A couple weeks ago, we went to my coworker and good friend’s father-in-law’s place for his new house celebration. He’d built a new house on top of the foundations of an older one at his 15 rai (1 rai = 0.4 acres) property five minutes walk from our home. There are several fish ponds on the site, stocked with all kinds of fish including tilapia, catfish, snakehead, etc.
Max was so excited about going fishing for real, he couldn’t sleep the night before. Until then, we’d been practicing for safety with hookless tackle (a rubber door stopper tied to the line) at the ponds in our neighborhood, but Max was ready for the real deal. When morning rolled around, we went out into our garden and dug up worms for bait, which both Max and Mina couldn’t believe just lived in the ground around our house…
Just before noon, we headed over to my friend’s FIL’s place and found that Max was unwilling to eat; he was completely enthralled with the prospect of actually fishing, so I pulled a couple of bass rods from the back of our car and set up with light rigs. Then:
This was actually his second fish, perhaps a bleeker, related to carp in any case. We were fishing the shallows in 1 meter deep water with fallen submerged trees everywhere, so my sliding sinker rig did a perfect job. The total for the day was five small fish between Max and his friends, and typically, they all got bored after pulling in their own fish. Max was scared to actually touch the fish, just as I remember being, so it was a good learning experience for everybody.
On the deep side of the pond we were fishing they apparently catch 7-8 kilogram catfish of various species (giant Mekong cats included!) on a regular basis; I saw some they pulled that morning in the 5kg range waiting to be prepared for eating, so I don’t doubt it. I was trying to keep the kids from being traumatized by a leviathan, so we stayed in the shallows!
Just about a month ago, we had a big storm come in at night due to a typhoon battering Taiwan. It rained a lot more than normal, even for rainy season, and the pond in front of our house must have flowed over onto the road at some point during the night. I say must have because I didn’t actually see it happen, but found some evidence to that effect including washed up debris on our curb and a half-dead pla salit (Snakeskin Gourami). Upon poking with my finger, he wiggled a bit, so I decided to try reviving him in a spare six liter PET water bottle I had in the yard.
I filled it with water from the pond and slipped him in through the top, and after performing carefully measured agitation to stimulate oxygen transport over the gills (read: shaking it for a while), Mr. Gourami “turned that frown upside down” and started swimming around.
Max was delighted and immediately dubbed the fish “Bitty” (it was not until later that I realized he was trying to say “fishy,” but by then I had gotten used to calling him Bitty as well).
Bitty received due adulation from his attending 2.5 year old host, including being assaulted with long cooking chopsticks and drinking straws joined end-to-end (which daddy was using to occasionally blow air into the bottle just for the hell of it). But as cool as this fish was, and as much as Max loved him, I decided to let him go at the end of the day because I wanted him to go live with his friends in the pond. Also, I had no desire to find out which aquatic plants he could eat by trial and error – I knew he ate plants because that’s what it said in my go-to SE Asian fish book, Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos by Alan Davidson.
In addition, Max gets bored with new toys almost instantly, so we thought we could get away with Bitty just suddenly disappearing… This is how we ended up going out as a family to buy a small aquarium less than two hours after I threw Bitty back in the pond, but that’s another story.
For now, I choose only to commemorate a boy and his fish: