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Krabi newsletter May 2009

Hi to everyone following this fishing in Thailand series. In Europe it’s now your summer, and over here it’s our rainy season, so not much difference I suppose! I actually like this time of year; the temperatures are down, we still get a lot of sunshine as it rains for two or three days for around four hours, and then for two or three days it’s fine. Check out the homepage on our website – we now have the local weather forecast. Also on the contract and prices page we now have a currency converter. Both of these new features have been accurate so far, which is a surprise for Thailand! It is also Mr. Peacock’s favorite time of year, as it’s peacock mating season, and boy is he at it again. Like last year, he has bonked himself to exhaustion and is now back in the shed recovering with all his favorite grub. Meanwhile Mrs. Peacock is sitting tight on her second clutch of eggs, after the first laying went pear-shaped when Helmet our Weimaraner dog chased her off the nest and got stuck into fresh laid eggs for breakfast. Luckily we saved two eggs, which are now in the incubator. Helmet is now in the doghouse with two painful eggs of his own!

George the tortoise hates the rain; he has dug a hole under a palm tree and spends every day tucked up in his burrow. We have to take him out once a week and clean him up, as the dirty sod poops in his bed then just lays in it – urghhh – a bit like old Mike ‘Spug’ Redfern, but you can read about that and more madness in his new X-rated book, Carping Mad! This month has also seen the birth of my new son Jack Bernard Gillham, a baby brother for Sean and Rebecca, born on the 12th May at 4.54pm at 6½lbs. He never made double figures, but once he gets on Steve’s cooking I am sure he will be a porker just like the rest of us! How the world of babies has changed! Sean and Becca were born 26 and 28 years ago, in those far off days when you had to wait to see what you got – boy, girl, monkey, etc! Now you get to know the sex and weight – bloody hell, you can even choose the day they are born, hence the choice of 12th May, as it’s my dear old mum’s birthday. How’s that for a birthday present? I suppose next you will be able to choose hair color. Now that would be worrying with these strange dudes I see walking around, who would be choosing green and orange with 700 lumps of metal all over their anatomy! He sure is going to be spoilt, what with his big sister and brother plus all our lady guests who want to cuddle him – he’s getting his own fan club on Facebook. Must be because he is such a handsome young chap, just like his old dad! Just imagine the fishing young Jack has on his doorstep, plus with having a big brother like Sean, his PB list should be pretty impressive, so watch those junior world records tumble in a few years!

We are going to shut the lake next year from the last week of April through to the end of May, as once again this year we have had slow fishing due to water temperatures, and worst of all fish deaths, the same as last May. At this time of year we get the equinox when the sun is directly above Thailand, clashing with the full moon and high temperatures due to the strong sun prior the rainy season. We have lost five arapaima and a big red tail this month. It is devastating for us and for our guests to see these magnificent fish dying after they have been caught. We are not prepared to let such rare beautiful fish die; they die when caught unless they are bought in quickly. How do you tell an angler who has already lost fish due to what they think is normal hook pulls to tighten the drag get the rod to its full battle curve, and get that fish in quickly, when they think if they play it slowly and gently the hook won’t come out. Arapaima that are played slowly and allowed to sit on the bottom are the ones that die, and not only in hot conditions. Arapaima can’t eject hooks, as they only open their mouths for seconds underwater to feed, or they drown. 60% of arapaima come off when hooked due to the way they feed, which is to inhale their food. They open their mouths with force, and inhale huge volumes of water, which is passed rapidly through flared gills, then their mouth shuts rapidly, and it’s all over in seconds or they would drown! Being air-breathers means they can’t swim around with their mouths open, or feed like other species, mouthing bait then working it round in their lips to swallow at leisure. It’s a split second decision – inhale and close, which is why they don’t take big baits. If food doesn’t go in their mouth in seconds it can’t be eaten.

