Sometimes it is really hard to think of something new/interesting to write on the blog, but this time it was really easy. Last week Dallas and I got the chance to go fishing with some of our friends from Kompong Phluk, the fishing village where we have done a lot of wells this past year. Right when we started drilling there the people were very closed to us, and also to the 3 Christian families living there. Now they seem to be a lot more open, and the Christians there are some good friends of ours.
Kompong Phluk is located on the Tonle Sap Lake. The Tonle Sap is a fresh water lake right in the middle of Cambodia. It is interesting for several reasons. First of all is the size, it is huge in dry season (1,000 square miles), but that is nothing compared to rainy season when it increases to around 6,200 square miles. Second is the depth, during dry season the average depth is 3 feet. During rainy season it can rise around 30 feet. The third thing is that there are at least 150 species identified in this lake! One more interesting fact is that the river that drains the lake part of the year reverses and fills it part of the year. You can read about the how and why online. You can find a lot of pictures of this village online if you google the name of the village…
The fishing season just opened two or three weeks ago, so the people there are busy trying to catch as many fish as they can before the season closes. The season lasts for around 2-3 months, but the fish they catch in this time slot is their main source of income for the year so they really go for it. All of us boys, wanted to go with them fishing to see how they do it, and Dallas and I got the chance to go with them last week on Thursday.
On Thursday morning, I told Frank to ask them when would be a good day to go with them. Thursday afternoon at about 3:30 Frank told me that they thought that it would work really well to go out that evening and go with them the next morning. I rushed home packed some stuff into a backpack and rushed to the river for the boat ride down to the village. Even so it was dark by the time that we got there. After siting around and talking for a while, we decided it was time to go to bed since we would be getting up at around 4:00 A.M. to go fishing.
I had gone swimming for a couple hours that day and was really tired. Since it wasn’t to hot I figured it would be really easy to get to sleep, but I was wrong. I don’t think I slept more than 2 hours that night, mainly because of the noise. All night long there was something going on. For a while, there was people getting home on their little boats. Their boats are very loud because they take the muffler off to make so the engine is a bit stronger. After most of the people were home you could babies crying and the occasional argument from the surrounding houses. Around 11:00 o’clock the big boats started going down the river as the first groups of fishermen headed out to the lake to get an early/late start. This kept up until around 12:00 when all of a sudden it started pouring rain. The rain made enough racket on the tin roof to keep me awake. Once the rain stopped, the fishermen started going out to the lake again. On top of this every time that Dallas moved the house would shake a bit…All said it was a very long night.
That morning at 4:00 we got up and loaded up the nets on the the boat. Let me describe the nets a bit. They are gill nets, that come in sections or “hands” that are ten meters long and one and a half meters wide. There is a thin rope threaded through the top and the bottom of the net so that you can handle the nets, because the nets themselves are super thin and would tear with only a little bit of pressure. They tie 30 hands together with a little bit of space between each hand to make one stack. So one stack is over 300 yards long. Every 5 yards or 10 yards there’s a float tied to the top of the net to make so it floats. On the bottom there are weights to make so the nets would stretch out nicely.
Soon Nak showed up and we headed out. Dallas was with Nak and his wife, and I was with Goy and his daughter Srey Neak. It was close to a 30 minute boat ride out to where we were going. It was relaxing heading out. There was clouds all around us, but right over head was a patch of clear skies with a bunch of stars. It just a little chilly (probably 77*). When we got close to where we where going, Nak and Goy headed to different parts of the lake to drop the nets.
When we got close to where Goy wanted to drop his nets, he turned off the boat and helped Srey Neak get things set up to get started. On the one end of the net they tied a float that had a flag on it, and to the bottom of this they tied an anchor to keep the nets from moving when we started dropping the nets. After the net anchor was set Goy started the boat and let it idle along. This pulled the neatly folded nets off the boat. He was steering the boat and making sure the bottom of the net didn’t get flipped over the top of the net at the same time. While he was doing this, Srey Neak was making sure the stack of nets didn’t get tangled up so that the net could would pull off easily. When the first stack of nets was almost all dropped she found the end of the first stack tied it to the beginning of the second stack. They made it look really easy, but twice we had stop to pull some of the nets back onto the boat to get the placement correct. I was very suprised that there was already quite a few fish in the net in the 15-20 seconds in the water. The third stack they dropped at a different place, but did it the same way. All this time, I was going from the one place to another trying to stay out of the way.
By the time the nets were all dropped it was daylight. After a bit, Goy drove back along the nets making sure that the nets were placed right. At one place, we had to tie the net back together because another boat had driven over it and the propeller hand cut the net, but that was the only problem.
After the nets are dropped, they need to sit for at least 2 hours to give the fish time to get caught. While we were waithing for this, we headed over to where Nak was and had a bit of a snack to tide us over till breakfast. After sitting and talking with them for a while we headed back to pull the nets. We started at the end of nets that was furthest from home so that we’d be working our way closer.
Pulling the nets is the work part of fishing. You need two people to do it. One person pulls on the top of the net and the other person pulls the bottom of the net. This pulls the boat along while picking up the net. While you are pulling, you try to stack the net neatly enough that when it comes time to clean it the net isn’t all tangled up. You also pick the sticks and trash out of the net.
For the first string of nets, I watched as Goy and Srey Neak pulled the nets in, trying to watch how they did it. On the second and third strings which were tied together, Srey Neak and I pulled the nets onto the boat while Goy paddled the boat along. This made so that the pulling wasn’t quite so hard. It was a bit tricky getting it right. You had to pull at the same speed as the other person so that the net stayed stretched correctly. It wasn’t hard work but pulling all the nets in took close to two hours. Once the nets were all on the boat, we headed back to the house to eat breakfast and clean the nets.
There are two ways to clean the nets, you can either do it by hand or you can use a machine. To clean the nets by hand, you park the boat next to a hut or room that is completely screened in. The screen on the bottom is usually in the water so that the fish can fall into water staying fresh longer. You pull the net through the room and hit the net with loops of nylon rope, which knocks the fish out of the net. Or you can use the machine which has 4 pieces of hose connected to two wheels. When it spins it hits the net as you pull the net over it. The problem with using a machine is that sometimes the net gets tangled on hoses, but it’s a lot easier than doing it by hand.
After the nets are all cleaned, somebody will come to buy the fish. They scoop the fish into baskets. Each basket is then weighed, because this type of fish is sold by the Kilogram. Then the fish are poured into a cooler with ice. The day that we went along, the boat that I helped on caught 111 kg (244 lbs.) of fish!
It probably took 8 hours from the time we started dropping the nets till we were finished cleaning them. Goy said that sometimes they can do the process twice in one day.
Sorry I didn’t take my camera along to get pictures of the entire process. Well this is all for this time…
Luke for the Helmuths