The Gilham Fishing Resort in Krabi is an angler's paradise come true. -The Star
Stories by Anthony Geoffrey
Being a member of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) not only gives one the benefit of international discounts, the IGFA Yearbook and regular newsletters, it also provides access to lesser-known angling destinations.
This was how I found out about the awesome, purpose-built freshwater fishing destination in southern Thailand called the Gilham Fishing Resort. I am using the word "awesome" with a touch of trepidation, as it might in fact be an understatement.
The resort is the brainchild of Stuart Gilham, a well-known British angler who had previously been on fishing holidays in Thailand numerous times.
When Stuart sold off his scaffolding business back home to a multinational company, he began to search in earnest for a suitable piece of land in Thailand to fulfil his dreams of running a fishing resort.
In 2006, he and his son Sean found the perfect spot in Krabi Province and began to construct a lake on the edge of a national park famed for its beautiful limestone karsts.
It took time to find the right contractors, but eventually things came together and a nine-acre (3.6ha) fishing lake along with top class accommodation came into being.
The lakebed itself is structured to provide ridges and holes - a natural habitat in the wild with depths ranging from 2m to 8m.
Both Sean and his father are accomplished anglers, with Stuart being a former UK champion and Sean the youngest person to catch a 20kg plus carp in Britain.
Stuart himself picked me up at Krabi airport, and I found him to be a very personable guy, and a Cockney to boot.
On the drive into town, which is only a few miles from the airport, he gave me an insight into the project. After coffee with his partner Benz, whom we met in town, and a visit to the moneychanger, we set off for the resort, 15 minutes away.
Awesome is the word for the place.
It was nothing like I expected, with its beautiful lake, manicured gardens and exquisite lakeside bungalows - all crafted with thought and skill.
I was shown to my two-bedroom bungalow. There are 14 units of these, and all are the same - air-conditioned, furnished with fans, a fridge and satellite TV. Each one is within 10m of the lake and comes with its own fishing platform.
As it was already late afternoon, I spent the rest of the day walking around and talking to the other anglers. There were only two angler residents at the time - an Englishman and a Dutchman.
The lake is enveloped on two sides by large forest-covered limestone karsts that offer a serene backdrop. All accommodation is built on one side of the lake with views of the karsts and, in the morning, the rising sun.
My walk took me at least an hour, during which I checked out the walkways, paths, vegetation, surrounding countryside, breeding ponds and filtration systems. The filtration system utilises only nature's bounties with water hyacinth as the main filter.
The large tanks are filled with this plant which flourishes mainly in dirty water. The water is pumped into these structures according to a selected time frame so that the plants have time to absorb the "nutrients". The water hyacinth would not survive for long in the main lake, as the pH level there is kept slightly high for the fishes' benefit.
However, they are planted on the edges of the lake, and have to be changed every two months or so since the water is not "dirty" enough for them to thrive in.
Monsters in the deep
At one stage during my walk, I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye a sudden swirl in the water not 2km away from me. I turned to see a 2m-long arapaima just rolling over.
I had listened to Stuart's briefing about the size of the fish in the lake - well, we all know anglers and their stories, but this was beyond my wildest imagination. What a monster! Within 10 minutes, another four or five surfaced, and I became a total believer.
Walking further, I arrived at the peg of an English guy called Mitch. There are only 21 pegs here - so only 21 anglers per day, maximum, are allowed to fish. Priority is given to those staying at the resort. If there are more than 10 anglers in residence, then the day tickets are not allowed. Each peg is provided with two rods and electronic bite indicators.
Bait is also provided.
Rods and reels are standard - Shimano bait runners and hand-built rods. People can bring their own gear but the use of anything other than the standard equipment must be approved beforehand. Fly-fishing gear must be at least 12 weight.
Mitch was a Brummie, meaning he's from the Birmingham area, and his accent was initially difficult to understand. But I got it that he had been fishing a couple of days and had landed three arapaima at over 100kg, the biggest being 185kg. For freshwater fish, sizes like these are mind-blowing.
He had also taken carp and various species of catfish at over 50kg.
My next encounter was with the young Dutch angler, Sjoerd (pronounced Sewert) Huiper and his wife Leonie de Mol. They were holidaymakers, and this was his week.
An avid angler, Sjoerd was in dream land. Before he fished here, his biggest catch was about 10kg. By the time he left, he had had a 165kg arapaima and a 70kg Mekong catfish, among other monsters, under his belt.
When I first met him, he had lost a couple of arapaima and landed a few catfish and carp up to four times his previous "record", so he was already an extremely happy guy.
Although Leonie does not fish, she takes a serious interest in her husband's hobby. And so in between sunbathing, reading and swimming, she checked his catch on a regular basis.
I must say that after what I had seen and heard, I couldn't wait for tomorrow to come. That night, we had dinner in Stuart's house, and by 10.30pm, I was in bed and fast asleep.
A rod-rocking time
I woke up next morning way before sunrise. I was raring to start. However, I had to wait another hour because fishing is from 7am to 8pm.
By then, my bait was mixed and prepared, and my gear was ready. Following my first cast for the biggies, I didn't have to wait long for the first bite. The electronic indicator sounded and then the line went out. A strike - and a hook-up!
Fifteen minutes later, a nice Amazon red tail catfish of about 30kg came up. It was a monster for freshwater but only a tiddler for this lake. Nevertheless, I was thrilled. It was followed half an hour later by a good 10kg Siamese carp. Throughout the day, many good-sized fish followed but not the arapaima, unfortunately.
Sjoerd, though he caught fewer fish, landed his first arapaima, a specimen of around 65kg. He was one happy man after losing three earlier on. But this one was still a baby compared to some of the monsters.
Although I never got one of the biggies, I did hook up one. This was a freshwater stingray weighing in at more than 100kg. It moved ever so slowly and then just stopped. Two hours later, I still hadn't managed to make it budge. It was impossible. It just stuck to the lake bottom.
Stuart, Sean and their staff tried to help. They went into the lake and tried to guide the line. Eventually Sean took the boat out - but to no avail. It could not be moved! Stuart later confided that this was the one fish that he regretted stocking.
In the end, the line snapped with the pressure. There was nothing else to do. The day I left (I only had one full day of fishing), Sjoerd landed a 165kg arapaima and a 60kg Mekong catfish.
I have used the word awesome but it is an understatement. This is perhaps the finest freshwater fishery in existence anywhere in the world - the way it was constructed, stocked and maintained.
Every fish caught is treated with antiseptics on cuts and hooked areas, parasites are removed where possible, and the more lively fish are sedated slightly so they can be treated. They also have a really a good crew who go out of their way to assist.
I plan to be back by Jan 2009. It's not cheap, but as the saying goes: You get what you pay for! All in all, the fishing, accommodation and food at Gilham give you value for money.
If only Malaysia could emulate such a strategy. There are so many lakes within close proximity to Kuala Lumpur that could be developed in such a way. We have the basic requirements for such an attraction - don't forget anglers and their families - and there is money to be made.
Privatise some of the lakes and allow foreign investors to develop them. There are takers if the red tape is removed. Maybe then we could have such a fishery. Kenyir and Temenggor are gone already because of mismanagement.
Is the political will there to encourage the development of such an attraction, whether by locals or foreigners?
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