The grey dawn smothered Koh Chang as we wiped the sleep from our eyes. In a fit of enthusiasm, we had volunteered our services for the day’s fishing expedition, as though our presence on this Thai island had osmotically imbued us with energy borne of wild-eyed excitement. Now, we found ourselves aboard a small red boat alongside the captain and his two sons. Open water beckoned.
Our hunting ground was the strait between the island and distant, hazy Trat, the border town straddling Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia. As we motored along, we saw the low-lying cloud envelop the island’s forest peaks in an ominous grey embrace, heralding the approach of heavy rain. The captain noticed our concerns. ‘It’s always dark this time of day,’ he soothed, ‘Mai bpen rai.’
Peptalk concluded, he furnished us with our tools: empty coffee cans encircled with twine.
Buoyed by our new toys, we set about decimating the local fish population with utter relish. Each fling of our twine brought renewed levels of let-us-at-them intensity. We pictured the growing piles of grouper, tuna and snapper capsizing the boat due to sheer volume.
Although we had yet to master the art of leaning over the sides and not falling in, we felt we might be naturals at this game. Like pros, we attacked the sea again and again.
The day proceeded splendidly.
The clouds provided a thin illuminated veneer as the sun, and the sea developed a halcyon, shimmering gloss. A school of dolphins cutting a swath in the middle-distance added fire to our nautical fervour.
Roundly cursing an escaping shoal, a commotion behind us grabbed our attention and put us firmly in our place. The captain’s two sons were wrestling with a barracuda the size of a good-sized dog. After a minor struggle, they landed it before nonchalantly continuing as before.
It was this occurrence that cemented the fishing hierarchy. These experienced youngsters, their whole lives devoted to the ocean, were using empty gallon-sized bottles of washing-up liquid to catch their prey. Our coffee cans could not compete with the youngsters’ intrinsic bond with the ocean.
Suitably chastened and with a growing sense of rod envy, I peered at our handful of fluorescent butterflyfish and caught the stoic captain’s eye. He smiled a toothy, sympathetic grin that told us everything we needed to know. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. As if to compound our position, my companion, upon being intimidated by a seagull, fell into the sea.
However, the two young fishermen were excellent teachers, and before long, we had caught a respectable pile of fish for a barbecue. On a deserted beach at the island’s northern tip cold bottles of Chang clinked as we toasted the fishermen for allowing us to spend the day with them learning their trade.
Later, dining on Barracuda curry, we waxed lyrical about our trip. It appeared as though we had discovered an entirely new breed of fish, one that grew in size and quantity every time someone asked a question about it. We dined on it for a long time afterwards.
(Tenuous Link Editor: Fish also exist off the coast of Indonesia. The island of Bunaken, for instance.)