On day four of fishing in Thailand our guide John had arranged a boat for us to fish the Chao Phraya river. This was not part of the original plan but upon arrival in Thailand John told me we had a chance to do this and would be one of very few foreigners to fish this part of the river and his first foreign clients so I said, I’m in.
The Chao Phraya river starts near the border of Loas and runs the length of Thailand and dumps into the Gulf of Thailand after it passes right through the middle of Bangkok. Although the river is wild we would be fishing almost in the city. We found out a few days later while touring around that fishing within the city would be near impossible as the boat traffic on the water was almost as bad as the cars on the streets. Between the dozens of tour boats, the ships hauling freight, and the floating restaurants there was no way to safely fish there. We did see thousands of fish of several varieties while touring but most of these were outside of temples being fed by people standing on docks.
John said we would catch black eared catfish, which I didn’t even know exsisted, possibly jungle perch, and a slim chance at featherback and barrimundi. Honestly I didn’t care, just point me toward the water and give me a rod.
We met the boat man at daylight and loaded the gear. I don’t know this guys name and he spoke zero English but again like the other guys we had fished with we could communicate enough through knowledge of fishing to understand what was happening.
We would all throw some form of crankbait and John said the black eared catfish would not hesitate at all to bite them. Crank baits aren’t usually the first choice for most people when catfishing but they are predators so it made sense.
The morning started slow, very slow, in fact I was starting to question my decision on coming to the river over the sure thing that I knew was at the lake but it’s a huge river and unpredictable and I knew it would pay off.
After several stops in the boat mans favorite places and doing exactly what I was told as far as retrieval speed and presentation I said hell with it I’m gonna fish like I do for bass back home and see what happens, so I did.
Now in a bass fishing mindset I would see places I wanted to fish but the boatman would pass them up, at first I didn’t say anything after all I’ve been on this river for four hours he’s been here thirty years, but then I finally said hey why are we not fishing there. I was told no fishing, ok, why, no fishing near the temples. Apparently the stretch of river in front of the temples can’t be fished. I didn’t question this, after having been here for over a week now I knew how respectful of the temples and monks everyone is and I too will respect their wishes.
John would catch a glimpse of me fishing the way I always do and he would give me some instruction and eventhough I respect him as a guide and fisherman that way wasn’t working so I wanted to try something different. Why not, it was now lunch time and we hadn’t landed a single fish?
We had lunch on the river at a restaurant that would cook your catch of the day, we had no catch of the day so they brought us menus. I felt so defeated as a fisherman to pull up to a place ready to cook anything you brought in and I had to ask for a menu. I’m glad I don’t know these people or I’m sure they would’ve laughed at me.
The meal was great as all of the food in Thailand is. As we waited for our food I noticed small fish surfacing around the dock and along a rock wall. I asked John what they were and he said archer fish. We’ve all seen the fish on NatGeo that shoots water up at bugs on limbs and knocks the bug into the water to eat, well that’s the archer fish. I asked John if he ever fished for them and he said not really why? I said give me the smallest lure you got I’m going to catch one. Actually I gave the rod to Mary Ann to catch one, I felt bad for her, it was hot, she was stuck in a boat on a river and we weren’t catching a thing. At least had we went to the lake she could’ve got into some shade or AC but I brought her out on the river to roast, I felt bad, but I knew catching a fish would help.
We started throwing the little bait at the fish we could see and they wasted no time chasing it and in a matter of minutes Mary Ann had the first fish of the day. These were the coolest little fish, they looked like a tropical aquarium fish and had a big tongue that I can only assume was the power for the water they squirted down the bugs with.
The food was arriving so we went back to the table just long enough to eat our meal and then we were back to fishing. Mary Ann had caught several archer fish by now so I gave it go and after a couple small ones I had a fish that was a little different fight, turned out to be a tinfoil barb. Another species of fish I didn’t know was in this river. I have heard of them but didn’t realize they would bite lures, either way we had another species we could put on our list that we had caught. The day was getting better now, we had a few fish, we got a cold drink and some lunch and feeling refreshed we hit the river again.
I think John had given up on telling me what works because I hadn’t heard him tell me slow down yet when only half hour after we started fishing again I had a fish. Much bigger than the archer fish and the barb from the restaurant. The thing about fishing here is that this could literally be any fish in Thailand from a freshwater stingray to a big barb of some kind to the black eared catfish and the catfish is what it turned out to be. Not a huge one but I think it was around 6 pounds so respectable fish because John said twenty pounds is a huge one. I was getting the fish from the net and getting pictures when John got a bite, reeling faster by the way, and we went from zero fish in four hours to several fish in a matter of a half hour. John landed his and it was another blackeared catfish about four pounds.
The fish looked a lot like the Chao Phraya catfish we caught earlier in the week but much smaller and with a big black spot where their ear would be. Cool little fish and pretty hard fighters for their size. We had now landed three new species of fish and things seemed to be going right now.
The next stop was some kind of channel that water was being directed into the river with. I’m not sure where it was coming from or what it was used for but the whole channel was concrete so I know they built it to use the river water for something and it was being returned to the river here. These types spots are always good places to catch fish anywhere you go or any kind of fish you fish for. I threw a top water bait along a rock wall at the mouth of the channel. I have no idea what I was fishing for but the boatman came with me as we walked down some steel structure across the channel and he gave the cast single, pointed to where, and then showed me the motion to use to retrieve. I casted and hit the exact spot and he patted me on the back saying something in Thai and nodded his approval. I repeated this process for fifteen minutes until he shrugged his shoulders with a disappointing look on his face and I figured that meant no fish there so I moved along.
Mary Ann was sitting on the steel supports and throwing under a bridge with her crank bait and she had hooked a fish just as I gave up on my top water bait. It was a huge barb of some kind. I’m not 100% sure what kind and John only knew the Thai name but it is possible it was a really large tinfoil barb but the colors were different from the smaller one I caught which isn’t that out of the ordinary in fish to change as they get bigger. She was really happy about it as was I, she was sun burnt and tired and I wanted her to catch something. She had stayed out without complaint all day.
We spent the next couple hours in various places, we fished in front of a huge palace at one point which was real cool and at one stop a group of monkeys ran along the river wall and up into the trees. I tried to get pictures of the monkeys but they were too fast and did not approve of our presence because they would go to the top of the trees yell at us as we passed by.
The people we passed along the river were very friendly and you could tell these people were true river people. They lived on the water and caught most of their food from the river. We seen people washing clothes in the river and most of the huts had stairways that lead into the water. After seeing them wash clothes this explained why our boat man had caught two shirts and a pair of underwear that day. This guy almost had a complete wardrobe dragging a big swim bait along bottom, it only yielded one small fish that John called a mirror fish but he caught plenty of laundry. While casting along a huge wall one time a man paddled his little boat up to a clump of floating lillies and with a long cane pole he lowered a bait into the lillies and quickly pulled out a talapia and placed it in a small basket in the front of his boat. It was a really neat experience seeing this old man doing what he did everyday. In a large hat and a long skinny boat the scene was like a scene from a NatGeo show, I enjoyed watching that old man as much as fishing. He had a little motor on his boat but many didn’t.
Knowing we were on the river where the largest freshwater stingrays in the world live really made me want to return to fish for them, our current set of gear wouldn’t last a second hooked onto a large ray but I guess I can always go back for them right?
All in all the day was a good day despite the slow start. We seen parts of Thailand and the Chao Phraya river that most tourist don’t see. I enjoyed the day but it was a hard day physically and mentally. I will prepare myself more for the river on the next trip and hope to fish for the freshwater stingrays the true monsters of the deep murky water.