What a year 2008 was – it was the first full year Gillhams was open. We first opened the doors to anglers in August 2007, and the very first anglers to fish were my old friends Terry Eustace and Joe Taylor. Terry caught his first ever arapaima here, and to this day it is still my favorite arapaima picture. Many of my friends own and run fisheries, and they all warned me how hard this business is. I did not believe them, but I now know why. Over the course of a year we have met some truly lovely great people, some OK people, and some extremely horrid ones. Luckily the really nice ones by far outnumber the a——-s! Perfect examples are people moaning because they have not had a big arapaima when it was 130lb, or saying they’ve had no big fish today when they have had a couple over 60lb, or that it’s a bit slow when they had a 100lb fish in the morning and a 150lb fish in the afternoon! We even had a guy who caught 150lb, 220lb and 340lb arapaima plus a 60lb carp and two red tails of 50lb and 60lb all in a day say it was OK but not what he expected! Christ I would love to fish his local lake. Another one we hear is, “The line broke – it’s crap.” No, it broke because they don’t know how to play fish, and when trying to stop a 300lb-plus beast at 30 miles an hour, something has to go! The list goes on, but the happy smiling faces as a decent angler catches a big fish far outweighs the idiots! Seeing grown men reduced to tears as they catch the fish of their dreams is what it’s all about to us. What a shame the good guys sometimes fail and the prats catch the whackers!
Pet hates are the fellas you haven’t seen for 15 years suddenly coming up to see us at a show, announcing he lost his contact details for me, his long lost mate, then asking for a mate’s rate! Come on – I have never been hard to find! Or the ones who come here on holiday and make you their best friend in the whole world, and invite you to their house for a couple of days thinking it now qualifies them for free holidays for life! How about advising someone what bits of tackle to bring to increase their chances, only for them to present us with a bill for it afterwards – people bringing piles of junk that we will never use and wanting us to buy it. Or moaning because the drinks and snacks in our fridge using our electric, and which our staff refill, is five pence more than the supermarket 15 miles away, then filling our fridge with the stuff they saved three quid on with a ten quid taxi fare. Or bringing end tackle with them, and then taking a few bits home along with our bits and bobs – we have hook link material, baiting needles, pliers etc stolen every month. We even had one prat who whinged so much that we wouldn’t buy some overpriced items he had brought with him that we purchased stuff off him that we get for free of our sponsors, only for him to take it out and use it during his holiday, and then take home some of the bits we had been forced to buy!
Then we get the ones who go to the local pet shop, buy some goldfish, and want to use them as bait in our lake! No wonder carp pox is on the increase in the UK with these morons about! All our fish are photographed in the water to protect them; 100lb fish bouncing across the ground does them no favours. But hey, for the ultimate photo, who cares? Wanting to hold them out of the water for pictures on three cameras and a video, then wanting their mate to hold them the same, all in the name of ‘look what I caught!’ Get the camera ready, work out your angles and background, and take a couple of good shots – believe it or not it’s the fish that matters. Guys who get a repeat catch – this happens when fishing one swim for a holiday, as a lot of predators are territorial. If you photographed a fish two days ago in the dark in the same swim, why on earth would you want another picture? Even if you are wearing a different shirt? Well folks, the list goes on and on, but as 90% of anglers who come here care about the fishes’ welfare and want them to be just as pristine for the next person. We meet so many lovely people, for us it outweighs the bad, but when the bad ones come it spoils our day. If you are one of these people, please do us all a favour and stay away.
Anyway, that’s the griping done, so onto the year, and what a year it has been with 3,465 fish landed of 29 species. The list below shows the figures from January 08 to December 08.
Arapaima – 432 total, best 400lb, best month November – 44 fish.
Alligator gar – 151 total, best 35lb, best month August – 21 fish.
Arawana – 12 total, best 8lb, best month September – five fish.
Asian red tail catfish – 40 total, best 31lb, best month November – six fish.
