Fishing patiently for the catch of a lifetime

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Two fishermen catch a barramundi at the Red River

The skies are shrouded with dark clouds, the sound of thunder and lightning flashes warn that a heavy downpour is in the offing.

But, at the Red River's Ba Lat mouth, located in Giao Thuy District, Nam Dinh Province, many fishermen are staying put, intently observing their bobbers. Many of them have been there since early morning and it is almost dusk now,

Unlike other fishermen who work with nets and take everything that gets caught in them, these guys are angling for rare or big fish. Since the chances of catching what they want are quite low, they have been showing great patience, day after day, year after year.  

They remind locals of the legendary Jiang Ziya, a famous Chinese strategist, who went fishing along a river every day with a short rod that had a long line, a straight hook and no bait, waiting for King Wen, the ruler of Zhou Dynasty (BC 1152 "” BC 1056) to come and meet him. He desired to work for the king.

"But Jiang in the Chinese folk story held his rod waiting for his luck, while we do fish," said Nguyen Van Thien, smiling. He had set out early in the morning and driven his motorbike for nearly 20 kilometers to the river mouth with his youngest son.

Even though Thien denied he was also waiting for his luck, the 70-year-old fisherman and his son have been longing to catch a bronze croaker (Otolithoides biauritus) which has been fetching between US$300-400 per kilogram for many years already.

In fact, it is the dream of not only the father and son but also many other fishermen who have been gathering at Ba Lap, which is believed to be home to the rare fish which can weigh up to over 100 kilograms. 

However, such good luck is rare. In recent years, what they have caught the most is barramundi (Lates calcarifer), which is now much smaller than they were some ten years ago

A few local fishermen are said to have caught the bronze croaker, but they did it with nets, mainly.

Thien refuses to switch to nets.

He said he has been using bamboo rods since he first followed his father a famous fisherman in his local neighborhood decades ago. His son bought him an automatic rod for more than VND1 million, but he has never used it either, Thien said.

The old man recalled the times when his father caught the rare fish that was "as intelligent as humans, and difficult to net and fish" in the 1980s with his handmade rod.

"The rod was made from old bamboo and as big as a wrist; the line was a braided cotton string; and the hook was made from hard steel," said Thien, describing his father's fishing rod.

He said his father used to catch the fish several times a month, and it was so big that despite being an experienced fisherman, it took the old man half a day to bring the fish to the bank.

"It was so big that we could not eat all of it, and at that time no one bothered to buy it."

Thien is not the only one who is chasing nostalgic victories.

Another fisherman, Tran Bao, has been fishing at the river's head in Lao Cai Province for many years.

The man said seven years ago he had caught a 9.5 kilogram bagridae at the section where the Red River meets with Lung Po River that runs from Lai Chau Province.

He said the fish was caught at a five-meter depth, and it was so big and strong that it almost straightened his thick hook, and that he had to ask others to help him bring it to the bank.

However, Bao said his old achievement was not as impressive as the one made by Vu Pha Xoay, a man from Ha Nhi ethnic minority, in 2000.

The fish that Xoay caught at the same location weighed 27 kilograms, said Bao, who witnessed the historic catch.

Besides Bao, at the river's head, which is believed to be home to many rare and big fishes like bagridae and eels, many, many other fishermen gather every day to realize their dream, hoping that it happens at least once in their life. 

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