Thailand Catfishing - 2006


Bangkok, Thailand
4/20/2006 to 4/30/2006

Written on 5/3/2012

As a 20 year-old studying abroad in Australia back in Spring 2006 I pondered how to spend spring break. Just a week before spring break I was on the way to pick up some groceries and passed by a travel agencies advertising affordable flights to Thailand. I stopped in, and walked out having spontaneously purchased round trip airfare to Bangkok for an 11 day vacation! Among the things I was most excited for was to have a blast fishing for monster fish, and potentially add a few lifelisters. Since the 11 day trip was the best deal on flights, I would also have plenty of time for sight-seeing. This is a blog about fishing trips, but also about the adventures that go along with them, and any way you look at it this was definitely one hell of an adventure.

Having traveled solo through New Zealand a few months previously I felt confident in my ability to handle traveling on my own. As it turned out, the people of Bangkok generally spoke enough English that I was able to get around just fine. On the other hand, I would encounter problems (some beyond my control, others purely due to my own naïveté) that I had not prepared for that would drive me to a state of mild panic. On several occasions I would wonder how I decided that flying to Thailand for 11 days by myself was a good idea.

I only fished on my last full day in Bangkok, and the results made up for the emotional strife of the previous week. Even without the fishing trip, though, I do not have any regrets about going to Thailand on my own. It was a growing experience and upon touching down safely back in Perth I realized that the good memories I brought home from that trip outweighed the less enjoyable aspects of the experience.

So, before getting into the fishing part of the trip, what were the good and the bad experiences of the trip? I'll start with the bad:

 

  • I arrived in Thailand worn out from the most painful sore throat of my life, which persisted through the first several days of the trip.
  • Breathing in humid, 104 degree traffic-induced photochemical smog all day, every day, led to bad headaches and did nothing to improve my sore throat.
  • Due to inattention on my part, I exchanged a good amount of money at a rate that I later realized was very poor. In fact it was a blatant rip-off.
  • After two ten-hour days of walking and riding in tuk-tuks around the city looking at temples, Buddha statues. and markets I began to wonder how I'd pass the next 9 days... I definitely felt both bored and lonely at times.
  • Feeling stifled by the big city, I booked a 6 day trip to the islands in southern Thailand. I may have had a great time had I gone, and probably would have been able to do more fishing and in a beautiful and scenic tropical environment. But after returning to my hotel (Sawasdee)on Khao San Road worry set in. The travel agent hadn't given me clear instructions on when and where to catch the bus. What if I missed the bus and consequently my flight? I didn't have enough money to buy a new plane ticket. And the bus ride was 11 hours each way, through mountains. Eating all this new food and drinking questionable water, what if I get sick? The bus ride alone may have made me sick, and I did NOT want to be trapped on a bus for 22 hours if I wasn't feeling good. But I had spent enough money that I didn't have a means to secure a place to stay in Bangkok, so I was trapped, and that caused me to panic that night. Thankfully I was able to email my dad in the morning and he quickly deposited enough in my account to get me through the trip. I opted to play it safe and booked my room in Bangkok for the remainder of the trip. Unfortunately, the trip I never took cost me several hundred bucks. Guess I'll never know if I made the right decision, but I was happy to make it out of there safely!

The overwhelming and intimidating size of Bangkok was a factor that contributed to what I felt at the time was bad experience. So did the pesty armies of men attempting to sell me unwanted products and services not limited to suits, gems, textiles, sex, transportation, and tickets to events. It was a frustrating culture-shock for me, but in hindsight I also realize it was a valuable eye-opening experience of what traveling in a third world city of nine million people can be like. I also learned fast to be a more assertive traveler.

One event that was both bad and good was meeting a local man that spent most of the day guiding me through Bangkok. I had seen many of the impressive temples and statues already but on that day we went to a Hindu temple, the seafood markets of Chinatown, walked along the Chao Phraya River, and went out for a 5 course dinner at a hole-in-the-wall joint patronized mostly by locals. We ate, drank, and chatted for hours. I intended to buy him dinner in return for showing me around, but he ordered way more than we could eat (presumably he wanted me to try a little of everything, or to give the restaurant some good business, or maybe both) and lots of Singha beer. I enjoyed the company and conversation, but when it came time to pay I was told only cash was accepted, and I didn't have enough on me. Fortunately an employee offered to take me to an ATM. On his motorbike. So, feeling quite tipsy and with no helmet, I had to hold on to this guy for my life from the back of the bike while he zoomed between lanes of heavy traffic. I thought I was going to die.

