Four years ago I finally had the financial freedom to take my fishing seriously (yes, it’s a ridiculously expensive past-time, almost on par with space travel). It was a strange decision at the time but looking at it now, it was totally worth it. This year I decided that it’s about time to start getting involved in some of the lure fishing competitions for the sake of learning from the actual professionals how its done, having a damn good time and of course, hopefully to one day be good enough to bring back a trophy of my own.
The TFG Fishing Tournament has been taking place annually and is now in its fifth year. The concept here is to have a tournament that lasts four legs in each of Thailand’s four regions; North, North East (Isan), Central and South, sort of like a Grand Prix. Pros must compete in at least three of the legs while amateurs, like myself, can enter any leg as I please.
Not too long ago, Alex and I got ourselves messily involved in the final leg of the TFG 2011 event. It was an entertainingly disastrous debacle that involved a military boat, a road famous for violent thieves and a very good hearted-man named Art.
This time round we were participating in leg number one of the 2012 tournament, which happened to be the furthest possible location to go fishing: Ta Ko reservoir all the way in Chiang Mai province. Since Google Maps suggested that the journey would take an excruciatingly painful time of nine hours worth of driving just to get there we opted to fly to Chiang Mai city and drive south from there. Either way, we get to leave Bangkok, do some fishing and go on a road trip.
A ‘treacherous’ road trip
The word ‘treacherous’ is something that is used quite often in the English language to describe an unfavourable journey or path. But when asked what exactly does the word mean Tap and I were a little lost. We knew that it meant that there was some negative connotation about it but we were not exactly sure how, so, in order to sound like two jackasses on a road trip (which we totally were), we decided to use it generously in just about every sentence we could fit it in.
Our road trip conversations went something like this:
Oz: Dude, this road is quite narrow.
Tap: Yeah, it’s almost…
Oz: Treacherous… just like this bag of pork crackling.
Tap: Indeed, very treacherous. Its’ caloric content can’t be trusted.
Yes, our banter was some next level intellectual sh** beyond that of Plato’s Symposium.
A beautiful reservoir with fire and thunder
Ta Ko reservoir is part of a series of reservoirs within the confines of Mae Ping National Park. It is a long and narrow body of water nestled in between the mountains. Thanks to the fears of another apocalyptic flood reoccurring this year, the reservoirs of Thailand have been left to drain out to accommodate for excess rainfall. As a result, farmers are suffering from a poor harvest and the forest fire risks had reached a level that would make Smokey the Bear put a shotgun in his mouth and say “f*** this sh**!” During our time there, the iconic lush greenery of the national park was replaced with shades of yellow leaves and hazy skies. But still, the view from being on the water while being surrounded by a tall rock valley on both sides was very highly recommended for anyone who enjoys having their breaths taken from them.
We arrived to register on Saturday the 24th of March 2012 and we fished on the following day on the 25th. Registration fee was B500 per person and boat rental was only B1,000. The boat driver was randomly selected for the fisherman via a lottery system. Our boatman’s name was Aew. He was a local commercial fisherman with the same sort of tough as nails demeanor as a Clint Eastwood character. He had a constant frown which for some reason looked really friendly.
That day, Tap and I fished our hardest, casting into every possible location the snakeheads and the jungle perches could be hiding but the best we got were several bites from fish too small to get the hook in its mouth. We tried topwater frogs, buzzbaits, crank baits, deep divers and lipless cranks but non of our lures could land us a fish.
Being my second tournament I have come to realise that when there are over 100 fishermen scavenging away in a reservoir within a limited time for game fish, the chance of actually catching anything is greatly reduced thanks to the competition and the constant sound of motorboats causing a disturbance in the water, sort of a like a pick up bar that overcrowded with hound dogs where the girls are on high alert mode. Plus, when the people we were up against were sponsored professionals who have done extensive research on all the bodies of the water they fish it is quite difficult to top them off. Most of the professional teams communicated with a combination of cell phones and walkie-talkies. It was some serious sh** and hopefully someday we’ll get there too.
By around 3:30pm, minutes before the end of the competition, an unseasonable thunderstorm started to brew in this dry season. Sudden gusts of gale force winds ripped limbs off trees while causing large waves in the water. Even the judge’s tents were no match for mother nature as they were completely knocked down. We later drove past a truck that somehow plunged itself into a ditch from the storm. The driver was shocked but okay. It was a freak storm in the making, the kind that you usually saw in 80s rock music videos when the guitar solos play. Tap and I hurried back to shore and drove off as soon as we could to escape the clutches of the incoming tempest and to make it back in Chiang Mai in time for our flight. All this, while not knowing for certain how the rest of the event turned out. Also we wanted to get back in town for a nice meal of khao soi before taking off.
Treacherous khao soi
Ahh… khao soi (ข้าวซอย) noodles, inspired by the Burmese and popular throughout northern Thailand and Laos, it is the stereotypical dish to be had when visiting northern provinces like Chiang Mai. On the first day of our trip, Tap and I had the pleasure of quickly savoring this dish for lunch in a Big C shopping complex. While not entirely as authentic as eating it in a small family-run shophouse, it was good enough. However, we craved the real thing and decided that we should be able to squeeze some authentic servings of the curry noodles on our last day.
For the next hours, on our journey back to Chiang Mai from the tournament, we carefully looked at every single noodle stall in hope of locating khao soi. No luck. The closest thing to khao soi was yen ta fo, a Chinese inspired noodle dish made with a pink fermented tofu paste. While delicious, it was not khao soi.
We finally reached Chiang Mai at around 7:30pm. Not a single place was found along our journey. We finally settled for going to Big C again since we managed to have some khao soi there for lunch the day before. Upon our arrival we walked up to the little khao soi booth in the food court for our hard-earned meal. After spending a night sleeping on the floor of a cabin, a day fishing in the sun, a narrow escape from the storm and a long drive back into town, we looked forward to eating our noodles… only to be greeted with this:
At this point I called my friend Lindz, who lived in Chiang Mai asking her where we could get this curry noodle goodness. Her response was terribly disheartening, “khao soi is a lunch thing here, it’s going to be hard to find somewhere that serves it at this hour”.
With that news we gave up and settled for a KFC burger combo at the Big C. While delicious and greasy, it lacked the khao soi-ness that we had been seeking.
By the time we arrived at the airport we were filled up from unsatisfying junk food: a combination of the KFC burger combo and a Dairy Queen coffee shake, probably the furthest thing from being a traditional Northern Thai meal. It was 9:30pm when we walked into the airport. Thirsty from the fried chicken burgers we looked for places inside that still served drinks. They were all closed at 9:30pm on the dot. We kept walking and walking and finally stopped in front of one particular shop that pretty much broke our spirits: A Northern Thai restaurant that specialised in khao soi noodles. And yes, it too was closed.
How friggin’ treacherous!
Epilogue: As payback for a day filled with treachery the best I could do was have Tap take this picture of me and the cutout of the pandas of Chiang Mai zoo. It is a picture of a broken man delivering all his treachery treacherousness into the behind of a panda. Why? Because treacheroussss…
Disclaimer: I have nothing against pandas nor Chiang Mai, this article was written with elements of exaggeration for comedy purposes. We’re really cool dudes and would totally never force our ways onto a male panda just because we didn’t get our noodles.