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Mekong Giant Catfish: Thailand's biggest freshwater catfish

Updated: Feb 14


Serious anglers who target the biggest freshwater fish in the world head to Thailand.

Giant Siamese carp, Arapaima, and Giant Stingray are popular target species, but there is one that stands head and shoulders above all these, the Mekong Giant Catfish.


Pangasianodon gigas is considered by many as THE fish of Thailand. Reaching mammoth proportions and possessing immense strength, the Mekong Giant Catfish is the catfish by which all others are judged.

Thailand's Mekong giant catfish

Everything you need to know about Thailand's gentle giant.


How does the Mekong Giant Catfish compare to other prized freshwater species around the world?


European Carp

Record - 112 lb 14 oz (51.2 kg)

Captured - Euro Aqua in Hungary


European Wels Catfish

Record - 286lbs (130kg)

Captured - River Po in Italy


Mekong Giant Catfish

Record - 646 lbs (293 kg)

Captured - Northern Thailand


Sturgeon

Record - 1102 lbs (500 kg)

Captured - North America


Thailand's Striped Catfish

Catfish mistaken identity

Numerous other species of catfish in Thailand are often mistaken for the Mekong Giant Catfish.


The easiest ways to identify your catch is to confirm that the fish has no scales, no teeth, and no barbels.



Striped Catfish

Pangasius Hypophthalmus

Thai name: Plah Sawai (สวาย)

Max size: 220 lb (100 kg)


Thailand's Chao Phraya Catfish

Chao Phraya Catfish (Dog Eating Catfish)

Pangasius Santiwongsei

Thai name: Plah Tehpah (เทพา)

Max size: 220 lb (100 kg)



Mekong Giant Catfish

Pangasianodon gigas

Thai name: Pla Buek (ปลาบึก)

Max size: 660lb (300 kg)




Background of the Mekong Giant Catfish

It is a huge, critically endangered species of catfish (order Siluriformes) from the shark catfish family (Pangasiidae).


It is native to China and the Mekong basin in Southeast Asia.

Thai folklore regards the Mekong giant catfish with reverence, and special rituals are carried out, and offerings are made before fishing for it.


Habitat and distribution

The Mekong giant catfish is now a threatened species in the river Mekong.


Conservationists have focused on it as a major species to promote conservation on the Mekong Delta.


Although research projects are ongoing, relatively little is known about the species.


Historically, the Mekong giant catfish natural range reached from the lower regions of the Mekong river in Vietnam all the way to the northern reaches of the river in the Yunnan Province of China, almost spanning the entire 4,800 km length of the river system.


Due to threats, the Mekong giant catfish no longer inhabits the vast majority of its original Mekong habitat.


It has now been discovered to only exist in isolated, small populations in the middle of the Mekong region.


Fish start to congregate at the beginning of the rainy seasons and then migrate upstream to begin spawning.


The fish live primarily in the main channel of the river, where the water depth is over 10 m,


In the past, fishermen reported the fish in a small number of the Mekong's tributaries. Today, however, no sightings are being reported outside of the main Mekong river channel.



Feeding

The young fry of this species feeds mainly on zooplankton in the river and is sometimes known to be cannibalistic.


After about twelve months, the fish becomes herbivorous.


Feeding mainly on filamentous algae, and probably ingesting periphyton and larvae accidentally.


The fish obtains most of its food from algae growing on submerged rocky surfaces, as it does not have any dentition.


A Mekong giant catfish caught in Bangkok

Appearance

White to a silvery grey and lacking any notable markings or stripes


The Mekong giant catfish is easily distinguished from other large catfish species in the river by lack of barbels and having no teeth (it is the only toothless catfish.)


Record-Breaking size

In 2005 the Mekong giant catfish used to hold the Guinness World Records for the world's largest freshwater fish.


