Our first day of fishing in Thailand started at IT Monster lake, I’m certain that John our guide booked it this way on purpose.
John is a unique individual, he owns BKK Fishing Tour out of Bangkok and because he speaks five languages he takes clients from around the world. He is the only fishing operator in Thailand that speaks Chinese so he basically has that market cornered and because of his knowledge of the US and good English many Americans choose him for their fishing adventures also.
I first talked to John through a fishing website called Texas Fishing Forum where he posted videos until I basically couldn’t say no. I mean what true angler wouldn’t want to catch exotic fish from around the world in a tropical location? His videos of giant Mekong catfish and wild snake heads and hard fighting Choa Phraya catfish had me hooked almost immediately.
After meeting him in person I realized John is a hunter, there is just no hunting in Thailand so he feeds his need with wild fishing. He loves the unknown of the wild rivers and not knowing what the next cast brings. We fished mostly stocked lakes and although there are still surprises most of the species in them are known. John understands his situation and spends his own free time in the wild. John owns the IGFA world record for snake head and he loves to sight fish for them in the jungles of Thailand. I knew we would get along fine and we did.
The first morning before daylight found us walking down a narrow dark street in a small town dodging motorcycles and passing by monks on our way to the market to get bait. I had no idea what bait we were after but I’m up for anything. We entered a small corner store where I expected to find tanks of live fish but much to my surprise we were buying bananas. These didn’t look real good to eat as they had mostly turned black so I trusted the guide as he gave me a smile when he picked up a batch and said Pacu love bananas and so do redtail catfish. Ok man you’re the guide. With our fruits secured we made our way to the lake.
Just as the sun cracked I was slinging my banana loaded hook into the stained water still trying to wrap my head around how this would work when the line peeled off. I no more than set the hook when it was gone. I missed my first fish on the trip I flew around the world to take. Disappointed but still confident I rebaited and tried again.
John had chummed the area with small dead talapia and said he expected fish to be there so hang tight. At the time I didn’t understand why we weren’t just fishing with the talapia but I would soon learn there are different rules for different lakes and they all have their reasons. Either way the banana obviously had worked I just didn’t do my part so when the next bite came I made it count and I was into my first fish in Thailand.
It had been basically a dream that I never thought would come true but here I was on the banks of a lake hooked into an unknown species of fish and I was loving life.
A short time into the fight John says, redtail redtail, he could tell by the fight it was an amazon redtail catfish. I didn’t know how they fought but I’ve fought thousands of catfish and this felt like one. As the fish surfaced and the net slid under him I was ecstatic and then John says, oh he’s just little but good start. I thought man this is a 15 pound fish if that’s little today is gonna be a good day, and it was, likely the best day of fishing I’ve ever had in my life.
We returned the fish after some pictures and were back in the water fishing in minutes. The thing that surprised me most about the amazon redtail was that they are not slimy like most catfish, in fact when taken from the water they are basically dry to the touch like a shark but without the rough skin. They have an armored plate, I guess you would call it, that is behind the head and runs to the dorsal fin but is separate from the head itself. Not only a beautiful fish but a hard fighter too.
As the chum started working and the sounds of splashing and fish feeding grew the action came faster. I landed another redtail of the same size, then another a bit bigger. It was great fun and an amazing couple of hours but I had barely gotten warmed up good when John said let’s move and try for Pacu. I didn’t argue at all.
Apparently when the redtail move in the pacu move out for fear of being eaten so we made our way around the lake and devised a plan.
Let me explain here the lake or lakes actually. In Thailand anything bigger than a pool of water is called a lake. I seen some an acre and some 20-30 acres, these particular lakes at IT Monster Lakes were good sized I’d guess 12-15 acres. One is a predator lake with big catfish of all kinds, arapaima, pacu, and the likes and the other is a carp lake, but not just a carp lake. A lake with 20 species of carp from around the world. I honestly had to come to terms with this style of fishing before even going. I live in Texas we fish huge huge bodies of water like Lake Fork coming in at 27,000 acres and Lake Tawakoni at 32,000 acres and now I’m going to go pay good money to fish in an oversized stock tank, I did, and I’d do it again and I would suggest to anybody having second thoughts to get over it because you’ll have the most fun fishing you can have I promise. Back to fishing.
The plan was to basically start at the bottom of the food chain and start a feeding frenzy to attract bigger and bigger fish, good plan, how do we do that? We started by throwing some fish pellets in the water, this attracted some small catfish that come into the lake through runoff from surrounding canals. That in turn attracted pacu and bigger catfish which caused a huge commotion on the water and then suddenly it stopped. John said the Chao Phraya are here, they are the kings around here and they will eat anything smaller than them. I’m liking the sounds of that so let’s get some hooks in the water.