Barramundi – six total, best 31lb, best month February – two fish.
Big head carp – two total, best 30lb, best month July – one fish.
Black pacu – 186 total, best 55lb, best month December – 33fish.
Black shark carp – two total, best 10lb, best month March – one fish.
Chao-Phraya catfish – 62 total, best 64lb, best month September – 11 fish.
Common carp – six total, best 25lb, best month April – two fish.
Giant featherback – three total, best 21lb, best month May – one fish.
Giant freshwater stingray – two total, best 90lb, best month November – two fish.
Giant Gourami – nine total, best 15lb, best month March – five fish.
Julian’s golden prize carp – 105 total, best 45lb, best month May – 25 fish.
Mekong catfish – 46 total, best 185lb, best month May – seven fish.
Mrigal (Asian grass carp) – five total, best 18lb, best month November – three fish.
Red tail Amazon catfish – 504 total, best 80lb, best month August – 76 fish.
Rohu carp – 83 total, best 21lb, best month December – 37 fish.
Siamese carp – 1,325 total, best 98lb, best month December – 213 fish.
Spotted featherback – 34 total, best 15lb, best month November – eight fish.
Shovel-nosed spotted sorubim – 379 total, best 45lb, best month October – 65 fish.
Striped snakehead – 40 total, best 5lb, best month December – 15 fish.
Tambaqui – eight total, best 29lb, best month October – three fish.
Tiger catfish – four total, best 20lb, best month March – two fish.
Wallago Attu (silver) – nine total, best 25lb, best month August – three fish.
Wallago leeri (black) – five total, best 35lb, best month April – two fish.
We hope this list is of use to you, and if there is fish species you are targeting, it may provide you with some clues. Personally unless you are targeting Mekong catfish and Julian’s golden prize carp, which hate the rain, we rate the wet season between June to October. There are still many good sunny days between rainstorms. But regardless, Gillhams produces numbers of big fish every month – check the newsletters on our website where you will see returns for every month since we opened.
Highlights from each month of 2008 for us are as follows…
January. Joe Taylor taking two hours to land an 85lb Mekong catfish and stopping the whole lake going to breakfast in the process. Then we had dreams come true in the shape of arapaima. First was Simon Wynn who came on a day ticket then extended his holiday and changed his flights twice, vowing to stay at Gillhams until he caught an arapaima. Finally landing one of 160lb, he broke down in tears of joy. Then there was John the policeman who had spent years trying around the world for arapaima, then coming here and landing six up to 200lb. When you see the good guys win it makes our job worthwhile.
February. This month finally saw the completion of all the holiday bungalows at Gillhams, and with the swimming pool done, our dream was now taking shape. Top angling this month must go to 11-year-old Andrew Purton who stuck through the pain to land a 130lb Mekong catfish totally unaided after a two hour fight, only to follow up the next day with a 170lb arapaima, plus a nice 30lb Julian’s golden prize carp. It’s a strange name for a carp; I can only presume many years ago some hooray family were in Thailand with young Julian when he landed his golden prize carp, and the name stuck. Anyone out there got any suggestions?
March. This was special for me as I returned home after a long 11 weeks promoting Gillhams around Europe. This month saw four arapaima over 300lb landed, one to match angling legend and world champion Dave Roper, one to Dave Negus, one to Alan Jones, and last but not least one to Keith Purton. Now this one was special; Keith had fished Gillhams in October 2007 and caught a 350lb arapaima, which was filmed by Lee Jackson and found its way onto YouTube. From there National Geographic spied it and arranged to come here and film Keith in a remake of the capture. To cut a long story short, Keith caught the same fish again for the film crew! What makes this tale unique is no one else had ever caught this fish. Watch out for that one on your screens on the National Geographic channel. “Man vs. Fish – Arapaima” should screen in the UK in February this year.
