I’m not going to go fishing this weekend, I told myself this sometime during working hours last week. After going consecutively for almost every weekend this year I told myself that it was about time to give my girlfriend and family some quality non-fishing time. Haha. Who was I kidding? That commitment lasted about three days. Must have been a new record!

THE PHONE CALL THAT KILLED THE COMMITMENT

So instead of fishing, I decided to spend the weekend with the family and the girlfriend in the nearby beach town of Cha-am in Petchaburi Province. It just so happens that my friend Ae, the fishing guide, lives in the nearby Kaeng Krachan reservoir also in Petchaburi Province. The last time I saw him was a year ago right after the birth of his daughter so I decided to give him a call. Big mistake.

“Hey p’ Ae, how’s it been? How’s your daughter?”

“She’s been great! She’s just reached a year old and she is so cute!”

This was where the conversation should have ended. Really. Dragging the conversation any further and we are looking at some very dangerous territory. But I had to ask:

“So how’s the fishing there?”

Shit Oz. You just had to ask didn’t you?!

“It’s amazing! The giant snakeheads have been giving birth and the parents are super aggressive so they are biting like crazy!”

Double shit sundae topped with a shit cherry.

“Let me go ask my girlfriend and family,” I said to him before hanging up. I remember that my voice was a mix of excitement and dread.

 

THE NEXT PHONE CALL

Ladies, there are some pros and cons to dating a fisherman and I’ll write you a whole article about it soon but one thing I will tell you now is this: fishing is addictive and it can be like having a second girlfriend. As a result girlfriends of fishermen are generally in a power struggle with fishing.

With that mind, I called my girlfriend. From a past experience, I have learned that any form of sugar-coating fishing requests would lead to disastrous results. So, as a precautionary measure, I decided to go with a straight up approach this time:

“Hi babe, how are you?”

“I’m fine thanks, what’s up?”

She sounded like she was in a good mood so I guess I’d fire away.

“Can I go fishing for half a day on Sunday?”

Silence. I think I may have shat a few bricks in the anticipation. I think a singer auditioning for American Idol waiting for the wrath of Simon Cowell’s blunt decision may have felt a little less anxiety.

“Okay, sure.”

I will never forget this kindness. She didn’t even ask for more details. She even volunteered to tag along to the reservoir if she could wake up on time. This time, I really dodged a bullet.

On Saturday morning we set off to Cha-am with my fishing rod as an extra passenger.


SUNDAY, JULY 24, 2011 – WAKING UP

4:20am. It was pitch black. Too much seafood in my stomach once again made sleeping difficult. I really need to stop eating so much when I’m excited about fishing. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, changed into my fishing clothes and grabbed my tackle bag.

“I’ve decided to stay and sleep,” mumbled the girlfriend who had her eyes closed. I replied, “I understand,” and then headed to my car to drive through the darkness at around 4:50am.

Through the winding road in pitch darkness, my only companion was a Thai country music radio station. Deep in the national park there wasn’t anything to tune into. It was either that or the Buddhist network where it was nothing but monks chanting continuously in unison. Next time I’ll have to burn me a CD or something.

One song in particular was quite funny. It was a ballad about a conversation between a Thai tattoo artist and a Chinese immigrant. The Chinese immigrant wanted a tattoo of a seven-headed dragon with an orb in each mouth and one of its hand. Over their exchange the Chinese man continues to have second thoughts about his design and continues to modify it by removing one element at a time. Soon enough the dragon was left with one head, no limbs and no orbs. The tattoo artist kicks him out of his shop out of frustration.

After about 50 minutes in the darkness I arrived at Ae’s house. The sun had just risen. Three guys wearing red were standing just outside his house, making a home video about their upcoming fishing trip. They were the guys who hired Ae for the day so I was left with another guide, “Chai”. Chai was a silent guy who didn’t say much but he had a kind fatherly look about him.

After some catching up with Ae and a quick coffee we both set off to the long tail boats.

Good morning from Kaeng Krachan

 

THE START OF A SLOW MORNING

The morning was slow. Before any fishing was done we spotted another long tail boat parked in the water. Two fishermen sat helplessly as their boatman tried to fix the motor. Chai and I had no choice but to tow them back to land to get another boat using our arms to secure their boat to ours since we didn’t have any ropes on us. It felt good to help them and we only lost about 20 minutes of fishing time.

 

This is the face of a guy who just saved the day.

 

The next few hours were really slow. We went to just about every part of the reservoir looking for giant snakehead fry. I killed some time by casting some of my frog lures into the banks to trigger some strikes. There were only two strikes from two striped snakeheads that were far too small to bite down on the hook.

No fish fry here.

 

 

I continued to cast out the frog lures as Chai got us around the reservoir. A large black helicopter flew by, echoing its wing thrusts across the national park. The weather was crazy that morning. If you were to look into one direction, you’d see nothing but bright blue skies. Look into the opposite direction and there’s nothing but grey clouds and thunderstorms.

