Arriving in Bangkok on the back of last minute planning and a cancelled flight, and accompanied by my lifelong fishing buddy Jeremy Zhuang, I found myself up at 4.30am. Nop Karnjanabhan, our guide who had the entire itinerary planned out for us, was already up and ready in his black Toyota Fortuner and had to give us a wakeup call to get the ball rolling. With barely two hours of sleep, Jeremy and I were bummed out. Fortunately, Nop had brought along some energy drinks to perk us up for the two-hour journey. On route to IT Lake Monsters, located in the Ratchaburi countryside, we made a stop at a street stall for hot porridge.
What you need:
- PE 1-3 rod
- 3000-sized spinning reel or equivalent
- 30lb braided line
- 40lb shock leader
- Size 17 hooks (debarbed)
- Lures that mimic Tilapia
- Swimming bait
- Dead bait (chum)
- Sun block
- Change of clothes
Once we arrived, Nop began setting up the gear for us. Nop’s assistant collected some live tilapia for baiting and prepared some frozen hardtails for chumming. Mackerels are the ideal bait but it was out of stock. Lures that look like tilapias can be very effective as well. On the first cast, with a tiny tilapia on the hook, we got the first bite. Nop successfully set the hook, but once the fight was on, the line snapped. Several casts later, Jeremy drew first blood. Still feeling bleary-eyed from the night before, he fought hard to keep the line taut. That was key in landing the fish because we had our hooks debarbed. After struggling with the fish for 10 minutes, it flipped to its side near the shore. It was a 10kg barramundi, the largest of its kind that Jeremy has ever caught.
Feeling slightly envious, I pressed on to get my first catch of the day. Shortly after landing the barramundi, I had a strong fish at the end of my line. Having shaken off the stupor, I managed to pull out a 4kg alligator gar. The fight wasn’t that impressive, but for a fish that size, you would expect an easier battle. I’ve never caught this species before so it was indeed exciting. As I posed for the picture, the gar struggled, trying to whip using its tail and turn its head in an attempt to bite. Nop shared that caution is important when handling this fish. A gnaw from the gar can be very nasty. He didn’t even remove the hook stuck in the mouth. Jeremy felt firsthand the wrath of this beast when he caught a 15kg specimen.
He was whipped in the arm by the fish’s strong tail. Luckily it was nothing more serious than that. In the first two hours, several alligator gars kept getting hooked up, but from 9am, the redtail catfish finally took our bait. These fish proved to be the toughest fight of the entire trip. Firstly, they ate humongous chunks of hardtails which were approximately 15-20cm long. When hooked, the catfish would run laps around the lake. With every three cranks, they would dash three metres in the opposite direction. We didn’t get to see them till they were near the shore. Sometimes they would be spooked once they lay eyes on us and start another run towards the middle of the lake. With over 1,000 specimens of redtail catfish in the lake, Jeremy and I had a sufficient workout throughout the day. Between the two of us, we landed 10 of them ranging from 7-30kg. According to Nop, the redtails would strike any bait. He knew them so well that when I asked him to help me hook one up for a picture, it took him mere seconds to get one.
Despite the redtails working out our biceps the entire morning, and the 40°C heat, we were still hoping to catch another species of fish. Lucky for us, there was a sheltered area with picnic tables where we could hide from the blazing sun. The sprinklers on the roof were turned on to give us ‘rain’. Just before we called it in for lunch, our prayers for a new species were answered.
SPECIES FOUND IN IT LAKE MONSTERS
- Alligator gar
- Chao Phraya
- Giant snakehead
- Largemouth bass
- Peacock bass
- Redtail catfish
- Tiger catfish
Nop spotted a school of Chao Phraya catfish swimming across the lake. As our rods were not able to cast far, he immediately notified his assistant to prepare a pail to transport the bait to the opposite end from where we were standing. Once the bait dropped, Nop cranked the reel till it was a fewmetres from the opposite bank. When the fish took the bait, he helped set the hook and passed the rod on to Jeremy to fight the Chao Phraya native. The 20kg catch had immense strength. After landing the fish, we admired the beauty for a little while longer and took some photographs.
At about 1pm, Nop drove us to a restaurant for lunch where we had a four-course meal consisting of fried frogs, stir-fried vegetables, deep-fried fishcake and other local delicacies. On the way back to the lake, we loaded up on caffeine and stocked up on cold beverages at a 7-Eleven. It was still steaming hot at IT Lake Monsters when we returned after lunch, but that was not going to stop us from catching more monsters. As we continued to hunt for other species, Nop revealed that the elusive Arapaima also lurks in the waters of this lake. Jeremy and I told him that we had to land it. With that said, Nop began to cut up the hardtails into smaller chunks. He indicated the area of the lake where the Arapaima would frequent and threw in the cut up hardtails to chum the water. He hooked up two to three pieces of the same meat used to chum and cast at the Arapaima’s ‘home’.
To our dismay, we hooked up more redtails. We tried to release the hook on some of them by tugging the rod in different directions but we couldn’t avoid the inevitable fight. Being the joker Jeremy is, he told Nop to give the Arapaima a call to come out and play. To avoid tiring ourselves out, Jeremy and I took turns to reel in these invasive species of fish, but our time at the lake neared the end. At about 4.30pm, Nop managed to successfully snag the Arapaima. He then handed the rod of battling the Amazonian monster to me.
Surprisingly, the fight of the Arapaima wasn’t impressive. Except for a brief moment when it peeled the line from the reel, it felt more like dead weight. It could also be possible that the fish was lazy or our day-long bicep workout made it a tad easier to crank it in. Once it was along the shore, we couldn’t resist the urge to ditch our clothes and jump in to the lake for photographs.
The 60kg Arapaima actually managed to escape our grasp while we were awed by its magnificence. Unfortunately for the fish, we still had it hooked. We took about half an hour swimming and reviving the fish before releasing it from the huge net. With so many exotic species in the lake that we didn’t catch, Jeremy and I will surely make another trip to the Land of a Thousand Smiles to catch more monsters.
- Use lighter set up to be fair to fish.
- Avoid a set up too light as a long fight can be harmful to fishes.
- Debarbed hooks are less harmful to fishes.
- If hook cannot be removed from fish, cut the line. The fish can naturally flush it out later.
- Have lots of rest the night before.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE PACKAGE:
- An itinerary of your choice
- Hotel pick up and drop off
- Cooler box
- All gear (rod, reel, terminal tackle, bait)
- 4-course lunch
- Fishing assistant
This package costs 14,500THB (S$560) and is an ‘all in’ VIP package. Anglers who choose to bring more rods will receive a discounted rate for each one. You can book this trip via Facebook @ Fishing Adventure Thailand. For queries, call Nop Karnjanabhan at +66 94 269 3659.