Friday, March 18, 2016

Similan Islands Diving

 The nine Similan Islands are situated some 50 miles off the west coast of Thailand due west of Kao Lak which is just North of Phuket Island. The area is a National Marine Park and protected (to a degree) with all fishing vessels supposedly maintaining a three miles radius from them.

The clarity of the sea can be amazing. When on the surface it is quite usual to see the seabed up to some 40 metres below. It is often difficult to believe you are actually underwater at times and so the chance of being able to take some nice photo's is high.
 On the 5 day Liveaboard Trip we went on last week with Phuket based dive company, Scubacats, we did experience some very chilly thermoclimes which made me feel very happy I was in a full length dive suit (whimp!). When a thermoclime approaches, the water starts in shimmer and it is difficult to take photos as everything appears to go 'out of focus'. I was extremely fortunate to be shown this very large frogfish by our Dive Guide, a very charming Amanda from Sweden, just as the thermoclime blocking it cleared and gave me the chance for a photo. They are weird can see how the pectoral fins are clearly acting as little feet.

The Similans are famous for their massive granite boulders  and underwater cliffs. The dives can be very dramatic dropping down through valleys and swim thru's.
 Great, eh? Dropping down through sheer walls of granite to the seabed. The dives tend to be held to a 30 metre maximum but there are a few places where more depth, for what it's worth, can be obtained. Most of the interesting stuff is 25 metres and up with the big pelagic fish racing around in the first 10 metres.
 Some nice tight corridors to glide through. When the current runs with you then you really get the feeling of flying....terrific.
 This shot shows our dive group, including Heath Barnard from Poole, with a big Napolean Wrasse deciding to swim gently through our midst. The fish are certainly not frightened and, if you behave in a non-predatory manner and keep still then these big fish will come right up to you.
 The highlight of the Similan Island trips are the manata rays. We were vey fortunate to spot some on a number of our dives. Here's two big mantas coming at me out of the distance, accompanied by the Giant Trevelly which are waiting for the chance to snaffle up the remoras that are clinging onto the rays. I was stationed at about 15 metres so was lucky to get these shots especially as the viz had closed down a bit.
 On the other end of the scale, the Similans offers the chance to spot lots of little critters such as the ever popular nudibranch. The one shown here is just a couple of centimetres long and is just ONE of the 2,500 different varieties of nudibranchs residing in south east Asian waters.
 Batfish are the most accommodating of species and are uncannily talented at framing themselves against a nice backdrop and then slowing down just at the perfect moment for a photo.
 Everywhere the underwater scenery is absolutely is often difficult to know where to look as there is such a lot to see....and of course you are guaranteed to miss something like a passing turtle which everyone else sees because you are focusing on a dramatic bit of colourful coral or something!
 We were treated to some very impressive displays by the here's a few shots of these amazing creatures. We were lucky that they were swimming shallow and the visability was good allowing the natural sunlight to come down and illuminate them. The best way to make manta rays disappear is by lots of camera flashes going off and scaring them away. With such good natural light there was no need for anyone to startle the rays and they stayed around for ages...until a boatload of Asian divers arrived armed with massive strobes and flash guns....inevitably driving the rays away.

 Amazing creatures...
 If you don't startle them then they will come right up to you and glide by giving wonderful opportunities to get a nice photograph.
 Here we are at a mana 'viewpoint'. The current is hammering through and the divers are hanging on by their fingernails. I was hiding up high behind a gurt granite rock with a wonderful view of everything and able to capture both the clinging divers and the cruising mantas....ha ha.
 We finished our trip with two wreck dives on the final day. Unfortunately the viz was terrible so no wreck photographs but...if you stick your camera down a hole and keep your finger crossed then you might get lucky. Here's an example of getting lucky with a completely blind pot-shot showing a marbled moray eel hiding in amongst the wreck metal.
 And, as always, there are myriads of fish hanging around a wreck.
The final slow ascent from 30 metres up the shotline back to the boat for the end of a great few days of varied diving with some very nice new friends.

