Fly Fishing Thailand -
by Capt. Max Mackenzie Skues
IGFA Certified Guide
fishing in Thailand yields the most exciting multi-species fly
fishing in the world. In addition to the native species of Thailand
there are introduced species from the Amazon and Africa which thrive
in Thailand's climate. The Arowana is one of the most engaging
species introduced into Thailand and offers spectacular fly fishing
Arowanas, also known as
aruanas or arawanas are freshwater boneyfish of the family
Osteoglossidae, sometimes known as "bony tongues." In this family of
fishes, the head is bony and the elongate body is covered by large,
heavy scales, with a mosaic pattern of canals. The dorsal and the
anal fins have soft rays and are long based, while the pectoral and
ventral fins are small. The name 'bony tongues' is derived from a
toothed bone on the floor of the mouth, the 'tongue', equipped with
teeth that bite against teeth on the roof of the mouth. The fish can
obtain oxygen from air by sucking it into the swim bladder, which is
lined with capillaries like lung tissue. The fish periodically
breaks surface to gulp air.
The Arowana is essentially a
still water specie, it’s native distribution in South America is
within the Amazon, the Araguaia/Tocantins, and Orinoco basins. Since
it’s introduction to Thailand, the Arowana has thrived and is now
more commonly found in Thailand than within it’s native range. This
is the direct result of significant loss of it’s native habitat and
overfishing in South America. Arowana are increasingly popular on
the international aquarium fish market. The routine killing of mouth
brooding adults in their native habitat to collect juveniles for the
trade, threatens already diminished wild populations.
The Arowana’s mouth is
similar to that of the tarpon, with two barbels on the chin, its
snake looking flat body armour plated with large scales, despite a
relatively small size compared to it’s cousin the Arapaima, the
Arowana is a very hard and exciting fighter, with explosive leaps
into the air which shame all salmonoids. The brazilians call the
Arowana "macaco d'agua" - "water monkey".
carnivorous often being specialized surface feeders. They are
excellent jumpers; it has been reported that Osteoglossum species
have been seen leaping more than 6 feet (almost 2 metres) from the
water surface to pick off insects and birds from overhanging
branches in South America, hence the nickname "water monkeys".
Arowanas have been rumored to capture prey as large as low flying
bats and small birds. Arowana typically grow around 3 to 4 feet, but
fish in the 6 lb. to 12 lb. class (2.75 kg. to 5.5 kg.) are captured
while fly fishing in Thailand.
The Arowana has an
elongated, slender body covered in large scales with big eyes and an
upward angled mouth with two forked barbels. Dorsal and anal fins
are well behind the pectoral fins and extend almost to the tail.
Arowana are mouth brooders.
At the start of the rainy season Arowana lay approximately 200 eggs.
The eggs are then taken by the male into his mouth the male Arowana
will keep them inside there mouth till they hatch. The Arowana will
protect the young as a mouth brooder until the fry are 8-10 cm long.
Habitat and Diet
The Arowana is a surface
feeder as indicated by it’s upward pointing mouth. The Arowana’s
diet comprises fish, fry, small mammals, large spiders, large
beetles and small birds. All of which are available to the Arowana
in Thailand. Arowana prefer shallow and calm water where they are
active during the day and can be spotted patrolling close to the
surface, adjacent to the shore. The Arowana has a predilection for
undercut banks and overhanging vegetation, trees and bushes.
Arowana Fly Fishing
Fly fishing for Arowana in
Thailand is a straightforward process requiring no specialised
equipment. A 7 weight saltwater rod will cover all situations.
Combined with a good quality reel and a tropical floating line, the
outfit is complete. A word of caution, a lighter line weight may
appear attractive but the Arowana is a delicate fish and should be
played (not bullied) to the net as quickly as possible to avoid
over-exhausting the fish. The saltwater rod is ideal because it can
easily handle the large bushy flies. If not using a saltwater rod,
go up to an 8 weight.
