An interesting phenomenon throughout Asia is that the term “sport-fishing” is completely incomprehensible to most. A common response one would receive when asking about sport-fishing is “Why would you fish just for sport? You don’t like to eat fish?” No actually, I love eating fish however, I love catching them even more. When I visited Vietnam as a student in 2006, I found this phenomenon to be true. While we still managed to get a line wet and catch a few fish, conservation and sport fishing were two things that just simply aren’t a part of the culture in Vietnam. One thing Vietnam does have is some beautiful beaches. We took the opportunity to visit a Vietnamese island that is situated off the southwest coast of Vietnam just south of Cambodia. Phú Quốc (pronounced FU-QUAW) is a quaint Island with a laid back tropical vibe.
We left Ho Chi Minh city early in the morning, after a 45 minute flight we arrived in Phú Quốc with a full beach day ahead of us. After getting a feel for the island, the beach, and our simple beach hotel we hit up the Dinh Cau Night Market. A bustling street filled with restaurants boasting the daily catch in large bins filled with ice. It was a miniature Tsujiki Fish Market in regards to the fact that it seemed to have everything imaginable that lives the ocean. Crustaceans, snakes, lobsters, prawns, and multiple species of fish.
The aroma of fresh fish on the grill constantly flirted with our nostrils as we walked through the busy street lined with fresh seafood. It was quite the sensation. One particular stand caught my attention:
I pointed at the Giant Trevally on the left asking the lady at the stand “Was this caught around here?” She replied, “Yes.” While pointing at the ocean behind her. My excitement immediately rose as I just caught a GT about half that size in Hong Kong which gave me a good fight, a small burst of adrenaline rushed through me as I imaged the fight this fish would yield.
One of my most vivid memories from being in Vietnam in 2006, was eating the fattest most juicy prawns you could imagine. I convinced our group they shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity. So we ordered a kilo of grilled prawns:
As promised to my wife, Sara (the wonderful wife that she is), we spent the following couple of days relaxing on the beach. It was great to sit back, enjoy the ocean, and the 80 degree weather with a luke-warm breeze flowing through the palm trees that sat high above the khaki sand beach. Although, while we were relaxing, contemplating how far that GT at the fish market would take me into my backing was constantly trifling me. How was I going to make keep my promise to my wife of a relaxed beach vacation, yet, somehow get a shot at hooking one of these impressive fish? Luckily, our group agreed to rent a boat for a day of snorkeling and “fishing.” The Vietnamese tour companies say, “Enjoy a day of snorkeling, fishing and relaxing on a boat tour.” Of course, by fishing they mean baiting a hook, attached to a line that is woven around a plastic spool. In fishing terms, the complete opposite of fly-fishing.
So we set out early, boarding our “boat” for the day. The “boat,” constructed of heavy timber was more like a small barge with a crude inboard engine, some picnic tables, benches and a ladder leading to the roof top for sunbathing. In simple terms, it would suffice for not only spending quality time with Sara, but also getting a line in the water. I rigged my 9 and 12 wt rods with a gummy minnow and a large chartreuse clouser. When fishing in a completely foreign place that has seen very few flies, if any, the gummy minnows are alway a great choice, as well as anything chartreuse, as I once learned from a seasoned guide in Ascension Bay, Mexico; “If it ain’t chartreuse, it ain’t no use.”
We set off, our young Vietnamese captain that spoke little to no english navigated through the many small ships, boats and small barges just like ours in the harbor. I dropped my full sinking 12 wt line rigged with a barrel swivel tied in the middle of my tippet a couple feet above the clouser. When trolling flies, barrel swivels are very useful so the fly line doesn’t get twisted. Trolling a large fly all day can really twist up fly-line, which takes a lot of work to untwist.
Luckily, our small barge didn’t go faster than the ideal trolling speed (2 to 3 knots). Honestly, I didn’t except to catch anything. I was just happy to be out with my wife and friends, drink a couple of beers, and enjoy the Vietnamese scenery while trolling a fly. We were no more than 100 yards outside of the last boat in the harbor when I was jigging the fly line giving it some action and I felt a large tug. At first, I thought I had hooked one of the many pieces of trash floating by. However, the tug was pulling hard. When I looked up to see a big boil where my fly was I yelled “FISH ON!” Followed by an immediate, “STOP THE BOAT!” It wasn’t until one of my friends raised his hand like a traffic cop yelling “STOP” for the captain to actually cut the engine. By this time the fish was well into my backing. While my adrenaline was pumping, I tightened my drag as the fish was running hard. I yelled “THOW IT IN REVERSE” to the captain, later realizing how stupid that was of me, not only because he most likely had no clue what I was saying, but more so because there is no way this barge of a boat had a reverse gear. Within moments the fish was well over 100 yards into my backing. I saw big boils in the distance while I tried to keep the pressure on the fish. The fish didn’t let up continuing to run while the sound of “ZZZZZZZZ” was music to my ears, not to mention the extremely large smile on my face. As the fish was now about 200yards into my backing all I could think was at this rate, the fish would spool me in no time, so I gave it some more pressure. Then the absolute worst feeling a fisherman can have, came next. It felt like my feet were swept out from under me as my fly came unbuttoned. It was as if the wind was completely knocked out of me.
I’ll never know the size or species of that fish, I can only imagine that it was probably a Giant Trevally just as, if not bigger, than the one I was saw at the Dinh Cau Night Market. Hopefully it continues to swim around the Island of Phú Quốc and never ends up on a tourist’s dinner plate but rather on the end of another sport fisherman’s line who, uncommon to Asian tradition, releases it unharmed.