The Gulf of Thailand April 2014

The videos

I stare tiredly at the remains of what was once was my leader. This was the fish of my life. Really, it was! The darn thing just had to take the way pass something that damaged that leader. Here I thought Queenfish were clean fighters. Had some bloody honor! That’s what I’ve read everywhere. But no, this one of all just had to go do something. I decide it must have been a female. At least I had more than 9 minutes of pure fun while it lasted. I have most of it recorded as well. Wish I had had the strike on tape too though. Can’t have it all I guess.

I am tired, thirsty and thirsty. It is over 36 degrees Celsius, and no shade. Nip, nada. Not even around my feet. How impossible is that? There are only a couple of islets around. There is no crevice I can stick my head into. Not without looking obscene at least. There is only smooth stone and barnacles. I can swim, it helps, for a while.

My body aches, my fingers and feet hurt from cuts by coral, barnacles and leader from past 2 days. Changing flies and tightening knots eventually does that to wet swampy fingers. The wounds in constant contact with the water are infected, despite me cleaning and applying alcohol to them every night. Each time I make a cast it hurts. If there was just some water left. The 4.5 liters I brought are gone. I never learn. “Som nam naa” as they say in Thai. 3 days here, no 2, wear you out more than a month of fishing in Sweden or Norway. Still I don’t want to go home. There is nowhere else I want to be after all. I have another 2 hours of fishing left before it gets dark and one more day before my fishing trip here comes to an end for this time. After that, it is back home to Bangkok. Back to tying flies in substitute of fishing, or go to a Barramundi pond to wear the worst of it off.

The time here has been wonderful so far. The fishing has been fantastic. Despite only 2 Queenfish on land, I have had at least a dozen of them on during the 2 days I have been here. The largest one well over 6 kg, closer to 7, and the other around 3 kg. The one I just lost was bigger, a lot bigger.

2 days ago I sat on the bus from Bangkok with a silly smile on my face, prepared with loads of flies and a new stripping basket I made out of a laundry basket. I thought that this time, there wasn’t going to be anything I would need that I didn’t have. I was wrong of course, but I had loaded up with plenty of deceivers, clousers, poppers, gurglers and a newly tied pattern with marabou-like feathers in sizes 1/0 – 4/0.

ttf_flyclousers

The journey was long, 15 hours door to door, including a night on the bus. Fascinating it took longer than me going home to Stockholm to meet my parents, even though the distance to Sweden is more than 14 times longer.

Day 1

Upon arrival, I merely unpack the needed parts of my luggage, before rigging my 10 wt with an intermediate and jumping into the kayak an old friend of my father, who has been living here for over 20 years, generously let me borrow. The fishing takes place around some islets and stones some 2 km away, so a boat or kayak is a must to get me there.

Once out, I see the conditions are perfect, with a slight breeze from the east(unfortunately coming from my left side most of the time, as I am left-handed and cast southward mostly), and a falling tide.

islets

Stepping off onto the most western stone above water, I have contact with my first fish after some 30 minutes on my new white marabou fly tied on a 4/0 hook. It was merely a tug on the fly and a splash some 5m out from where I stand. It looked like a mediocre fish weighing some 3-4 kg. The fish comes again the cast after, but never attacks. 15 minutes later a larger fish is after the fly. I can clearly see the bullet come flying from the side in an amazing speed, take a bite on the go and fly pass, leaving me behind with a slack jaw. I almost didn’t feel anything at all, despite it all happening right at my feet. I wonder how many times I have takes I never feel. Many, I think optimistically.

An hour later, I see a flash of silver and a swirl some 10m out, feel the characteristic rubber-band-effect in the line, caused by the fly moved backwards and sideways so fast, the line makes an angle in the water and then tightened. Stripping as fast as I can, I pull that rubber-band until it can’t stretch more. Then I give it one more sharp pull, and before my brain really can comprehend what is going on, the line in the stripping basket has disappeared, and before you can say “peekaboo”, 30m of backing is gone. Pure luck there was no mess with the line there, which undoubtedly would had ended with me looking sadly at a ruined rod. Now that I finally start feeling confident and think: “I have you on my reel now little fish. I see you are going out there where my line points, haha”, a nice fish jumps in front of, and some 10m to the side of my line. My fish? but my line is tight?! A very confusing moment where you don’t quite know where to point your rod: towards the fish, or the line?

