I carry a rod on every trip I make anywhere, even if there
is not enough time to fish. On a trip to visit my son in
Thailand this February there was going to be time so I
carried a couple rigs and researched for a venue around
the capital of Bangkok.
There are several outfits that claim to have fly-fishing,
if you bring your own gear, but they warn you the fish are
big and you need to be "experienced." I sent emails to a
couple of the sites but did not get a reply. Once in
country I found www.flyfishingthailand.com and tried
the email thing again, followed by a call. I reached
John Martin. This Swiss/American living north of Bangkok
offered to help me find a guide for a day of giant snakehead
fishing, the species I picked out of the strange fish over
there I would like to add to my life list on a fly.
John is a fly-fishing nut and a guide but he told me he was
busy working on his fishing camp, which had not opened yet.
He has his own lake and will provide a venue and lodge in
the near future. He is also the head of a fly club in the
country that boasts many members for a sport that has not
caught on fully in a country that considers the gill net a
primary choice of tools to find fish. Any fish over two
inches is considered fair game for food. There are no game
laws at all and "catch and release" is a form of insanity
unless you are on private policed water.
I contacted John later and he said he would guide me after
all and we set a date a few days off and a 0300 meeting time
for a day on waters a few hours south of the city.
I had a few days and took a side trip down to the small island
of Samui, still in Thailand but down on the east coast near
Indonesia. Approaching in a small plane showed the island
having beautiful flats on several sides and at this latitude
should have all sorts of fast fish to play with. In the two
days there I spent about five hours on the front of boat on
perfect water but did not see a single fish worth tossing at.
We did run into 300-foot long gill nets every half-mile down
the flat and the size of the mesh indicated they are after
fish down to the size of my tarpon flies. John had warned
me there was only barracuda down that way as they destroy
the nets and escape, but I did not go looking for them and
they sure avoided the flats. I heard there are bonefish
and tarpon on the west shores of Thailand near where the
tsunami hit but fly-fishing in saltwater is even more rare
than fly-fishing. Blue water bill fishing is advertised but
no mention of fishing with flies shows up on any site I found.
That trip as a basis, I met John for the day on fresh water.
0300 ended up to be 0340 with me having already deposited my
money in his account and thinking I might have just fallen
for a scam. When he showed up I could see the problems that
caused the delay. He had a first class van and driver rented,
his girlfriend to act as an interpreter or at least a sign
reader. He speaks Thai having lived there for seven years.
His stepfather from Switzerland came along to observe. John
speaks many languages. His girlfriend and the driver spoke
only Thai and his dad spoke only French and German, some at
least. I could cover English and some German so we had a
fine day of naming things in multiple languages. They had
driven about four hours to reach my hotel and there were
food stops, pit stops and getting lost adding to the delay.
A couple hours later we were standing by a lake in the dark
letting mosquitoes have their way with us. The canoe driver
would not arrive until just about sunrise, an hour away.
We rigged in the dark by van lights and then did some
casting warm-ups with the lights on the water. John has
read everything ever written on casting and even taken
lessons in Europe. He is really good and very technical
compared to me. I can hit a fish on the nose in about any
wind up to a tornado but I surely cannot put names to the
various casts that I use depending on the wind direction.
He sure can and is an impressive double haul master. I had
a stiff eight-weight and my standard ten for rods. He
outfitted the ten saying these fish could trash lesser gear.
We used a wire leader tippet, as these are toothy.
Along came the boat driver and a canoe big enough for one
of me. All three of us got in and freeboard was nearly four
inches. Into a dim pre dawn we paddled with the bugs almost
obscuring the horizon. The heat was stifling and wind zero,
perfect for the snakehead, said the pro.
This water was reservoir for flood control. There were fish
traps all over it and folks wading pulling nets trying to get
tilapia and other food fish. They absolutely hate snakehead
and if they get them they kill them instead of throwing them
back. I was told if we threw one back alive we might start a
riot if we were near the netters. Against all odds, these
despised fish survive.
The fish we were after are, most of the year, lie in hiding,
and lash out like moray eels at passing food. But, this time
of the year they are raising their young. The babies are
protected until several inches long. The indication you
have the parents are around is babies on the surface. If
they are just fry, they cause an effervescence on the surface.
Slightly larger babies look like a little pod of fingerlings
and even larger yet cause a couple of little swirls noticeable
only when the water is flat. The large fish strike out at
anything bothering the babies. It is a "reactive" strike
and we were using surface flies that produce noise and splash.