This 60% loss rate is due to them being hooked outside the mouth somewhere in their bony head, caused by the angler’s rig holding the bait at a strange angle and causing a hook to set close to their mouth, but not in it. At some stage in the fight the hook comes adrift, making the angler think the rig or hook is crap. Without a rig attached, their food comes directly into their mouth. Yes, I hear you say why not freeline the bait? This does work, and you increase the chance of the bait being in their mouth, but the next problem with these prehistoric beasts is they have a lock system in their jaws to stop their mouth coming open. If you force their mouths open the lock snaps, their mouth stays open, and they drown. Hence we use barbless hooks and short hooklinks to a feeder or similar that stops the rig going into their mouth too far, so we can cut the hooklink and the fish just passes the hook through its body. Freelined baits go so far down their gut that when cut off with a meter or more of line, they then pass the lot out. The line comes out first, followed by the hook, so the long line can get caught up in underwater obstacles. Have you ever seen a fish that has engulfed a hook and is trailing line then swallow it, and pass the line out with the hook still inside their anus? We have, and it is heartbreaking to see a magnificent creature rip itself to shreds and die on an entangled line!
Our findings are the facts – hooks, striking, playing; it’s all the same. Hookholds outside the mouth come adrift; it’s just what will happen, and they come off! We have to insist that people accept it, live with it, and listen to us. There are no special rigs for fish hooked outside the mouth – they come off! These are the facts – once in the mouth that’s it, they stay put. The only time they come off is when they jump and throw their mouths open! Bully them and the line snaps, but other than that, the hook is not coming adrift. We normally set the drags on reels to the perfect setting to land them safely, and in a sensible time frame, so that’s why inexperienced anglers can land them. It’s the same as on big game fishing boats – no one can touch the drag settings. We have to do the same and insist people listen to us and accept, as we know more than them about our fish! It’s a sad world really when 90% of anglers want photo or bust, but as I am also in the profit business we stock the bloody things! But we do learn about them, and we are still learning about them! We advise people, only for them to formulate their own ideas and try to prove us wrong!

No, we are going to close mid-April and all of May next year and every year. (There should be good fishing in June when we re-open though). We will keep experimenting as we did when we became the first fishery to develop the safe release of big arapaima. We have to be stricter on rigs, playing them and handling them, and when we have it all sussed the other fisheries will follow suit, buy arapaima, and force up the price! Then the anglers will still be analyzing why they came off, not listening and poo-pooing the only people who work, live, and try to learn about, arapaima – US! My sleepless nights won’t come from baby Jack, but just from worrying about people getting upset at our rules and findings. I suppose we should take the stand of. “Listen to us, do as we say, or piss off!” Mind you the bigheads wouldn’t understand that either, and we would just be considered arrogant know-nothing twats! That’s probably why it’s actually easier to deal with average guys, rather than good fisherman in their own field. At least Mr. Average does listen more. So all you anglers coming over, read this, take note, and listen. There are no super rigs or hooks; the fact is that 60% of your hooked arapaima will come adrift – live with it, or don’t fish for them! When we tell you to tighten the drag or slacken off, listen to us! When we tell you that you can’t use your super-duper rig or hook, listen to us! Circle hooks do work very well for arapaima and our catfish species; the only problem is 80% of anglers do not know how to use them. With circle hooks you cannot strike, you just let the line go tight to the fish. It’s alien to most anglers, but strike and the hook comes out! If you are one of the anglers out there who can, and has, fished with circle hooks, then great – bring them over and use them; you may catch more.
Another rule change we have introduced for arapaima safety is we will no longer lift an arapaima above the water for a photo. From now on we will sink the cage and roll the arapaima on their sides for a picture. We have found that lifting them clear of the water does them no favours; they are so big it is a strain on their internal organs. You still get a cracking picture, but the fish is safer once again as with our cages we have learnt about fish care and safety through experience, and now we are at the forefront of arapaima catch and safe release. We intend to keep experimenting, learning and changing our rules until we get a 100% safe release record. Anyone who does not want to listen to our advice, or abide by our rules please for your own sakes, the fishes’ sakes, and ours, do not come here. Our fishes’ safety and health do, and always will, come before your trophy shots, or your idea of drag setting, or safe or effective rigs. That’s my soapbox piece complete this month, so on with the show.

