Monday, February 25, 2013

Similan Islands Diving

About 50 miles west of Kao Lak on the west side of Thailand and north of Phuket lie the 7 islands that make up the Similan Island group. This is a marine reserve sanctuary with no fishing allowed within 3 miles...unless you're Thai and then you can do whatever you want!
 The sea is crysal clear here and the diving is amazing......loads of things to see both large and small. You can even see the bottom in the photo above....and it's 15 metres deep here.
 Dropping down we (my dive partner, Dada, and me) went through a big shoal of Giant Trevelly....a bit ironic as the lads in the Wahoo Festival were miles off trying to catch them. These fish were in the 10kg to 15kg range and a fantastic a moving wall of silver.
 Now and then a Giant Trevelly passed close by as we 'hovered' at 10 metres.
 And other species of fish came to inspect us. A lot of divers head straight for the sea-bed but dropping gently with regular stops allows you to see all the big pelagic fish belting around in the top layers.
 We dropped to the botom....right on top of a turtle. They're nice to film...(I got a new underwater HD Video...very nice!!) and don't seem bothered by the close proximity of divers.
 As mentioned on Facebook, there were 12 Chinese Zodiac signs plus this mermaid arranged in one of those mystical Eastern displays that only the mysterious Asian mind understands. This is to ward off another disaster like the 2004 Tsunami that damaged many of the Similan Island dive sites. They are recovering now in that the damaged corals are regrowing........but the fish life is as varied and plentiful as ever.
 This is one such sign...I don't know what it means or to what it refers. I asked Jai...she said ''Why you ask me? I am from Barcelona. I know nothing''. Ah, looks nice underwater and these photo's are being taken at 20 to 30 metres so that shows how clear the underwater visibility is.
 Hard to believe we are actually underwater for many of the photo's I took....look at this one...lots of little blue sea fans showing up with fantastic clarity. It was hard to judge just how far we could see underwater...I could certainly see the hull of our boat 30 metres above us...and looking into the distance, the visibilty seemed to go on and on into the Deep Blue!

 This is a Sea Cucumber....usally they are lying quietly on the bottom but this one was off on its own adventure........
 Tucked under this coral outcrop, you can just make out the big stingray resting on the bottom.

Diving with Dada is such a treat. It's great to watch her underwater. She's MV Phoenix's Divemaster and very nearly at  Instructor level. Her buoyancy control is just amazing; at total ease with the sea...and you can see from the air she's emitting that she hardly breathes...therefore our dives are unusually long.

I've been extremely fortunate to be involved in the Wahoo Fishing Comp for the past two has allowed me to enjoy some fantastic diving inbetween my required Radio Catch Reports....terrific.

I wish I could get more of my guests here to take the PADI course and join me on a Dive Liveaboard trip to the Similans. Next February, Jeff Whittard will be joining me on a trip as he has now progressed to Advanced Open Water Diver through the PADI programme....maybe a few more of you will get into the diving when you come here for your winter holiday!!!!!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wahoo Fishing Tournament 19th to 21st Feb

I was very fortunate to be re-invited along for this year's Rawai Fishing Club's Wahoo Game Fishing Tournament 2013 as 'Weigh Master', a post I volunteered for during last year's competition. As a full time charter angling skipper, I am not that bothered about actually fishing myself. I just love to be at sea and my pleasure in angling comes from trying to find you chaps some fish and then delight in your catches. With this in mind, it seems a bit silly for me to take part as an angler (plus Game Fishing ain't cheap) so being able to take on a role within the event means I get to go to sea, hopefully do a bit to contribute to the contest, meet some new and very interesting people and get to see a few nice fish!!
There's also the massive bonus that the 'Mother Ship', the MV Phoenix, is a Dive Liveaboard vessel and as such is equipped with scuba tanks etc. The Captain, Khun Po, is a diving maestro and the Thai Dive Master onboard, Dada, is an absolute delight to dive with...brilliant...just like Ai Futaki for those who recall her.
 Anyhow...first the fishing. Look at the crystal clear waters of the Similan Islands. It is just unbelievable. Here we are buoyed up off Island Number 4 in Kings Beach Lat 008.34.475 and Long 097.38.234 and waiting for the first fish to be radioed in. My job was to monitor the radio, receive any catch updates and broadcast up to date catch reports. It's a bit like when we do the Conger Festival in Weymouth so that competitors can avoid bringing in fish that are smaller than those already recorded.
 I know you don't know any of these guys...but they are all part of our great angling brotherhood and out to have a great time at sea enjoying the sport we all love. This happy angler is Kenzler Joachin from Germany who was fishing aboard 'Thai One On'. Kenzler took first place in the King Mackerel category (7.85kg) and top spot in the Barracuda section with 3.70kg. He was also in the lead in the Wahoo section for the first two days. 5 sailfish were recorded during this year's event with two sailfish coming aboard 'Thai One On' to give them a win in the 'Most Sailfish' category. These results earned the anglers onboard  a cool 550,000 Baht. With the current collapse of the value of our £1 against many currencies, we now get just 43 Baht to the £ 555,000 Baht = £12,790! Not a bad cash prize, eh?
 I met a couple of great lads from London who were working in the oil business in Dubai and who had never fished before. Here's Andrew Stratton with his first 9.49kg wahoo (left side of photo) and a small barracuda. Andrew then caught an 11.21kg Wahoo to win the category and earn himself  50,000 Baht (just over £1k) so he and his friend decided to extend their holiday in Phuket by a further week and do everything they could to spend their winnings!! Excellent..I have a feeling they may well have the time of their lives. I did ask if I could trail along and take photo's etc...!!
 And this was Andrew's better Wahoo to take him into first place on 11.21kg in the Wahoo category.
Tim Arrowsmith from 'Reel Blue' presents the best dorado at 8.17kg which won 40,000 Baht. Very generous cash prizes from the many sponsors....we could do with a few UK Companies and local businesses throwing in £1k cash prizes for you lads ....but everyone's skint back home!!!

