Rice Paddy Fishing, the Sport of Peasants

Behind the family farm in Nakhon Phanom there is probably close to 50 individual rice paddies that are owned by all the various families in the village. I learned the hard way exactly how the rice fields work in the village because I spent a few days fertilizing them last April for the coming planting season. The family owned 7 fields behind their farm and a further 5 fields 3 miles down the road.

After a hard days work I was asked if I wanted to go fishing, to which I replied,  “sure”. I expected that once the fishing nets were checked and folded up that we would be loading up the truck and heading down the road to the Mekong, but I was wrong. We loaded up the truck and got all the kids on a motorcycle and started heading in the general direction of the Mekong but then we took a turn onto the dirt road that runs along side the rice fields.

The fields behind the farm are separated by a small wooded area with a stream and on the other side was another 40 fields or so. We came out of the wooded area and drove to the opposite side of the fields and parked. That’s when I noticed that interspersed around the fields were actually man made ponds that were pretty good sized and as I found out about 10 feet deep.

I asked Pookie if they had stocked the ponds and I was told they occasionally buy feeder fish and set them loose but the birds also help out by dropping remnants of fish and other critters into the water. As the nets came out and were prepared to start the fishing the kids found a spot in the shade to play while Pookie hid out behind a very small tree for cover while watching the men fish.

The ponds are collectively used by all of the farmers so I didn’t expect many fish to be pulled out but after a long day of shoveling manure I was more than ready to jump in and cool off. Eventually Pookie’s brothers and her young cousin unfurled the nets and set to trawling the first pond but as expected they didn’t get anything after 3 tries. We then headed for the second pond only to find that the fish weren’t home there either.

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Right near the fields is what looks like a large natural lake and I was told we would walk over there and give that a try. I thought it sounded like a good idea until I walked into the lake only to find that the water only came up to my shins. At best it was 3 feet deep in places. more of a large flooded area than a lake. At this point I wondered what we would be fishing for.

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It didn’t take me long to realize we would be mucking around in the mud for fresh water clams and mussels. They didn’t think I was up for it and laughed as I laid in the water, pulling myself around with my hands while feeling for anything in the muck below. Surprisingly, for me and them, I pulled up about 12 mussels and the brothers found about 20 each. More than enough to compliment dinner that night. And while we were mucking around in the mud Pookie decided to try her hand at photography, as you can see she caught my better side.

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So, as the sun began to set, we loaded up the pickup truck and headed back to the house with our haul of mussels and just like their western counterparts there was a tall tale or two of the fish that got away. Dinner that night tasted better than any four star restaurant, partly because the work we put in to bring it to the table but mostly because I felt like I was a part of something bigger than a meal.

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15 Comment(s)

  1. Talen a superbly written post, I was two steps behind you the whole way. In fact I feel like I took a couple of the photos myself, it read that well.

    Living off the land. If the big supermarket chains ever do go on strike then the villages of Isaan won’t give a rats tail about it.

    You’re certainly a braver man than me. I could have done the fishing bit if I was sat on the bank but getting in the water would get a definite no thank you from me. Snakes.

    I bet the dinner did taste good but more importantly you showed Pookie and her family that not only can you work the fields but you’re also prepared to get in the water and hunt for food. Respect as we know goes a long way in Thailand and that day you must of dredged a net full of it. Like I said a very well written post.
    .-= Martyn´s last blog ..A Handbag Wielding Blogger =-.

    Martyn | Jan 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. Talen I have to agree with Martyn what a well written post. Although we don’t have rice paddies here there are lots of man made ponds which the locals fish with nets.

    They all have fish, but are not stocked- this has always puzzled me-now I think I know the answer.

    Not sure you would find me having a mud bath-I too don’t like the thought of the creepies that might be there.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Trip to Ayuttaya and Samut Sakhon =-.

    Mike | Jan 13, 2010 | Reply

  3. Martyn, they really do thrive off the land and the only thing they tend to buy at Tesco is cooking oils.

    As for the brave part…to be honest I didn’t even think about snakes that day, and I should have, I was more concerned with leeches but luckily I didn’t run into any.

    I think the best part of that day was that we all worked hard and then had a good time trying to fish…definitely lots of smiles that day.

    Talen | Jan 13, 2010 | Reply

  4. Mike, from what I gathered these ponds are rarely ever stocked as well but for some reason now and again they will throw some feeder fish in. A few days before we had some really good fish for dinner that apparently were the last to come from the ponds we tried fishing.

    A mud bath is exactly what it was too…half way through the fishing experiment the young cousin and I got into a mud battle in the larger pond before digging for mussels. I held my own for a bit but being younger and in better shape he had me on the run most of the time.

    Talen | Jan 13, 2010 | Reply

  5. By the way Martyn…you can see my purse in the 6th picture of this post…if you look in the right hand corner it’s the triangular shaped black bag :)

    Talen | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  6. I’ve got you’re handbag, took a while but I clicked on the photo and hey there it was. A ladyboy fishing in the rice fields, can’t have happened to often.

    What is the big jar next to the handbag, it looks rather heavy and seems to have something wrapped around it.
    .-= Martyn´s last blog ..A Handbag Wielding Blogger =-.

    Martyn | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  7. That’s a fish pot with a small inner tube wrapped around it so it floats in the water. Where the fish would have gone if we caught any.

    Talen | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  8. You are definitely more brave than I am.

    My wife tells me that there are crocodile farms around her home in Nakhon Sawan and if they have a nam tuam during the rainy season the crocodiles can escape and find their way into neighboring rice fields. Probably not a pleasant surprise for the farmers.

    Since hearing that I have shied away from frolicking in any flooded fields or even swimming in the Ping river near her home.

    ChuckWow | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  9. Chuck, that’s why I let the youngins go in first :) If I would have thought for a second there were any crocodiles around I might have sat it out …then again I didn’t think about snakes.

    Talen | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  10. What a wonderful post. And after reading it, I want to go fishing too!

    I love to fish but have not tried my hand at it in Thailand yet.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..2010 Bangkok International Tattoo Convention =-.

    Catherine | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  11. What a wonderful day to spend a day. Even though no fish were caught it sounds as if you all had a great time and I think that’s more important. I’m also certain those mussels were the sweetest you’ve ever eaten.

    What’s up with you guys and your bags?
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..Vern from Thai Pulse =-.

    Steve | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  12. It definitely was a wonderful day Steve.

    We prefer to call them man bags or murses thank you :)

    Talen | Jan 14, 2010 | Reply

  13. I would have watched the action from the pickup, let me tell you. Martyn has the right idea: snakes and man took a wrong turn way back when.

    I remember almost way back when when we dug all our vegetables from the garden and I have never been able to recapture that taste since. Yes, I like it when my prey can’t move.

    Great piece, Talen.
    .-= SiamRick´s last blog ..Vientiane a peaceful retreat from chaos of Bangkok =-.

    SiamRick | Jan 16, 2010 | Reply

  14. Thanks Rick, Vegetable gardens aren’t my thing but then again neither are snakes….but you still have to live your life.

    Talen | Jan 16, 2010 | Reply

  15. Sounds like a great day on the patties. It is still fun even if you don’t catch fish.

    Very intriguing post! You have yourself a follower.
    .-= Sean´s last blog ..Fishing Shirt =-.

    Sean | Jun 5, 2010 | Reply

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