Friday, 29 November 2019

Kata...shore diving again! 28th Nov 2019

We have dived Kata Reef many times but it never fails to amaze. And the great thing about this dive site is that so many of you who come to stay are able to learn enough during your holiday to make it out to the dive site and enjoy a lengthy time there. There's so much to see that the longer you can remain there the better it is for  you. It is a darn nuisance when the air starts to get low and we have to return to shore.

 Here's Kannika who is now a very fine and graceful diver......and is far better at spotting stuff than me! She's the perfect 'Dive Buddy'; calm, gentle, alert and doesn't use any air.
 Yep...this is fish. Zillions of them. On this dive the shoals were so dense we were sure there were boats running overhead and blocking out the sun.  Nope...just fish. All colours and shapes....a real sight to see. Amazing.
 It's very difficult at times to see any reef or structure or even where the surface was with such a mass of fish swirling around us for the whole dive.
 The 'interiors' of the cubes often hold massive batfish. These gentle creatures come right up to you, virtually within touching distance. They show no fear as long as you remain gentle in your movements.
 The surfaces of the concrete cube faces are encrusted with life. There's incredibly intricate patterns and colours from a whole whole wealth of minute shell life. The fragile structures they create are delicate works of art.
          Amazing patterns in vivid blue.
       The more you look there the more there is to see.
 A rare moment today when the fish dispersed for a few moments revealing the concrete framework that attracts and holds so much marine activity.
 I've never seen so many tiny moray eels...there are stacks of them inbetween the crevices created where the cubes have fallen against each other.
   They're always good for photographs...they hold their pose for ages.
Tiny morays popping up everywhere.
 Until last week I had never seen a Robust Ghost Pipe Fish. Our resident Diving Instructor friend, Steve Antcliffe, notices everything and points all these things out to us. And now...everywhere I look I can see Robust Ghost Pipe I wonder how many I have passesd by over the years without noticing them. Well...they ARE tiny and do look like thin greenish-brown blades of old grass just wafting about in the gentle current. Hardly noticeable until you are trained to see!!
 They stand out when at the centre of the photo....can't believe I never noticed them before!
 I found one right out in the open on the clear white sand...and it held its position very obligingly.
 On the way back to the shore they Kata reef was also brimming with life......we're lucky to be diving it at the moment with even more than usual going on.

         Coral and fish....unforgettable.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

A great day's carp fishing. Wednesday 27th Nov 2019

We, Mark Butland, Russell Shaw, Dereck Wilson and Sirada Dubsok (otherwise known as Pat; the Boss of the Tamarind Restaurant that we frequent in  nearby Chalong Village) and I enjoyed an extremely lively and productive day carp fishing today but also caught various other species such as pacu and catfish.

 Our target species was Siamese carp. We were using hair-rigs and boilies and trying to approach the day with the same mindset as a keen carp angler back in 'Good Old Blighty'. The big difference here in Thailand is that the fish are manic and don't muck about when taking the baits. Often, as soon as the float hits the water it was gone! These carp are immensley powerful and head off to the far reaches of the lake. It is exciting and hard work edging this creatures to the net.
 We all caught pretty evenly throughout the day stopping only to enjoy the contents of an enormous box of ice packed with goodies from the local market which Sirada and Russell had put together in the early morning on the way to the lake.
 We had the assistance of a  very good Thai assistant called Nung who has just returned from working five years in Israel. Nung, having worked on fish farms in Israel, was delighted to be assisting in the taking of the carp from the wet fish mats where the unhooking and photo's took place back to the water in a cushioned sling we had brought with us.
 Russell with one of many of his just happened that when this came in, oe of us was free to take a WAS that busy. Russell is a very keen carp angler back home and so he more than any of us appreciated the difference in the frantic tropical catch rate compared to the somewhat steadier carp fishing in cooler UK climes.
 These fish really are spectacular creatures and designed to be admired and photographed and treated as gently as possibly before being returned to the water as quickly as we can.
 There were plenty of decent sized pacu about. The trick is in trying to avoid them! These pacu seem to be a different variety from last year as they leap clear of the water on the take and often jump around more like barramudi or tarpon than pacu during the fight.
Dereck came with us and also caught...but unfortuantely he's currently rather poorly and was struggling to get down into fish presenting position...thus I have included a fish from last week so make him feel one of the team...which he is!!