We are off diving with a different group tomorrow with the emphasis on seeing corals in shallow, a very different day.

The diving this year has been great fun and more and more of my guests are taking part and becoming PADI Certified. Once you have a Certification then you can come on the Dive Boats and take part in their dive programmes.

You do not need to be Dive Certified to dive with me as part of your holiday free diving programme (if you want to do it) but be assured I will look look after you and take you through a pretty detailed pre-Padi course in the hope that you will then go on to take the PADI training programme and be able to experience the wonderful dive days on offer here in sunny Phuket.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Society Chairman keeps on his toes.

 Weymouth Angling Society's Chairman, Mr Billy Short, World Famous in the whole of Weymouth for his building work, is currently discovering the delights of Phuket along with his charming wife, Fish Widow Cindy.

Today Billy left Cindy to sun herself all day by the house pool whilst he went off to sample the delights of the beasts in the Phuket Fishing Park along with resident guide and professional Night Clubber (and handbag importer) Russel Shaw. Readers may recall that Russell was here in January along with the madman Mr Ray Barron and soon realised that Poole wasn't all it is cracked up to be in the dead of winter...thus he has returned for another three weeks of bright sun, crystal seas, long cold beers and adventurous dives not to mention the fishing.

And today Russell took young Billy under his considerable wing and acted as his guide....and here is Billy with a very nice Hoberns Carp and above a cracking Siamese Carp. Needless to say our Billy didn't expect this. And, for any of the Weymouth Angling Society Junior anglers reading about their leader, allow me to tell you he paid no attention to his guide and did not hang on to his rod as instructed....thus the first fish took Billy's rod into the lake saved only by a dramatic flying dive into the lake itself and just managing to get hold of the rod butt as it started to disappear into the depths of the pirhana infested water.

Our two top men managed a double shot of catfish with the Thai Guide coming to their assistance to untangle them.
 And look at this monster.....this lake really does produce some amazing fish.
 And see how Billy is going Native? Here he is adopting a dramatic facial stare straight out of the Thai story the Ramagian (look this up)....and look at the delight on his face.... ah, bless.
And to finish up with....another mekong catfish...what a day and what an introduction to lake fishinbg for an otherwise dedicated sea angler!

Hoorah for Billy!!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Latest Kata Beach Dive Wed 24th Feb 2016.

We are having a break from fishing and concentrating on our diving. We are concentrating on the shore diving cos it is cheap!! As in £1 a dive.....and we are really enjoying the shore marks this year as there seems such a lot of fish life around not to mention all sorts of interesting crustacea. Here is our recently Open Water Certificed PADI diver, Richard Spracklen from Wool practicing his hovering technique....and jolly good too!
I have dived the Kata area of Phuket quite a bit now over the past 10 years but today's dive was the best ever. It was High Water so we started our dive off by going over the Kata reef rather than diving parallel to it. The reef is pretty shallow and I am mindful of the total lack of regard jet skiers have for anyone as well as the possibility of being hit by a longtail boat propellor. New divers often expres concern about being bitten or stung by marine life....believe me there is MUCH more chance of being hurt by crazy people doing stupid things in 'boats' than by any sea creatures.

Today we very very lucky to see a turtle emerge from the reef right between my legs! It is only the second time I have seen a turtle from this particular area.

This reef is jammed backed with fish life. This year the visibilty is no-where near as good as it has been in the past but this seems to have enourage even more fish into the area. Today we found loads of Dancing Shrimps....we often find a few amongst the rocks but everywhere seemed alive with them today.