A typical Thailand Arowana
Arowana Fly Fishing
Strategy & Technique
The Arowana is a hunter who
actively seeks out prey. Unlike ambush feeders, who lurk in cover,
waiting for unsuspecting prey to come along, the Arowana patrols in
search of prey. Some Arowana tend to follow fixed routes, visiting
different areas of a lake in turn. The cruising Arowana has a
languid casual look to his movements. Whereas an actively hunting
Arowana appears to be just a little more purposeful in his
movements. Nevertheless, both the cruiser and the hunter can be
induced to take a correctly presented fly.
By far, the most effective
method of fly fishing for Arowana in Thailand is by stalking the
margins and casting to cruising / hunting fish. Stalking does not
necessarily mean the fly fisher is constantly on the move trying to
locate Arowana but observing specific Arowana haunts from cover. The
fly fisher must be constantly alert. The Arowana has an annoying
habit of appearing from nowhere, like a ghost and melting away by
disappearing under the bank just as quickly.
Once an Arowana is sighted
the fly fisher must be able to act quickly and be ready to cast at
once. There is no time to strip line from the reel or fiddle around
untangling a fly and leader. Despite the initial casual appearance
of the swimming Arowana, the Arowana can accelerate smoothly and
efficiently without showing any signs of agitation or alarm and head
into cover before many fly fishers can react to seeing the fish.
The often seen tail of a disappearing Arowana
There are two methods of
presentation which will induce the Arowana to take the fly. The
first is to cast the fly about 4 or 5 metres directly ahead of of
the cruising Arowana. The fly should enter the water with a distinct
plopping sound. If the Arowana is alarmed he will veer off and
change course. If curious, the Arowana will continue towards the
fly. As the Arowana approaches the fly it is necessary to work the
fly in a manner consistent with the style of fly being used. If
using a baitfish imitation, then work the fly as a frightened
baitfish. If using a fly representing a beetle or spider falling on
the water, work the fly as a struggling, twitching insect as it
drowns. As the Arowana gets close to the fly - keep the fly in
motion, if the fly loses life and motion, the Arowana may well lose
interest and cruise off elsewhere. The Arowana will behave in
several ways. Sometimes he will follow the fly before engulfing it
(sometimes only a centimeter or two away from the fly) and at other
times he will snatch the fly immediately it comes into range.
It is important to remember
that as the Arowana seizes the fly, the Arowana will at first, clamp
the fly firmly between the upper and lower jaw. This vice like grip
gives the illusion of a hooked fish. This is why so many Arowana are
played for a short time and throw the hook - the hook was not set in
the the first place. It is advisable to stay your hand for a few
moments after the fly is taken and set the hook as the Arowana
relaxes the initial crushing grip and moves the fly in his mouth.
The pause for this to happen is only a few seconds, although the
timing can feel interminably long.
The second method of
presentation, is to cast the fly just ahead of the Arowana, landing
about 1 meter either side of his head. The fly should be cast to
make a "plopping" sound as it hits the water. In this case, the
Arowana will react instantly and seize the fly with unbridled
enthusiasm in a cascade of water. Despite this exciting take, it is
necessary to stay the strike as above.
The reason for making the
"plopping" sound is that the two barbels located on the top of the
Arowana’s lower lip are sensitive to vibrations in the water.
There is a third and very
exciting method, the fly is suspended about 10 to 20 cm. above the
water over a cruising Arowana. Few opportunities exist to do this
but when the chance comes it is exhilarating fishing. It could be
termed the ultimate dry fly experience?
A well hooked Arowana
If the Arowana does not take
the offered fly, all is not lost. Arowana are not easily spooked if
the fly fisher behaves carefully. It is possible to re-cast and and
re-present the fly as long as the Arowana remains in sight and
casting distance. A drastic change of fly colour is often the key to
success. A competent Guide will have an alternative fly and leader
prepared for a very quick change of fly before the chance of another
cast or two is lost. If the Arowana changes direction away from the
fly as the fly hits the water do not give up - cast again. Sometimes
the Arowana is not in the least interested and is just "out and
about" for a swim!
