Fly fishing for Blue Mahseer in Thailand

Fly fishing for Blue Mahseer in Thailand

Tim Kempton | Sunday, 20 March 2016

Mahseer are part of the carp (Cyprinidae) family. They live in the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, India and Pakistan. They prefer pristine, jungle waters. Pollution is a major threat. There are several species of Mahseer. The Blue Mahseer is found in Thailand.

It sounds surprising that there are any sport fish in Asia. Freshwater sport fish species include Mahseer, Giant Snakehead, Pacu , Sebarua, Gourami, and Peacock bass. There are trout in the highlands.

mahseer1  I was invited on a trip to fish the rivers flowing into the Chiew Larn Dam in the Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. I was with fly fishing friends from Malaysia;  Aznir,  Fendi,  Tony and Juan. These guys are dedicated fly fishermen (some have their CI). Getting there was by air from Bangkok to Surat Thani, then by road, and then a long tailed boat across the lake into the National Park. Our accommodation was whatever could be mounted on top of floating logs that were tied together. The Thai food was great.  No phones! Elephants, monkeys, hornbills, silence and stars…awesome beauty and the ultimate in remote fishing.  


 The fish species in Chiew Larn included Blue Mahseer (Neolissochilus stracheyi), Sebarau (jungle perch) and Toman (snakehead).  We were targeting the Blue Mahseer


Each day we took a boat up the lake to where the rivers flowed into the lake.  We walked through jungle trails, and when it rained we shared the elephants pathways with thousands of tiny, waving leeches.  My blood red shirt was the only indication that they had filtered my blood.  It was very hot, and so we wet waded.  


mahseer2 Fishing for Mahseer requires yet another set of fly fishing skills. This was tight quarters jungle fishing and definitely was not perfectionist casting in a manicured park.  Mahseer will take surface hoppers, provided they are placed within one metre from them.   Accuracy is vital.  Although this is sight fishing, they are not like trout.  They don’t sit in seams, and they usually wont move far to take a fly. 

Juan’s mantra was. “Make the first cast count….wade like a heron!”   They are super spooky.  I could not believe how spooky these fish were and just how careful you had to be.  We tried to stay out of the water. If you could see ripples in front of you, you were wading too fast.  You could see fish spook as our ripples passed by them.  This was tough on a some like me who thinks slow in 100 km per hour!


Stalking slowly was all well and good.  Long casts made stalking easier, but only if we could land the fly on a dinner plate.  Making 80 +’ casts in a jungle setting was challenging.  All the tuition from Sexyloops Paul and other distance casters paid off.


mahseer3  My first fish was called at explosive  take...the fish ran upstream, turned and then charged downstream, except that it swam the other side of a tree mid stream.   Quick wading saved the day and gave us a photo.  I learnt this was the normal behavior of the larger fish. 


Over the next few days we caught plenty of fish.  It could not get any better, or so we thought.


I caught a Forest Snakehead (Channa lucius) ...they live on the edges of pools above the leaf litter.  They don’t get as big as their giant snakehead cousins, but it still put in a great account of itself.


 mahseer4 I cast again into the top of the same pool where the river was running into the pool.  An enormous take, and the fish ran away towards the opposite bank, turned back and the line went slack.  I thought it had thrown the fly, until I saw the flyline racing past downstream towards a pile of logs.  I managed to steer the fish away from the snags, but it swam around a rock in the middle of the river. Another quick wade, by which time the fish was about 100 metres downstream.  Juan started to run, I ran, and the fish swam further.  At the tail of the pool, the fish slowed and I heard Juan say “Holy S...t”...then followed by another more reverent  “Wow” then “Oh my God” then “Holy S…t”.  He netted the fish, with the comment, “the net almost didn’t fit”.  Our hearts were thumping out of our bodies. 


Juan said his was the biggest Mahseer he had ever seen. It measured 30” (76 cm).  The guards at the National Park claimed it was 5kg and the biggest they had seen  in the river system caught on fly (the IGFA world record was 25” and 4.5kg).  Whatever…it was a great fish and it was an awesome experience to release it and watch it swim safely away.   The Wopper Hopper was tied by the master… Dron Lee from Kuala Lumpur.


mahseer5  One afternoon we saw yellow flowers falling from the Dipterocarp  tree.  These landed on the water, and as they floated downstream the mahseer engulfed them from the surface.  Suddenly the river in front of us was alive with fish, and they readily took our hoppers.  For some quirk of mother nature, these flowers fell every afternoon. The fish loved them. 


mahseer6 What did I learn.  These fish required total stealth.  They are super spooky.  You have to use all the camouflage, and cover available. You had to walk like a heron.  Aznir told us about his reclining Buddha roll cast. I thought he was joking, until I had to roll cast almost lying down in the water…not pretty but still effective.  Bow and arrow casts, horizontal casts under trees, and the various spey casts were all required. Jump rolls and jumping flies off snags saved a lot of wading and lost flies.  


mahseer7  I was using a Sexyloop Hot Torpedo 6wt rod, a Rio Gold WF6F line, and 10- 12’ of 7lb fluoro leader.  This sounded great, until I tied on the large hoppers we were using.  These  were a bugger to cast for short casts.  What to do.  We could only use what we had brought with us.  These flies required a line with a heavier WF head, such as Rio Outbound Short, A Rio Grand or a Bass Bug.  Once I changed to a WF6F Rio Grand line, it made the casts easier under these tight, jungle fishing conditions.  This raises an interesting question about the numbering system for lines and rods. The box said this was a WF6F line, and yet Rio said on the same box that it was one line size heavier, ie a 7 wt.   Who really cares, the fish didn’t and it worked, and I could cast the big flies with less line out of the rod tip.  


There is great fly fishing in Asia.  Giant Snakehead are the ultimate challenge. They are air breathers and rise sporadically, anywhere and everywhere. You have 1-2 secs to make the cast, in any direction. You have to land the gurgler within 1 metre in front of the fish, and entice it to resurface. If they do, they are highly aggressive and will usually smash the fly.  If you hook up, they are so strong they will test your gear and your knots. A Bimini twist with a slim beauty and wire is essential.

The Golden Mahseer in India are calling…who knows?