Welshman Vs Giant Mekong!
By Neil Robinson.
On our latest trip to Bungsam Lan Lake in Bangkok,
Tsunami volunteer 50 year old Neil Kendal from Merthyr Tydfil Wales,
found himself with a real battle on his hands!
Neil, whose previous personal best fish was a 3 lb rainbow trout,
found himself going head to head with a few fish just a little larger than this.
After arriving at the lake we sit down at the waterside café
and have a coffee while we brief Neil on what he should expect
from his days fishing in Bangkok.
He appears very sceptical when I tell him he is very likely
to catch fish in excess of 30 lb, and a good possibility
of fish much larger than this.
We buy the bait for the day, a mixture of bread crusts, bread crumbs
and "secret" additives and load the wheel barrow along with the tackle,
and make our way to the fishing bungalow around the far side of the lake.
The day is already starting to get hot and its not even 9.00 AM yet!
We arrive at the bungalow, unlock the gate and proceed to unload
the wheelbarrow in the welcome shade.
The bungalow is a very basic wooden structure, but its ideal
for a days fishing as it offers plenty of shade, an electric fan,
running water and basic furniture.
I start to set up the rod, a 8ft purpose built 30–50lb outfit
matched with a 6500 Shimano Baitrunner loaded with 30lb line.
When Neil sees the heavy equipment he seems quite shocked
and asks, "If we are trying to catch Jaws!"
The rig we are using is a 15 cm long braided hook length with
a size 14 barbless Gamakatsu hook, attached to the mainline where we have
a sliding spring feeder, that's float fished using a sliding float.
We use a "stopper" to set the depth we are going to fish at, using
part of an elastic band tied onto the line at a depth of around 2.5 m.
Using an elastic band allows the depth to be easily adjusted
without breaking the setup down. It also casts well.
Using a sliding spring feeder as opposed to a fixed one allows the fish
to easily get rid of the feeder should the fish manage to break the line.
I mix the bait and add the secret, but essential ingredients.
These bind well together with the bread crusts and toughen the bread
so it stays on the hook and around the spring feeder longer.
They are also a very good "attractant" that pull fish into the swim
and keep them there longer. I pass the hook through three thin strips of crust
and mould a large handful of the mixture around the feeder,
making sure that it's tightly packed. I then press the hook bait
into the bait ball and cast around 60 m. straight out in front of the bungalow.
I check the drag on the reel, sink the line and apply the Baitrunners free spool.
There are a lot of fish showing in the swim and it's only a matter of a few minutes
before the float slips away and the Baitrunner starts to give line.
I pick up the rod and quickly wind down until I feel the fish,
striking firmly to set the hook. The heavy rod bends almost double
and we are into a good fish. I hand the rod to Neil making sure
the end of the rod butt goes into the butt belt he's wearing,
an essential piece of kit on a water like Bungsam Lan.
On its first run the fish strips 40 m. of line off the reel,
the clutch is as tight as possible, but the fish doesn't seem to know this!
The fish then turns and starts to swim straight towards us.
This isn't such a good thing because the fish has hardly used up any energy so far,
and I know Neil is in for a hard scrap when the fish nears the bungalow.
At around 5 m. out the fish changes direction and tries to head to the next door bungalow.
If the fish manages to reach it there is a high risk that the line will break
against one of the legs. I position Neil with the rod to apply maximum side strain.
It's at this close range when you really feel the power of these fish.
A tug of war begins and Neil is really starting to sweat.
Eventually the fish decides it doesn't want to go in the next door bungalow
and a new battle starts right under the rod tip.
The fish is swimming in tight circles right in front of us
and Neil is doing all he can to bring the fish to the surface.
After an arm wrenching 10 minute battle
I slip the net under a "small" 13 kg Mekong Catfish.
Neil is really pleased with his new personal best and can't stop grinning
even though I tell him it's only a small fish.
The next cast quickly brings a nice Pacu of around 7 kg.
It's a hard fighting fish that looks very similar to a Pirahna,
but its no match for the heavy tackle its up against today.
Neil has never seen a Pacu before, and is amazed by its large almost human like teeth.
The next cast brings nothing after 10 minutes, so I wind in to find the bait gone.
I bait the rig and cast it to the same spot as before.
Almost immediately the float goes under and Neil is into another good fish.
By the short quick runs its making I predict it's most likely to be a Striped Catfish this time.
After a good fight we net a nice Striped Catfish of around 12 kg.
That makes it three different species in four casts, not a bad start to the day.
Neil takes another 2 Striped, and another 2 Mekong all between 12–17 kg,
then decides he wants to try for something really big.
This means switching to what we call "powder bait".
This is basically groundbait mixed with attractants on the feeder
instead of bread crusts, and a very small hook length.
On the hook we have a polystyrene ball!
Although it's still possible to catch "small" fish using this method,
it does generally seem to account for more of the really big fish
than any other method. It's also a good excuse for a well earned rest
after the hectic battles Neil's just been through, as the action is usually a lot slower.
I cast around 70 m. and wait around two minutes before striking the bait ball off.
I repeat this several times to bait the area, and to get some of those attractants working.
It's quite a frustrating method and can be quite hard to get a hook–up,
and it's very tempting to switch back to the other method we used previously.
Our patience finally pays off when the float slips away and I strike into something really big.
I quickly hand the rod to Neil as the fish powers off across the lake
on an unstoppable run stripping around 80 m. of line off the reel as it does so.
The fish stays out in the middle of the lake for a while, but then starts
to kite off to our left hand side towards the bungalow next door.
Neil walks to the furthest point he can at the right hand side of our bungalow,
and keeping the rod as low as he can, applies maximum side strain.
The fish is still taking line but he has to try to turn the fish before it reaches the bungalow.
Just as it looks like Neil is gaining some line back, the fish moves up a gear
and powers straight into the leg structures of the next door bungalow.
The line starts to "jerk" as it grates against one of the legs.
The fish is still taking line until it finally breaks with a loud "CRACK!"
Both of us are disappointed, we didn't get to see the fish,
but we knew it was something special.
The line is frayed from rubbing against the legs and we have to replace it
with new line before we can continue. The new rig is soon back in position in the swim,
and it's not long before we are into another fish.
It's a good fish and after another wrestling match of around 20 minutes
I slip the net over a nice 23 kg Mekong. Neil is delighted but very tired
and flops in the chair while I bait and cast the rod out again.
Almost immediately the float goes under and we are straight into another good fish.
Neil groans as he feels the massive power of another Giant Mekong
bending the rod almost double. After 20 minutes the fish still won't come to the net
and Neil looks like someone has thrown a bucket of water over him,
he's sweating so much! Neil is exhausted and hands the rod to me to land the fish.
Five minutes later and another 23 kg Mekong is safely in the net.
After a few more slightly smaller fish we call it a day and pack away the equipment.
Neil is extremely pleased with his catch, but physically exhausted
and his hands are blistered from the constant action.
He's very much looking forward to showing off his photographs
to his carp fishing son, back in the UK.
Thanks for a nice day in Bungsam Lan and hope to see you again Neil.
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