Catch Fish by Hand in the Delta

Located in the northern part of the Mekong Delta around 80 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, in the city of My Tho enjoys the advantages of having the long Tien Giang river, meandering networks of canals, immense paddies, verdant orchards laden with fruits all year round, and many traditional trade villages. These factors make My Tho a suitable destination for ecotourism. For many visitors, nothing is more fun than living the life of a farmer for a day.

Two tourists team up to bail water using a local contraption bucket
One of the most interesting activities to both foreign and local visitors alike who tour the delta is drying out ditches to catch fish. Local farmers irrigate their fields and orchards by digging ditches to carry water from the Mekong to the land.

The rising tide brings many fish, like snake-head fish, tilapia, catfish and eels into the ditches, especially after a heavy rain. To catch the fish, the locals wait until the tide is out, and then build dikes to block up a section of a ditch and bail out the water. As the ditch dries out, fish become trapped in the mud and can be caught easily by rackets, fishing baskets or even by hands.

Desperate catchers end up resorting to rackets

As participants of the tour, tourists are led to a blocked-off ditch where the fishing is to take place and given a ba ba suit, which is the popular clothes for both men and women in the South, to change into. Their next task is to bail out the water using a local contraption which consists of a bucket tied at the four corners with long ropes. Facing each other on the ditch, they work in pairs with ropes in hands swing the bucket to and fro in unison to shift water out of the ditch. Those who are not familiar with the farming in Viet Nam may find it difficult using the bucket at first, but they quickly get used to it.

The fun starts when the water in the ditch has receded to about ankle depth, revealing the fish trapped in the mud. A word of advice: Before getting into the ditch, wet your skin thoroughly with a bucket of water over the head. The sudden temperature drop will contract the skin pores and help prevent the mud from permeating deeply into your skin. Skipping this, you will find it difficult to rid your body of the farm odor afterwards.

Hey, I did it!

Now it’s time for people to jump down into the ditch. With many fish thrashing about in the mud, one would think that catching them is a simple task. However, the sticky mud which prevents easy movement coupled with the slimy, slippery fish all add up to a frustrating but entertaining experience. It is a lively and noisy scene, with people crouching, diving, slipping and groping in the mud, shouting with joy or exasperation. Most are covered from head to toe in mud.

Very often, one can spend a frustrating time chasing a fish to eventually catch and hold it firmly in hands, and then see it slip off into the mud only a few moments later. Deft hands are a real asset, but do not always guarantee success. One also has to be careful of the sharp barbs on some of the fish. These can inflict a painful sting if due care is not taken. From experience, rather than trying to hold on to a slippery fish, the locals simply fling the catch out of the mud onto the bank of the ditch where they can be gathered more easily. Desperate catchers can resort to trapping baskets or rackets.

The fun continues for an hour before all the fish have been caught. Spoils or the caught fish will be used to prepare a big lunch for all “heroes” of the fish catching. After a “drastic battle” with uneasily-defeated fish, all tourists are starved and the grilled fish is without a doubt the most delicious food they have ever eaten. How much fun is to become a genuine farmer in the delta for a day!

If you are interested in the tour, please contact: Saigontourist at 49 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. The telephone number is 8279279. The tour price is US$45 per person.  

By Phuong Lan

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