I wanted to try for a pacu so we went with bananas first. The first take I never flinched before the 80 pound mono leader had been broken. I think I yelled what in the hell just happened? John said, pacu, very fast, bite the line. I reeled in and the 80 pound leader was cut clean. These fish are extremely fast and if you aren’t quick they take the hook too deep and just bite the leader but wire leader was out of the question I guess because John said they really shy away from the wire. Guess I’ll have to be faster.
On the second take I hooked him and in a split second the fish had covered thirty yards, by far the fastest fish I’ve ever hooked. The fight wasn’t powerful but fast and jerky. I landed the pacu and it was a nice fish and another species I’d never caught before.
After several pacu my attention had started to focus on a fish that I didn’t expect to catch but was a top of the list fish for sure, the arapaima. This fish is a fish that would show up in my dreams I’ve had about fishing, we’ve all seen them on River Monsters, we all know how huge they can be and how tough so my thoughts were to not get my hopes up, and so that you don’t get yours up reading this hoping to read my epic battle with this torpedo from South America I’ll tell you now I didn’t get one but I will also tell you that I now have a reason to return to Thailand.
The arapaima would surface for air, taking huge gulps that could be heard across the lake. They would show themselves for several seconds on the surface, some being seven feet long but throughout the entire trip in every lake they basically turned their nose up at all my offerings. When I mentioned to John I really would like one he simply said, very tough, takes a lot of time. Knowing that I came for as many species as possible John knew focusing on arapaima would take much needed time away from the other dozens of species in the lake and I respected his decision. Maybe one day I will take a trip to focus only on them but for now we had smaller fish to fry, so to speak.
After a few half hearted attempts at surfacing arapaima I completely realized John was right so we moved along. This is where it got real fun. On one of my redtail catches earlier in the day a guy steps over with a net and dips the fish. I didn’t know where he came from but I knew he didn’t ride with us and I knew I never seen a car pull up but the guy was a good net man. I asked John who’s he, he said Aor (pronounced OR), he works at the sugar cane factory at night across the road and works at the lake in the day. I liked Aor the very second I met him. He was smiling, he was excited to be there and most importantly he was a fisherman. I could tell that by the way he operated, by the way he looked at the water, how he handled tackle and the net, the guy was no different than me. Well other than he was short and Asian and didn’t speak English but other than that we were exactly alike.
Aor had disappeared on me a time or two and I didn’t know what he was up to but I didn’t ask, after all he worked for the lake not for me so I paid it no mind but my appreciation of Aor would grow even more when we switched to carp fishing at the other lake. Aor had been baiting a hole for us to fish on the carp lake between dipping up fish I was catching in the other lake. He would get on a moped with a bucket and a big sack of grain and go throw the grain out to attract the carp. When we arrived a few hours later the spot was on fire, my man Aor had set us up nicely.
The carp lake has 20+ species of carp in it from around the world. I really wanted to catch a big Siamese carp but the problem with this style fishing is it’s really hard to target a specific species of carp because they all feed the same way and on the same thing so it’s just a numbers game. The more fish you catch the better your chances are of catching the species you want. I have no problems at all catching any species but some can be caught in other places but the Siamese carp can really only be caught in Thailand anymore with regularity.
Mary Ann would be getting in on the carp fishing too so we had out two rods over Aor’s baited hole and in a short time the first rod screamed off. I picked up the rod, it bit like a carp and fought like a carp but what kind? I’ve only caught common carp and smallmouth buffalo so I didn’t know what other carp species felt like. As the fish came in Aor netted him and said rohu, rohu. It was a cool fish and one I had never caught before so I was happy. I caught several rohu of various colors over the next few hours and I learned from John that these are the fish most raised in Asia for food and are very common there. They had a mouth like a grass carp but a body more like a silver carp. I liked them and they were quick to take our baits so that made it even better.
The bites came steady, even through lunch as we ate, I finally just reeled the rods in so that we could sit down and eat but Aor is a worker and I no more finished my last bite of rice and he’s already sending bait out again.
Mary Ann’s fist bite struck hard but didn’t seem to be too big during the fight and as it got closer I could see it was a common carp. I told her we didn’t fly half way around the world for you to catch the carp we have at home, you need to step up your game. I think I was told where to stick “my game” as she handed Aor the rod to rebait. It was kind of funny to me that her next two bites were also common carp as I was catching multiple species, she didn’t find it as humorous as I did. She did however catch a couple small species of fish that I didn’t catch. One was a soldier river barb and the other a silver barb, cool little fish that got a chuckle out of Aor when he grabbed the net to land them.
The rigs and bait were pretty simple, a huge ball of rice flour and bread crumb packed around a spring feeder and a leader with a small hook and styrofoam balls or bread crust on it. The idea is that the hook will float up near the huge bait ball and as the fish suck in the flour and crumb they take in the hook. Not a big secret or fancy rig but extremely effective and cheap.
