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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Feathers fly as fisherfolk turn to fowl tactics on Siem Reap River

Feathers fly as fisherfolk turn to fowl tactics on Siem Reap River

A traditional form of Vietnamese fishing in which live ducklings are harnessed to the end of the line and used as bait is catching on among Cambodians, with varying levels of success

Photo by:

KYLE SHERER

The duckling fishing process in action. After cleaning and securing the duckling, a fisherman patrols the Siem Reap riverside in search of a good spot.

AMATEUR Cambodian anglers in Siem Reap are adopting a form of Vietnamese fishing in which live ducklings are used as bait, after learning about its supposedly unbeatable results from immigrant workers.

But while the Vietnamese can use the method to gracefully reel in large adult fish, many frustrated Cambodian anglers are finding that the only thing they are guaranteed to land is a dead duck.

Sok Kon, a Vietnamese immigrant worker who practises duckling fishing, told the Post that the trick is to use the duckling to lure adult fish out into the open.

At first glance, duckling fishing seems cruel, with a live duckling used as bait. But the duckling is not impaled on a hook. Instead it is contained in a small harness at the end of the fishing line, and a baited hook hangs from a line below the duckling's harness.

During spawning season, Sok Kon said that many adult fish become protective of their young, and surface to chase away intruders, like the ducklings dangling from harnesses that venture too close to the infants. Once the adult fish is in the open and close to the line, it is more likely to take the bait tied below the duckling, he said.

Sok Kon said the technique requires a steady hand and a great deal of finesse, adding that, if done properly, the duckling is recovered free of harm.

But, unfortunately for the ducklings, the Cambodian technique is still a little rough around the edges, and a new sound on the Siem Reap riverside is the whizzing noise of ducklings being swung through the air as anglers hurriedly pull in the line, often followed by a muffled splat.

Sok Kon is a construction worker in Siem Reap and fishes on his lunch breaks and days off. His father taught him how to fish with ducklings when he was a child, and so far he has schooled five of his Cambodian co-workers in the practice.

Demonstrating the art of duckling fishing in Cambodia on the bank of the Siem Reap River, Sok Kon gently harnessed a duckling to the end of a fishing line and scoured the water for a school of baby fish. He then bobbed the duckling in the water, near the baby fish, occasionally changing locations and making duck-like calls intended to lure the fish.

In contrast to Sok Kon's methods is the Cambodian version, as evidenced by a fisherman near the Old Market Bridge. After casually scoping the scene, he unscrewed the lid of an empty water tub and tipped out three mangy ducklings, which were given a quick brush over with a cloth before one was strung up and tied to the line.

The fisherman trawled the river, and periodically plopped the duckling into the water. Unlike Sok Kon, who gently bobbed the duckling in the water, the fisherman took more of a yo-yo approach to the task. Occasionally, feeling a twitch in the line, he yanked it out of the water and swung it overhead, exposing the duckling to G-forces normally reserved for training astronauts.

Depending on how graceful the landing was, and the degree of damage to baby bird, he then re-secured the duckling to the line,  or returned to the duck bucket for a new candidate.

Needless to say, he failed to catch a fish.

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