Under the shade that the fabric roof created in the boat, we all lay – waiting. Fish Thailand pro-guide Khun ‘Alley’ assumed the most relaxed position centred across the middle of the boat puffing on his last cigarette. Khun ‘Sa’ was slightly more upright covering the bow, with one eye on his ‘tiddler rod’ to pass the time. I had a half decent foot well to lay in looking up at the low sun conveniently dropping into the late afternoon position whereby I could gaze at it against the silhouette it struck on the rods clamped into the gunnels tightly. ‘Nong,’ who didn’t like the sun at all had managed to create a false wall from one of the many life jackets on board as he sat bolt upright at the helm of the boat – his boat handling skills were second to none and never left his post. Oliver Fee – our client from England we were guiding was in the middle of us all eagerly awaiting this magnificent powerful river to enlighten him with one of her many monsters.
To get to this fishless point late in the day we had arrived at our base camp on the bank of the Mae Klong River at midday; under instruction from Khun Sa who as always works out the tides and feeding times perfectly. With one hour at base camp prior to fishing we tackled up, something that Oliver found quite frightening as he stared at the following tackle:
6/0 Meat Hooks
1kg welded iron (our weights to hold bottom)
1 meter of heavy duty 170lb shock leader (resists against abraisive snags)
130lb braid mainline (again resists against snags)
Penn sponsored reels - 2 speed multipliers
Penn sponsored rods (80 - 100lb class)
Gold plated swivels
What Were We Fishing For?
One of the largest freshwater fish species in the world – larger than any other fish in any river system anywhere in the world – the freshwater stingray (Pla Ga Ben in Thai). A fish that can easily grow in excess of 500kg (1100lb) – heavier than the four Fish Thailand guides & Oliver put together!
Although labelled as a freshwater fish – the freshwater stingray like many other fish labelled as ‘freshwater fish’ can in actual fact live comfortably in brackish water upto a certain salt content level.
Fish Thailand has taken clients from over 33 countries fishing all over various parts of Thailand in the last four years for some of the world’s most extraordinary and largest fish species. My team and I have guided clients to the world’s biggest carp caught by a female angler at 132lb, Mekong giant catfish to over 220lb, enormous snakeheads caught on our jungle fishing safaris and many more rare freshwater fish of Thailand. Through all of these unforgettable fishing experiences I have become immune to surreal & abnormal occurrences; they are just part of every day life fishing in Thailand. With the exception of this freshwater stingray fishing as we cruise rods in gunnels slowly through the very same floating market that through its fame attracts hordes of tourists every day. Here hundreds of tourists come daily to see the beautiful and well known sights and tastes of Thailand’s cultures only to be completely oblivious to my team’s and my mission to catch the worlds biggest freshwater fish for our clients only a few hundred metres from them. Unknown to tour operators & tourists that just outside of this famous attraction of Thailand – is this barely discovered great wonder of the world - belonging all and only to this unique land of smiles.
Live baits are in the form of the ‘Pla Boo Dam’ – a common fish to Thailand’s waterways and a natural food source of Thailand’s freshwater stingray. It will stay alive for hours with a single hook hooked through its’ back – and lowered to the bottom of this deep and muddy river bed in search of a feeding stingray.
If not for the birds singing and the sound of the river gently lapping onto the side of our ‘African Queen’ – there would not have been a sound to be heard. Dead silence. All calm. Waiting.
‘Click,’ just one click from just one fraction of a turn of the spool against the reels ratchet was enough to hone all of our minds onto that energy but not enough for anyone to dare tempt fate and prematurely make an assumption that it was caused by a fish; although we all were hoping secretly of course. ‘Click,’ Click,’ now we were interested, alert but still lying down motionless; much like when you are scared into not moving so that your senses are more prominent.
‘FISH ON’ I cried with a wave of terror and excitement in my voice as the nearest rod to me was hooped over and the spool of the reel in a continuous tight spin; the bait had been engulfed, and the fish in question was making off with our baited hook at an alarmingly fast rate. Alley jumped into action – everyone did in fact, mostly from the fear in my initial cry more than the gratingly rough sound of the line being taken from our reel. Immediately Alley pulled the running rod out of the security of the gunnels and into his arms, meanwhile I sat Oli in the fighting position and quickly fastened the padded fighting belt to his waist, where Alley placed the rod butt prior to Oli then taking full weight of the fish by himself for the first time. Sa and Nong had just about collapsed the fabric roof and tent-like frame poles turning our boat into an open-air long tail boat.
Oli had full strain of the stingray pulling against him as he grasped the rod, the fish was still running. I pushed the lever drag further up the reel, tightening the drag even more causing Oli added pressure from the fish until it ‘came to ground.’ The suction a stingray can apply to the river bed is immense, its enormous flat body surface area seems almost impossible to loosen from the bottom once it has a good suction hold. From this point on Oli’s only objective is pull and pull with every muscle in his body until the stingray looses its’ grip on the river bed – however this can take a long time.
