Dateline: April 2, 2012 – Ratchaburi, Thailand
According to American history, George Washington was a freedom fighter. But the British considered him a terrorist – even though his face was right there on the dollar bill. Who’s to say which he really was? I unexpectedly found myself facing a similar moral conundrum on my second day in Ratchaburi.
This would be a day notable for a general lack of large fish and a total lack of shame. We figured that we would try the local river – the Maekrong – for native species that might not have hit my list yet. And after some hours in the baking sun, I had only gathered up one small Barb, but it was a new species, so that was a good thing, but it was smaller than some of the fish that my Arapaima threw up.
The morning’s one small triumph – the Pla Ya Barb.
We tried for more Barb species behind the hotel, but they were spectacularly wary and could spot me three floors up casting to them. I tried for over an hour, but no matter where I hid, they could spot me and they refused to eat. I became petulant and we decided to eat lunch. It was at lunch that I had a brush with international terrorism. Or a courageous freedom fighter. I’m still not sure which.
The hotel makes a very passable chicken with rice, which is about all I eat in Thailand unless I am the Grand Hyatt Seafood Buffet. (Yes, I know you Thai food fans will react in horror to this, but any vestige of culinary adventurist was long ago wrung out of me while I camped on the commode working through food poisoning.)
Thailand is a relaxed place, and as I was waiting for the food to arrive, I enjoyed the beautiful scenery around the open-air cafe. The area was cordoned off with lovely tropical plants and was landscaped with different levels and a series of small decorative ponds.
The Maeklong Hotel Ponds. You know where this is going.
Ponds, I wondered. Ponds are good. Ponds have fish in them. So I wandered over to have a look, and apart from the normal goldfish, which I have already caught in inappropriate venues, (see https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/fishing-off-the-company-pier/) there was, Fish Gods be praised, a Plecostomus! (Like the suckerfish that are commonly found in aquaria, but much bigger.)
Jean-Francois looked at me. “Don’t you even think it.” he ventured. But those voices in my head had already made my mind up. (I had a guy in a red outfit with a pitchfork on both shoulders – the guy in white was tied up in the trunk of an Oldsmobile.) I eased a bread roll off the table and started poking around my gear to make a handline.
Jean-Francois, something of a purist, would have nothing to do with this. He got up and said “Please, please do not get caught. I stay at this hotel quite a bit.” With this, he excused himself. I was at a loss – no lookout, no help with photos. Just then, the place went deadly silent. The staff looked around worriedly, then scuttled off, muttering something like “Abu Bin Garcia. Oh no! Abu Bin Garcia!” A hawk shrieked in the distance, and ominous soundtrack music began playing.
A voice came behind me. “I am here to help you, my man. No one should infringe on your right to fish in this hotel pond.” It was Abu Bin Garcia, known to some as a pescatorial terrorist, but to others as a fishing freedom fighter. He would provide the help I needed, and all was saved.
Abu Bin Garcia, who appears whenever questionable fishing exploits are about to happen.
He helped me set up my stealth fishing rig, and stood guard as I pursued the noble Plecostomus in this challenging environment.
With characteristic lack of subtlety, Steve fishes the hotel pond with a handline. Photo by Abu Bin Garcia.
I missed a few bites, but then I hooked one. After a fight that was equal parts hapless and bewildered, I landed the Plecostomus, or Sailfin Catfish as they are called in the expensive books. “Well done, my man.” Abu said. Abu helped me take a few photos, and then, like a breath of wind, he was gone. (Was he troublemaker or a gift to the sport? All we can do is decide as individuals.) I sat there in a glow of slightly guilty satisfaction.
The Plecostomus – a new species and all-around neat-looking fish.
In about as much time as it takes to remove a ski mask, Jean-Francois reappeared. “Where have you been, my man? We need to get back to the lake and try to get you a few more species!”
We returned to the lake for a couple of hours before I would be driven back to Bangkok and an appointment with the legendary Grand Hyatt seafood buffet. There were a few odds and ends there (in the LAKE, not the buffet) that I hadn’t hit, so we put out an earthworm out on a light rig, hoping for some new Barbs or Catfish. I learned the hard way that big Redtail Catfish LOVE earthworms on light rigs. I fought and landed three over 50 pounds on a 10# class spinning rod before I took a break to ice my forearms. It was during this moment of reflection I decided to take a rod and some bread behind the lake and see if there were any undiscovered species lurking around in a large ditch that had always looked interesting.
Jean-Francois chided me gently. “My man.” he chided. “I don’t mean to chide you, but I think you’ve caught everything in here.” It was then I spotted the Arawana. (Another South American gamefish which had made the long trip to Thailand.) These are a definite predator, but there was no time to go back to the car and get a lure. I sprang into action, ripping open the bread bag and molding a piece onto the hook. “Come on, my man.” Francois chided. “Put away the boulangerie. That fish is an Amazonian predator. No way it’s going to take … ”
His sentence was cut off by the sound of an Arawana striking a piece of bread. I was surprised, but nowhere near as surprised as Jean-Francois, and certainly not as much as the Arawana.
The Arawana with a taste for baked goods.
So it was that I ended the trip with a very unexpected new species, which ended 9 years of torment from that fateful trip to northern Brazil where everyone else caught an Arawana and I didn’t. (Jonah, you are now forgiven.) And now I am the only one who has caught one on bread! Jean-Francois smiled in that pained way he does when I do something that makes no sense but still catch a fish. (Ironically, the French word for bread is “pain.”)
As we shook hands by the van, I wondered when I would fish with Jean-Francois again. It could be months; it could be years. Little did I know that our next adventure would begin in less than 96 hours.