Headline image: 38lb Tambaqui, relative of the Pacu and Piranha.
There are some terrific shows on television and online that are dedicated to catching some of the weird and wonderful fish species the world has to offer.
Unfortunately like most people, I don’t have the time to take 4 weeks off to trek the Amazon River catching wild Redtail Catfish, Arapaima, and Piranha.
Thankfully there is Thailand. After a relatively short plane ride, you can be dropping a line into some amazing fishing parks stocked with many of the famous species you normally only dream of catching.
Coarse fishing in Thailand
Most of the fishing parks are run by expats from the UK who have set the parks up to suit coarse fishing anglers back home.
‘Coarse fishing’ is a term used in the UK and Ireland for targeting coarse fish. Coarse fish are freshwater fish that are distinguished from game fish. Freshwater game fish are typically salmonids, being salmon and trout. Therefore, coarse fishing targets all freshwater species other than salmonids.
The South American Redtail Catfish is a truly beautiful fish with its puppy dog eyes, barbels or ‘whiskers’ and hard-as-a-rock head plate.
Back home, our freshwater species are generally targeted with live baits and lures. There are, however, many anglers – particularly in south-eastern Australia – who still target our introduced freshwater species (carp, redfin, and trout) with coarse fishing techniques.
Targeting worldwide freshwater species using a different fishing technique is exciting and a nice break to the methods we use back home. As a holiday fishing technique, coarse fishing is ideal, as it’s quite relaxing: simply cast your line, sit back and wait for the buzzers to go off.
Most of the parks we fished allowed two rods per person, each fitted with a quality bait feeder style reel spooled with either 50lb or greater monofilament or braid line.
The baits varied from boilies, pellets or corn to fish fillets, whole fish baits or chicken. Different baits and rig setups suit different target species.
Once we had launched our baits, we were required to catapult berley pellets out to the bait using a slingshot to improve our chances of attracting a fish. Ensuring that our lines were tight, sitting in the buzzers, and the bait feeder was engaged, it was simply a matter of waiting for a bite.
These are stocked lakes, but it’s not as easy as you think. These lakes are really no different to stocked impoundments you’d find in Australia but on a much smaller scale – and with much bigger fish! It’s not a matter of pulling in fish after fish all day. There are techniques that come into play, and like fishing in general, some days the fish are biting and some days they’re just not.
These Pacu are dynamite when they strike the bait. It took four attempts before I was lucky enough to land one!
What to pack
Thailand’s temperature averages in the high 20ºs, April being the hottest month with daily averages of 30º and December being the coolest at 26º. The wettest month is September where the average rainfall is 220mm over the month.
When the sun is out it really packs a punch, so it’s important to stay well hydrated throughout a day’s fishing. Bottled water is cheap to buy (less than $1 AUD for 1L) so avoid drinking tap water.
Nice to catch something other than Australia’s pesky European Carp. Here we have what the gillies describe as small Siamese and Indian Carp.
All fishing parks have some form of shelter near each swim so at least you can escape direct sunlight. The air is generally still so you really feel the heat, but the good fishing parks have fans set up in the shelters offering bit of a breeze and respite from the heat.
A hat, sunscreen and a camera is also a must. Wear light outdoor or fishing clothing that dries quickly. A towel is essential for wiping your arms and legs free of fish slime after you’ve taken your photo.
Other than that all your fishing gear is provided for, however, some parks will let you bring your own gear if you wish, but it’s worth checking before going to all the trouble.
Plus you want to make sure the gear you are taking will be adequate for the target species and the fishing techniques used. Check when you book your airline ticket that you can pack special items. Rods and reels often need to be checked in separately to your normal luggage.
It was awesome to catch and hold one of these prehistoric-looking fish…the mighty Alligator Gar.
Fishing & travel tips
All the fishing parks have gillies to assist you throughout the day. Some gillies are local lads and others are travellers on Visas from the UK, all with coarse fishing experience.
The language barrier can be sometimes difficult with the local gillies, especially if you want to learn a bit more about the techniques involved. Make sure you mention to the park manager/owner that you are there to enjoy the thrill of the catch and learn more about the craft of coarse angling. This information will filter through to the gillies who might just try a lot harder for you to catch that trophy fish.
This 80kg Mekong Catfish took 40 minutes to reel in and really tested the back and arm muscles.
Avoid peak seasons if you can, because (just like fishing back home) if the body of water is abuzz with activity then the fish will simply go quiet. There’s always going to be fish to catch as some species are less sensitive than others, but if you want to really maximise your chances of landing multiple fish and different species, it’s worth contacting the fishing park to find out the best times of the year to visit. Then you can plan your holiday around the off-peak season.
Costs vary between different parks, but you can expect daily rates to be anywhere from $120 - $220 AUD per person fishing. If your partner or kids don’t want to fish, the parks won’t charge for them to be there, and generally, there are other activities they can do while you focus on the fishing.
Nath's Mekong Catfish.
Most of the bigger parks will include transfers to and from your hotel. The bigger parks also have their own resort style accommodation which is certainly worth it for fishing multiple days in one park. You may need to organise your own travel to the smaller fishing parks but it’s not difficult or expensive to organise a taxi yourself.
Finally, all the fishing parks can be easily contacted via email and the managers/owners are very helpful. In reality, everyone you meet in Thailand is so generous and hospitable; the accommodation and meals are so affordable that the fishing is really just a major bonus on top of what’s guaranteed to be a thoroughly enjoyable holiday.
Having never caught a Barramundi before, I travelled over 7,000km to land my first one and within 4hrs we had over 100 between us. The biggest was 6.1kg. I suppose some may say that fishing a Barra farm is cheating, but they were incredibly healthy fish and put up a terrific fight on light gear.