Attaining a length of 3 m, the Mekong giant catfish grows incredibly quickly, reaching a mass of 150 - 200 kg in 6 years. It can reportedly achieve a weight of up to 350 kg.


The largest catch recorded in Thailand was a female that measured 2.7 m in length and weighed 293 kg.


This specimen caught back in 2005, is widely considered as the largest freshwater fish ever caught.


Thailands fisheries officials stripped catfish of all its eggs as part of a breeding programme.

The fish was intended to be released back into the river, but the fish, unfortunately, died while in captivity and was instead sold as food to the local villagers.


Hooking into a big Mekong giant catfish

Danger of Extinction

The Mekong giant catfish is in real risk of becoming extinct.


The threat is mainly due to over-fishing, a decrease in water quality and the development of upstream damming.

Dams block the migration routes and isolate some populations.


Without the ability to move up and down the rivers, the fish have far fewer opportunities to breed.


The catfish is now classed as a critically endangered species.


The numbers living in the wild is unknown, but the catch data indicate the population has fallen by over 80% in the last 14 years.


Conservation

International trading of wild-caught specimens is now banned

In 2000, fishermen captured 11 giant catfish. In 2001 they caught only seven. In 2002 they caught just five.


Fishing for the Mekong giant catfish in the wild in Thailand is now illegal.


It is also illegal in Laos and Cambodia, but the bans are proving to be ineffective, and unfortunately, the fish continues to be captured in the three countries.


In recognition of the threat to the Mekong giant catfish species, almost 60 fishermen in Thailand agreed to stop fishing for the endangered catfish in June 2006.


At the moment Thailand is the only country that allows fishing for private stocks of Mekong giant catfish.


This helps to save the species; lakes purchase the small fry from the government breeding programmes. This generates extra income that allows the breeding program to continue.


Fighting a powerful Mekong giant catfish

Fishing lakes have the species up to 140 kg. The most common size caught is about 20 kg, although some companies specialize in landing the larger fish.


The species needs to reach 50–70 kg to breed.


It does not spawn in lakes.


The Thailand Fisheries Department has initiated a breeding programme to restock the Mekong River.


From 2000 - 2003, about 10,000 captive-bred specimens were released by the Thai authorities.


Specimens were released into large reservoirs rather than the Mekong River itself.


Fishing for Mekong giant catfish in Thailand

The very biggest European Carp and Wels catfish are no match when it comes to the power of the Mekong giant catfish. It is regarded by many to be the hardest fighting freshwater fish in the world bar none.


The Mekong Giant Catfish is considered the most prized Catfish species in the world. A fisherman who has battled with a Pangasianodon gigas will never forget it!


Fishing for these huge cats will test any angler and their equipment to the limit. It is a fish guilty of destroying more rods, reels, and anglers, than any other species in the world.


Although classed as an endangered species Mekong giant catfish have been successfully bred and then stocked into many lakes and ponds throughout Thailand.


These stocked fish have been caught up to 140 kg.


Night fishing for Mekong giant catfish can be productive

Catching Giant Mekong Catfish

When fishing for specimen sized Giant Mekong Catfish it is recommended you use extra strong rods (carp rods will not cope).


Use the biggest Baitrunner style reels loaded with at least 40-50 lb nylon line or 80-100 lb braid.


Big floats and groundbait swimfeeders are the most popular choice of tactics with bread on a big strong hook.


Legering large diametre boilies at range can be an effective alternative method on the more pressured waters in Thailand.




Fishing locations for catching Mekong Giant Catfish in Thailand and links


Bungsamran Lake

Location - Bangkok

Bungsamran lake is the most prolific big game fresh watering fishing in the world. The lake contains carp up to 100kg and catfishes up to130kg. The average catch size is about 30-40kg. Anglers are guaranteed to catch fish weighing at least15kg.


Other species in Bungsamran Lake:

Striped catfish, Giant Siamese Carp, and Chao Phraya Catfish.