The fish kept coming of all sizes but mostly common carp, rohu, and an occasional barb of some sort but then suddenly my rod screamed off like no other bite I had that day so I knew it was either really big or a new species or both. I raised into it and the fight was strong and the fish made several runs but didn’t feel real heavy just real strong. I had no idea what it was and it wasn’t until he broke the surface that Aor even knew but when the fish did break the surface Aor got real excited. Mary Ann says it must be good if the net man is excited about it because he does this everyday, and it was good, actually great. I’ve seen these fish and heard they fought real hard for their size and were great runners and all this was true. When Aor netted the fish and put it on the land I was extremely happy to see a Julliens Golden carp. These fish are rarely caught in the wild anymore but are stocked in lakes all over Thailand. I didn’t know they were in this lake but was happy to see one. They are a very expensive fish in the restaurants and are supposed to be a great eating fish. I had no interest in eating it but after catching a small 12 pounder I was very interested in catching a 30 pounder because this fish out fought the common carp in my opinion and I’ve always said in freshwater pound for pound a common carp was the hardest fighting fish I’ve caught. I really liked this fish for its fight but they are also a beautiful fish I think. It was one of my favorite catches.
I never caught the 30 pounder but we did catch a few more and the more I caught the more I liked them.
As the hours passed we landed multiple fish but no other species besides the five or six we had already. I would love to spend a few days on this lake and see how many kinds of fish I could pull out as this was one of the funnest half days we had in my opinion but I told John I wanted as many species as possible and he did his part setting it up so when he said time for something else I didn’t disagree. I hated to stop fishing that lake but I knew from the looks of the bait John had just returned from town with the next installment of this day was about to get real good.
As Aor and I were taking a few pics of one of the carp, John pulls up with some huge plastic bags full of water and I could see fish swimming in them and they were big, big enough to eat and I’m sure they are sold in the market for food but the fish we were after were gonna be in the 100+ pound range possibly so it made sense to have big bait. Aor and I finished our photo shoot and went to check out the bait. John had gotten us a half dozen albino walking catfish about 14-16 inches long. He says he likes the albino because they stand out more and they aren’t used as much so the fish aren’t weary of them. I had a lot of questions about how this was gonna work but trusted these two knew the game.
First off you can’t just tie one of these on and cast it out, they weigh a pound or more and have a soft back so the likelihood was that the hook would pull on the cast. I later tried to hook one through the lips and cast it and it worked but upon impact with the water I knocked the life out of him and he basically just went belly up so the plan was to “walk” them out to deep water. Aor hooked the fish and I held the rod as he held the line and slung the catfish out a few feet and as the fish started to swim away we fed him line. If he turned toward the bank Aor would give him a little tug to face him away again and then we fed him more line to go out. It was just like walking a dog and it required some skill. I tried it with minimal success but my man Aor had it down to an art.
There was no question if there was a bite because the line would peel out so fast that if Aor held it tight it would burn his hand so when I seen the bite coming he would yell something in Thai that I quickly learned meant get ready or something to that effect and as soon as the line got tight to the reel I set the hook and then I set the hook again to ensure I got it in deep.
The first bite was no doubt a big fish but not the 100+ pounder we had hoped for. I knew from the previous redtail catfish fights that this was one also but much bigger. Redtail tend to try to bury up in the grass and mud of the bank and will run the bank burying themselves in the weeds. John would laugh as the fish basically rammed his head along the banks and in Johns words, “looking for the exit”. It made me laugh everytime I hooked one that headed toward the mud John would yell, he’s looking for the exit. This fish didn’t find the exit but pulled hard and fought himself deep into the weeds and grass stirring up mud all along the banks. I finally got him close and Aor stepped in the water to net him and by his struggle to lift him I knew this was my biggest redtail and it was an amazing fish. Coming in at around 75-80 pounds I could not have been happier with the catch.
I had caught more than enough redtail and the only fish that Mary Ann had mentioned wanting to catch was a redtail before we left for Thailand so I told John set her up I wanted her to catch a big one, so put her on a catfish and let’s get her a big redtail.
Aor started the walking process while Mary Ann held the rod and fed the line and after several tries she had a take. Aor says something in Thai that I knew meant to strike and she did but the fish struck back harder and almost pulled the rod from her hands, this got a laugh out of Aor, I like this guy more and more every minute.
