So when I got invited by a befriended lure artist from Thailand to fish for giant snake heads in northern Thailand it did not take me very long to book a ticket and fly to the land of smiles to chase my fish of dreams for real.

After arriving at Bangkok’s giant Suvarnabhumi Airport it did take me some time to get used to the tropical damp heat and the hectic of the city. Bangkok is a fantastic place with lots of great things to see and do, fantastic food and very friendly people. Last time I visited Bangkok was about ten years ago when backpacking across South East Asia and a lot has changed since then for sure. The first three days I stayed in a hotel in the Khao San Road area, famous from the 2000 movie ‘the beach’ starring Leonardo di Caprio in a movie based on a novel by Alex Garland. This area is notorious for backpackers and ‘packed’ with guesthouses, bars, massage parlours  and restaurants. Indeed a very relaxed and laid back place to do some sightseeing and prepare for the upcoming fishing expedition.

To get a bit warmed up, the second day  I was taken to one of Bangkok’s many fishing ponds. I don’t really like fishing ponds as it is a very unnatural way of fishing, but when they get as bizarre as this I actually quite enjoy them. The pond I was taken to was a Amazon fish pond. Not a joke, but for serious packed with meter-plus long arapimas and redtail catfish. And how strong those are! Amazing hits followed by rods bended to the grip and sore muscles as a result. That got me warmed up for sure and I will never forget the meter plus long arapaima that slammed my lure, broke all off and got away. Another one for the list for sure!

Manning the boats at first light

Silently paddling the tailboat through the thick vegetation
in search of the red dot.

On day three I was picked up by 4WD at two at night from my hotel for a four hour drive to the south of Bangkok. After stopping for buying a lot of ice and drinks we arrived at the dam at first light taking in the breathtaking view of the dam and surrounding mountains.
Our place of stay was a local fisherman's hut. And as we were all very excited to get out on the lake as quick as possible we hastily got our gear together and in pairs of two entered our tail boats.

The first hours of light are probably the best time for fishing the giant snakeheads. For one the temperature is still nice and secondly there is likely to be no wind. Wind and waves are a big spoiler as it makes it hard to spot the ‘Red Dot’.

The Red Dot is what is referred to as a big group of small baby snakeheads.
The mother snakehead will always be close and do everything to protect her babies.
The babies are bright red colored and swim as a swarming ball. As they need to breath every couple of minutes they will surface which makes it possible to spot them when the water is calm and flat.

So the theory is to spot the red dot, which is not as easy as it sounds -especially when you are boating through thick vegetation-. When spotted, the trick is to get as close as possible without scaring them off and throw a lure right through the ball of babies making lots of noise and splashing in the hope to piss mamma off so much she will attack your lure.

Topwater lures and buzzbaits, the lures of choice

My first Toman! Those teeth are impressive!

This does sound easy, but for a pike fisherman like myself it truly was something else.
I am used to throwing jerk- and swimbaits all day. Trolling and casting and slow twitching.
But fishing top water lures for snakeheads is a lot more intense than that. You have to cast the bait and reel it in at top speed making lots and lots of noise and splashing. After a few hours of casting and spinning the reel like a madman under the burning sun my arm was ready to fall off! But the fishing was great and one of the most intense fishing I have ever done. The adrenaline rushes big time when you spot a squirming school of baby's, and make your best cast straight behind the red dot, hold your breath and reel through the squirming red baby snakes

Unfortunately catching a giant snakehead in the wild is not an easy task and the first day did not bring me any fish. But what a great day it was and the evening was spent eating roasted tilapia from the lake and telling fishing stories till we all hit our hummocks.

Second day we were up as early as the sun rose and hastily gathered our gear to get out on the lake again.
There was quite a bit of wind blowing that day which made it hard to spot any babies so we went up a side river of the lake. After an hour or so paddling up the heavily overgrown and ever narrowing river surrounded by jungle I spotted a dot and cast just behind it. As I reeled in the splashing frog lure it was smacked by a snakehead and after a short drill I finally held my first Toman for real. Not really a giant but by god, those teeth are impressive!

