Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fire lanterns on the Beach

 We are always trying to find a different venue for New Year's Eve here in Phuket. Earlier this year we stumbled acorss a part of Phuket we had never visited before and found some lovely beach bars. These were very simple affairs but the food was amazing and the views fabulous. So, way back in March, a table was booked and deposits paid.....and it was just as well as the beach was packed last night and we would never have got a table without being pre-booked. (Here's Janie Thorne and Kannika cunningly plotting who they are going to aim the first rocket at).

 Plenty of people of various Nationalities were there. We were very fortunate to have some Germans by us who shouted at me regularly for my firework displays which, they told me, 'should not be allowed!'

We had a table right by the sea and were able to watch the firework displays going off all round Chalong Bay. Brilliant. The Asians are rightly renown for their amazing fireworks....we were treated to some real gems.
 An important tradition on NYE is to let off Fire Lanterns, known as Kom Loieys. It's not that easy to get them alight in a stiff breeze and then even harder to keep them stabilised as they fill with hot air created by a ring of burning wax suspended on wire at the base of the lantern. The secret is to fill the lantern without setting fire to it as the body is just very flimsy paper. The timing has to be right as it is tempting to let the lantern go before it is ready and then it sort of hovers about a bit before coming back to ground and setting fire to whatever it lands on. They are of course banned as being a fire hazard and a danger to aircraft as some of them go extremely high before they burn out.

 This is our beach table....see...very casual. Nice. Terrific variety of Thai dishes kept coming to everyone throughout the night.

Here's Kannika, with Dave Lovelock in the background, holding one of our Kom Loieys in readiness for lift off.
 Mark didn't realise what a talented and soon-to-be-in-demand Kom Loiey holder. Here he is lending a calm British hand to assist a tremulous Scandinavia Maiden. Such courage.
 Dave has struck up a deal with Kannika so that he gets a cuddle every time he comes fishing with us in Weymouth. His bookings have escalated from a four day trip to Alderney in September to 5 trips a month....aha....such is the power of a charming Thai crewess. Dave rather likes it here in Phuket....and has booked up three weeks for December 2016.

Well, what's not to like??
 Kom Loieys were being prepared all along the beach throughout the evening. They are quite a sight as hundreds can be taking off at the same time all around the Bay....quite magical!
 And, of course, there were fireworks....everywhere. There were some very impressive displays especially from the big hotels and resorts.
 Fireworks....just great aren't they?

 Janie and Kannika prepare to release our final Kom Loiey of the evening in what we all agreed was the best New Year's Eve Celebration we have enjoyed so far in what is now our 12th winter in Phuket.

Maybe it could be YOU here next NYE???

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Scuba Diving. Koh Doc Mai....and a bit of pool training.

 Every morning from 0730 to 0930, the pier at Chalong is extremely busy with hundreds of people of different Nationalities gathering in readiness for their day at sea. There are mini buses, trucks, cars, pick-ups, coaches and motor bikes arriving with customers gathered from hotels and guest houses throughout the island and a small army of diving and tour staff, boat crews, caterers, pier transport team, security and of course all the stall holders from whom all manner of foods and drinks can be bought for breakfast or snacks to take to the boats.

It all seems like total chaos but somehow it all works. The mountains of dive gear,  the piles of snorkling apparatus, the loads of fruit and bags of ice all magically appear onboard the boat they were intended for. The bewildered divers, sight-seers, anglers and the snorklers are all guided onto the appropriate shuttle buses that run the considerable length of Chalong Pier and then led towards whatever vessel they are booked onto for that particular day.
 I was treating myself to a day afloat with Asian Divers, the first time I had been with them. As ever, the dive staff and crew did everything. All you had to do was line up by you boat, remove your shoes (not polite to be wearing shoes onboard) and then allow yourself to be helped onboard. The dive boats are big craft and there was a very stiff breeze blowing. Handling those big vessels in very confined spaces and inbetween so many other boats calls for excellent seamanship to avoid collisions. I used to always admire the Thai skippers' ability during my dive stays at the infamous Koh Toa and today was again a fine display of manoeuvering heavy vessels in difficult conditions.

We were due to dive on the well known wreck of the passenger vessel, the King Cruiser but it was far too windy out in the open sea (not as windy as back in storm blasted UK tho!!) and so the boats were taken to sheltered dive sites. We ended up at Koh Doc Mai (Flower Island) which is a firem favourite of mine.
 I was very fortunate to be paired up with Iaroslav Popov from Vladivostok in Russia. All the other divers were in little groups with thier guides but I was priviledged to have an expert guide all to myself. This was a real bonus and meant that we were able to enjoy lengthy dives which I think was as much a pleasure for Iaroslav as it was for me! We explored the two Doc Mai caves (lucky I bought my torch!) and then took our time to find anything nice to this Varicose Wart Slug (particularly fitting name for some of my own customers)....of which we saw several.