I have been asked if I ever go fishing on these trip. Well,  yes I do. But my role,  like when being a charter skipper, is to try and help my guests have  good time catching fish etc. It is rare you will see a photo of me....30 years of being behind the lens as an angling journalist impressed upon me that it is YOU the visiting angler who is important....not me!!

Friday, 22 November 2019

Kata Cubes

Thursday 21st November 2019.

8 of us descended onto the nearby Kata Reef for a shore dive and we were rewarded with visibility as good as the day before was poor! Lucky us! Every day is so different according whether or not there is heavy rain or strong wind to agitate the night sea into mukiness or crystal clarity.

 We enjoyed the company of extremely experienced local divers Steve Ancliffe, the PADI Master Instructor that I like to send my guests to if they wish to further their diving expertise, along with his wonderfully talented wife, Sky.
 Mr Russell Shaw from Bournemouth came along with his partner Sirada, otherwise known as Pat, who owns our favourite Chalong restaurant that many of you who have come to stay will have enjoyed eating at over what is now 15 years of wintering here.
 There is that cheeky rascal Kannika who has now officially changed her name in the last couple of days from what I thought was a great Thai name of Chokchai (which means Good Luck!) to my family name as part of the process of morphing from a Mz to a Mrs.

'Mrs' in Thai is 'Nang' so we're all currently confusing her by doing Frankie Howard imitations of 'Oooooo, Nang!'
 We have Oona with us. Oona is the amazing lady who holds 'it all together' at Ian Taylor's Skin Deep Diving Company in Portland and she is also an Instructor. Her husband, Brynn, has years of Freediving as well as Scuba Diving experience and could have probably done all this dive without using tanks at all as the maximum depth is only 11 metres. This means we have dives always in the region of an hour long but on this occasion we managed an hour and a half and still emerged with over 25% of air left. It's certainly great to relax and go diving with such experienced people.
 I couldn't find Brynn....he's as adverse to having a photo taken as me....but fortunatey the 'Ooooo, Mrs!' ain't at all camera here she be again!
 We all thought that the giant puffer fish were very friendly fish...but today, for the very first time, one deliberately bit Russell's finger whilst he was trying to film it....and it was a proper blood drawing, flesh chunk removing bite! Very impressive indeed and allowed Russell to relive and demonstrate the attack back at The Tamarind Restaurant much to our amusement.
 This shore site is famous for the concrete cubes that the Thai Government allowed to be dropped into the sea about half mile offshore. It's a bit of a swim to reach and is not an easy place to find at times because of the fluctuating visibility and current but well worth the effort especially on a day like yesterday when the whole area was packed with marine life. There are stacks of little moray eels hiding between the cracks in the cubes. These are very inquisitive creatures and will emerge from their hiding places to pose for the camera.

 This may look like to be a large eel but it is really very small indeed and very cute. I'm sure they'd still enjoy biting Russell tho' if he put a finger  close enough. Morays have needle sharp backward slanting teeth to they're sure to inflict a memorable nip to anyone silly enough to try.
 When you are on one of these dives, I just wish I could show everybody who comes to stay what we are seeing. The biggest fish are the batfish and giant pufferfish. Very occasionally there is a reasonable size grouper hanging around but mainly the cubes are home to literally thousands of little fish with so many different species that you really do feel that you are swimming in a 30 degrees tropical aquarium.
 The batfish follow you around and will often come very close and swim between your legs. It's all very relaxed down there and I think the fish are as curious about us as we are about them. There's certainly so sense of fear or threat....well; apart from Russell and his mate of course.
                                       Little morays always seem to be laughing at us.
 The beautiful and elegant batfish glide around and inbetween the concrete cubes.
 If you take your time and look closely there are all sorts of colourful and tiny creatures around such as this nudibranch wandering gently along one of the many hoirzontal surfaces.
 The variegated moray eel is spectacularly marked...and you can just see its tiny  but needle sharp teeth.
Moving away from the cubes we can sometimes see stingray and, as we did today, cuttlefish.

But now...the real highight of our dive...check these rarely seen creatures out in the photo's below.
Introducing the Robust Ghost Pipefish!!

The real highlight of the dive was in seeing these two Robust Ghost Pipefish....and it was great that we had the experienced eyes of Steve Ancliffe with us who spotted them.....I mean, they are NOT easy to spot. Apart from being very tiny (although the photo makes them look  much larger than they are) they look like little bits of green or brown pieces of seaweed being wafted about in the gentle current.