April. Had a really good crowd in with some good fish caught. Joe Burkett caught a PB 98lb carp, adding 78lb to his best. Comments on the lake were unlucky it wasn’t 2lb heavier for the ton – strange, some people! Walking around the lake one evening I came across Bob Martin with piles of money set up along the bank. My guide Gollock was drooling as Bob had them lined up as tips – a red tail over 50lb was one pile, and an arapaima another. I had noticed on my way to him some good fish showing in the bottom corner, so we moved him down, and on his first cast he landed a 70lb red tail catfish, then next cast a 380lb arapaima! Gollock binned the tips, and didn’t even buy me a beer, the tight sod! Also another special fish to me was when my daughter Rebecca landed a PB arapaima of 200lb.
May. Now this was the month my old mate Rob Maylin arrived and fished like a demon, showing just what he is capable of. He started on the arapaima, breaking the lake record for most in a day with five up to 300lb-plus, then got amongst the carp as only Rob can, landing them up to 65lb. All the time he was hauling he kept whingeing ‘cos he reckoned we don’t have enough Mekong catfish in the lake. Then he hooked one, and after an hour he was getting knackered, but the fish showed no sign of tiring. After another hour of agony, Rob was asking us how long these things fight for. When we replied that a big one can take three hours plus, he was panicking in case he would run out of power before the fish. After 2 ½ hours we slipped the net under a new world record Mekong catfish of 185lb 2oz. His comment was, “Don’t stock tot many of those!” We told him to cast out again for a brace, but instead we went out and got wasted in true old-time carper’s fashion. The same month another legend John Allen landed a brace of arapaima at 330lb and 350lb. John, for those old enough to remember, had caught a big catfish many years ago in Cassien, France. He never thought he would catch a bigger freshwater fish in his life, but hadn’t reckoned on Gillhams. Finally in this month to remember Mike Woodley equaled the world record Chao Phraya catfish at 64lb. We did not claim this fish as we have fish double the size in the lake, and would rather wait to break the record in style!
June. This was a sad month as our client and friend Sean Fay from the Oxford area sadly passed away. On a lighter note Steve our chef didn’t take our warnings about arapaima being aggressive in the cage, as they look docile. Poor old Steve leaned over to get a closer look at one he had just helped to land when wham, it gave him a Glasgow kiss causing a nice black eye, a split lip and a loose tooth! June was a very wet month with few clients and no monster fish – mind you there were plenty of good fish landed – 171 fish to only 13 clients. Everyone who came had at least one of the 25 arapaima landed this month.
July. The weather for this month was better than usual, even if we did get a flash flood. Our old mate John Allen popped up again; John lives the other side of Thailand, but only a 1hr 20min flight away. His target species this time was the Siamese carp. The fishing started slowly for John, but after baiting heavily for a couple of days the carp moved in. John landed 57 carp over the next few days with three at 50lb, two at 60lb, and the icing on the cake in the shape of a 90lb Siamese carp, giving John the biggest carp of his career. John reckons Gillhams gives him a bigger buzz than any place he has ever fished, and coming from a guy that has done it all, we take that as a complement. July also gave me another angling achievement after a year of trying, I finally sussed the method with my first fly caught arapaima at 150lb, which made me the 14th person to land one on a fly in the world. Mind you, now we have the fly pattern and tactics sussed it is reasonably easy to take them using this method.
August. The big arapaima were back on the feed with four over 300lb this month as the weather settled for the usual dry month between the rains. Sjoerd from Holland was the star this month, and apart from a 300lb-plus arapaima he had a clash with one of our turbocharged Mekongs. Now this fish had a story with it… Sjoerd had agreed with ‘her who must be obeyed’ to a five-day fishing, then five-day sightseeing trip. So it was with disappointment that he packed up on the fifth day, but on seeing his little face I suggested doing a couple of hours for free in the morning from 7am to 9am before his girlfriend woke up. All was going well when at five to nine Leonie appeared on the balcony pointing at her watch. As she did so, the alarm went into a one-toner, Sjoerd struck and the fish went on a mission. Poor Sjoerd landed a 120lb Mekong catfish some three hours later much to his girlfriend’s disgust. That was the last time in the holiday Sjoerd was seen fishing, but he said it was worth it and is rebooking, so all must be calm now in his kingdom!
