I was going to write my own introduction to this email I received from good friend and leading angling guide in Thailand Jean-Francois Helias but another fishing buddy, Editor in Chief of Sport Fishing magazine Doug Olander, already beat me to it and expressed my thoughts so well anyway in the below note to his own magazine audience. I also know that our own TV celeb and author John Wilson who loves fishing in SE Asia has already led the way by placing an order with Francois. Paul Sharman, Editor – Fish&Fly.
Jean-Francois Helias is a fishing guide based in Thailand. He’s also as fanatical an angler himself as even I will ever meet; a skilled ichthyologist not by training but by experience and passion as well as a keen naturalist and a great photographer; an IGFA representative and one who has set a dozens and dozens of records —many species new to the record lists, and who has guided clients to a great many all-tackle and line-class records; and a good and respected friend. And one more facet of this fascinating ex-patriot Frenchman who’s made his home in his beloved Southeast Asia: He’s a true humanitarian.
That was evident in an email from Helias that came to my inbox a few days ago. I think it’s well worth sharing on a couple of levels. For one thing, Helias offers a revealing glimpse into a world that few outsiders ever see, which added a new dimension to what was fundamentally a fishing trip. (He frequently makes long forays, often alone, into distant parts of southeast Asian countries packing little more than a couple of rods, some lures and flies, documenting his experiences and his catches of many species). Also, be sure to click on the links to read blog accounts with photos by Mike Channing, for a fascinating account of how he came to visit the wilds of northern Laos with Helias.
Secondly, you’ll see that you can assist Helias in helping the fundamentally poor Hmong villagers of Laos while simultaneously getting some striking, unique fish art for yourself or holiday gifts, hand-sewn by artisans from these villages (as you’ll read and see in images below).
Of course you could make your own expedition to fish such places with Helias; if the spirit of adventure, like the force, is strong within you, check out Helias’ cool website at www.anglingthailand.com.
— Doug Olander
FEBRUARY 2010 – FIRST TRIP TO LAOS
Before reading what is gonna follow, I would like you to read first the content of a blog written by my good friend Mike Channing, an American angler formerly based in Laos, here. Mike relates an exploratory trip we did together last February in Laos. It was my first angling expedition in that country. I was not the same guy when I came back from the Lao land … I just fell in love with the place!
Here’s my story:
We fished for mahseer and various local barb species near a small village in northern Laos. I developed a real affinity for the people there. They really had nothing — poor Asians at their poorest, yet they proved to be people who would generally share everything they had with us, outsiders. I felt deeply inside that I wanted to give something back to their community.
The local school made of wooden planks was in a terrible shape. It had no luxuries, including no running water; the kids had to walk a very long way to get water and carry it back in heavy containers. The school had almost no books, nor games, balls for play, nor any sort of toys for the littlest ones.
While having dinner with the chief of the village (whom I had invited with his family to join us at the local noodle shop), I had an idea. I was going to do something from my heart for this people. There are times in life when you feel helping someone in need. When you do not hesitate a second but just do it.
Financially speaking, the period was not the best to me to give away money. We’ve had a lack of clients to guide in previous months, thanks to the current poor global economy, the weak dollar and British pound. But for a guy like me who has survived a stroke, my priorities will never be the same. Screw the money: I know too well that I am not going to bring any of it with me when it is time to depart from this world.
I could have bought myself a number of nice, brand-new Sage rods, Tibor or Shimano reels, or any other fancy fishing tackle, even traveling on a nice fishing trip somewhere with the amount of money I gave away that night. I didn’t care. It made me feel good to give what I had. There is no way we can do it all for everyone in need on earth. But once in a while, making the right move with a good heart brings nothing but inside spiritual satisfaction and happiness.
“We had such a great time fishing and afterwards we had dinner with the Village Chief and other village officials.
Francois very generously gave a large sum of money to help this poor community out, specifically the school.