This was a really great dive.....and it's one of the many attractions that makes Phuket such a great place to visit. Part of staying here at my Thai House is to try out some's all free with all the gear part of your holiday if you'd like to try it!!

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Chalong Fishing Park...Third Year Anniversary time races away. It seems such a short time ago (2016) that I was watching a succession of mini-diggers working away at the land that was to become Jez Wilson's Chalong Fishing Park. Now a full three years on and I was invited, along with fellow friends Russell Shaw from Bournemouth and Dereck Wilson from Paignton in Devon, to fish for Team Islander against Team Walkabout led by their Larger-than-Life Captain,  Flob. (Flob tells me his name actually means Fat Lazy Old Bastard....but he can't half sing!! You should hear him belting out Bad Company numbers in style!)

 Arriving at the Fishing Park in time for a good old English traditional breakfast, all was peaceful in a pre-match calm. Nice to sit back with a nice cup of properly hot tea and admire the birdlife around the water's edge.
 Boy (that's the Head Guide's name) has been with Jez for a couple of years now and is a brilliant guide and adviser. He leads a team of four other Thai lads who jump to his command and race around the lake to make sure they are on hand with the net and assistance as required. These five Thai lads work like mad...superb! Here's Boy (above) preparing a few sets of tackle in advance for anglers who require assistance.
 Right from the off, Walkabout owner  (Walkabout is a very popular Sports Bar in the family orientated resort of nearby Karon) and Team Captain, Flob, was into fish landing two before anyone else got themselves sorted but fortunately Dereck Wilson from Paignton responded with a point winning catfish and the fish started coming in all around the lake.
 Here's Dereck with the first point of his contibution to Team Islander's 52 points total
 For a time Team Islander were in the lead in the 'Biggest Fish' category with this mekong catfish caught by Graham Hughes from Bedfordshire.
 Graham's efforts to win the heaviest fish category were soundly destroyed when Janet of Team Walkabout skilfully played this 30kg+ mekong catfish to the net. Janet is an excellent angler and gave a terrific demonstration of  how to beat a hefty catfish on light tackle in front of a wildly cheering team of Walkabout men!
 There were 8 different species, including red-tail catfish,  caught amongst the 120 point scoring fish over the 6 hour event. The two 8 man teams therefore averaged 7.5 fish each, so a little over a fish per hour per angler. There were many more fish actually caught but Jez had introduced a minimum size limit that each opposing team member was keen to check was being adhered to!! In keeping with the sense of fun, Jez had introduced the fish minimum size as being measured by a large beer bottle.
Russian angler, Andy Isoft, landed 18 fish worth 22 points to win the 'most fish' section. Andy was also fishing for Team Walkabout.
 Team Islander Captain, Richard Valentine, did his best to encourage his outfished Islander team with a fine display himself and plenty of advice. There was a period of time when I was actually leading the most fish section with 16 fish but in the last 30 minutes my 'swim' died and Andy Isoft quickly changed his match tactics to take 3 fish in quick succession to overtake me for a well deserved win! Hurrah!!
 The five man Thai team of guides also got stuck into cooking at the BBQ and bringing round a varied array of Thai and European food treats.
 Flob (Fat Lazy Old Bastard...remember??) was at his usual dazzling socialite best and managed to get the Thai  lads to stand still long enough to present them with a cash collection from the competitors for all their hard work.
And here they are...Team Walkabout in all their winning  glory....a white wash of an event! Heaviest Fish,  Most Fish and Winning Team total of 70 points compared to Team Islanders 52 points.

This was a great event. The fishing salas were all full of competitors, who were imited to one rod each, and friends with an increasing number of supporters turning up. By evening the bar and restaurant area was packed with many locally based ex-Pats and families along with visiting anglers such as Dereck, Russell and me.

Jez has done a great job of creating something much more than simply a 'Fishing Park'. This has become a centre for people to meet up, have some nice food and relax by the bar as well as enjoy some often hectic fishing.

Jez is still  working on improvements, A second lake area has been dug out with water supply pipes and oxygenators in place ready for the water once the lake bottom has settled down. Despite recent flash flooding in parts of Phuket this has been the driest 'wet season' on record for this area and the reservoirs are only at 30% full with continegency plans being hastily it's doubtful that Jez's second lake will be filled this season.

But...Well Done to him and his team for creating such a popular place and Good Luck for an excellent future.