Gone are the days when you could simply ask a local fisherman if you could join him on his trip to the open sea. He may still allow you on board, but you will be asked to pay the going rate for a tourist trip (about 1,000 baht). The reason is that a large number of companies on Koh Samui now offer fishing tours, many of them on traditional boats, specially converted to carry passengers. Fishing equipment is usually provided and experienced fishermen are always on hand to offer up help and advice. This means that even complete novices have a good chance of catching their supper.
On organised fishing trips, the boat captain will usually decide on the best spots to drop anchor at, depending on the prevailing sea and weather conditions. The safest and most common policy is for the boat to hug the coastline, and many fishing tours last several hours and move from one location to another during the day, affording passengers changing views of the island’s bays, as well as increasing the chances of a catch. Big Rock, off the northeast coast, is a popular spot, as are the shallow seas off the small island of Koh Tan in the south.
If you do manage to land a whopper, you can either take the fish back and cook it at your hotel, which is best done by prior arrangement, or ask the crew to prepare and barbecue the fish on board the boat. Wherever you choose to eat your prize, it’s often best to hand over the cooking to the experts, and also to remember that sharing the meal is always appreciated in Thailand.
Over-fishing is a problem in the Gulf of Thailand – some commercial trawlers from the mainland drag nets illegally across the reefs and offshore islands. Smaller fishing boats also damage coral reefs when they drop anchor carelessly. Make sure that your boat captain knows the seas well and is careful to moor where the sea bed is sandy. Expeditions may be cheap and the fishermen know how to find fish, but don’t expect the sort of big game facilities you would see in more abundant destinations such as the Caribbean.
As with all tourist destinations in Thailand, there are usually a plethora of tour agents on hand at each of the main centres, who act as booking agents for a handful of fishing expeditions. Tours start at about 1,500 baht a day and can be booked the same morning from agents in Chaweng, as well as in Lamai and along the main road on the north coast. Remember to take sun cream and suitable clothing if you are going to be stuck out at sea all day. Also, be weary of late afternoon storms as there are few safety regulations to limit the smaller tour operators.