When I was 11-years old, I started getting into the habit of buying fishing magazines on top of my usual comic book purchases. Admiring the beautiful fishes in these Thai publications I soon developed a desire to achieve this one goal: to catch a trophy-sized giant snakehead. Pocket money would be wasted away on these magazines just to catch a glimpse of this beautiful predator (back then Google image wasn’t invented yet). Black, green and white in colour and roughly the size of a human leg, giant snakehead parents were held up high with pride by the anglers featured in these magazines.
However there were several factors preventing me from getting close to said dream. Being 11-years-old, with no knowledge of what gear to buy, no idea how to catch fish (save for the tilapias in my friend’s pond), no clue of where to fish and no car to get there I was completely hopeless. Not to mention that my dad’s love for golf completely trumped over his interest for fishing so cross-out the idea of him teaching me.
Fast-forward to the clock to present day. After a lot of patience and practice the day I had been dreaming of finally came true after a series of unfortunate events.
On the morning of Tuesday 6 July 2010, I got out of bed at 4am. Did I sleep well? Of course not. I could never force myself to sleep early enough to have the right amount of rest for a 4am wake-up call. The thought of getting to fish the day after is, even to this day, far too exciting. After gathering my gear and having a quick breakfast of black coffee (not really a breakfast is it?) I kissed my sweet girlfriend good-bye as she walked me to the car. By around 4:50am I was off, praying to the god of fishing and the god of car accidents that I would be free from any car troubles (like this incident and this other shitty incident that happened the day after).
5:30am I made a stop at the Chonburi motorway pit stop, a haven of food for all ages. Being in a rush, 7-Eleven cheesy sausages did the trick of quickly filling me. On any other occasion I would have had given my two good friends Colonel Sanders and uncle Ronald McDonald some of my patronage.
6:15am I arrived at Bang Pra reservoir. It was already a gorgeous day with a mild overcast and the kind of sapphire blue sky that romance movies are made of. My guide that day was Doeng (โด่ง), a friendly guy who never seemed to realise that I couldn’t hear his soft voice when he’s talking to me in windy areas on the reservoir. Doeng is a part of a local fishing service led by his boss Somkuan. Of all the guides Doeng is among the most requested due to his ability to read the water, fish’s behaviour and weather. He’d sometimes say, “the wind is about to pick up in a few minutes” and just like he called it, it actually happens. Being a Tuesday, booking Doeng as my guide was a piece of cake since all the other Bangkok anglers were busy at work.
“Today, they are in the jungle”, was his prediction for the day. He explained that due to the recent increase in rainfall the snakeheads have moved into the vegetation-filled banks to ambush prey.
And, without the slightest doubt, the man was once again right. Within my first few casts I had gotten bites from several snakeheads too small to get hooked or matter. After all, the little ones weren’t what I’m after.
Fishing for snakeheads in Thailand is a seasonal thing. Monsoon season had just arrived in Thailand. For most people living in the country “monsoon season” usually translated to disastrous floods or an end to the severe drought. For a giant snakehead angler it’s a time when the giant snakeheads start rearing their young. Giant snakeheads are extremely aggressive creatures and they make even more aggressive parents. The red-coloured juvenile snakeheads, like their parents, are also air breathers but being much smaller they need to surface much more often. When they do surface, they all surface together creating the optical illusion of a boiling red cloud of blood on the water’s surface. Casting out a lure to mimic a predator attempting to harm the little snakehead guppies could often result in a strike from the parent snakehead and parent snakeheads are the biggest and most vicious of the variety. This method requires a combination of casting accuracy, casting distance and a lot of perseverance.
For most of the earlier part of the morning there wasn’t that much activity. The only snakehead I physically saw was one that had mysteriously died stuck on a branch.
At roughly 9:20am in the vegetated area I finally spotted a moving red cloud on the water surface.
This set of guppies were no bigger than 3cm in length. They had hatched recently and there were some new angry parents in the area. It was game time.
Armed with my light tackle rod and reel I cast out my favourite buzz bait, a surface lure that splashes away at the water surface as it is retrieved.
First cast. Bulls eye. The lure lands just a metre away from the red shoal. The lure retrieval alerted the little ones to dive under. My heart rate begins to accelerate.
Second cast. Bulls eye again. After plenty of attempt, thousands of casts and days in the sun my accuracy was spot on. The shoal goes under again. The bitter taste of adrenaline started to kick in.
Third cast. Bulls eye again. In the distance I saw a ripple in the water. Something big just made a move and it was moving into the direction of the shoal. Could it be a parent? A predator? A random coincidence? The shoal goes under only for a few seconds. My heart was pounding more and more.
Fourth cast. Boom! A black headed monstrosity violently emerged from the water to strike the lure sinking its razor sharp teeth into the buzz bait. Water flew in every direction. The giant snakehead raced down into the depths but it was no match for my 30lb braided line. All the sudden my heart rate went straight down. Gone was the excitement and the nerve racking shakes. I became unusually calm. As Doeng was screamed in excitement I managed to fight the fight of a lifetime as if it was just any other fish.
“You’re no match against the pulling strength of the Mekongs I face on a regular basis at Bungsamran!” I thought in my mind. The angry snakehead made a few more runs before tiring out. By around 9:30am I had landed my trophy fish: a 7.5kg male snakehead parent. The reservoir’s biggest snakehead all year.
The circumstances for landing this fish were quite bad. The recommended fishing line for fishing in a vegetated area usually requires at least a 40lb-50lb braided line. The 30lb line may have easily been cut had the snakehead swam into some underwater rocks or bushes. What’s most miraculous about all this is the fact that the snakehead was landed after it had already bent the lure completely out of shape while breaking the tip of the hook off.
Doeng and I gave each other a high-five. We smiled for a few hours after. I told him I was done fishing for the day, I have landed the catch of a lifetime. With a smile and more laughter he started paddling our wooden boat back to shore to celebrate with a big bottle of beer. The papa snakehead was safely returned to protect his offspring to rear them into some strong fighters for the future. Thanks to too many people bringing home their trophy fish, snakeheads of this size are rarely ever found in the Bang Pra reservoir. Catching and releasing is thus a very important process to preserve the fish.
I then called my girlfriend who by then was on her way to the office. Echoing the words of Rocky Balboa to his girlfriend Adrian from the second Rocky movie I joyously yelled into the phone with a big smile on my face, “I DID IT!”