And found another one of these amazingly beautiful shrimps. I last found one about three years deighted to stumble across another today.
There are a number of concrete obrstructions placed into the sea near the coral reef to encourage the fish population to is certainly working. It is actually difficult to see the concrete frames as there are so many fish all around them.
And so many giant puffer fish resting on the sandy bottom protecting their newly formed nests or hovering in the current above the obstructions.
We were amazed at how many batfish we saw and how friendly they are. We just rested quietly on the sea-bed and the fish came to us.
Here's Richard with a batfish coming to check him out.
Lots of giant puffer fish swimmimng around today. was a wonderful dive. I think we have been spoilt this year with the outstanding fishing and the wonderful diving. This has been the best winter 'season' to date since setting up this Thai House project in 2008. There have been lots of great people here and we have had some really enjoyable times.

Next month we are concentrating on Dive Liveaboards where we stay at sea for a few days and dive up to 4 times a day around the amazing Similan Islands...which is an unmissable experience. I hope more of my guests will be able to join me on these trips as more  are getting their  PADI Certificates now which are required in order to dive from the PADI vessels.

If any of you reading want to know more about getting qualified etc etc...please just email me ( or message me via Facebook and I will explain how to go about it. When you experience a dive like today, you just wish everyone could share the experience. Paddling back to the holiday swimmers close to the beach, I just wondered if they could just imagine the amazing underwater world that was so close to them. One couple asked me what it was like 'out there' and couldn't believe it when I told them what we'd seen....and then came the inevitable question...'are there any sharks out there? We couldn't ever go diving because we are so frightened.'

Ah well....back to the second paragraph, I believe.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gillhams Fishing Resort trip Feb 15th to 18th 2016.

 Thank Goodness for digital cameras where we can all snap away all day and discard mostly everything in the evening leaving only those finest shots. Gillhams Fishery in Ao Nang in the Thai province of Krabi is one of those places where it's impossible to put the camera down. The drive from Phuket, through Phang Gna and then into Ao Nang features a dazzling array of limestone Karst formations towering over the road and away into the distances. The Big Sur, running from California to Los Angeles, is often referred to as the most scenic road in the world but the Phang Gna to Ao Nang route must be a serious contender to that title.

The first thing to impress anyone when arriving at Gillhams is the immaculately cared for gardens and grounds. An army of Thai gardeners keeps the venue pristine and's no exaggeration to say there isn't a leaf out of place! Over the years that I have been fortunate enough to visit, the plantlife has naturally developed to rival gardens that are set out to be tourist attractions in themselves. It is impossible to lavish too much praise on the setting, the scenery and the care that is so much a part of an angler's trip to this genuine piece
 of paradise.

This years the lads, Chris Vince and  Steve Gilbank from Devizes and Andover along with Dorset lads Richard Spracklen and Keith Downton travelled by sea from Phuket to Ao Nang. I drove the route for a change along with team mascot Kannika as it was our intention to fit a day's diving in from the Phi Phi Islands and we like to take our own gear.

You know how it is with us skippers...we just know when it's fishy or not! The moment I arrived at Gillhams, Chris Vince was shouting that he was into a fish. We watched him play what turned out to be, after a 30 minute battle,  a 40kg Siamese Carp!! Chris just could not believe it....''what a fish, what a fish, what a fish!''