I must have thrown at fifty batches of the young and got hit
several times. I'd strip to make the fly move but John wanted
me to use the rod tip to move the fly. The tip "move" got the
fly making more noise but the set was almost impossible, for me,
without a straight line to the fly. The fish are aggressive
but only slash to scare things away, they are not particularly
eating. The two handed retrieve was tried but standing in the
canoe was a risky trick. All things being what they were I
never got the line tight but was a sweaty bug bitten mess when
a slight breeze came up and John said the "bite" was over for
the day. My history has plenty of "non catching" days but
fishing was good. It was probably my fault but the efforts
to develop this fish as a game fish in this lake might have
come into play. A snakehead probably suspects he is not wanted
and is wary. There was another guy tossing lures for the fish
and he did not get a strike at all. At least I got hit a few
I thought it was over but John said we would drive half way
back to the city and visit another spot for a shot a barramundi.
It was just about 11:30. On the drive, in the bright of day,
we passed one fish/shrimp farm after another. My spirits fell
when we pulled into one of them, got out and walked over a bridge.
It looked like a catfish farm and I don't fish in them often.
This one was closed and we went to a second one. This had bigger
ponds and many of them.
We met the owner under a carport and ordered a lunch of
fried rice and seafood. He stated the big pond in front
of us had about 3000 big fish in it and they would start
biting at 2PM. That was when they were usually fed. I
was not thrilled with the venue but after eating a neat
lunch of all sorts of sea creatures, some of which I
could identify, with fried rice we started to fish the
biggest pond with the biggest fish in it. Never mind
that is was an hour and a half from the "proper time"
and also near ninety degrees with no shade anywhere.
Thank God for a stiff breeze to keep the bugs off us.
That is my guide John in the photo.
The barramundi is a mighty fish and this pond was supposed
to hold fish in the 10 to 14 kilo range. We were using both
the eight and ten weight rods with a sinking tip on the ten.
The flies were big bright heavy streamers as the depth was
up to two meters and the water pretty murky. The leader
used was the same I would use for big snook in Florida.
The fish really looks like a snook only fatter and with
a stronger tail configuration. It has sharp gill plates
like a snook so the bite tippet we used was fifty pound
hard Mason. The retrieve was slow keeping the fly close
to the bottom.
We thrashed the water for an hour without a bite. Finally,
John had a mighty strike and his fly knot failed. Soon I
got a big time smash and my leader, twenty-pound class tippet
with a bimini, broke as I set. I saw the fish and was
astounded by the size of the side view and the speed of
the strike. John got hit again but this time the fish
got off after an initial run. He then had another knot
fail in the leader. In the next hour he got tugged on
twice more but did not get the hook set. I finally said
I had enough and needed to get home. My last cast got hit
hard and the fish jumped like a tarpon once and took me
into the backing straight out from the bank. He thrashed
on the surface a couple times, made a couple more short
runs and kept me from gaining any line back for a minute
or so before tiring. Once back on the fly line I could
start putting the heat on him and finally he gave up and
let us land him. It was probably only a five or six-minute
fight but I was armed for much bigger fish with that rig.
I use the same set-up for up to hundred pound tarpon back
home. The shock tippet took a beating and would have had
to be changed if more attempts were to be made.
John was probably more relieved than I was that we finally
caught something. We photo documented the fish and let it
go then gathered up and headed home. The Boga was at home
but we both thought the fish was, at least, seven to eight
kilo. John asked if it fought like a redfish of the same size.
I said it was a much stronger fish than a big red. It fought
"bigger" than twenty pounds, probably like a big snook, which
it is probably a relative of. I got a shot of John with my
It took another hour to get into the world class traffic
snarl Bangkok is so famous for and by five PM we were in
a total parking lot situation about five miles from my
hotel. We spent some time trading flies and war stories.
When we got near a station of the overhead metro train, I
said my good byes and took the train home. They might have
been stuck in the city for hours and then still had three
hours to drive home. Guiding in Thailand is not easy.
John's lodge should have its' own lake and have barramundi
and snakeheads among several other native fish. His fish
are growing now and my guess is he will provide a great
venue. His personality and enthusiasm are infectious so
I suspect a stay will be a great adventure. He says he can
take four fishermen at a time.
The places I fished could have been fished by renting a cab
for the day, if you spoke Thai and knew were to go. John
Martin's place is about a three-hour bus ride north of the
city and you will want to stay with him to fish there. He
is working out the pricing. He showed me a great time and
would probably help you find a venue too. John can be
reached at email@example.com. This unique day
was not wasted. ~ Capt Scud Yates (Feb 2006)