We went to another area of the reservoir filled with plenty of water vegetation. There were no bites and nor fry here either. The chopper passed by yet again to wake me up from my catatonic state.

Nothing here either

 

SOME FALSE HOPE AND BITTER RESENTMENT

Then, just around the corner we found a swarm of giant snakehead fry. After a few casts I made a disappointing discovery: the fry had been orphaned. An irresponsible fisherman had caught and kept both parents leaving these poor little fry undefended. The survival rate of these fry were a little smaller than 1% as they would be totally decimated by all the other predatory species out there.

As a fisherman I strongly urge all fisherman out there the importance of catching and releasing the giant snakehead parents. Should you keep them, not only will you be killing off the parents but the fry will die too. So please, if you ever catch a giant snakehead parent just take your photos and let it go, they don’t even taste that good any way.

With the discovery that the parents were gone, we left. I felt sad and a little angry knowing that the fry would be left to the mercy of predators simply because some guy felt the need to bring his fish back to show off to some friends.

 

THE ONE HOUR CHASE

The lack of sleep was getting to me and my half-day session at the reservoir was running out. I decided to take a quick nap in the boat while Chai helped me locate some fry.

“We found it,” said Chai as I woke up from a strangely comfortable nap. Nothing like the sound of flowing water and the fresh mountain air to aide a good power nap.

I rubbed my eyes and looked around. We were only about a kilometer away from where we docked earlier in the morning. How ironic. We spend all morning going around the reservoir to look for giant snakehead fry only to have one literally at our doorstep the whole time.

I laid out my lures in front of me for easy access the same way a surgeon lays out his knife before an operation.

Let’s do this.

The first lure was a frog lure. The fry were in a weedy area close the shore, the lure would mimic a large frog swimming across the top of the water avoiding all the weeds while aggravating the fry in hope of getting the protective parents to come out and bite the lure. I cast towards the fry, retrieved the lure right into the them. They panicked and dove under. They soon surfaced again for air, this time closer to the bank.

I kept doing this over and over again. Cast out, reel the lure over the fry to trigger a strike from the parents and pray for a bite. Nothing. The fry continued to swim in closer to the heavily vegetated shore. Soon enough they were deep inside the bushes.

The giant snakehead fry getting a little too close for casting comfort.

I looked at my watch.

Crap.

It was almost noon and I had just about an hour left. We continued following the fry and as luck would have it, they eventually swam into a small clearing. I switched over to another frog lure, the Scum Frog Bigfoot, a lure with rubber legs that kick up the water when retrieved. This time I made sure that I cast the lure in between the fry and the bank. My plan was to cut them off from swimming into more vegetation and forcing them out into more open water. My lure casting was on rapid fire. Over and over again I continued to cast to the side of the fry to prevent them from getting closer to the vegetation. It worked. The fry swam towards open water.

I switched my shallow diving hard-bait lures. I tried several different colours.

Wait for the fry to surface, aim, cast and retrieve. 

Wait for the fry to surface, aim, cast and retrieve. 

Over and over again I tried with my different lures. It all seemed like it was a wasted effort but it eventually began to pay of. The parents were now occasionally surfacing with their young!

Wait for the fry to surface, aim, cast and retrieve. 

I kept doing this over and over again but then the unthinkable happened. The mother snakehead and I made eye contact. Her big black head glistened on the water’s surface as she stared at me with her orange eyes. It was a quick glance. She quickly turned around and whipped her magnificent tail against the water to propel herself down.

Does she suspect that I’m responsible for all this? Will she no longer bite because of this?

The fry made their way back to the shore.

Shit! She’s taking them away from me!

I quickly switched back to the first frog lure I could grab and once again cut off the shore. Back to machine gun mode. I cast and cast and cast praying that it would scare them away one more time. It worked. By the Power of Greyskull it bloody worked! They swam out again. I took a breather and drank some water to rehydrate. I looked at the time: 12pm

Shit. Should have been back by now!

I called up my mom and told her my situation: “hey mom, I’ve been chasing this fish for almost an hour now. I’m almost done. Sorry I’ll be late”. I said all this with a whisper. I didn’t want to alarm the fish again. She said understood and said, “okay, see you when you get back”.

Back to fishing.

I continued to cast my lures out over and over again. Somehow, I have forced them into deeper water. A huge rain cloud was fast approaching the area. My time was seriously running out. It was time to throw everything at them. Everything but the bloody kitchen sink.

Rapala Shadrap. No bite.

Rapala Twitchin’ Rap. No bite.

Rapala Fat Rap. No bite.

Alang-Ka resin frog. No bite.

Scum Frog Big Foot. No bite.

Buzzbait. No bite.

I finally switched over to my Rapala Down Deep Fat Rap, a hard fish lure that dives deep into water when retrieved. I have replaced the hooks with a pair of 2X VMC Barbarian treble hooks in order to deal with the strength of a giant snakehead.