That evening we returned to Bangkok to pick up my Japanese friend Taka from the aiiport the next day.

After picking up Taka we directly started the four hour drive to Khao Laem Dam for two more days of fishing. Khao Laem Dam also known as Khao Lem Dam is set in the Kanchanaburi province - as far across Western Thailand's jungle as Burma. Khao Laem Dam stretches 60km long and 25km across at the widest point, within its vast boundaries lay a network of islands, swamps & mangroves providing an unspoilt wilderness for Thailand's untamed nature. Our place of stay was a floating house with stunning view over the lake.

Next day we were up as early as the sun rose and went up the breathtaking lake surrounded by mountains. The fishing however was tough, and we did not manage to catch a fish that day. Next day we went to another bay and after a couple of hours of intensive fishing we finally found a good spot by a large cliff. We had a few misses, which were quite impressive to say at the least.

Vicious, aggressive, violent, ferocious & merciless are by no means exaggerations to describe the fury of the snakehead as it launches at the lure with intent to rip and slash it apart. The snakehead is not comparable to the pike, bass or barramundi – this predator is more dangerous and angry, as if it were possessed. When they strike, they hit so hard and with such force and speed that it sounds like a bear trap going off.

At one point we spotted a big school of babies and they seemed just the right size (when they get too big, the mother has most likely left them). After a couple of unsuccessful casts I cast again just in the right spot and as I reeled in my splattering frog right through the swarming ball -holding my breath!- my lure was violently hit in a giant vortex of water. Bam! My rod bent to the grip and my reel started screaming of the line. This was a big one for sure and I will never forget the rush of adrenaline and a vision of a meter plus Giant down below. Then, just as quick ... the overwhelming feeling of 'SHIT!' as the fish unhooked leaving me in utter frustration and disappointment.
As I am used to fishing pike I did not set the hook proper... my mistake. But lessons learnt, I am now more convinced then ever that I want to come back to this beautiful country of smiles to hunt the giant Toman once more. Even if it was for the experience and fantastic people. And be sure next time, I will set that hook!

About the Giant Snakehead

The Giant Snakehead, Channa micropeltes, is the largest in the family Channidae, growing to 130 cm in length and a weight up to 20kg (44 pounds). The Giant Snakehead is native to Thailand and it is widely distributed from India to Vietnam. In Malaysia and Indonesia they are called Toman, the common Thai name is Pla Shadow. Occurs in lowland river and swamp, usually associated with deep water bodies like the big hydro power reservoirs of South-East Asia. Also found in large streams and canals, with standing or slowly flowing water. Feeds mainly on fish but also takes some crustaceans and frogs. It spawns in small streams with dense vegetation. The Giant snakehead build a nest to lay their eggs in, and will attack anyone who comes too close.

The Giant Snakehead is a savage predator, and the Asian equivalent to a pike or a bass. They are aggressive fish that will take Surface lures, deep diving wobblers, spoons and even flies with ferocity! It will dive straight for the nearest snag or cover, their strong hard mouths and constant head shaking mean that these fish are the ultimate challenge for serious predator anglers.

As long as a full-grown person and weighing as much as a 5-year-old child, the giant snakehead is not only the largest member of the snakehead gang, but also the most violent. In Southeast Asia, there are stories of this fish attacking people unprovoked, especially during the breeding season. Giant snakehead parents aggressively guard their spawn, which is unusual for a fish. The father corrals and guides the fry while the mother patrols at a distance, ready to voraciously attack anything that looks like a threat even something as large as a person.

There are around 30 different species of snakehead, ranging from the tropical Africa to the Far East and Russia. All are predators with streamlined bodies, sharp teeth and a reputation for extreme aggression. Snakeheads are also air-breathers. The fish will come to the surface, lift its head up, grab a mouthful of air and then submerge. The oxygen diffuses directly into a dense network of blood vessels encircling its swim bladder, an organ that doubles as a simple lung in snakeheads. This allows the fish to survive in stagnant areas where oxygen levels are low. It can even walk on land, using its soft pectorals to drag itself to new locations. It's said a snakehead can survive out of water for up to 4 days.