After the initial run, things settle down somewhat, and I realize I have forgotten to turn on my camera in the chaos. Turning on the camera is followed by some give and take, but the fish seems to have exhausted most of its reserves during that first hard run. A few minutes later, I proudly land my first Queenie this trip. It is my largest Queenfish, above 6.5 kg. Unfortunately the hook sits right at the beginning of the gills, and the fish is bleeding profoundly, but as the barb has been clamped down, the hook easily comes loose without further complications. While reviving the fish, a man in a boat approaches, and I get worried he’s going to ask for the fish, so I hurriedly release the fish a bit earlier than I had wished for. Though wobblily swimming away at first, the fish recovers its balance and takes off. I hope it survives. They are such beautiful creatures, with their olive-green backs, scaleless silvery sides, forked tails and over-dimensioned mouths, these bullets. No pictures can make them justice.

Queenie1

I continue to fish from this stone, which normally lay under water at high tide, for another 45 minutes, before deciding to change place.

On the next islet, I have a fish on at my first cast. Unfortunately it comes loose just as my camera starts recording. It’s impossible to determine the size, because they all feel the same initially: Rubber-band, stop, run. That’s the common theme, independently of size. There is no stopping them, even when I see they are small sized. Unlike anything we have back home in Scandinavia.

This islet is very interesting with a small reef just outside, or maybe it should be called a large stone. To the east(left) and west(right) of the stone, it immediately gets deep, whereas outside(south) of it, it gently slopes down, which creates a wide underwater crest. As the evening approaches, the tide is rising, creating a rather strong current, flowing in from the deep on my east side over this crest and passing over to deeper water on my right side.

Continuing to fish, I have several takes, but can’t manage to hook them. Their mouths seem to be made of steel. Believing I have set the hook well, they still let go after a few moments, or after the first run. I don’t know how many times I check the hook. Most of my marabou flies are now also fluff-less, mainly because of needlefish constantly nibbling at them. They are aggressive fish, with a very bad temper and long sharp pointy teeth, which they happily sink into you given the opportunity. Fortunately I also tied a couple on tube, where I have separated the head from the tail, so I can switch to using different color combinations on head and tail.

With the increasing current, the fish becomes more active; or maybe just more fish move closer to shore as dusk arrives. Most takes happen when I strip the fly across or against the current. I have takes when casting ‘upstream’ as well, but not as many. I guess the fish finds it unnatural a fly comes swimming towards them instead of trying to swim away. I also notice, that the faster the fly moves, the more takes I have. Sure, I have hits when using a slower, erratic retrieve, but when I strip as fast as I can, and even using the current to speed my fly further, they go absolutely crazy. In the end, I don’t care about trying to vary the speed, I just try to strip as fast as I can, while trying to keep the fly straight in the water and trying to get the line into the stripping basket. This proves to be difficult, because: 1) the wind picks up and constantly blows the line away from the basket while I’m stripping. As a result the line falls to the ground and, of course, tangles around all barnacles in view. 2) The line keeps getting tangled in my fingers, for which I have to pause my retrieve to clear the line. Any following fish then seems to loose interest in the fly and departs with a swirl.

The stripping basket I made proves to be my line’s savior. Last time I was here, I didn’t have one, which resulted in a ruined flyline and me being sad. Out here, I use a double-handed retrieve, with which I can strip faster than with a one-handed retrieve. It also allows me to more ‘easily’ direct the line into the basket. However, it also prevents me from stripping as fast I could had done without one, as I cannot extend my arms as far down as I could have done without one when retrieving the fly. The short movements my hands have to make, also keeps the flyline tangling in my fingers. Very annoying! I will try to work on a solution to attach it to one leg, or something, so I can get it lower.