September. This was the month we had the Anglers Mail team over. We had lots of rain, but the fish were used to this weather by now. They landed three arapaima over 300lb between the three-man team, with a total of 228 fish. Some strokes were pulled, but I am not allowed to mention Adam Parker ‘cos he gets upset! Also the Anglers Mail star Gary Newman had an embarrassing situation that he blamed on the drink – email me for details! The lads also had red tail catfish to 75lb and carp to 70lb, not to mention a rare Wallago Attu of 20lb to Vince. My old Harefield fishing partner Matt turned up this month and caught the biggest fish of his life with a fine 70lb Siamese carp, plus a nice arapaima brace of 180lb and 200lb.
October. The IGFA finally accepted Rob Maylin’s world record Mekong catfish at 185lb 2oz. Damien from Siam Fishing Tours gave his partner Jules a lesson in fishing. Now Jules has never caught a 200lb-plus arapaima, but has some strange theories that they don’t feed in bright sunlight, which is a bit like when I fished in the Colne Valley years ago when the carp didn’t feed when the pubs were open. You have to be in it to win it, and Damien was – he landed six species for six PB’s topped by a 220lb arapaima – top bloke, top angling. While this was happening, a guest who nearly shares my name, David Gillman, landed our 350lb plus arapaima, Henry. Another mate arrived at the end of the month – “I talk a lot don’t I” Derek Mallows, aka Ladders. He fished short spells, but when he did the man was a machine. He wanted to land a 100lb-plus fish and ended up with four arapaima to 170lb plus a Mekong catfish of 110lb. Add red tail catfish and Siamese carp over 50lb, and you can see why everyone at Horton is wearing earplugs now!
November. Well it all happened this month, as my old mates Lee Jackson, Len Gurd, Dave Woods, John Allen and Chris Turnbul all descended on us. Amongst drinking, partying and a bit of fishing, a good old fishing party was had by all. Len has even made a DVD of the event, so watch out for that one, ‘cos Jacko has a 250lb arapaima on it. Now we have had stingrays in the lake from day one, but none were ever landed. This changed when Martin Roker was told a free day’s fishing was on offer to the first person to land one, and the next day he had a 90lb stingray and claimed the prize! So much happened, and some good fish landed, but I must mention the fishing family from Great Yarmouth (someone has to live there!) Lloyd and Lin Clark with Luke, their 14-year-old son. Wow, this family were fishing mad, and could all fish. Lloyd landed seven arapaima with the best at 340lb. Lin, not to be outdone, landed a PB carp of 70lb amongst her tally of fish. Then Luke went into super mode and stole the show when after a totally unaided display of how to play a big fish that would put adults to shame, landed a 90lb Mekong catfish after a 1½-hour battle.
December. This was another busy month with so many visitors we can’t mention them all. But fish of note were Len Gurd’s 400lb arapaima caught on his last cast on his last night. This fish gave Len a battle to remember, lasting over two hours. The old gits’ club was formed with Len Jacko and Woodsy being the founder members. To join you only need to be able to drink vast quantities of wine, wear women’s clothes, and have caught an arapaima! We rounded off a full year of Gillhams being open with a big Christmas party – three arapaima over 300lb, four 70lb plus carp, and red tail cats to 70lb.
Since Gillhams opened at the end of August 2007 we have probably been responsible for more personal bests than any other lake in the world. So many people have come here and caught fish beyond their wildest dreams, and we have the best job in the world making people’s dreams come true. Although at the beginning of this report I complain about idiots and freeloaders, really they are the minority, and 90% of our clients are lovely people. We have made many friends, most clients are returning, and we have the best job in the world. But please, if you are in the 10% bracket stay away and leave Gillhams for the people who want a holiday in paradise with the biggest fish in the world.