Prior to the first arrival of foreign travelers to Koh Phangan in the 1970s the island’s main commercial activities were coconut cultivation and fishing. Nowadays more of the 12,000 permanent residents of Koh Phangan are in a job related to the tourist industry than in employment connected to harvesting coconuts or fishing. Nevertheless, these two economic sources are still important to the population.
In Chaloklum and Srithanu they still have fleets of boats for fishing. Many of them are traditional long tail boats with flat bottoms that can be moored in shallow bays. The main catch is squid.
There are bigger commercial fishing boats that fish far out to sea. They can often be seen at night in such bays as Thong Nai Pan. They line up across the bay seeking shelter from storms farther out to sea.
Many of the fish found on nightly barbecues on the beaches of Koh Phangan were caught in the Gulf of Thailand, some close by. Commonly found are barracuda, shark, white snapper and red snapper.
It is possible to catch these fish off the coast of Koh Phangan as well other fish such as mackerel. Legally speaking it is alright to fish anywhere along the coast of the island except for Mai Haad and Koh Ma This area is protected by marine park status. There are some good fishing spots away from human settlement areas around the island. These are not on the ‘tourist trail’. You have to pay a Thai person to take you out on a boat to show you the best fishing spots.
For many Thais on Koh Phangan fishing is both a hobby and a possibility of catching either food or something that can be exchanged for money. Such is the privilege of islander’s lives. The simplest way to go fishing in Thailand is with a hook and some line on a stick. The hook is baited with something cheap like squid and cast off from a promising rocky outcrop.
Those who are serious about their fishing might not find the Koh Phangan fishing scene so exciting. Most of the fish on offer don’t offer a great challenge to land. Moreover, much of the Gulf of Thailand has been over-fished.
The topic of fishing in Koh Phangan must include comment about fishing during the full moon. In fishing lore opinion is divided about the idea: some swear that the fish bite more during the full moon, others that it is a terrible time to fish. However, night fishing is popular in Koh Phangan. The fishermen hang strip lights off the side of the boats – they don’t rely on the light of the moon.
Putting aside the notion that the full moon has magical powers to lure fish to their doom, the brightness of the moon is not dependent on how full it is. Other factors such as weather conditions and cloud cover are more important. The amount of light from the moon does not vary very much during its various phases (except when there is a black moon). Indeed it is possible to have the astronomical event called the ‘full moon’ during the day.
Light at night will have different effects on different fish. For example, nocturnal fish will be less active if there is more light filtering down from the surface of the sea. Whereas diurnal fish will be more active if it is brighter.
In terms of equipment, there are plenty of places to buy or rent fishing equipment on Koh Phangan. There is a good market stall in Thongsala selling equipment. On the main drag there is a dedicated fishing shop that has rods, reels, bait, hooks etc. They might also be able to give you some tips about the best spots to try your luck with the rod.
Many people recommend squid fishing in Koh Phangan. This can be done virtually anywhere along the coast. Lots of locals are doing it. They wrap fishing line around a plastic bottle and use a colorful lure. They then cast out and keep turning the bottle to ensure the lure moves side to side as it is going through the water.
Food in general is becoming an expensive commodity. As a result, the temptation to take as many fish as possible from the Gulf of Thailand is a real one. This tropical region has traditionally had small populations that include the Moken or Sea Gypsies that heavily rely on fishing. The fish supply could support such remote populations. Much of the commercial fishing around the world is unsustainable. Koh Phangan that hosts up to 40,000 people at a time has created a large demand for fresh, locally caught fish as well as farmed fish and prawns.
When fishing in Koh Phangan it is worth bearing this in mind and throwing back most of the catch, just keeping the older, fully grown ones.
NB. The video above was filmed at Mae Haad according to the title. This is a protected area. We can give the Thais the benefit of the doubt. There is a good chance that the person taking the video didn’t know exactly where he or she was. Of more interest is the way that the Thai works the hook and manages to keep his cigarette in his mouth.