A visit to "Paradise".
By Neil Robinson.
On our latest over night expedition to Cheow Lan Lake,
me and three other anglers set off from Khao Lak´s Marlin Bar
on the hour and a half journey up to the dam.
Driving through the tsunami affected areas is a very humbling experience,
and very little was said in the car as we surveyed the damage.
The large number of volunteer workers from all over the world are doing a great job
in helping to rebuild the area, and we know a lot of them personally from Marlin Bar.
Soon we left the coast road and started the climb up to the dam.
This surely must be one of the most pleasant drives there is – the views are simply stunning.
The road is practically deserted but we still take our time so we can soak up the views.
On both sides of the road large mountains reach for the sky covered in lush green vegetation,
with not a soul around. Eventually we arrive at the security gate for the dam,
and the guards wave us through with a welcoming smile.
The guards are here to protect the dam from poachers,
as there are many rare animals and birds, including leopards!
We continue on to the ticket office for the national park and buy our tickets.
Outside the ticket office is a small but busy roadside market leading down to the waters edge.
Here we buy ice and soft drinks, and fill our cool boxes with them.
The fish stalls on the market are an excellent source of information
as to what species are in the dam, and how big they are.
Here we see good sized Giant Snakehead, Striped Catfish,
Featherback, Big Head Carp and Humpala Barb.
We make our way down to the jetty, gets onboad the boat
and set off on the 35 minute journey to the first fishing location.
The dam is huge and it takes a little time to get around, but it´s nice to sit back
and take in the views. Ten minutes before we are about to reach the first fishing location
we quickly set the rods up, 6ft Shimano light spinning out fits, with braided main lines.
Except for Mike who opts for fly. The rest of us arm our rods with surface poppers,
with propellers at the front, and a double, not treble hook at the back.
We use a double hook with the two hooks facing upwards;
this is a very effective way of avoiding snagging the lure in weeds.
The midday sun is beating down on us, and conditions are not ideal.
However after about 5 casts of my lure to a weed patch near the bank,
there is an explosive strike at my lure.
I miss the fish and quickly recast to the same place and start winding.
Another strike, but this time I´m into a fish.
The correct technique is not to strike the rod, but keep winding the reel
the same pace, so that if the fish misses on the first attempt,
the lure is still close enough for another strike.
The fish dives rapidly and heads for the weed bed.
I apply side strain and turn the fish back into open water.
Close to the boat we see it´s a Giant Snakehead, not a big one,
but a terrific fight on the light tackle we are using.
The fish tries to get under the boat, but I manage to get it out again,
and Michael slips the Boga Grip onto its bottom jaw.
With a mouth full a razor sharp teeth, like cocktail sticks,
great care must be taken when handling these extremely aggressive fish.
We quickly photograph and return the fish.
Almost immediately Michael is into another fish. He had cast his lure
to the far edge of the weed bed, cranking his lure back to the boat,
a fish strikes 3–4 times before it´s finally hooked.
This time it´s a better fish and Michaels got a fight on his hands.
After a hectic battle I slip the net under an impressive Hampala Barb.
We photograph and weigh the fish, at almost 2 kg;
it´s a fantastic weight for this species, and Michael has a huge grin on his face.
We continue in this area for another fifteen minutes,
but don´t see much action, so we head out to our favourite spot.
Our favourite fishing spot is a shallow concealed area of the lake
that you would never know existed, just by looking from the boat.
There is narrow canal that takes you behind some high ground
that then opens up into a large shallow bay.
Old dead trees still standing from when the dam was flooded rise up
from the water all around us, forming natural ambush positions
for the predators we are hunting. On reaching our favourite spot
we are alarmed to notice the water level has dropped,
and the area has become one big weed bed.
With hardly any fishable swims we head to another area of the lake
and the action starts again. We take another three fish each,
(all Giant Snakehead) then call it a day and head to the bungalows.
Approaching the bungalows is quite mind blowing, as the location
is simply stunning with incredible views all around us.
We secure the boats and head into our floating bungalow.
Each bungalow sleeps six people and has two shower rooms, and two toilets.
We shower, change and head up to the restaurant.
The restaurant may be small and basic, but the best view in Thailand makes up for this.
Once darkness sets in, fire flies can be seen with their orange glow
penetrating the darkness of the forest. After a delicious meal of fish and rice,
in a rich spicy sauce we make our way back down to the bungalow.
We sit around relaxing until its 10.30pm when its lights out, then go to bed.
We all get up at 5.00 AM, its still pitch black, but we need to take in breakfast
and get to the first fishing area as soon as it starts to get light.
At this early hour it´s quite cool, and a mist hangs over the huge lake.
The whooping calls of gibbons can be heard, adding to the surreal atmosphere
as we make our way to the first fishing spot. A large weed bed
around the point of a small island is our first port of call,
and we get off to a promising start with two Snakeheads.
We set off to our next location when the action dries up.
Halfway there I spot a shoal of Hampala Barb about 40 m. away
causing a disturbance as they hunt their prey at the surface.
We quickly change our surface poppers to small silver spoons
and cast amongst the shoal. Michael gets a quick strike first cast,
but fails to hook the fish. The shoal must have been spooked
and it disappears as quickly as it arrived.
The next location produces nothing for me and Michael,
but in the other boat Meik and Eskild take three fish,
two Snakeheads and a Hampala Barb to the fly.
As the day gets hotter, the action slows down until we spot a "cloud"
of tiny Snakehead fry just below the surface, 25 m. from the boat.
I quickly change my lure to a double propeller surface popper
and cast just behind the "cloud". I know the adult Snakeheads
won´t be far away, and will attack anything that threatens their young.
Winding the lure directly through the fry I get an immediate explosive strike,
and manage to get a firm hook hold on the fish. We are in open water
so the hooked fish has no where to snag me, but it still gives a really good account
for itself and makes two jumps before we manage to get the "Boga" on him.
He pulls the scale down to 2.5 kg. A nice finish to a great fishing trip
in a magnificent location. We have seen wild monkeys, gibbons, bats,
kingfishers, woodpeckers, eagles, and hornbills, but hardly any other humans
apart from the local Thai fishermen who live on the lake.
A truly awesome trip even if we hadn´t caught anything,
and we all head back to the jetty very contented.
We return to the jetty, and then head back to the Marlin Bar
for a well deserved drink, all eager to return to Cheow Lan Lake
as soon as possible to fish once again in this unspoilt paradise.
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