I cast out the lure a few metres beyond the fry. As the lure landed on the water I quickly retrieved it to dive after the fry and then slowing down the retrieve speed after the lure passes the fry. This is to simulate a predator fish charging at the fry and swimming away slowly to trigger a bite from the parent fish. I tried again.

Wait for the fry to surface, aim, cast and retrieve.  HOOK!

All the sudden there was a heavy weight pulling at my line. My rod was bent and shaking. With a firm jerk of the rod and my finger on the spool to tighten the drag I set the hook. Fish on!

 

THE FIGHT

The rain cloud was coming closer and closer. This is not good. The giant snakehead continued to pull my line out one metre at a time with every shrug. Whatever fatigue or sleepiness I felt earlier was replaced by excitement.

Which one could it be? The father or the much bigger mother?

I was too used to fishing my light 8lb setup at Pilot 111 so I couldn’t tell how big the fish was as I used my heavier tackle armed with 50lb Berkley Fireline braid that day. My greatest concern at this point was the hookset. How many of the two treble hooks are in its mouth? I didn’t want to pull too hard in fear the that fish had only barely hooked on. Being deep under water there was no way to tell so I played it slow.

After three minutes of fishing I brought the fish up to the surface. It was a big hefty female and the entire lure was deep in this her mouth! After an hour of agitation I have finally put this angry momma into kill-mode. She wanted to destroy the attacker of her children with everything she had.

Teeth marks that resulted from “kill-mode”

She kept pulling out the line. I pulled her back in. With the security of knowing that the fish was firmly secured I was calm. Soon enough the was tired and ready to be landed onto the boat.

 

AN UNGRACEFUL FINISH

The fight was almost over, save for an ungraceful finish: Chai’s net was not designed for a fish this size. At only about 50cm deep, it was like trying to slip a condom onto a torpedo. I steered the fish’s head into the net but she kept shaking it off. I tried again and screwed up even more. The snakehead momma shook her head and one of the hooks came off!

D’oh!

I quickly reached under her gills to secure her into the net. Chai, who was far more composed than me grabbed my fish grip and secured it onto the fish’s lower jaw while I held it still.

So with her head in the net, my hand in her gills and Chai with the fish grip in her jaws we clumsily lifted this big mother out of the water and into the boat. One of the barbarian hooks almost made its way into my hand but it luckily didn’t pierce through like last time (I’m looking at Alex).

The net was tangled. One of the barbarian hooks had pierced my tackle bag while still connected to the fish. My fingers were all cut up from the gills. But hey, as messy as it was, I landed this beautiful fish which weighed in at 6.8kg just before the storm! The entire encounter, from beginning to end, lasted an hour.

Some people have told me that the fish looks bigger than 6.8kg and they’re probably right. Ae later explained to me that when giant snakehead give birth they don’t eat as much as they spend all their energy on protecting their young.

After removing the tangles and the hooks, I had some photos of me taken with this fish and released her back into the wild and her young. Chances are, she and her mate will be much harder to catch by the next fisherman now that she’s been caught before.

6.8kg giant snakehead momma

Another pose!

After this I packed up, said good bye to Chai and headed back to Cha-am with a big smile on my face. I hadn’t anticipated on catching my biggest giant snakehead of the year!

 

THE HELICOPTER

On my way back, I turned on the car radio to celebrate my big catch by listening to some of that Thai country radio. However, instead of a silly song about a tattoo artist it was a national news broadcast.

“… a helicopter crashed today due to bad weather conditions, killing three Thai soldiers and severely injuring one…” said the voice on the radio.

Hmm, what a coincidence. I just saw a helicopter earlier today and the weather was quite crazy.

“The helicopter plunged to the earth and burst into flames burning its victims…”

Damn…

“in Kaeng Krachan national park.”

Holy shit!

What’s crazy is that this was the third helicopter crash in Kaeng Krachan in the span of just one week! What the heck is going on?

Read the rest of the chopper’s story here.

 

 

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7 Responses to Fishing In Thailand: The Snakehead And The Helicopter

  1. Alex West says:

    2 things :

    – F*CK YEAH for the awesome fish! What a Brute and Beauty.

    – RIP to the unfortunate souls of the Soldiers and News crew on those 3 choppers…(minute of silence). What a tragedy…

  2. crystallinesheen says:

    Nice snakehead Oz! The way you wrote about it made me feel like I was there. Fishing really lends itself to good storytelling, even if you don’t catch anything it is still an adventure nonetheless.

    I’m sorry to hear about the helicopter crash. That’s kinda eerie that you saw it before it went down.

    Glad you got to have a good fishing day without pissing off the girlfriend! Glad she is good-humored about your addiction! 🙂

  3. David says:

    Awesome fish, I just love dark snakeheads like this one !!

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