had an identical copious coating of slime.  They liked bread, and I had taken a loaf of Warburton's with me.  Doesn't everyone?

 Other occasional captures on my float gear were small Asian retail catfish. They were quite astonishing fish, with highly flexible whiskers almost as long as their bodies.
Asian RedTailed Catfish

Note the green perch bobber float.  It was made by a guy called Mike Cootes, who calls himself the Purple Peanut...or maybe he just calls his website such. But he makes absolutely beautiful floats.  So nice that I am almost reluctant to use them.  But equally it would be such a shame not to use them.  A bit like having a Ferrari that never leaves the garage. So I used them for catching small fish in the margins.  I feel that I should now use the term "Peanutting" to describe the very action of messing around in the margins to catch tiddlers.  The float worked well.

But this tackle did not just attract small fish. Three times  that size 16 hook, carrying a minuscule bit of bait, less than half the size of a pea, hooked into something far bigger. Three times my precious peanutting float was dragged eighty, ninety, maybe a hundred yards down the lake.  As the float became more distant, my fear of losing it increased in proportion, if not exponentially.  In each case I fought back, bringing the fish most of the way back.  But then the light line gave way.  The fish had not broken the line, but had abraded it, reducing its strength.   The last few inches of line felt rough to the touch when I reeled in after losing the fish.  I suspect all three were good sized red tailed catfish, which had taken a tiny bait. The cats have abrasive pads just inside the mouth, very similar to a Wels catfish, but also that hard head might well have guaranteed the destruction of my line.   Three exciting ten minute sessions. I should have liked to have landed one of them, and maybe I should have spent more time "Peanutting" for them, so that Mike could have had a more spectacular photo of his float and fish, but  the five pound line was far from ideal, and my chances of success were  reduced by it.

But apart from a few niggles, it was a generally good week abroad. Nice fish, great wildlife and it is not everywhere that a young Thai lady will bring you breakfast down by the lake.

Lastly this:  You won't get many of these down the local canal. A Long Snouted Pipefish.
OK I Cheated. I Caught this One in the Landing Net.   Bye.

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic read Jay !!!
    & thanks for the mention by the way

    I was over the moon with the pictures you supplied me with. 😊