Jurassic Fishing Park

Location: Cha Am

About 2 hours’ drive from Bangkok in the beautiful coastal town of Cha Am. Jurassic Fishing Park is set amongst a 4-star resort set in a stunning landscape.

It is considered by most anglers to be the premier fishing venue in Thailand.


Other species Jurassic Fishing Park:

Arapaima, Siamese Carp, Indian Carp, Chao Phraya Catfish, Tambaqui Pacu, and Amazon Redtail Catfish.


Shadow Lake

Location - near Bangkok

Shadow Lake is also known by locals as Gnao Nam and offers the angler superb Carp and Catfish. Holding many of Thailands records, this is the longest-running big fish venue in Bangkok. Although it is a favourite fishing spot for locals fishermen, it’s not often that you see foreigners fishing here.


Other species at Shadow Lake:

Giant Siamese Carp, Striped Catfish, Indian Carp, Chinese Bighead Carp, Black Shark, and Rohu.

(No company website available)

Nothing else pulls like a Mekong Giant Catfish

Greenfield Fishery & Resort

Location: Hua Hin

A coastal resort 200km southwest of Bangkok.

Situated on the Gulf of Thailand, Greenfield lake is nestled amongst 80 acres of natural beauty surrounded by rolling hills and countryside. The lake offers a diverse range of freshwater species including 23 Thai and Amazon fish species.


Other species at Greenfield Fishery:

Arapaima, Alligator Gar, Barramundi, Giant Snakehead, Chao Phraya Catfish, Redtail Catfish, Indian Carp, Pacu, Siamese Carp.


TopCats

Location - Koh Samui

TopCats is a 6-acre fishing lake with quality accommodation in lakeside bungalows, also houseboats. Fishing is strictly catch and release after a trophy photo. The lake is stocked with 30 species from 5kg - 150kg for you to target.


Other species at TopCats:

Arapaima, Chao Phraya, Amazon Redtail, Giant Siamese Carp, Goonch Catfish, and Wallagonia Leerii.


Exotic Fishing Thailand

Location - Phuket

EFT is a beautiful resort that is surrounded by stunning mountains and is located just one hour north of Phuket Airport. The lake is stocked with seven different species over the 100 lbs mark.


Other species at Exotic Fishing Thailand:

Arapaima, Wallagoo Leeri, Alligator Gar, Chao Phraya Catfish, and Siamese Carp.


Dreamlake Fishing Resort

Location - Chiang Mai

A small picturesque fishing lake, located 8 km away from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. The selection of fish is unique and makes this venue one of the most exciting fishing spots in Northern Thailand.


Other species at Dreamlake:

Striped catfish, Siamese giant carp, Julian's carp, rohu, stingray, barramundi, and giant snakehead.


Using a fighting cup is recommended

Bosang Fishing Park

Location - Chiang Mai

Fishing at Borsang Fishing Park is a beautiful rustic Thai style fishing lake. At this venue, you will quickly catch a nice sized fish. The average weight of catfish is 5 -20kg with a good chance of landing a much bigger one.


Other species at Borsang Fishing Park:

Striped catfish 5kg - 25kg and Big wai (crossbreed Mekong catfish and striped catfish).



Palm Tree Lagoon

Location: Ratchaburi

Situated halfway between Hua Hin and Bangkok. The lake averages about 3-5 meters in depth and holds more than 35 species that exceed the current IGFA all-tackle records.


Other species at Palm Tree Lagoon:

Arapaima, Chao Phraya Catfish, Stingray, Amazon Redtail Catfish, Thai Redtail Catfish, Wallago Leeri, Wallago, Goonch, Pacu, and Siamese Carp.


Go'B fishing lake

Location - Chiang Mai

Go'B Fishing Park is just15 minutes drive from Chiang Mai Airport and the same distance from the City center. The lake is set amongst the rice fields of tranquil Northern Thailand. A secluded fishing lake with nobody else to disturb you.


