World Wide Fishing!

Fly Fishing in Thailand 2006

By Capt. Scud Yates

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 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 times.

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 fish too.

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 This unique day was not wasted. ~ Capt Scud Yates (Feb 2006)

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