A few hundred kilometres from Phuket, the village of Kapoe offers great opportunities for fishing, Yvonne Liang takes a trip with the Barracuda Hunter.
A spear gun is tossed over to Paul Laurain a.k.a. the Barracuda Hunter. He goes under once more. Two minutes later he resurfaces with two spear guns, each one with a writhing barracuda pierced through it. His face beams with pride as he blows out the imaginary smoke from his twin pistols.
Our adventure began at the dead of night. It was 3am when we loaded up the pickup truck with fishing gear and drove nearly 300km from Phuket to the Thai-Muslim village of Kapoe in Ranong province, next to the Myanmar border.
Daylight was just peeking through the sky as we pulled up to the house of Khun Latip Jainukul. His children ran over to greet us. They were full of smiles because they recognised Guy Denoes — the older Frenchman whom they affectionately call “poo yai” or big uncle.
A couple of French expats who live in Phuket, Denoes and Laurain have embarked on countless fishing trips with Latip over the past seven years.
“Latip is from the village so he knows the people’” says Laurain. “He knows the spots and he knows the weather. I teach him the technique that is necessary for free diving — to breathe slowly in order to go deeper and stay longer in the water. And not to make big movements that can scare the fish.
The fishermen’s best friend on the sea is the captain – Khun Nut Nantakarn. His main job is to steer them in the right direction. He even has a sonar device to help locate fishing hot spots, identify where the rocks are and to determine the depth of the sea. The captain spends hours on the waters waiting for the divers. Sometimes he catches small fish on a fishing rod to pass the time.
We pass by clusters of mangrove trees on our way into the great Andaman Sea. “That’s where the small fish stay after they are born,” explains Latip. “They are crab farms. Small crabs are caught and kept there until they are big enough to sell.”
The fish hunters use the travelling time to prepare their spear guns. By the time we get to our dive site, the men are ready. Each one is dressed in his choice of diving gear. Laurain wears a professional camouflage wet suit. Latip also wears a wet suit, while Denoes, who has over 50 years experience of free diving, wears only a T-shirt and swimming trunks.
Free diving is already a risky sport as divers have no oxygen tanks. They go through extensive training in order to hold their breath underwater for as long as two to three minutes. Add a spear gun and threatening sea creatures, and you have real danger.
“In the waters we have jelly fish, stone fish, sea snake, lion fish, Murray hill, sea urchin, and fire coral … sometimes … sharks,” explains Laurain.
“But the most dangerous thing is the fish we catch. For example, the teeth of the barracuda fish are very sharp and it’s an aggressive fish. You need to shoot and kill.”
The men have different motivation for their fishing.
For Latip it’s a household matter. “I fish for my family to have good fish to eat,” he says. “The extra fish I can sell to the neighbours.”
Denoes like the camaraderie of the sport. “I feel good when I fish,” he says. “It’s a good way to exercise for me. And I can spend some time with my friends.”
Other than providing a means of survival and enjoyment, Laurain claims that spear fishing is also better for the marine environment.
“Fishing with spear guns is more selective,” he says. “The net kills everything; with the line you don’t know what is biting. With the gun you can even see if the fish is carrying eggs so you can avoid shooting. It’s the most ecological way to fish.”
It is not just below the waves that the sights are stunning. We pass through an endless azure sea with matching sky holding light wisps of clouds. Mountains in various shades of blue-grey stand in the distance as we drive closer to smaller lush islands.
Soon daylight fades into dusk and it becomes too dark to continue fishing. We return to the pier where the men divide up their killings. For Latip, three fish go directly onto the stove for his family’s dinner that evening. The rest will be sold fresh the following day. The Frenchmen take their fish back home to Phuket to enjoy with friends.
An island day trip via speed boat or long tail boat starts from Rawai Beach, a 20-minute drive from Phuket Town. Call Khun Fit on 081 537 8120 to make a booking.