There were a few little moray eels dotted about like this little White-eyed moray sheltering in the coral.

The Padi Open Water Course video opens with the declaration that you will see more variety of life in 10 mintues on a coral reef than 10 hours in a forest. Everywhere you look there are wonderful things to this spectaular Feather coral....
 ....or this.....
 ...or this....

And there are ven divers who know what they are all called.

I do not....but I like taking photo's of them.
 And here's two little slugs having a get together.

The fish life is, as always, overwhelming. There are so many different varieties it is impossible to keep track of what you see.I possess the fine I.D.  book the Fish Guide to Southeast Asia and it is just insane how many different types of fish there are. The species hunts back home would be blown apart with this lot!!!

 I know I have been concentrating on the fishing so far and I have neglected the diving write-ups. Humble apologies etc. I have been bringing on a few students and there is a lot more diving planned in Jan, Feb and there will be more dive stories.

But I am very pleased with how well Kannika has come on. Those of you coming to stay will have the pleasure of meeting her. Kannika experienced, as do too many learner divers, a rather thoughtless instructor who frightened her. But thankfully it hasn't taken long to get her confidence back up and now she is enjoying the Kata shore dives.

 Her first attempts at photography are coming along nicely as well.
 Her sense of wonder and excitement on her first ever sea dive can be felt IS always a mind blowing experience that first dive, especially here in Thailand when there is so much to see.
 Kata is famous for its blue spotted stingrays...although this one was photogrpahed on our second Koh Doc Mai dive today.
 And these little creatures is what makes diving so special....a brightly coloured seahorse (Iaroslav missed this one!)...
 ....and this sea dragon....

And it's back to the pool for a bit more work on the skills ....

There's a bit of a way to go before Kannika is ready to come on the offshore PADI dives...but if you are determined than everything is this space.

So, in conclusion, thanks to Asia Divers for giving me and I am sure everyone else on the boat, a very pleasurable day with great diving interspersed with plenty of excellent food served up between the dives.

It's a great way to spend the day!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Team Rebel obliterates Local Challenge with ease!

Today, feeling terribly homesick for the traditions of Xmas and the crisp, snowy weather of our beloved country our current guests decided we should uphold the important sporting customs associated with Boxing Day. Being such a team of talented anglers it made sense that fishing should be our elected sport for the day and that we should pit our talents against those who live here without fear of their obvious advantage of fishing on their Home Ground.
We faced a mixed teams of Americans, Canadians, Russians, Australiand and of course Thai but, within seconds, two of our 'chaps', Kannika Chokchai and Steve Thorne, were into hard fighting fish!
First catch went to Steve Thorne with the first of many manic Pacu brought to the nets throughout the day
Our rising star, Kaniika, presents her first fish of the day with a good catfish.

Ever dependable, Mark Butland shows off one of his catfish.

Pacu chomp through the tracelines with ease. Lake guide, Khun Ti Nung, shows Kannika Chokchai a better hook knot to prevent this happening.
It worked!! Next fish....a Pacu!!

And followed by a nice Siamese carp....the team were going great guns.

Mark Butland added to the variety with a Hovens carp....

And what with our latest addition to the team, England International, Dave Lovelock, what chance did the opposition have??
Note the calm assurance of the consumate competitive angler

Dave Lovelock with a lively Pacu

Star of the show, Steve Thorne, who caught non-stop throughout the day totalling 31 fish!!!!....Steve also caught the best fish of the event with a Siamese carp, best of eight carp,  estimated at a very impressive 25kg

And Mark Butland again with the day's best Pacu.

The fishing at Phuket Park was once again non-stop with plenty of variety. The team caught Redtail cats, Mekong cats, Asian Redtails, Amazon Redtails, Grass carp, Siamese Carp and Pacu.
Such was the team's total command of the lake that the opposition crumbled and then started to fade away so that by 1300 hours, opposition towels had been thrown in and defeat admitted....leaving our chaps to carry on regardless throughout the heat of the afternoon catching even more fish just for the sheer pleasure of it! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Exotic Fishing Thailand...Tue 22nd Dec

 Two of our intrepid guests, Mark Butland and recently arrived Steve Thorne,  braved the early morning alarm call to head northwards at 0600 in order to break free of the attractions of Phuket and reach Mike Bailey's Exotic Fishing Thailand by 0800 on Tuesday 22nd Dec. Thoughts were with our colleague Richard Heasman who we knew would be half-way through his night shift after returning to  UK on Sunday.....poor chap!

Mark had a great start with his lam cage being crushed by an Arapaima on his very first cast and then latching into a 25kg Aligator Gar taking his lam bait and being coaxed to the net within the first hour.

A nice photo of Mark with his very impressive 25kg Alligator Gar.
Within the second hour Mark had latched into the lake's much prized  species, the Arapaima, with the fish taking a triple pellet bait. This fabulous fish was estimated to weigh in at 60kg, so was well over the magic 100lb mark.

Mark said the fight was amazing with the fish displaying its awesome fighting strength throughout the 30 minute fight.

Here's a shot of the Araipaima being released from the cage (obviously many of these fish are much too big for a landing net). Before every fish is released it is given time to recover with extra aerated water being pumped into the cage.

Every fish is checked for any damage with iodine applied if needed. These fish are in tip-top condition thanks to this constant care.

 Mark's early run of good fortune continued with an Asian Redtail taking a chicken bait and coming to the net by 1100. An Amazon Redtail followed this, again on the chicken bait to make this a four fish tally by midday.

 Then there followed a lull for nearly six hours with another Alligator Gar taking a lam bait at just after 1800 hours.

And lastly, to finish off a great day, Mark caught another Amazon Redtail on chicken bait just as night fell.

Our other explorer, Steve Thorne, had also got off to a brilliant start with an Arapaima taking his chicken bait and providing a lively fight for 30 minutes before it managed to take the line around one of the lake aerators. Undeterred, Steve's Gillie leapt into the lake and passed the rod around the obstruction allowing Steve to continue the fight. Unfortuately the Arapaima threw the hook just as it was being eased to the cage.

Unfortuately, as happens in angling, that was Steve's only bite for the rest of the day.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wild Fishing at Phuket Fishing Park

 Wow.....our latest trip to the Phuket Fishing Park on Friday was manic to say the least. Within seconds of his first cast, Mark Butland was into a crazy fighting Pacu and this set the tone for the whole day. It was non-stop fish after fish with Pacu, Siamese Carp, Grass Carp, Red Tail Catfish and Mekong Cats giving us a five species tally.

 We had come armed with two set-ups each but this was soon reduced to a single rod as the pace was simply too hot to keep two set-ups on the go. This was definitely one of those precious fishing days that we all dream of....and it was happening for us! Well, not just our group...the fish were coming in thick and fast all around the lake. It was extremely hectic and exciting with the guides and customers alike running around with landing nets to assist other anglers. Here is Steve Thorne with his first Pacu of the day.
 Pacu are fruit eating pirhana. They have the teeth that we have all seen in the silly horror movies when shoals of angry pirhana attack innocent folk swimming about in some highly dangerous part of the Amazon. They can chomp through the trace line with ease. We upped the traces to 45lb, we used the plaited fluro-carbon traces we had prepared for the Chaew Lan Lake snakeheads and even tried braid. Unless the Pacu was hooked in such a way that the traceline was clear of the teeth, there was no chance of bringing the pacu to the net. They never stop fighting. When they near the the net they seem to have an additional massive boost of energy and race off to the opposite side of the lake at unstoppable and uncontrollable speed. They are amazingly powerful fish and were all in the 3kg to 7kg range.

 Kannika, the latest addition to our team, presents her first ever Pacu from the Phuket Fishing Park. She was using a Shimano rod/Grauvell reel combination with 25lb mono mainline to a fixed legered cage with a 3 foot 30lb mono trace to size 4 hook baited with folded breadcrust.

What a cracker, eh?
 Mark, who has fished here several times now, landed no less than five Siamese Carp. It's good to catch one or two...but five! Plus a Grass Carp and numerous Pacu and Catfish.

Steve Thorne with another one of his Pacu. Steve had decided to keep a running tally of fish caught and lost. I see his own record shows 9 Pacu, one Redtail Cat, one Siamese Carp, 4 Mekong Cats including the day's biggest at 15kg. In addition his record shows he was bitten off 21 times!!!
 I have just taken Richard Heasman back to Phuket Airport. His holiday is over already. It has shot by and now he returns to a wet and windy Devizes and a 12 hour night shift starting on Monday.

But look what he has achieved in his two weeks here. Carp to 70lb! A Clown Featherback that was heavier than the current World Record. He has caught a giant freshwater stingray of over 200lb and achieved a Scuba dive which lasted over 70 minutes which is a remarkably long time on a single 12Lt tank which just shows how much he has improved since taking up Scuba with me three years ago. And now he was experiencing the best lake fishing of his life and was trashing the reels for a passtime. Here he is with one of his  Catfish. Richard's record shows 11 Pacu, 4 catfish, 2 carp and exactly 20 fish lost before the record taking stopped in the mid-afternoon with everyone rushing around flat out to keep up with the action.

Just look at Kannika's Pacu. It's a monster and the biggest of the day at 7kg. It took ages to coax to the net and had frayed the traceline to such an extent that another run or two would have allowed it to escape.

With so much fishing action, the photography took a back seat....but at least we managed a few nice shots of the fish.....and here's Mark again with another one of his Siamese Carp.