Playing, Landing and
Releasing the Arowana
The Arowana is a delicate
fish and should be treated with care and consideration. The
Arowana’s fight is mostly in the air and can be very acrobatic. The
Arowana should be played firmly and brought to the net as soon as
possible. This does not mean "horsing" the fish in. The Arowana must
be landed using a suitable landing net. "Gloving" the fish out or
using Boga grips is not a suitable method for this fish because the
jaw can easily be damaged. I suggest that before engaging a Guide
you ensure he will be taking a suitable net.
The Arowana is a very
slippery fish and despite it’s exertions is capable of wriggling
free from careless hands. The Arowana should be unhooked, weighed in
a net (not suspended by it’s jaw with Boga grips) and returned to
the water as quickly as possible. Warmwater fish do not always
recover as quickly as cold water fish when returned to the water.
Your Guide will adopt the best method of supporting and returning
Flies and Leaders
The Arowana can be as picky
about flies as a Hampshire chalkstream trout, because one is fishing
in Thailand does not mean careful fly selection is redundant. Water
and light conditions as well as the time of day will determine the
fly selection. A shock leader with a class tippet is essential. In
the case of flies and leaders take the advice of your Guide and you
will not go far wrong. The fly fishing Guide should have available
all necessary flies, leaders and tippets for a successful fly
fishing expedition in Thailand.
Finding Arowana Fly
Fishing in Thailand
Although bait fishing for
giant carp and giant mekong catfish is now established in Thailand,
fly fishing is an emerging sport in Thailand. There are no flyshops
and bait shops have no recognition of fly fishing as such. Some
venues may be found on an internet search but reality is often
different to published information. It is possible to book a days
fly fishing to find the water ringed by static bait fishers. It’s
not much fun having a half chicken drop into the water next to your
fly ! The only way to obtain high quality and consistent fly fishing
in Thailand is to engage a professional Certified Fly Fishing Guide.
Selecting a Fly Fishing
Guide in Thailand - 10 Hot Tips
The list below reflects real
incidents and situations which have occurred and / or are still
occurring in Thailand.
1. Ensure the fly fishing
guide you engage is a dedicated fly fishing guide and not a general
bait fishing guide.
2. Look for an IGFA
www.igfa.org/cap.asp scroll to the bottom of this page and click
on the search facility.
3. Check your fly fishing
guides credentials and professional affiliations with the cited
organization. IGFA lists on it’s website certified guides and
official weigh stations.
4. Avoid guides who operate
on a "fishing group" basis. The maximum number of fly fishing
clients who can be correctly guided at any one time is 2. If not
careful, you can find yourself crammed into a mini-van along with 6
inexperienced tourists out for a fun fishing day.
5. Make sure your potential
guide is resident in Thailand. Avoid the "escorted tour leader". You
pay for your vacation and his ! He knows about as much as you do
about fly fishing in Thailand.
6. Email is inexpensive and
easy - so contact your potential fly fishing guide directly - and
ask him direct questions. Speak to him on the phone, find out if you
like the sound of him. This could save you both money and a
7. Be sure your fly fishing
guide can supply you with quality branded fly lines, leaders, leader
materials and flies.
8. Beware of cut-price or
cheap prices. Where is the operator saving money at your expense ?
Remember you get only what you pay for ! Book your vacation early
ensuring you get the vacation dates you want.
9. Ask your guide about
accommodation. Are you merely booked into a hotel and dumped there
after a day’s fishing ? If staying in a guides lodge / villa ask
what amenities are available - is there a rod room where you can
make up leaders, spool fly line and tie some flies. Check if your
room is single or double occupancy, whilst in the lodge / villa and
when traveling upcountry.
10. Be careful to determine
that it is the guide you are talking to and see in his information
packs who actually goes fishing with you. Beware of the guide who
"fronts" an operation and sends you fishing with a hired hand, who
often speaks very little English.
Should you have any further
questions about fly fishing in Thailand, please contact me directly
Tight Lines !
Yours Aye Max
By Capt. Max
IGFA Certified Guide