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Fly Fishing Thailand - Arowana
by Capt. Max Mackenzie Skues
IGFA Certified Guide

  Fly 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 in Thailand.

  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".

  Osteoglossids are 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.

  Arowana Identification and Reproduction

  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 Tackle

  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 the fish.

  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 Certified Guide 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 disappointing vacation.

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 flyfishing.guide@mac.com or visit www.flyfishthailand.net

Tight Lines !

Yours Aye Max

By Capt. Max Mackenzie Skues
IGFA Certified Guide

© 2008


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