Another guy who turned up would have made my whingeing and slagging off section, but the lad does not use a computer, and came here on hearsay and a tip from another angler who loves it at Gillhams. He was an English guy named Loz who wasn’t into big fish unless he could get one per cast. He likes numbers of fish – one a chuck is his thing, so the poor sod came to the wrong place here! He was way out of his depth at Gillhams, not being very experienced, and getting upset about the slow fishing, so he cut his stay short and went in search of paradise. To sum it up, one guy had two arapaima over 200lb, plus two other fish over 40lb in a day, and Loz commented on how slow the fishing was! I hope he found what he was looking for, as there are many grossly overstocked fishing parks in Thailand, with emaciated half-starved abused fish that eat anything that hits the water. Places like Bungsamran in Bangkok, where you can rack up huge amounts of catfish with jaundice that are beaten and abused until the poor things give up the ghost. If you are an angler like Loz, then this is the place for you, not Gillhams! 50 fish a day is well possible, beaten and abused, and surrounded by smog filled city and skyscrapers – paradise, eh?

I had some good news this week when my old mate Richie McDonald, aka Steptoe, got in touch to say he was going to descend on us for a month over Christmas. That should be a giggle, because Johnny Allen is also coming. Put that with the famous Gillhams Christmas feast and booze-up, plus the best band in Thailand, and the party will be one to remember, so book early or be disappointed! This month has been very quiet. May is the quietest month of the year for tourists in Thailand; there are more flying pigs around than punters! Next month is busy again though so we won’t starve. We are offering 10% discount to any bookings from now until the end of October, apart from the 23rd August through to 27th August when we have the Australian TV fishing show here, I-Fish, so hopefully that one will hit your screens next year.

On to the catch report. Only 14 anglers came for fishing holidays in Thailand, and just six came on day trips, making May our quietest month for a year. The upside was that Sean and I also got some long-awaited fishing in. Between us all we caught 217 fish of 17 species, made up as follows… 33 arapaima to 350lb, two arawana to 8lb, two alligator gar to 20lb, 52 Amazon red tail catfish to 80lb, two Asian red tail catfish to 25lb, eight black pacu to 30lb, one Chao Phraya catfish of 55lb, two Julian’s golden prize carp to 18lb, one mrigal of 10lb, one rohu of 15lb, three spotted featherback to 9lb, 74 Siamese carp to 60lb, six striped snakehead to 4lb, 25 shovel nosed spotted sorubim to 35lb, two shovel nosed tiger catfish to 15lb, one wallago attu of 20lb, and two wallago leeri to 15lb.

Our first guest this month was day ticket angler Pieter Van Niekirk with his delightful new bride Leanne. This young couple, having just passed their law papers, are on a six-month adventure around Asia and beyond. Poor Pieter tried his best negotiating skills, and actually managed to squeeze a 10% discount off yours truly, so well done Pieter – not many succeed. His dream was to catch an arapaima, and after landing two spotted featherbacks, a Siamese carp and a red tail catfish, he achieved his arapaima dream with half an hour to spare. Pieter and Leanne have vowed to return one day when they have made their millions, which if they charge anything like my lawyer won’t be long!

Then Keith ‘YMCA’ Jenkins his better half Linda descended, with his son ‘Oh, I’ve lost another one’ Vince and son-in-law ’Take a ganders at my kangaroos’ Ben. This was a long looked forward to visit, as Keith is an angler and person I respect. But what the hell, I will still give him some stick, as that would be what he expected. Even though I loved the fella’s company, and hope he returns, he ain’t being let off. As with a lot of the top specialist anglers who come here, Keith and Vince took a while to adapt, as big carp in the UK and Europe are totally different to our big fish. The whole concept of striking, hooking and playing our beasts is so far from what most anglers are used to. Vince in particular found it incredibly hard to accept that 60% of arapaima come adrift, blaming rigs, hooks and us in his frustration of losing fish. Vince had been told the best hooks to use are Owner hooks, but someone had misinformed him in the UK that he should use the “Cat Poo” Eagle Wave hooks. These hooks may be the ultimate hook for big wels catfish, but on arapaima they are crap. So many of the top guys out of Europe have bought these hooks to Gillhams and failed with them. Vince did persevere with them to prove us wrong, and he did land one on them, but the natives in the Amazon do not use hooks, just a 6in long double pointed stick that on striking jams in the arapaima’s mouth. Luckily Vince had not read up on arapaima or he would have been using sticks! As we say to everyone, trust us, and trust our rigs and advice – we work with our fish every day, and we understand them. Very few if any people in the world handle as many big arapaima a year as us. I have explained elsewhere in this newsletter in detail about arapaima feeding, hooking and playing, so I will not go over old ground.