I finally depart and move on to the most eastward islet, where I can see a reef just outside working as a natural jetty, directing the current. Here, the current is even stronger, and there are even more fish. As the sun sets, I have contact in almost every cast, either through a small tug in the line, a splash at the fly or a hooked fish. There is fish at the edges of the current, but most seem happy to be in the middle of it. I do not need to strip as fast here either, which my exhausted arms happily accepts, because the fly gets good speed with the help of the current. I Just strip enough to allow the fly to go at maximum speed without laying down on its side or rotating. Thoughts of changing to a gurgler and just strip away as fast as I can pass through my head, but my arms complain, and as the fish attacks the fly anyway, I let it pass.

No matter how many takes I have, I can’t seem to set the hook. Finally, in the last hour, I manage to land a nice Queenie in the 3kg range, and not long after, loose a very good fish I fight for 2 minutes before it decides to jump off in the last minutes of light.

queenie2

As I paddle back, I feel the fatigue wash over me. I have not had time to drink water or eat. I simply wasn’t thirsty: “A bad mistake” the headache I didn’t notice before pounds in my head. I should had known better. It is not the first time this happens. I also feel wounds and cuts I didn’t know I had. Probably, somehow from barnacles and leader.

Well back home, I just want to go to bed and sleep, but I have work to do. The rod, reel, flyline and flies have to be washed clean, and I have to eat something. After cleaning my gear and myself, I stumble out to a nearby restaurant and order a hot Tom Yum and a big bottle of water. No beer tonight.

Day 2

In my optimism, I had set the alarm at 06:00, but dehydration from previous day has left me totally exhausted and with a really bad headache. Think hangover multiplexus and you get the whim. I hardly remember turning off the alarm, but the next time I open my eyes, it is already 11:00, C***P! With a headache pounding as a gong inside my skull, and my head begging for paracetamol, I jump up and rig my stuff. I feel strangely strength-less and only rig one rod to bring out. Reminded by my headache, I gulp down 1.5 liters of water and pack enough for a platoon before heading out.

The paddling out is slow and painful. I was too tired to care for my cut and bruised hands and feet from previous day.

Following a long and healthy tradition in the lead of Murphy, my flyline is rendered useless after 5 minutes of fishing. This line was ruined by the barnacles at this very spot previous time I was here. The head of the line was still good, so I had just cut and replaced the old running line, which I now connected with a loop-to-loop system to my intermediate head. Sadly the end of the running line, which had been threaded into a braided line to form the connecting loop, had pushed through the wall of the braid. The only other line I have with me is the head of a floating line, from which I had taken the new running line, but since it is the running line loop that is damaged, I can’t fish at all. There is nothing else to do than paddle back home again.

broken_line

Well back in my room, my bed invites me to lay down for a while, before anguish pushes me back up a few seconds later to rig my 8 weight, which is the only rod to which I now have an intermediate. I have previously avoided this rod due to the wind coming from my left, and, well, how Queenies in general are..

Following the same routine as previously, I finally stand on the most western stone again. The wind is a tad weaker today, and it is warmer. The tide is low, but still falling, so there is a slow current coming from the west this time. A splash at the fly some 30 minutes later washes away all fatigue and pain. I feel as good as new again. The fish never shows again, but this was the cure I needed.

Moving on to the next islet again, I fish at the sides of the stone outside. After 5 minutes I have a smaller Queenie after the fly in the shallows just to the right of the stone. A few minutes after that I see a school of small bait fish just outside of the stone being scared of something. This happens several times the coming minutes, but I cannot reach it from my current position, so I decide to move out to the stone so I can fish the outside of it. Before paddling out to the stone, I change my white marabou-like 4/0 to an olive/white clouser in size 2/0, to better match the baitfish.

small_reef_west

Well out on the stone, I immediately have contact with a fish, following the manner I am now so used to: rubber-band, stop, run, lost fish. Grumbling to myself I cast out again, but the line gets tangled. While trying to untangle the line, a fish takes the fly, and during a panicked moment I am frantically trying to untangle my line while having a fish on the other end. I somehow manage it and lift my rod, feel the pull of the fish before the line goes slack again. When I pull in to inspect my fly, I find it gone. It baffles me how this could happen, when I just before this very cast inspected the leader and tested the knot. Swearing I tie on another olive/white clouser.