Best Tuna was 3.72 caught by Monody Alderson; winner of the 'non-pelagic category was Vladislav Puharel with a 10.5kg grouper with Frank Reitsema coming first in the Giant Trevelly category with a fine 7.85kg specimen.

Apart from the 5 sailfish, 3 marlin were also recorded with Henry Duncan from '4 Reel' winning the Marlin section worth a handy £5k with a 1.58 metre blue marlin.

Last night we all gathered at the Gang Eng restaurant on the waterfront at Chalong which many of you who have now stayed here with me for your winter holiday have now been to.

Hard to believe we've already enjoyed five 'English Winters' here!!

So, many thanks to the organisers for inviting me along...and who knows, maybe next year I will get lucky and be able to take part again.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Last bit of fishing for Keith

Keith (Downton) leaves us on Monday to return to his freezing fish farm near Blandford. He and Steve (Gilbank) are two really fine carp anglers and it's been great to fish alongside them. We (Keith and I) visited Phuket Fihsing Park for Keith's final bit of fishing, for this year anyway, in Phuket. We aimed to be prepared with a range of baits, pre-tied hair rigs, a selection of float and cage leger rigs and a couple of phones to phone up better anglers for advice.

 Pre-prepared hair rigs loaded up with 3 mini fish pellets.
 With carefully mixed groundbait, stone running legers, hair-rigs buried into the groundbait moulded around the stone, how could we possibly go wrong?..This was guaranteed to be a day of non stop action...not for us the basic method of float fished bread as advised by our Thai Guides. After all, they only work on the lake 6 days a week and 9 hours a day...what could they possibly know????
 Buggar...the pellets didn't work. Never mind...the sweet corn was guaranteed!
 We waited....and waited...and bites at all and the old lake dog fainted...
 So, with great reluctance we returned to those methods as advised by our Guides and immediately we were into I am with a pirhana that raced all around the lake before it finally agreed to come to the net.
And here's Keith with a very nice mekong catfish...a good sized one fo rthis lake. We were into fish simultaneously from then on....thus no more photo's but stacks of action. Moral of the story??? Trust Your Skipper...I mean Guide.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Keith and Steve at Gillhams 2nd to 7th Feb 2013

Keith Downton and Steve Gilbank are experienced and highly skilled carp anglers. Their approach to the fishing at Gillhams was similar to anglers like 'Simmo' who I'd met in December. Plenty of preparation, lots of rigs and stacks of thought had gone into this trip....this was destined to be good!!
 Here's Keith getting ready for the first session. We fished over five days with 2 half days and 3 full days.
 And here's Mr Steve Gilbank preparing his hair rigs!!
 Just look at this scenery!! Gillhams is constantly described by anglers as an 'Angling Paradise'. It certainly is. There are so many scenic views and photographic opportunities...a fabulous place to enjoy.
 And here's Steve with our guide Lee. Lee's got the thumbs up as Steve is into his first fish.
 And here we go....after over an hour's hard battle, the first Siamese Carp....and it weighs....110lb!!!!!  The official IGFA record stands at 117lb although if you 'Google' Siamese Carp you will see photographs of monsters up to an estimated 250lb. (NOT from Gillhams I hasten to add....every fish in Gillhams is treated with the utmost respect and if a very big fish, then carefully weighed in a proper sling).
 And here's Keith into a rod bender.....with one of the Karst Mountain formations in the background.
 And keith's first carp.....95lb!! Remember that for thes two anglers who have caught many carp, these fish are truly mind blowing. The pair just couldn't get over the fishing....Steve has does nothing but shake his head in disbelief at what Thailand has to offer....the weather...the food...the diving...the fishing in Phuket...and now this. It's really great to have two guests who are so enthusiastic about what they are doing and who genuinely realise just what an amazing place this is. It was great to see how they never stopped 'working' when we were fishing with constant groundbaiting throughout the day, continually rethinking the rigs and fishing for the whole 13 hours (0700 to 2000) of the fishing day.
 Our guide, Lee, is obviously deep in thought.....he really rated the lads' fishing abilities...
 Here's an example of one rig presented with a single pineapple 'popup' and a PVA groundbait bag which would have been cast into the groundbaited area. The PVA bag dissolves to add to the feed immediately around the size 1 hook.
 And here's another stonking Siamese Carp prsented by Keith.....they're very heavy to lift like this so it's a good job the lads are fit and work out regularly....well you try lifting a 100lb fish like this!! You will notice Keith and his fish are in the lake. It's too dangerous for such big, heavy fish to be out of the water for long and imagine the disasterous consequences if such a fish were dropped onto the ground. After photographing, each fish is placed gently back into the landing net and is given a recovery period during which time it is checked for any damage and iodine applied.
 Steve back into another monster which hurtled off right across the lake with up to 300 yards of mainline out at any time. The temperature was in the mid 90's so imagine what hot work this was with fights lasting an hour on average.
 And it's back into the water with another fine fish in the 90lb range....
 ...followed by a 'smaller' one of about 40lb!!!
 Steve landed a mekong catfish of 130lb. Several more were hooked but shake off the barbless hook after an hour or so's battle.....a couple of hooks were actually snapped.
 At night (1830 to 2000) we were joined by these little frogs which liked to roll the ground bait balls around the swim..............
 And look at this fabulous Simaese can only imagine the delight the lads were feeling at such truly amazing fishing..
 ....maybe this photo of Keith shaking hands with Lee our guide after another superb catch shows just how happy he is....... is Steve with Jeff, another of the English guides, laughing over this mekong catfish.

There is much to say about Gillhams and the fabulous experience it offers. This is not what can be dscribed as an 'easy' lake. You must work at it. There are lakes in Thailand (just north of Bangkok for example) where the fishing is SO easy it's no challenge at all. Gillhams presents a challenge and those anglers who can rise to that challenge will reap the rewards.

Gillhams website is superb...take time to read it....plenty of photo's of amazing fish and lots of very helpful information about how to approach the fishing.

What surely stands out to all the anglers fishing here is the massive amount of care and respect given to the fish. It's a joy to see. I despair at the treatment I have seen the fish recieve at many of the other lakes I have visited here in Thailand. Fish held high by drunken anglers and then dropped from great heights onto the's not good. There is NO WAY that is going to happen at Gillhams and it is testament to the way this fabulous fishery is run that such a professional attitude is appararent at every step of the way.

Another brilliant and successful trip with the added bonus of an Asian Redtail catfish caught by Steve and this 50lb Amazon Redtail catfish caught by Keith on the final night.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Flying Steve...especially for the Gilbank Clan.

Here in Thailand, people are always throwing themselves to the ground and making pious gestures. Steve has realisied that in the Phuket Diving World I am The Guru and need to be suitably acknowledged.
 We've carried out our dives at our favourite Kata Reef and have been joined by Larry from Alabama and his Thai girlfriend, Daan (those of you who use diving travel Insuance will see the connection in the name!)
 We have been enjoying the increasingly good viz and although this is a very shallow dive, ideal for beginners, there is always plenty to see.
 Look close and you can see the stonefish in the middle of the photo.
 A small rock grouper...just to show how clear the visabilty is now.
 The coral reef is packed with life and hunbdreds of species of fish.
 A baby grouper hiding in an isolated bit of marine life....
And Steve.....taking off.

Anyhow, I am please to annouce that Papa Gilbank is going very well with his diving and he doesn't use up his air quickly which menas we are able to have one hour long dives...very good indeed. And Papa's underwater hand movements are most amusing!!!!!