Mary Ann has not fished her whole life like I have and there’s things I forget to tell her that she doesn’t know but in the year or so since she’s started fishing with me every trip she has become extremely good at almost every aspect of fishing. She has caught several big fish now and fish species that guys I know haven’t caught in 20 years of fishing. I try to help her but also let her learn on her own at the same time. I couldn’t be happier with we are in her fishing career right now and who can complain, I mean after only really fishing for a year she is now standing in Thailand fighting a 50 pound amazon redtail and doing a helluva job too. Most people fish their entire lives never having caught any fish of this size let alone do it in a location like this, it was a very satisfying moment for me to watch her and I could tell she was enjoying the experience too.
The fight lasted longer than it maybe should have but I told the guys to just stand back and let her work, I wanted this fish to be hers alone and I knew she would gain a lot of knowledge about fighting a big fish in just this fight alone and turns out later in the trip she would need all the knowledge she had. I’ll write more later about the giant Mekong catfish that we caught in another story so stay tuned for that epic days accounts.
Mary Ann had her redtail and I was happy and Aor was happy so this couldn’t get much better, or could it?
The main reason for getting the big walking catfish for bait was for the Chao Phraya catfish. These are the fish the river is named after that runs through the middle of Bangkok before dumping into the gulf of Thailand. Nicknamed the “dog eater” catfish it has a reputation of eating most anything in its way which is great for fisherman because that makes them easy to catch. The problem in this lake is there are a lot of redtail in the shallows and getting the bait passed them to get to deeper water was hard so we just kept moving around until we found a place the red tails weren’t at and the little pink eyed albino catfish found his way to some deep water. When the Chao Phraya hit it was vicious, the line screamed and the water boiled and it headed to the depths of the lake. Instantly John said big fish big fish, he knew because the fish was heading to deeper water that it was big. The small fish don’t venture out there because they will be eaten. There was no doubt in my mind this was the biggest fish I had hooked since being there, it turned out to be the biggest fish of the trip.
The Chao Phraya are very fast for their size and take a lot of line. I would get the fish near the bank and he would make a long run taking back all the line I had gained over the last few minutes. This happened about five times and it wasn’t until Aor moved toward the water that I knew the fight was ending. He knew that the first time or two the fish approached land he would make a run so he didn’t even bother getting ready. After about the fourth run he took off his shirt and got in the water, that’s a good sign that the fish was big because we wouldn’t be putting him on land for fear of damaging him. Finally after almost a half hour I had won the battle and Aor slipped the net under the beast and I was exhausted. I quickly got in the water to join Aor in handling the fish. I had no intentions of weighing him because I didn’t want to lift him and bend him wrong and injure him in any way so we simply took all the photos and I let the guys guess the weight. They have handled 100s of them and I trusted what they thought he weighed. Not having a ton of experience with fish this size I guessed him at about 140 but I was told 125-130 pounds, of course I caught him so I had to add a few pounds weight right?
We were into our tenth straight hour of fishing and I’ll admit I was getting tired but we had two big baits left so after the high fives and pics and congratulations we were back at it. This time the bait barely got passed the edge of the grass when I seen the big swirl and the catfish disappear. I assumed it was a big amazon redtail, as did Aor but much to my surprise when he broke the surface it was not an amazon redtail. Aor became very excited at the site of the fish and began frantically trying to net him. I wasn’t too excited until I seen his excitement because again I knew if it excites him it had to be good. As Aor lifted the fish I could see it was a catfish of some kind. I immediately recognized the three feet long whiskers that belonged to the Asian redtail. I never expected to catch one and for the size of the bait the fish wasn’t that big. It was indeed a big fish but he swallowed a bait that weighted almost two pounds. Aor was excitedly saying something in Thai, I just smiled and shook his hand to show my appreciation for his hard work and enthusiasm.
After all the pics and gathering of gear and getting things back in order from the last two fights the sun was finally setting but I had one bait left and I thought why not just try one more time to put this in front of an arapaima. We had seen some surfacing across the lake so we headed that way. It was very near dark when we got the bait in the water. We mostly held him close until the arapaima surfaced then we tried to get the bait as close as we could. He never showed any interest at all but I had already had possibly the greatest days fishing of my life so who could complain. Just as I had given up a slow bite came. I knew this was different than the rest and bit like a fish I know well but I didn’t put it all together until I set the hook and a four foot gator gar jumped from the water. There’s one place in the world that these come from and that’s the southern US but I was not aurpiesed to see one in Thailand, after all they have fish from every where else there. The fight was short and the sun had set so that ended the day.
I would get on a plane and endure that 22 hour flight again right now for another day on these lakes. John had done a great job with all the arrangements and Aor was simply a joy to fish with and I hope to fish with him again someday. I hope that he enjoyed us as much as we did him and I tipped him good for his efforts, he really made the day easy and it was nice to see someone who loves fishing like him.
I plan to return one day and spend a day at the carp lake and see just how many species I can land from there.
Hope you enjoy the video I made of one of the best days fishing in my life.