Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day – The Asian Cat Fish

These strange looking fish play a big part in Thai cuisine.

 

2-3Many visitors to Thailand encounter one of the Asian catfish species either on their plate, or writhing in the temple lakes, vying for fish food thrown in by visitors. With their whiskers and gaping mouths, they’re most certainly not the prettiest of fish – but they do hold records in other departments.

      Thailand really is the land of giant catfish. For many anglers, this means catches that are way bigger than any fish they’ve caught before, even the smaller species. Here, you’ll have ‘real’ fishing stories and won’t need to exaggerate when boasting to buddies over a beer at the bar later. A day of fishing at a Thai fishing park can produce up to 30 or more catches of the world’s largest catfish, the giant Mekong catfish and the striped catfish.

The giant Mekong catfish is a member of the shark catfish family and can reach enormous proportions. This native Thai fish is currently recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest freshwater fish species, and is well respected for its immense fighting power. This river monster has recently emerged as more than a creature of myths and fables on Discovery Channel or National Geographic programs. Catching one of these giants can cause a grown man to ache, groan and even cry, both in pain and exhilaration, with fish reaching up to 300kg and 3m in length. In 2003 the species was listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union after research showed its numbers had fallen by at least 80 percent since 1990.

 

      In 2004, it was decided to stop commercial harvesting of the giant catfish in Thailand, known here as ‘pla beuk’, as conservationists believe the fish may spawn in Thai waters, and they’re caught before they get the chance to spawn during their migration. Sixty-eight fishing families called the ‘Mekong Giant Catfish Club’ agreed to stop the practice, and in return, the fishermen are being paid $500 for each giant-catfish net they surrender. The fishers are entitled to conduct a ‘public demonstration catch’ each year to preserve the traditional culture and methods of catching the fish – a maximum of two giant catfish may be caught and then released live back into the river.

      Not all Asian catfish live up to their giant cousin though, and many are caught for the pan (or grill) both in the wild and farmed. The Chao Phraya catfish is named after the famous river that flows through Bangkok. This predatory catfish is very striking in looks, with its long fins and shark-looking shape. Chao Phraya catfish can often be seen circling in lakes, their position given away by black fins protruding from the water’s surface.

       The striped catfish is found in the Mekong Basin as well as the Chao Phraya River. Also called the Siamese shark, it’s heavily stocked in fishing parks and reservoirs throughout the country.

       Thai red tail catfish is a predatory catfish, which feeds mainly on other fish. Known in Thai as ‘plah kot haang daeng’, it can be found in many lakes and rivers around the country.

      The walking catfish may well be the most commonly encountered fish in Thailand. Every day they can be seen on barbecues all around the country. ‘Plah duk’ as it’s known in Thai, is stocked in every fishing lake and park in Thailand by default, and can also be found in just about every water body in the country, including at temples, where you can buy buckets of fish food to lure them to the surface. With gaping mouths opening and closing at the water’s surface, sometimes it appears as though there are more fish than water in the mix.

       But if you fancy trying your hand at catching a catfish yourself, you’d better find out their meal of choice first, as baits used for catfish fishing in Thailand vary. Predatory catfish like the Chao Phraya catfish and the Thai red tail catfish can be caught using live or dead fish as bait. For most other catfish species, bait would be a bread and rice flour mix with additives and flavourings. Sausage and other meaty baits can also be very effective, and worms are always good especially for walking catfish. But for an easier alternative, you can try Samui’s very own fishing resort – Top Cats, which stocks some of the species mentioned above, including the giant Mekong catfish.

         And if you’d prefer to leave the fishing up to others, and rather sit back and enjoy the culinary delights of catfish, you’ll find it on menus across the island. Try catfish curry, crispy fried catfish and green mango salad, or steamed catfish in banana leaves. Any authentic Thai restaurant will offer this odd-looking fish on its menu.

         

Rosanne Turner


 


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