The coming hour, I have a few fish after the fly, but no takes at all. I don’t like the fact that I can’t see my olive-backed clouser until I feel the leader in the guide. This makes it hard to look out for following fish. I therefore change to an orange/white clouser. Suddenly I see a school of baitfish to my left being spooked by something, and immediately throw my fly just to the side of the school and start to strip the line as fast as I can. Rubber-band, stop, run, fish still on! I’m almost surprised it’s still there. The fish then nicely follows me in, like a dog on a leash, but once closer to land it wakes up again and performs some spectacular jumps. I can then see it is a fish in the 3 -4kg range. After that, the fish is tired and is easily led in. When I lift my rod to prevent the fish from going under the rock I am standing on, it just dislodges and I can see it lazily swim away. Ahh well, I had the fun part at least.

jumping_queenie

I take a rest, chew down a sandwich and empty another bottle of water, now warm but still refreshing. Constantly stripping the fly almost at top speed in this heat, wears you out, immensely. I sit down in the water for a while and just soak in the peace, then I stand up, retie my orange/white clouser and go back to doing what I came here for.

The following 30 minutes, I neither see nor feel anything. It is almost to 5pm when I lay a cast westward, almost towards the stone where I began my day. I let the clouser sink for a while, then begin to strip as fast as I possibly can. I am very pleased the line doesn’t get tangled in my hands for once, and when the fly is some 10m from me, I see a flash of silver in the water, then feel the classic rubber-band effect. Keeping pulling the line in for my life, the tension in the line increases until I can’t take any more line in, and then when I lift my rod, the fish takes off. I can’t distinguish this fish from any other, except…it doesn’t stop. For the next minute, it just goes. In the beginning, very fast, then slowing down to an almost mockingly slow pace, as if it is playing with me. Finally it stops, and I can feel the weight of the fish for the first time. It’s like trying to pull a wall through the water! I don’t feel any jerks, It just hangs there, not seemingly resisting. I manage to gain a meter or so, before it takes off again for another minute. At this point I start getting worried about my backing. I know I have 300 yds of backing, but now I am well into the inner curvature of the spool. I am not fond of the idea of jumping into the kayak to follow the fish, when it smells so much of broken rod, but are prepared to if necessary. 3 minutes into the fight it finally seems to stop and I can start to gain some line. I had gradually increased the drag on my speedrunner, until it was 2 steps from max. The rod was practically parallel to the surface by the time it stopped. Slowly able to gain line, it suddenly gets alarmed around the 5 minute mark and takes off again with a series of jerks. Then suddenly, more than 150m out, it breaks the surface in, what I can only describe as, a Sailfish-like leap(from clips I have seen) and lands on its side. I cannot see the fish clearly, but it looks like a huge bloody silvery halibut out there. I can only stare in mistrust. Watching the clip later on, I managed to squeeze out a delayed “oh..” after that jump. The coming minute I manage to winch it in further until it sets off again for a while. When I start to being able to gain line on this monster and it starts showing signs of getting tired, I start sniffing victory. Then around 7:45, it suddenly stops. I cannot gain any line. I get worried it’s around something, but then it suddenly yields again. Still, it felt strange at that moment. Then, the same thing happens again. I apply more pressure, and again it yields, then suddenly, it is just gone. Reeling in with shaking hands, I notice it was just 15m out on the backing when I lost it. When I inspect the leader, it’s full of scratches and very ragged at the breakpoint. I never had a Queenie bite through my leader and normally this wouldn’t happen. I did apply a lot of pressure on the fish however, so I guess it eventually gnawed through.

Hoppande_stor3_1

On the question if this really was a Queenfish, I can only say I am pretty sure it was. I do not know what else it could had been. It behaved like one when it took the fly. It certainly looked like one, with that deep profile, when it jumped; and it did jump. There are pompanos out here, but they don’t jump that I know of. I don’t know how big it was either. 10kg Queenies are not that uncommon I have heard. At least not Down Under. There is not much information about Queenfish in Thailand, so I really don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t 10kg, maybe it was bigger. One thing I know for certain, it would had been my largest Queenfish.

I continue to fish, but without much concentration. I have no more contacts either. As the sky starts to darken and the tide pushes in, I head to the reef outside the most eastern islet, where the fishing was so good yesterday evening.