Despite the not-so-pleasant things listed above, there were certainly some GOOD aspects to the trip:

 

  • The food was amazing. Bangkok is where I learned to like vegetables. Everything I tried was so good! And a really good daily breakfast buffet (much better than anything I've been served in a U.S. hotel) was included at the hotel.
  • The temples really were impressive. So was the National Museum.
  • I learned to avoid touristy areas and found that walking around was easier and more enjoyable, especially when I was physically feeling better. Watching river traffic and the sunset on a breezy afternoon from the Rama 8 Bridge is one of my favorite memories of the city.
  • I hardly ever watch television, but I really appreciated the three English-speaking TV stations available on my hotel room TV: BBC news, ESPN (it was extra comforting to watch the Baltimore Orioles take a lead against the Yankees), and a movie channel (I watched Anaconda 1 and 2, and Anchorman). I also spent quite a bit of time in the middle of that trip reading to kill time until my big fishing day...
  • I took a day trip outside of Bangkok to the former capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya. There I had an enjoyable day exploring ruins, hanging out with some English speaking Europeans and South Africans, and getting some fresh air!
  • And, what was pretty much the impetus of my entire trip to Thailand, the opportunity to catch some giant fish! I caught my largest fish ever several times that day, added two awesome species to my angling lifelist (my first two species outside of the Midwest United States).

 


Bungsamran Lake - 4/29/2006

Finally, the day of fishing had arrived! Eddie, my guide and founder of FishThailand, picked me up punctually in front of my hotel and we headed to Bungsamran Lake, which I would describe as more like a large pond. We walked out on a boardwalk along one shore and set up for the day. The bait of choice was a baseball sized doughball, made by mixing water with corn flakes with other secret ingredients in a pail and then forming bait balls as needed.

 

It didn't take long for something to take the bait.

 

After a bulldog-ish fight I had landed my first Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas; lifelister #38). It was my biggest fish ever, but I would keep raising that bar throughout the day, until I caught one that hit 50 pounds. I was really hoping for a Mekong Giant Catfish of over 100 pounds, but it was not to be. Yet, I would have been thrilled to catch just one.

 

After a few Mekong giant catfish I caught a shiny catfish with a smaller head and sharp fins: the Iridescent Shark (Pangasius hypophthalmus):

 

Midway through the day I landed several Mekongs over 40 pounds.

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest of them, and my biggest fish to date, was this 50 pound Mekong giant catfish:

 

By mid-afternoon it was over 100 degrees out, my hands were blistered, and my back and arms were sore from 6 nearly continuous hours of battling fish. The wait between bites was a matter of seconds or minutes, whereas each fish took about 15 minutes to land. By the end of the day I had caught 11 Mekong giant catfish ranging from 27 to 50 pounds a piece, and 5 iridescent shark weighing between 16 and 23 pounds. In total, I caught well over 400 pounds of catfish that day. It was awesome!

I emailed my dad pictures and the story when I got back to Perth, and as a surprise he forwarded them on to my hometown newspaper.

 

 

After fishing Eddie brought me back to my hotel and I had one last dinner in Bangkok before flying out the next morning. My experience in Thailand was full of ups and downs, but I successfully added some really cool species to my angling lifelist and got to see an interesting part of the world.

 


 


 


 


 


Selected photographs of Bangkok and Ayutthaya

Khao San Road after dark

 

Wat Suthat and the Big Swing, Bangkok

 

Big Buddha, Ayutthaya

 

Wat Phra si Sanphet, Ayutthaya

 

Asian Elephants in Ayutthaya

 

Ingrown Buddha head, Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya

 

Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya

 

Ayutthaya ruins

 

 

Marble Temple, Bangkok

 

Rama 8 Bridge in Bangkok

 

A view of Bangkok from the roof of an art museum

 

 

Species List: 
Catfish, Giant Mekong
Catfish, Iridescent Shark

Comments

Very cool! I was going to visit Bangkok and BSR on my trip to Asia in 2010...but at the time, the civil unrest in Bangkok made my sister and I change plans.

 

Love to visit Bangkok next time I'm in the area.smiley Wat Phar is high on my list...as well as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Cast_and_Blast's picture

I absolutely love Thailand.  I can so relate to your whole story Josh.  I can almost smell the smells of Thailand when I see your pics.  I experienced the same cultural things, stuggles, and challenges you described before.  I can tell you that things become more enjoyable there once you learn the culture and language a bit. 

 

I have been to Bungsamlan many times and I think every angler that visits Thailand should go there at least once.  Very cool write-up.  I makes me want to do an expedition report.