Khun Sa sat behind Oli on the seat to watch over him and be ready if anything should go wrong, or assist if the strength of the fish become too overpowering for him to hold single handed.
Oli had been pulling with all his might in an attempt to release its suction from the river bed for 30 minutes; close to total exhaustion and on the verge of collapse the controlled straight tension began violently swinging from side to side. I translated my Thai guide’s frantic instructions into English for Oli, ‘you have broken its hold on the river bed, you MUST now wind and pump quickly and powerfully with all you have. DO NOT allow this fish to get back to the bottom! Pump, Pump!’
Oli made a tremendous effort but despite this the stingray quickly got back to the refuge and sanctuary of the river bed where it reverted back to its impossible position of sucking onto the bottom. It was now that Oli asked Alley to take the rod.
Alley began frighteningly heaving, using his legs and body weight to break the fish away from the bottom relatively quickly – then he continued pumping the fish as it hovered in the current like a barn door in the wind. His legs on the side of the boat pushing his body weight down into the floor of the boat – Alley almost had the fish up before becoming so exhausted that the stingray beat him back to the river bed again. Out of breath and legs shaking like jelly, Alley handed me the rod and said ‘you want to try? Good luck!’
I was not keen on standing up by myself unguarded with no watchman like the way Alley did, even though this gave the most efficient leverage on the fish. Instead I sat in the same fighting position as Oli had 10 minutes earlier, Khun Sa sat behind me as my watchman, the belt was secured around me and the rod placed into my harness. I knew this was about to be the most physical and mentally demanding task of my life – not only with regards to playing a fish but of anything.
I began calmly and surely firstly setting my feet and legs, back upright, checked the rod butt was aligned correctly with the cross groves of my fighting belt. Firstly I placed my left hand high on the rod grip followed by my right; I knew the fish was on the river bed and not going anywhere or doing anything until I began – this was the first and last time I was in complete control of the fight!
My first ‘pump’ and ‘wind down’ had no effect on the fish; I need to exert more pressure. My second ‘pump’ was followed immediately with a third and fourth; now I had bothered the fish and I could feel it adjusting its grip on the river bed. At this point I barley had a pause to breathe, I had to keep pumping and winding and pulling until the pressure became so much that I had literally been lifted into a half standing position and Khun Sa was forced to add his weight to me by holding himself around the back of me; however suspicious this looks from the photographs – it had to be done!
Finally after 4-5 minutes I had broken the stingray’s hold and it was off the bottom shaking me from left to right and desperately trying to get back to the bottom once again. Nong did a great and essential job of keeping the fish 90 degrees to the side of the boat so that the force on the angler fighting the fish was always directly forward and straight – without this the fish would have certainly pulled the rod sideways out of the fighting belt which is not only very dangerous but a guarantee for the fish to reach the bottom again. All hands ready for the stingray to break surface for the first time until worryingly we all saw the 1kg weight break surface first, which should have broken away from the rig in the fight! Within seconds Nong had leant over the side of the boat and cut away this lethal swinging lump of iron. I was beyond exhausted, it had taken every drop of adrenaline and strength for me to get the fish off the bottom and to the boat – so I handed the rod to Alley who was now refreshed slightly. I crawled away to the back of the boat in attempt to take more pictures of the stingray being landed; those pictures were slightly out of focus as my hands were shaking furiously.
With over 100kg (220lb) of stingray swaying around in the tide beneath its tail which was grasped firmly by Khun Sa.
Towing the stingray to the shore for an immediate photo shoot was executed quickly and safely for both us and the fish. This fish was – as is every fish we catch – handled with care and respect. This beautiful stingray was released shortly after the photo shoots and swam away into the depths of the river.
Fighting a stingray requires at least three trained, experienced pro-guides to assist the client bring a stingray up safely. Oli had done a grand job for most of the fight then Alley and I just finished off the last 10 minutes ensuring its capture. A total fight of about 40 minutes is fairly impressive for a stingray over 100kg (220lb) – if we use insufficient tackle or inadequate technique it could have taken literally 6 -10 hours to land a fish of this size. Top of the range big game tackle coupled with Oliver Fee’s determination and force exerted on the fish for the first 30 minutes followed by Alley’s and my final 10 minutes ensured this fish was landed in minimal time and fuss.
Successful freshwater stingray fishing trips rely heavily on water conditions determined mostly by tide, through Fish Thailand’s experienced team of guides we know the best times but flexibility is the key to great results such as this.
IGFA certified fishing guide – Eddy Mounce – Fish Thailand Co., Ltd
© Copyright 2006 by Eddie Mounce.
All rights reserved
TAT Licence No. 11/3447
Fish (Thailand) Co., Ltd.