Before walking out on the natural jetty, I change back to one of my marabou flies in pink and I make a few casts along side it. It doesn’t take long before a small Queenfish, just short of 2 kg takes the fly in the now very familiar manner. Once again, I am surprised by the strength and speed these fish show, even at this size. I kid you not when I say a small fish this size would easily break my 30 lb leader if I locked the drag. Unfortunately, the sd card in my camera is full and I can’t record my catch. No matter, I will remember. If fish had ears, I would had tugged one before I let it go back to where it belongs.

Well out on the jetty, I have a few takes, but it is not close to what it was like the day before. I wonder why. The wind is stronger than yesterday, but other than that it looks the same to me. Apparently not to the fish. Shortly after, I pack my things and head back home. The wounds in my hands has started to bother me, and each cast hurts. Maybe I notice this now because I am tired. On my way back, the sun sets in front of me in a marvelous display of red, orange, yellow and blue. I feel privileged to be here right now as the only person to ever see this here.

sunset

Back in my bungalow, I once again disassemble the rod, put my reel and flies in fresh water and thoroughly rinse my rod. Then I head out to have dinner again. Today I’m having kaeng jut salai muu sap with pad pak bong and rice with a 1.5 liter bottle of water. Impressed with the amount of food and water I manage to squeeze down, I contentedly walk back home. I’m happy I don’t feel fatigue like I did yesterday. My headache has disappeared at some point as well. Before falling into bed, I thoroughly clean my cuts and bruises with sterilized water and alcohol, hoping they will be ok tomorrow. Then I sleep.

Day 3

Arrgh, the alarm didn’t wake me I realize in horror as I wake up by sharp light in my eyes. Almost not daring to look at the watch, I see it’s 10:00 already. Damn, and this is my last day! Up for a quick shower, run to 7-11 to buy 5 x 1.5 liter of water and a couple of sandwiches. I hastily gulp down a bottle of water when I get back, never forget that, while tackling up my rods and selecting the flies to bring. For todays menu, chef Janne has prepared, fort starters, a delicious marabou souffle enroule autour 4/0 marinated in crème de la chartreuse, and an equally delicious iced marabou et lemon a la tube.

flies1

30 minutes of eager paddling later, I’m greeted by sea swallow-like birds occupying the first stone, which I disrespectfully take in possession under loud protests.

birds1

The wind is stronger today, coming from the east, and I have some difficulty casting south with the 4/0 on the 8wt, but I manage ok by avoiding lots of false-casting before shooting out and instead just make on false-cast with shorter line before shooting. The water is more turbid today, and not at as clear as previous days. Perhaps the fish is less intimidated and will move into the shallows, I hope. 1 hour later I give up. I have not seen, nor felt anything, not even a needlefish, and decide to head to next islet.

While fishing around the reef/stone outside this islet, I manage to hook a needlefish on my 4/0, a feat in itself. They are beautifully turquoise/silver colored, generally like fast moving flashy flies, are quick, strong fighters considering their size, and performs spectacular jumps when hooked; but due to their sleek body, they cannot really use the water to brace against the pull, and therefore tire quickly. To make up for that, they come with a bad temper and a snapping beak. I’m always cautious around these fast moving fish, as they can turn 180 degrees seemingly without loosing speed and attack with their beak in the blink of an eye. There has actually been 2 reported deaths by needlefish, I have read, in which the needlefish unfortunately pierced their victims through vital organs, when they jumped.

needlefish1

After releasing the needlefish, and having fished around the stone outside for quite some time without seeing or feeling anything, I once again paddle out to the stone where I lost the big one yesterday. 45 minutes later, there still is no sign of any Queenie in the neighborhood. I decide to switch my 4/0 to a smaller fly, and choose a similar 2/0 orange/white clouser, which worked so well the day before. After a short break with a bottle of water and a sandwich I am at it again.

A few casts later the first queenfish for the day shows its interest in my clouser. The silver bullet comes shot from my right side, just as I am about to lift the fly out of the water, and makes a sharp turn out and disappears. I am pondering how they can move through the water like that, seemingly without moving a fin, as I cast in the direction it disappeared.

