Some people come to Thailand after Thai boxing, said to be the grandmother of all Oriental martial arts. Others seek enlightenment in ancient Buddhist temples. More and more downshifters are attracted by simple immigration policy and affordable lifestyle – you can finance a nice villa in the warm tropical climate of Thailand for a fraction of housing and grocery bills in a European or American megapolis, and the pandemic taught us that an amazing variety of jobs can be done remotely. And, of course, even more people just drop by as tourists, to enjoy all of the above plus the world-famous Thai street food, which is as delicious as it is cheap.
So, if you’re like us, the only question you have left is: “How about fishing”? Sit back and make yourself comfortable – there’s so much to tell about fishing in Thailand.
The kingdom can boast of 2,5 thousand kilometers of coastline and over 300,000 square kilometers of water surface, belonging to the aquatory of two oceans, the Indian and the Pacific. Deep jungle in the mountainous mainland hide rivers and streams that have yet to see much of the so-called modern civilization. And the fish farms don’t only produce more food that the Thai can eat – 20% of Thailand’s export is fish – but give you an opportunity to catch literally the biggest freshwater fishes of the world. Now let’s talk about all this in more detail.
The Andaman Sea
If you come to Thailand as a tourist, chances are you’re going to land on the island of Phuket. It is located on the western coast, and is washed by the Andaman Sea. This is a marginal sea that belongs to the Indian Ocean, and is separated from the Bay of Bengal by the Andaman Island archipelago. A large part of the sea is on the shallow side, with depths not exceeding 590 feet (180 m.); there are, however, areas in the central and western parts that are 3 to 10 thousand feet (900 – 3,000 m.) deep, with underwater valleys 13 thousand feet (4,000 meters) and deeper. The characteristic feature of the Andaman Sea is numerous underwater volcanoes, that produce spectacular eruptions and occasionally tsunamis.
The Andaman Sea is home to some of the creatures that are most prized by big game fishing enthusiasts: wahoo, marlin, sailfish and yellowfin tuna. Other fish species that inhabit these waters include, but aren’t limited to albacore tuna, bonito, king mackerel, dorado, barracuda, snapper and grouper. There’s a lot of talk among deep sea fishing enthusiasts about Andaman Islands, an archipelago that belongs to India, and has only recently been open to limited recreational fishing, but fishing charters on Phuket and other ports of Thailand’s western coast give you an option to cast your line in the Andaman Sea as well.
The top destination for offshore fishing on the western coast of Thailand are arguably the Racha Islands, just south of Phuket. The best time for fishing after most species coincides with the top – i.e. dry – season, from October to March. The exception is the sailfish, which many fishing guides believe is better to target in the monsoon season, that is, from June to October, when the sea is a little rough. The best grounds for big-game, heavy tackle fishing are rather a long way from Phuket, so you’ll be advised to book a charter with a high-speed boat. More relaxed nearshore outings, including on traditional crafts, are, of course, also on the table.
The Gulf of Thailand
The gulf of Thailand washes the kingdom’s eastern coast, and opens into the South China Sea, which makes it a part of the Pacific Ocean. It is considerably shallower than the Andaman Sea, with maximum depths of only 280 feet (85 m.), and average depth of 190 feet (58 m.). With a number of mighty rivers flowing into the gulf, the water is on the bracken side. The Gulf of Thailand has numerous coral reefs, which attract divers and anglers alike. It is said to be a bit less touristy than the western coast around Phuket, though. The island of Koh Samui is said to be the best destination for fishing in the Gulf of Thailand; many charters are based in Pattaya, too.
The fish species you can catch in the Gulf of Thailand are essentially the same as in the Andaman Sea, however, your chances to hook a marlin or sailfish, as well as the bigger tuna species and the wahoo, are noticeably slimmer. You can expect barracuda, queenfish, cobia, trevallies, snappers, groupers, pompano, stingrays, longfin tuna and a variety of sharks.
Deep into the Jungle
Most tourists associate Thailand with the sea. However, the bigger part of the country lies on the mainland, between Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, is covered by mountainous jungles with numerous rivers and lakes. one of fishing’s last frontiers. A backcountry fishing trip into the area offers a unique experience, with glimpses of ancient culture and unspoilt nature interwoven with catching unique local species. Those include Mekong catfish that can top 300 lb. (135 kg.) and the giant freshwater stingray, believed to be the largest freshwater fish in the world. Fly fishing enthusiasts will not regret targeting mahseer. In the days of old, when British colonizers discovered this species, they proclaimed it a more worthy adversary than the salmon and trout that they had with such enthusiasm pursued in the old country. Jungle perch is an exciting, sporting fish as well. Fishing in the jungle of Thailand is an adventure that few people experienced but none of those ever regretted.
Here we come to the part that makes fishing in Thailand really unique. Among the Thai, there is an ancient tradition of feeding the fish, mostly the carp. This is performed as a ritual and is believed to foster the connection to all living things, an important part of the Buddhist tradition. The practice, however, came in useful nowadays, and the fish farm industry in Thailand is one of the best developed of the world. What has that commercial operation to do with recreational fishing, you might wonder. Well, stocked ponds – or, rather, lakes – in Thailand go well beyond the stereotypical image of a bathtub filled with carp and rainbow trout. They are home to creatures that can only be described as monsters.
Apart from the already mentioned Mekong catfish (that can grow as heavy as 300 lb., or 135 kg.), and the giant freshwater stingray, the fish lakes of Thailand are stocked with such monsters as alligator gar and arapaima, which can weigh more than 560 lb. (255 kg.). Other big fish that you can catch in Thailand’s ponds are Siamese carp and Wallago Leeri. These lakes are known as fishing resorts, and are located all over the country, from the touristy places to the big cities, including the country’s capital, Bangkok.
The fishing techniques can vary, with bait fishing from the bottom the regular practice, but some resorts may offer you to fish for species like the arapaima on the fly. Fishing is usually catch-and-release only, and only barbless hooks can be used. The fish are so big, that lifting them out of the water can be harmful to them – their inner organs can be crashed by their own body weight. This is why the anglers and the team go all into the water to get photographed with their catch – and the human body for scale makes the monster fishes even more impressive.
Some of these resorts double as fish farms, and fish caught in them can’t be entered in trophy record books. Others are focused specifically on recreational angling, and are built as full-fledged resorts, with comfortable villas, restaurants, massage centers and other attractions right on the premises. Of course, it doesn’t mean you can’t book only the fishing part of the deal.
Go fishing in Thailand
If you decide to spend your next vacation on Thailand, or visit the kingdom for any other reason, be sure to try your luck at fishing. This decision, with the possible exception of a backcountry excursion into the jungle, doesn’t take much planning, and in fact can be quite spontaneous, as fishing guides and charters, as well as fishing resorts, will be only happy to provide you with whatever rods, reels, lures or bait is necessary for the fishing adventure that’s on your mind. Check out the fishing trips in Thailand available on our online marketplace, book one of them directly from the operator, and – tight lines!