Other species at Go'B fishing lake:

Siamese Giant Carp and Juliens Golden Price Carp.


Lek’s Specimen Fishing Park

Location: Udon Thani

Conveniently situated just 3 km from Udon Thani airport.

In a private and secluded North Eastern Thailand setting the mixed specimen coarse lake boasts well over 45 different fish species.


Other species at Lek’s Specimen Fishing Park:

Giant Siamese Carp, Arapaima, Alligator Gar, Chao Phraya Catfish, and Amazon Redtail Catfish.


Amazon Giant Fishing Park

Location: Pattaya

The lake is an old abandoned quarry that has natural freshwater fed in from underground springs which make for great all year round fishing, as it does not suffer from Algae or aeration problems. The Lake is covered by high banking, reducing the effects on water temperature changes.


Other species at Amazon Giant Fishing Park:

Arapaima, Red Tail Catfish, Alligator Gar, Pacu, Siamese carp, and Barramundi.


Thailand's gentle Giant Mekong Catfish - Captured at Bungsamran Lake

Gillhams Fishing Resort

Location - Krabi

Gillhams Fishing Resorts is indeed Thailands stand-out fishing resort. The artificial lake and associated resort hotel are 19km from the town of Ao Nang in Krabi. Gillhams is the highest standard of commercial fishing lakes in Thailand.


Other species at Gillhams Fishing Resort:

Arapaima, Alligator gar, Amazon red-tail catfish, Arowana, Asian red-tail catfish, Giant freshwater stingrays, and Giant Siamese Carp.


Pilot 111 Fishing Ponds

Location - Bangkok

Pilot 111 Fishing Ponds offers some of the best lure fishing in Bangkok. The venue features ten fishing ponds that provide a diverse range of predator fish species throughout.


Other species at Pilot 111 Fishing Ponds:

Pacu, Barramundi, Giant snakehead, Chao Phraya catfish, Asian Redtail catfish, Featherback, Amazon redtail catfish, Shovelnose catfish, and Burmese carp.


Castaway Fishing Park

Location - Pattaya

Set in a peaceful countryside setting, and within easy reach of downtown Pattaya. A quality fishing experience for expert anglers and beginners alike.


Other species at Castaway Fishing Park:

Arapaima, Siamese Carp, Amazon Redtail Catfish, Alligator Gar, Barramundi, Juliens Prize Golden Carp, Pacu, and Rohu.

Thailand freshwater fishing guides links


Most Thai fishing parks have guides available

Mega Fishing in Thailand

We use the most reputable & professional fishing guides in Thailand. We are specialists in providing organized guided daily fishing.


Bangkok Fishing Guide

Guided fishing tours in Bangkok, Thailand. All inclusive fishing tours with no hidden charges. Personal, friendly service.


Fish Thailand

Thailand's leading team of elite fishing guides have utilized their lifetime's knowledge & experience of fishing in Thailand to create these exclusive fishing Thailand packages.


Fishsiam

Fishing in Thailand with Fishsiam. Come on a fishing holiday you will remember. Fishing at a stunning range of destinations with expert Thai guides

Other large freshwater species worth fishing for in Thailand


Arapaima (Arapaima gigas)

Thai name: Plah Chon Amazon (ปลาช่อนอะเมซอน)

Thailand status: Introduced

Max size: 440 lb (200 kg)


Giant Siamese carp (Catlocarpio Siamensis)

Thai name: Plah Caho (กระโห้)

Thailand status: Native

Max size: 661 lb (300 kg)


Giant Freshwater Stingray (Himantura Chaophraya)

Thai name: Pla Krabaen (ราหูน้ำจืด)

Thailand status: Native

Max size: 660 lb (300 kg)


Alligator Gar (Atractosteus Spatula)

Thai name: Plah Jarrake (จระเข้)

Thailand status: Introduced

Max size: 308 lb (140 kg)

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