Standing on my stone casting in a fan-like pattern, starting from my left side and turning clockwise, I have a good feeling about this, as I lay a cast at 2 o’clock. I have previously begun the retrieval as soon as the fly lands, but this turn I am letting my fly sink for a while before starting to strip, fast of course. Some 20m out, the much welcomed rubber-band is there again and I can feel I set the hook good before lifting the rod. Oddly, the fish doesn’t really take any line and I manage to bring it in a few meters, just like it doesn’t understand what’s going on and just hangs along. I can feel the weight of it while pumping it in, and I know this is a good fish. Then, it seems to realize what’s going on and decides to not play nice anymore. The next 40 seconds, I can only hold on to my rod and watch the backing on my spool disappear in a quick and consistent manner. It feels like the fish is jumping somewhere, but I cannot see anything in the general direction my line points. Then it stops, and I can begin to winch it back. Slowly and unwillingly it lets me gain meter by meter. Then it’s stop. Trying to apply more pressure, without gaining an inch, I know something is stuck somewhere out there, be it the fish or my line. Sighing, I jump into the kayak and begin to pull myself towards whatever I am stuck to. This is not at all what I want, and the rod suddenly feels much longer than 9 feet. While I am nearing, the fish suddenly takes line again. Odd. Finally reaching the position where the line almost points straight down, I still don’t see any sign of my flyline. That is strange, as I know it’s not that deep here. Deciding to not play this game to only break my rod, I paddle pass the spot the line points down to, and resolutely wind the backing around my arm and pull. I don’t care if I loose a fish, which is likely gone anyway. Almost without applying any force, and to my surprise the line comes loose. It was definitely not around some stone. As I wind up the slack backing onto the reel, I cannot see or feel any damage to it. The procedure is repeated at the next spot where the line is stuck. Again the line comes loose without me having to apply much force. I start to suspect a rope, or piece of a net or something. Approaching the final anchor point, I see my flyline, and when I wind the flyline around my arm, the head to my line is just a meter below the water line. This time I need to apply force when I pull. Eventually something breaks, and up comes my flyline and a short piece of the leader. I don’t know what I was stuck at, but whatever it was, I suspect it was man made. In the disappointment, I’m still happy I cannot find any damages to the backing, or my flyline.

As I’m already in the kayak, I decide to head to the last islet where I have concluded my previous days. Upon disembarking, I make a new leader to which I tie another clouser. A pink 3/0 this time. Following my normal routine, I fish my way out on the jetty, but still haven’t seen a whim of a fin an hour later. I then decide to change to a darker clouser in olive with heavier eyes, hoping I will be able to get it down somewhat in the current. Standing there, minding my own business, I suddenly see a group of larger fish swimming around, some 1.5 – 2m below my feet. When I retrieve my fly, I suddenly feel a light tug and see 4 – 5 Queenies in the 2kg range chasing after, and immediately break off and return to circling around, below my feet for a few moments before disappearing. That’s the last I saw of them. I continue to fish for another 30 minutes, but the Queenies are tired of me and my fingers hurt badly.

On my way back in the dark, I remember what I had totally forgotten: that I had planned to have a go at Barracudas around the reef edges, and maybe the shallows. The silver torpedoes came second to the silver bullets this time, but they will wait for me.

Things to remember for next time

  • Take the amount of water you think you will need for a day and double it. Make sure you finish it all, or you will regret it and perhaps remain in bed for a day or more.
  • Cover as much of your body as you can.
  • Sunscreen is your friend, but not your flyline’s.
  • Bring gloves? It’s not pleasant to fish with wounds on your hands. They don’t heal well when constantly being wet.
  • Better footwear. “foppa-tofflorna” are better than nothing, but one misstep and you will likely manage to cut yourself and limp around the remaining time.
  • Stripping basket is good to have around barnacles and coral, unless you don’t care about your flyline.
  • No need for a huge amount of different fly patterns. Most importantly: Make sure your flies can be stripped very fast and keep their balance. Good colors: white, orange/white, olive/white, chartresuse/white and maybe pink/white.
    Sizes: 1/0 – 4/0+.
  • Make sure the barbs are clamped on any hooks you use.
  • Tropical Intermediate (and maybe a floating) line.
  • Rod weights: (8), 9, 10, (11).

 

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