One evening I took Keith and Linda out for a drink, which lead to several. Keith was keen to sample our local nightclub on the beach, as he shares a lot of music tastes with me. I had to warn him that the club play ‘YMCA’, ‘In the Navy’ and Agadoo-type songs, but he did not believe me until walking in just as YMCA came on. To my shock and horror Mr. Heavy Rock Jenkins was a fan of this crap, and did the dance with the hand movements to perfection! Mind you, I also took him to my favorite music club, The Kansas Saloon’, where you can request favorite songs. I was expecting a bit of Jethro Tull or similar from Keith, but he chose ‘Barbie Girl’! Oh well, another myth exposed! Mr. Jenkins is a guy I have always admired, with his straight, honest approach to fishing and wildlife, so I was shocked one morning to find, after keeping me out late and forcing me to consume vast amounts of alcohol, that it was all a ploy by Keith to fish in front of our restaurant, even though he had been told and shown our clearly-defined fishing positions. Sean came walking down the lake and there was a guilty looking Keith jumping over our restaurant railings, trying to drag a red tail around our garden, trampling flowers in his rush to get the fish back to a fishing area. Justice was served when the hook pulled, and luckily for Keith I was still in my pit, or he would have been holding his agadoos!

Keith and the family did not fish full time; instead they fished odd hours and enjoyed the many sights and delights of Krabi, but he did manage 21 fish of seven species, with Siamese carp to 60lb, red tail catfish to 65lb, and his best arapaima going 170lb. Linda had to slow down her fishing for fear of showing up the boys – she landed the first arapaima of the trip with a fine 100lb fish, taking 15 fish of five species. One comical misuse of words from Lin came when son Vince, in his desperation to be kingpin, had left his rods out whilst Lin was playing a fish. He then convinced himself that he also had a fish, but upon being netted, after being pulled this way and that, it proved they were both attached to the same fish, and Lin made the comment, “I have it in the mouth, and Vince has it in the bum!” Oh dear, what a statement, and no wonder the lad didn’t come out drinking with us! Vince, when he calmed down, got amongst the fish, and ended up with 16 fish of four species, the best being an Amazon red tail catfish of 75lb, plus another of 70lb and two over 60lb, and also his best arapaima was 230lb.

Son-in-law Ben fished well from the off, taking most things in his stride. He landed 15 fish of six species, but the big carp he wanted eluded him, and one evening he hooked a giant stingray only for it to slash its razor covered tail and part the line when he was close to landing it. Ben stole the show with the arapaima, landing one of our famous residents, Henry the arapaima, who had been hiding since before Christmas. Henry was looking good and in fine form, taking Ben all over the lake before being landed at 350lb. Ben took a second arapaima that same day of 220lb, completing a superb near-600lb brace! If I had to make any comment about Ben, which for those of you who know me know that I will – apart from playing fish like a wuss, it would have to be the trainers and socks he was wearing. How about lime green trainers with a separate compartment for his big toe, and white socks made especially for this trainer design? Oh well, it just shows people will buy anything!

On a footnote anyone coming over soon, apart from not bringing any of those stupid Eagle Wave hooks, do bring some Owner 4/0 style SSW model 5111-141 hooks. The Jenkins clan snaffled all ours when they discovered their hooks were crap, vowing to replace them on their return as we can’t buy them here, along with some inline leads for me, which also failed to appear. So all of you who left some here for your next trip – they are gone! Ha ha – Rob, most of them were yours, so shame on you Mr. Jenkins for depriving Mr. Maylin of his hooks!