They were so thankful to receive such a gift. I was impressed by what I had seen.” – Mike Channings
JULY 2010 – SECOND TRIP TO LAOS
Business for us, already slow, hit rock bottom last April when the red shirts helped tarnished the good image of Thailand as a peaceful country. With so much hype and exaggerated, horrific stuff the media love to show on your TV screen, it did not take long to discourage visiting anglers from choose Thailand as their next destination. Except for a few returning clients of mine who know what Thailand is about, all of a sudden I was being kind of retired. I had almost no one to guide. So, what do I do when no one wants to fish? Then it’s my turn to enjoy fishing on my own, either somewhere in the Land of Smiles, as Thailand is known, or traveling into a neighboring country.
I didn’t have to think too much about what fishing destinations I wanted to visit. When I learned that my buddy Mike was gonna go back to the USA for good, I decided I’d travel back into Laos, to wish him a warm goodbye in person and do some fishing.
Again, Mike ended up writing a great blog (with photos) about the first half of the trip I did in his company. Later, I went to explore waters further in Northern Laos up to the Vietnamese border.
Mike and I spent two days at the Hmong mountain village we’d visited in February. Fishing for mahseer is always agreeable though this time we were kind of struggling due to the muddy water conditions of the monsoon. But even more agreeable to was the chance to spend some time with the local people. Also we had brought with us some gifts: footballs and various games for the children, triggering lots of smiles on the cute faces of the kids all around.
As soon as we arrived, the chief of the village insisted we followed him. He took us to the old school compound, wanting proudly to show me where all my money had been spent. I can think of places in Thailand where you can bet my donation would have ended in the pocket of the chief or been shared with his buddies for whisky and gambling.
To my surprise, a brand new building nearly completed was right there in front of us. It will accommodate both the children and the elderly for any kinds of meetings, parties or other events. It has even a stage for the children to sing or play.
It touched me to have been a big part of that. According to the chief, my donation paid for a good half of the total cost for its construction. When they have enough money now, they’ll fully finish the outside and the inside (including painting) and adding furniture (tables, chairs, etc.). It just motivated me to help them a little more.
NOVEMBER 2010, THE THIRD TRIP TO LAOS — BRINGING THE RUNNING WATER TO THE SCHOOL:
So now, my intention is to both help them finishing that school building and take care of the running water matter over there. The chief has explained me in Lao language (very close to Thai, which I speak) how to bring the water from the river. I do not remember how many meters of pipe are needed to do so, nor exactly what pump system they need to be able to pump it. But I know it was quite a long distance and the estimation of the cost only to purchase the pipe was around 29,000 Baht (roughly 950 bucks).
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
For centuries, The Hmong women have practiced an elaborate needlecraft art known as paj ntaub to produce striking, colorful designs. The needlecraft is done entirely by hand, without the use of instruments for measurement.
So I have ordered from Hmong artists whom I met on my last trip a unique series of handmade embroidered fabric panels (which can be nicely framed to decorate home or office). (see pictures at the end below)
The panels are large: 27 long by 21 inches wide. They represent some of the main game fish of Thailand such as snakehead species, arapaima, Siamese giant carp, and Jullien’s golden price carp. These are truly unique pieces of art (see photos) that you definitely won’t find anywhere else.
To cover the cost of the shipping (around 1,200 Baht) to your home address in the USA via registered parcel EMS, I have set the price for each panel at 3,000 Baht (roughly USD 100) or 5,000 Baht (USD 165) for a set of two panels. (Certainly if you can pay a bit more and wish to, it will all to help the Hmong villagers.)
The money collected will be presented to the village this coming November, as I’m heading for Laos with clients for a third exploratory trip. We will have photos taken of that moment which I will of course make public on my return to Thailand.
We have agreed with the chief of the village to put a plaque with all the names of the donors engraved on it on one of the walls of the new school building. So for many years to come, there could be a tiny part of you in that little mountain village.
Please contact me if you are interested to participate as a donor.
Francois Helias (firstname.lastname@example.org; www.anglingthailand.com)
Top to bottom: Snakehead spp: Giant, Cobra snake, Emperor, Splendid & Chevron
Top to bottom: Dwarf, Splendid, Chevron, Cobra, Emperor, Giant
Arapaima or Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas)
Siamese giant carp (Catlocarpio siamensis)
Jullien’s golden carp (Probarbus jullieni)