The man known by the local fishing fishing community as Hia* Jai that is in charge of Thailand’s biggest tackle shop has seen a lot through his years experiencing fishing in Thailand and being the man behind 7Seas Pro Shop and a member of the founding family of Bungsamran. This is his interview.
* Hia is a Thai-Chinese way of referring to an older man
What was your first experience with fishing?
When I was a kid, my brother and I would fish from the Nuachawee Bridge in Nonthaburi. Our setup was really simple, we’d fish using rods fashioned from bamboo fitted with the Double Bells fishing line, an old-school fishing line used by commercial fishermen. We’d use Anchor brand floats made out of corks. It was simple stuff! Our bait was usually earthworms but sometimes we’d use yeuah mahk (fermented bait). Back then, a basic rod and spinning reel setup was known as a “farang rod” and they were really hard to come by.
We’d fish for anything that would take our bait, redtail catfish, tilapia and other scaled fish species.
The sports fishing scene back then had not taken off yet in Thailand. Most of the people who fished were just old men finding something to eat or a way to pass the time by putting some of the pests or insects they find in their garden on their hooks as bait to fish with. You wouldn’t find too many teenagers partaking in this past time.
So that’s how I started, with basic float fishing for smaller species from the bridge. Eventually my brother took me to the reservoirs to go after giant snakeheads. Over the years people started importing more gear and my family officially opened Bungsamran in 1984, I was 19. The 7Seas Pro shop was opened in 1999.
How did you start 7Seas?
I started 7Seas because of my love for Japanese fishing gear. I would occasionally fly to Japan, Singapore and Malaysia to bring back fishing gear to share with friends. That’s when I had the idea that I wanted to have a shop that housed all the brand-named fishing gear for others in Thailand to buy.
Back before there was the 7Seas Pro Shop, very few establishments would have expensive reels in stock and the owners were very protective of their merchandise. They pretty much had a “look but don’t touch” policy where they would only let you touch the reels if you promise to buy them. Imagine a B10,000 baht reel that you have to buy just to touch. No quality inspection no nothing. I realized that I wanted to a shop where people can test out their possible purchases before making a decision.
My first visits to the reservoirs, I went bait fishing for rohu. Then people started playing with lures. Rapala was one of the first brands that made it here in Thailand. A lot of people would also just make their own lures. Snakeheads back then weren’t as cautious as they are today. You could carve yourself a wooden cylinder, put some treble hooks on it and a propeller at the front and it will almost always get a hit with every cast. Back then it was normal to catch up to 30 chados in a single day, today that kind of day in impossible.
Can it get like that again?
Impossible. Don’t forget, that the human population is constantly increasing. More and more people are getting into fishing for both sport and commercial reasons. You look at the States and they have a much better sports fishing scene than we do and that is because their laws are clearer. We have similar laws here but the officials just don’t enforce them.
Take for example push nets. Push nets are illegal because they actively break up the food chain by capturing small shrimp from the sand needed to feed the smaller species of fish. It is 100% illegal and yet is happens every day.
Even the reservoirs aren’t free from illegal fishing. Electro fishing happens far too often. It’s this Thai attitude that you can’t arrest someone just because they are your friends and family that prevents an progress from happening. The problem is that the people hired to protect these waters are usually locals and they have this community behavior about them so rarely does anyone ever get prosecuted. It would work better if they could get officials from other parts of the country. Thailand doesn’t have a proper organization that protects sports fish.
What is the fish that you love to catch the most?
It would have to be the giant snakehead, it is a fish that is absolutely charming. It has beautiful marks and it is ferocious. As the season changes, the way to fish them also does, it’s exciting. My favourite way to catch them is via the pla chip method (sight-casting). It’s a fishing style that requires discipline and endurance. For me I will never eat a giant snakehead because I consider them an adversary. They provide us with a beauty, aggression like no other and it would be dishonorable to eat one.
Any tips for the budding chado sight casters?
You’ve got to be very patient (laughs). It’s something that requires fast reflexes, sharp eyes and very accurate casting. If this is your first time fishing think about how difficult it will be standing for 6-8 hours in the sun and not getting any fish. It’s quite disheartening. I suggest work your way up the difficulty scale.
Any fishing locations or catches you are particularly fond of?
I like Khao Laem Dam and Chiao Larn Dam. Chiao Larn I like more because of its beauty and the clean air. For me every fish is a worthwhile catch. For me it isn’t really about catching fish but more about getting out there to be a part of nature and taking it all in. That’s why I love going to Chiao Larn even though it’s far and expensive to get to from Bangkok.
Tell us about light jigging, why do you want it to grow?
As a business man with a tackle shop I want the sport of light jigging to grow. It increases the market demand for a whole new set of items, rods, reels and the jigging lures. Usually when people in Thailand go jigging they would be doing it at the Andaman Sea but that’s big game jigging. Also, it’s really exciting to be able to tackle a large sea fish with very small gear.
There’s plenty of species to go after. Cobia, trevally and queenfish are the most common and the fish can range anywhere from 2kg to 10kg. The biggest I’ve ever caught was a 30kg sail fish. (Imagine that on a PE2 line).
I’ve been secretly been doing light jigging off the Gulf of Thailand for quite some time now but recently I wanted the industry to grow and use it to promote the jig lures we sell so that when I decided to start sharing with the world my videos and taking clients out.
What’s the best time to go light jigging in the Gulf of Thailand?
I would say from October onwards. It’s when the monsoon season is starting to subside. We still go out during monsoon season but we have to be picky about our days. We’d have to check up with the meteorology department and make sure that the days we go out are safe enough.
What should one look for in a light jigging rod and reel?
You want a rod that can bend, not too stiff and have a good strong powerlift. As for the reel that can hold about 150-200m of PE2 line or just a little over 100m of PE3 should do the trick.
Ever had a near death experience at sea?
Yes. There was this one trip we made to Burma that to this day still haunts me a little. When you go deep sea fishing from the Burmese so far from shore that when you look around you will be surrounded by nothing but water. No boats, no lights, nothing around that can save you in the event of a storm, which we were in. It was an 18 metre boat and we were stuck in the kind of storm that required us to continuously pump water out of the boat. We spent 10 hours running from the storm to find an island to hide behind. Eventually we made it but to this day I still get chills thinking about it.
What is the funniest experience you’ve ever had as a tackle shop owner?
I once had a Thai customer come in. He said, “I am looking for Hia Jai” but before I could tell him that he had found me he finished his sentence with, “because I am a good friend of his”. So there I was standing there, talking to a man who claimed to know me but didn’t seem to recognise me. Being a potential costumer I didn’t want him to lose face so allowed him to keep talking about his fishing and how he knows this “Hia Jai” person. He talked for quite some time and finally left and didn’t buy anything. I thought that was pretty hilarious.