 Chris has been having the holiday of a lifetime here. Having never donned Scuba gear before to now having accompished two full one hour dives which left him so excited and lost for words that it was just great to watch him having such a great experience to now latching into a monster carp....not that much under 100lb! Here he is...all of a tremble with Kannika trying to calm him down before going into the water for his photos!
 Ha Ha...there's Chris...on the left...the gillie is a very big lad!!
Checking the mouth before iodine is applied...the fish is then kept in the net to allow it time to gently recover before encouraging it to swim away when ready. This fish care, evident at Gillhams and Exotic Fishing Thailand certainly sets the standard for how things should be done.
 Since my last visit two years ago, the umbrellas which used to offer the anglers their shade at their swims have been replaced with very smart looking individual salas. A couple of chairs in each, a fan, a light and a phone/Ipad Charger (such attention to detail!) makes for a very pleasant place to admire the lakeside scenery whilst waiting for the bites. Here's Keith Downton in a semi- relaxed state with his eagle eyes and lighting reflexes ready to explode into life the moment the bait alarm starts to sing.
 The rods have all been treated to new Shimano Baitrunners which are  all loaded to the brim with quality 80lb braid.
 Ah....Mr Richard Spracklen at his ease.....he's a chap who knows how to make himself at home.
 And here's Mr Steve Gilbank who is not one to sit around much...constantly fiddling with his tackle to give himself the best chance of catching something.
 And...straight after Chris's carp, Richard was into a very lively and hard fighting fish....which turned out to be...
 ...a young Arapaima. We were told that this fish was the result of the lake's very own breeding pair so this is a wonderful development for the fishery. Our guide explained that the photos had to be done pretty quickly as this youngster was extremely lively and very good at jumping out of the cage.
 A very happy Richard.....the fish was estimated at about 30kg...a mere nipper but Richard's first ever.
 How can you fail to be inspired by this view??
 And then Keith Downton was into an excellent Siamese Carp estimated at 25Kg
 Richard Spracklen with an Asian Redtail Catfish...noted for its very long white feelers.
 The view from the restaurant...beautiful.
 The restaurant.....which serves a fantastic English breakfast which all hard working anglers require before a hard day at the lake...and a great selection of dishes to choose from at night. Fishing stops at 2000 but there is often a fish on at that sort of time. After returning to the Resort Bungalows for a shower etc, it's easily 2100 by the time customers reach the restaurant and then there's a great atmosphere with everyone swopping stories and sharing a laugh over dinner.
 Steve Gilbank, Andover, with one of his 40kg carp...this sort of fishing will never be forgotten.
 And another face-on shot of what really is a stunning looking fish with its big silver black scales reflecting the sun. The fish are still semi-supported by the water and the gillies allow only a couple of photo shots before the fish is lowered back into the cage to recover. This is to minimise the stress for the fish.
 The swims all have an iodine spray available and the fish is carefully checked out with any apparant nick given a good dosage. You can just see the purple on the dorsal fin by Steve's left elbow, in this photo.
 And here's a picture that says it all. This is what anglers come for...Deep and Lasting Joy! Funny lot, ain't we?!
 Richard Spracklen hooked into one of the lake's Giant Freshwater Stingrays. He fought it for over 4 hours and ended up completely knackered. The Gillies worked non-stop to try and ease the ray out of the bottom everytime it got stuck....they too were knackered after this marathon battle.
 Glock (I can't spell his name) has been working at Gillhams for many years now. He is famous in his own right. Apart from being extremely funny, he is always at hand...or in the water as the case may be....and is totally protective of the fish. He must know every fish by name now and you can see genuine concern on his Thai face if a fish comes to the net and has any blemish on it. Glock is the first there with the Iodine spray. On this occasion he was in the water for hours trying to assist Richard to bring the stingray to the net. It was a valiant team effort....but in the end the ray won.

 The team gathered to whisper words of encouragement into Richard's ear. Steve, Chris, Kaniika and Keith.
 An admiring crowd gathered to symphathise with Richard whose rod and back were bent double in the 32 degree C heat for four hours...!!! Who said freshwater angling was easy??
 Fish Farm Manager Keith Downton landed this very impressive Julian Carp which was in the 20lb region.
 And as for Mr Chris Vince. Well, he has had a holiday that he cannot believe. So many mind blowingly new experiences....ha ha...look at him, bless him. At just a tad under 100lb, Chris can't believe what's happening to him with yet another monster Siamese Carp!

This is what coming to Thailand is all will NEVER forget this place.
And the final fish of the last evening's fishing...Keith Downton with another fabulous carp estimated at 45Kg.

And now it is Friday 19th. We have returned to Chalong by boat and car for this the final full day in Thailand for Steve and Chris. This will be a day chilling by the pool, having a few beers and relaxing....saving up the energy for one final onslaught on the Phuket night scene tonight......!! Sadly they must return to the UK tomorrow but Richard and Keith are staying for a couple more weeks and we have various guests arriving over those next couple of days to replenish our changing team of intrepid adventurers.