Smack in the middle of the equinox period, clashing with a full moon, three lawyers from Malaysia, Richard Bong and his friends, came for a short two-day recce trip. As with all our Malaysian clients they loved their fishing, and were experienced fishermen, but they just got the worst fishing period of the year, and only caught two fish on their short two-day stay. Being true fishermen they accepted that the fish were switched off, and have vowed revenge on their next visit, plus coming for longer, as two days is a bit short to get amongst the fish here. Brummie Chris came back for a two-day stay before returning to reality back in the UK, whereas his partner in crime Darren had already gone home. Chris is one of those Mr. Nice Guys who make our job enjoyable. During his two days he landed six fish, with another two arapaima to add to his holiday tally during his short stays with us. Chris is going to make a proper return visit later in the year. To really get to grips with Gillhams you need a week or more to build up a feeding area and suss out the fish and their habits.

Paul “overnight bag” and Karl “phone stuck on my lughole” of Lake Escapes Holidays UK arrived next for a six-night, five-day trip. The carp were still switched off but the strange equinox full moon period was just ending, and they did get amongst some nice fish, landing 23 fish between them of five species. They both came with arapaima as their target species, and managed to land five between them to 180lb.The carp started to come back on, but the trip was coming to an end for them. They landed eight to 40lb, and are booking a return for the end of October, hoping for one of our 100lb-plus Siamese carp. “Low Season” Lee managed a day trip with his mate Peter from his home on Phuket. Their timing was spot-on as the fish were just starting to settle down again, and in a short day between what was going to be just a bike ride and lunch they landed an arapaima each, along with seven other fish, with Lee eventually getting closer to his target 300lb plus arapaima with a nice fish of 220lb.

During the quiet spell, Sean and I got two days fishing in. We decided to fish with just boilies and maize to see what we could do, and landed 12 Amazon red tail catfish, the best to me at 80lb, and five arapaima, the best to Sean at 220lb, plus four spotted sorubim and an alligator gar. We then knocked the fishmeal boilies flavoured with Richworth salmon oil on the head, as we wanted to fish Siam carp, searching for the shoal of 100lb-plus Siamese carp we have here at Gillhams, and the Richworth salmon oils were just too popular with the predators!
Switching to maize and fruit/cream pop-ups we managed four different carp species, made up of five Siamese carp to 40lb on the pop-ups, one Julian’s golden prize of 12lb, one Rohu of 15lb, and a mrigal of 10lb all on a float rod with a single grain of maize! We also took pacu, featherbacks, arawana, and snakeheads in our 38-fish haul.

The end of the month was to see returning clients, the first being Andreas from Austria, who, on his last visit, landed an arapaima of 350lb. As Andreas loves catching fish of species he has never caught, he had targets of featherbacks, arawana, and black and silver wallago, with his dream fish being a spotted featherback. Andreas actually keeps these pretty fish in a tank in his home. The world record of this species is 12lb, and we have them here to 20lb, so Andreas was hopeful, and he went to a lot of effort to try to achieve his targets by bringing with him some 20 tubs of giant worms. Now anyone planning a trip and wanting Amazon red tail catfish should consider making the effort to bring worms, as he had red tails to 80lb on them. (They need hiding in your suitcase, though!). Andreas had to stop using worms, as the red tails loved them so much, as did over species. He got his wallago attu (silver wallago) of 20lb, plus another target arawana. We are now constructing a wormery here, so anyone coming over please bring some starter stock!

The last visitors of the month were regular expats Gary, and his dad, Eddie Bunn. They are great pair these two, who regularly come to enjoy the fishing here. In three days’ fishing they landed 26 fish of five species, with Eddie showing Gary the way home 14 to 12, plus the best arapaima at 130lb, and a Siamese carp of 40lb.The Siamese carp are now back on a munch-up after being a bit finicky for the last few weeks, and Gary and Eddie landed 21, but we have a Swedish guy in at the moment who has got a shoal feeding in front of him. Put that with the four “must ‘ave beers” who are in as I write, and this next month should be full of fish and gossip.

Bookings for November onwards are coming in thick and fast, and the last two weeks of February 2010 are full already, so if you are planning a trip get booking now, either through our website at or by phoning Stuart on +66861644554.

That’s me for this month, and thanks for reading our fishing in Krabi report. Catch a whacker, have fun, and take care.