Submitted by: Duncan Blair – November 2016
Last weekend I flew north to Chiang Mai to go fly fishing in the mountains of northwestern Thailand.
Fly fishing under bamboo, banana and papaya trees
I fished with a guide named Bobby Kaotakol who was recommended by Rob Roberts, an old TU friend who had fished with Bobby during his epic round-the-Pacific trip a few years ago. Bobby is a local guy who has organized a string of conservation projects in the mountains around Chiang Mai where he works with local villages of Karen people to protect no-kill stretches of stream. In return Bobby pays rod fees and hires villagers for the day when he brings anglers to fish the river.
Bobby, a blue mahseer and me.
I caught a flight up to Chiang Mai after school on Friday and Bobby picked me up from the airport for the three hour drive southwest of Chiang Mai to the mountains on the Myanmar border. We stayed in Mae Sarieng, a big town in the region. The next morning we got up and drove up to a village on the river Yuam. I fished with Bobby’s fly rods, 5- and 6-weights, with a mix of streamers, nymphs and foam grasshopper patterns skated across the surface. As is so often true on all continents, the black wooly bugger pattern was magic. After a few hours of fruitless casting, the fishing turned on and I got a bunch of strikes and then landed some blue mahseer. Mahseer are a carp species with a range stretching from India to western Thailand. They hit dry flies and wet flies enthusiastically, although like carp, they are actually pretty cagey. As you can see from the pictures, the river was still cloudy from the rainy season, so the technique was to slap the fly down on the water near the bank because the mahseer responded to the sound of the fly hitting the water. Actually, at one point Bobby casually mentioned that since it was November, I was the first angler fishing these rivers in the past five months. During the rainy season, the rivers are too swollen to fish, so nobody fishes them. This was quite a change from the Catskills where I am happy to be the first angler on a stretch of stream that day, much less that season.
I caught about a dozen fish the first day, mostly blue mahseer, a few golden mahseer and one Burmese trout, which was an interesting species with the head, mouth and body shape of a trout, but then big scales on the side like a carp. I was fishing with an entourage– there was Bobby, his assistant Op who photographed the day and guy from the local village who netted fish and removed flies from bushes when necessary.
A local villager, a Burmese trout and me.
We stopped for lunch at the local restaurant in the village, which reminded me a lot of the villages we walked through in Myanmar last month, although these had electricity because they were on the Thai side of the border. In the afternoon I caught a bunch more fish and as I was casting into the last pool of the day I suddenly heard a big rise next to me, and then another and another. I yelled out to Bobby that a hatch had started. I looked upstream and Bobby was standing at the head of the pool dropping the Thai equivalent of cheetos snacks into the water. The mahseer went nuts for them. I wasn’t sure it was sporting to put on a suspiciously cheeto-colored salmon egg pattern, but when in Rome… I have to admit it was an exciting way to end the day.
The next day we got up and fished a different, smaller river even farther off the main road with allegedly bigger fish. The morning was slow- only a couple of strikes and no fish landed. Right before lunch we fished a pool under a bridge and Bobby pulled out the snack bag again. Out of the resulting feeding frenzy, I hooked up with a golden mahseer that proved to be around 2.5 kilograms!
After that fish it was time for lunch, which proved to be, without exaggeration, the best meal I have ever had during a day of fishing. Bobby’s mother runs what he describes (as a loyal son) as the best khao soi restaurant in Mae Sarieng. He brought a serving with us that day and I emphatically agreed with him that it was delicious.
Fly-fishing all morning and khao soi for lunch. Could it get any better?
In the afternoon I caught a few more fish on the black woolly bugger and it was time to get back in the truck and head back to the Chiang Mai airport. Bobby and I were already making plans for a second trip with the whole family that includes camping overnight on the banks of a river.