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Even with my extensive travel activity, I rarely visit the same exotic country twice in a year, but in 2005 I just had to. I went to Thailand in April to fish for various freshwater species, both in jungle rivers- and lakes, and in the famous Bung Sam Lan Lake in Bangkok – and then, again, in October I wanted to try out some of Thailand's sea fishing.

The Unavoidable
However – you don't go to Bangkok without visiting Bung Sam Lan Lake. Especially not, when there are new people with you, who haven't tried to fish this special lake.

We spent only one day at Bung Sam Lan this time, but we apparently didn't need much more. After only 20 minutes, my German friend, Florian, caught a 31 kg Siamese Giant Carp (Catlocarpio siamensis) – this rare species is extremely shy, and it's normally advisable to spend 2 weeks at Bung Sam Lan just to have a small chance to catch one.

We all caught the "ever-hungry" Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), mostly 18-20 kg, and up to 42 kg. I finally caught the Chao Phraya Giant Catfish (Pangasius sanitwongsei), which has eluded me on 3 trips - but the reward was to be one of 16 kg, which is a good size for this species.

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The Gulf of Thailand
After a 4-hour drive from Bangkok, we arrived at Trat port in the southeast of Thailand. Here, in the Gulf of Thailand, there are many islands, big and small, many are uninhabited – the more known islands are Koh Kut and Koh Chang. This tropical paradise of exotic islands were to be our "home" for five days – address: Thai Squid boat !

We got our gear loaded and stowed on the boat, and soon set off. It was a wonderful trip out between the exotic islands, with Flyingfish and dolphins to keep us company.

First order of the day was to catch bait. As the sun set in a brilliant display of colours, we anchored up between a couple of minute islands, while we set up light spinning rods to catch squids. It took a while before we had any action, and it took a lot of self-control not to strike, when there was a bite. You only have to reel the animal in at a steady pace; otherwise, the pointed hooks just go straight through the squid's soft meat. Thus, we managed to catch 5 squid in two hours – hardly enough for serious bait fishing. Well, of course not !

We only had to wait until the professionals went to work…

Before that, we were served a lovely dinner of traditional Thai food – made on a single burner – they sure know how to cook.23 gulf of thailand 20220211 1907097614

After dinner, the crew started their squid fishing. They swung out long out-riggers, with powerful lights, on both sides of the boat, and lay a net in just one of the sides. After a while the captain turned off the lights on the opposite side of the net – waited another little while – and then the crew quickly hoisted the net. They continued doing this well into the night, while we were sleeping, and in the morning there was a huge number of squids on the boat – much more than enough to sustain our fishing. Some were put in the boat's live-bait tank, but most were put on ice.

We lived on the boat the 5 days – eating, sleeping, and fishing – alongside the crew. There was no doubt about our captain's capabilities in locating good fishing grounds, he always took great care positioning the boat just right, and he made sure to move the boat to new areas at night, while we were sleeping, as much for the fishing as for comfort in relation to wind and weather.

The food onboard was a constant source of amazement to us: how they could cook all those great dishes with just the one burner was beyond our comprehension – all sorts of Thai dishes, fried fish, crab, squid, and all the sushi and sashimi we could eat (catch) – wow !

47 gulf of thailand 20220211 1213633334Here is how a typical day went:
We were usually up and ready at first light, which meant around 6 am. Coffee and breakfast was getting ready as we rubbed our eyes from sleep and watched the sunrise. We munched the bacon and egg sandwiches, while our guides prepared heavy rods with big floats and a whole, live squid or dead fish for bait. We took turns on the big rods, except if we had a specific plan with one of them, and that system worked really well.

When the big baits were in place, we spent much time fishing with light gear for all sorts of smaller bottom species, and this fishing was really quite fun. We caught a huge number of exotic species, and it would take me a whole page to list them all, so I'll just mention these: Groupers, Snappers, Sea Bream, Batfish, Wrasses and Parrotfish. However, every now and again we hooked into bigger and stronger fish like Whipray, Barracuda and Grunts, which gave us some more than interesting fights on the light gear.

Just before lunch, we headed for one of the lush little islands to swim, snorkel and photograph. I have snorkelled often before, but never in tropical saltwater, and I can safely say that there is absolutely NO comparison !50 gulf of thailand 20220211 2065066008

I was swimming with thousands of colourful fishes, amongst sea urchins, sea cucumbers, anemones and corals – a real paradise for me, who love to photograph underwater.

When we succeed in getting everyone back on the boat – which could be difficult enough – we threw ourselves at the delicious lunch dishes of fried fish and squid, rice and vegetables. During our lunch, the captain repositioned the boat to be ready for the afternoon- and evening fishing.

The afternoon- and evening fishing was usually the most exciting, as we had the biggest fish then. We had good results on both dead fish and live squid, both under a float and on the bottom. The best fish were Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) to 10 kg, Talang Queenfish (Scomberoides commersonianus) to 6 kg, Narrowbar Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) to 5 kg, Whiprays (Himantura gerrardi & Himantura jenkinsii) to 25 kg, Barracudas (Sphyraena jello & Sphyraena putnamae) to 4½ kg, Reef Needlefish (Strongylura incisa) to 2 kg, and several other interesting species.

Unfortunately, we didn't catch Sailfish on this trip, even though we saw them hunting in our area – maybe next time…

We had to break up at some stage to move to the nightly squid fishing grounds, which is probably the only reason why we got some time to eat dinner. Again, food was superb – we had the usual Thai dishes with fish and squid, and on top of that we had sushi and sashimi from the Queenfish, Parrotfish and Spanish Mackerel. We had fortunately remembered to bring soy sauce, lime and wasabi.

32 gulf of thailand 20220211 1779281811At night we helped the crew with the squid nets when and where we could – otherwise, we just enjoyed cold beers and photographed whatever they caught of squid and octopus types, crab, Flyingfish, Halfbeaks, and much else.

The Perfect Ending
The last days in Thailand we fished various rivers and lakes just outside Bangkok – however, the most interesting was by far the half day we spent at Ban Mee Lake, fishing for Barramundi. And, yes, I wrote correctly: Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) !

We mostly hear about Barramundi from Australia, but the Barramundi thrives in both fresh-, brackish- & saltwater, alas its wide distribution in Southeast Asia and Australia.

We thought that a half day would be way too little time to catch some, but there we were fortunately proven wrong, as we landed quite a few with 6 over 5 kg, and the biggest of 8 kg + a Fourfinger Threadfin (Eleutheronema tetradactylum) of 2 kg.

I've always liked the look of the Barramundi, and thought I'd like to catch one, but little did I know of their fighting spirit – they strip your reel from line, jump several times and are bloody hard to keep away from obstacles. Even though we caught pretty well, I just haven't got enough - I'll definitely be back…

My good friend, Jean-Francois Helias, arranges my trips in Thailand – both fresh- and saltwater. Jean-Francois lives in Bangkok, and I have not seen anyone else arrange trips like this in Thailand – on top of it, it's inexpensive !

The freshwater fishing is done most of the year, whereas the saltwater fishing is at its best from October to February.

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