Day 16: Black magic at fishing lake
This was the biggest fish I caught today, which was before the Thai fishing team busted out their magic bait. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
GREG'S not shown up yet. I expected him to be bouncing along the lake's edge waiting for a green light to start fishing. Instead, it's just me again, though a few more Thai fishermen are showing up, taking swims nearby.
I'm pumped to share my story of catching the huge Mekong with Greg, and back it up with the photo. I know he's the kind of guy that will allow me to bask in a bit of a fisherman's glory. I even practice the hook and line setup I'll tell when he I see him.
“I've got a big fish story for you, and the proof to back it up,” I mumble in my head several times. It's not remotely clever, but I'm eager to share. But, he's not here. And, it's starting to look like he's not coming.
Glumly, I weigh the prospect of fishing alone for another day. I'm not sure I can be bothered. It's not that I'm not catching any fish; it's that it's not super fun. This morning, I've already bagged one 30kg Mekong and had a picture with the beauty, but I did all of this yesterday.
Maybe it's just time to move on.
The hunched, wobbly figure of Greg appears in the parking lot.
He's been lost. He has a knack for getting lost.
I share my story: a fifty minute fight with the fish; a the picture to prove it.
“It's a beautiful fish,” Greg agrees, giving me a couple rough pats on the back, which I soak up like a lizard does the first rays of a rising sun.
Once settled in, I get a bucket for Greg to mix up his bait and we get a couple lines out. The morning starts out with a few more fish. Though shortly after Greg arrives, a posse of young Thai guys rocks up in matching blue hoodies with a picture of a jumping bass printed on the back.
They take the swim right next to us and spread out.
An hour later, they've crept even closer to us. Their lines arch through the air and plop down directly in front of our swim. It's the kind of poor etiquette that might even rouse a comment from a Canadian. But in Thailand, it's not that big of a deal. It's par for the course.
We suck it up, giving each other sideways looks and shrug.
I've been running down and netting Greg's fish, unhooking them and just trying my best to help out.
The steps to the water, lifting the heavy net with a fish in and releasing it is a bit much for him. He accepts the help gracefully, which makes it even more a pleasure to be there. However, there is no need at the moment, our lines have gone dead.
The team next to us, spitting distance away – and I'm not a terribly skilled spitter – is on fire. There hooks, dropped less than five meters from ours, are getting gobbled up like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies put in front of Cookie Monster. Ours are going like broccoli.
Our optimism wanes.
“Look at the way they are treating that fish,” Greg says. “I just don't like it.”
The fish is helplessly flopping on the bank, with the guys standing over it. Waiting for it to calm down so they can throw it back in.
I join in, picking at bits and pieces they fishing team are doing that just don't seem fair – to us or the fish.
Every time we look over, and it hardly takes much shifting of the head to bring them into view, there are at least two rods bent in half as they hull in fish after fish after fish after fucking fish.
Eternal optimism is more finite than you might expect.
Greg starts talking more about his wife, who regularly has one of several spirits posses her body. He's conversed with these spirits through her, one of whom spoke perfect English – much better than his wife's pigeon English. He rattles off the names of the spirits, explaining the fear that filled him when he laid down next to his wife to find her eyes rolled back, her face wordlessly snarling.
That particular time, they took her to the nearest temple, where the monks preformed an exorcism.
Years after he was forced to return to the UK, his wife found out that someone had been jealous of him and his life in their rural farming village. This person allegedly created a voodoo doll – pressing a pin into his hip.
He clearly recalls the morning it all started about five years ago. In the bathroom, he had felt someone poke him in the hip. He thought it was one of his wife's little girls, but nobody was there. He was alone in the room.
It continues to baffle me how the spiritual world in Thailand is so tangible. I don't necessarily gobble it up hook, line and sinker, but Greg's serious about his experiences and I'm in no place to discount them.
We toss untouched bait back into the lake and bait up again.
“If this was the wild, I'd be okay, but this isn't really what we're paying for,” I grumble.
After sever hours of watching other people catching fish, Greg can't take any more of it.
He hobbles down to the group of men to figure out what magic they have kneaded into their bait.
One of them comes up to me and shows me that his bait ball is more wet than the mix we're using. It doesn't really make sense, but okay, maybe that's it.
“Too sharp,” Greg says. “They say our bait smells too sharp. They are using something different than us.”
The bait shop at the Cha-Am Fishing Park only sells one type of bait. We're shit out of luck, as my father would say.
“Let's move,” I say. “People further away from them are catching fish, I think we're just too close, given that the fish prefer their bait.”
“We've got nothing to lose,” Greg says in agreement.
I feel a little guilty forcing him to walk to the furthest away swim with me, so I carry us much of the gear as possible. However, if we remain where we are, the day is a waste.
We settle down at the far corner of the lake. There is a Royal Poinciana in full bloom and two Spott-Billed Pelicans making themselves at home. It's a much better view than the the blue hooded locusts popping catfish out of the lake like the fish were kernels of popcorn in a hot skillet.
A fish hits Greg's line. He sets the hook. He's face is instantly glowing again.
As I help him land the fish, something hits my line hard, jerking the rod into the rail that wraps around the lake. Whatever it is, is gone by the time I get to my rod. It snapped the line.
I happily trudge back to the bait shop to get a new equipment for the bait-ball rig. By the time I'm back, Greg has another small catfish ready to be unhooked. I grab the fish by the tail and heave it out of the water on tot he shore, it's spine quietly popping as I do so. Pulling the smaller catfish out of the water like this took me most of yesterday to get hang of it, but seems to be how all the Thai fishermen land their smaller fish – it's easier than messing with the net.
We both start catching fish when Cian gives me a call. I take the call, managing to set the hook and real in the 15 pound Mekong while still on the phone. Struggling to re-cast with the phone held between my ear and shoulder, I'm forced to cut the call short.
This is the moment we've been waiting for; I want to be completely here – fishing. The sky is darkening above us, Greg needs to head back to his place. His eyes aren't so good, and he'd rather not die on the roads.
We both would prefer to just kick back together and spend a few hours fishing with a complete darkness settled over the water, perhaps sipping a cold beer and reflecting on life, but it's not on the dice.
Weidling the power of the die to push him to stay, or at least have a beer. But it feels wrong. He's being reasonable and responsible. And despite the rough middle bit of the day, it's been a complete pleasure sharing it with him.
We say our goodbyes and shake hands, I pack up to move back to the old swim now that the fishing team has left.
Alone under the florescent lights I catch a couple more fish, but my heart's not in it.
I pack it in for the night.
I need to set off early tomorrow. I only have 200 baht cash on me and need to get everything prepared for the Myanmar Embassy once I arrive in Bangkok, which is only a couple hours away.