Ballymena man reels in 550lb stingray on Thai river
This is the monster stingray landed by Ballymena man Thomas White after a titanic two-hour struggle on a Thai river.
But there was a major surprise in store when he brought the 550lb fish to the shore of the Mae Klong River estuary for a photo – the huge fish gave birth to a live pup.
A keen angler, Thomas decided to spend his holiday having a go at fishing for giant freshwater stingrays, reputed to be the largest and one of the most dangerous freshwater fish on the planet.
"I like travelling a fair bit and I like fishing. Most year, I'd done beach fishing, but the last few years I tried boat fishing," he said.
"I'd seen guys on TV targeting stingrays with varying degrees of success, so I went fishing in Thailand and got 13 hooks on and landed 11. Most of them were 100 to 200lb but that one was the motherlode."
Thomas described his catch as "a true river monster with a measurement across the wings of 220cm and 451cm from nose to tail".
"Weighing in excess of 550lb, it is by far the biggest thing I have ever caught on rod and line," he added.
The fish was caught on a conoflex 130lb class rod with a Okuma Makaira 50 reel loaded with 200lb mono and the bait was live catfish. An arm-wrenching, joint-popping two hours 15 minutes were spent fighting the fish, most of which consisted of trying to break its suction grip to the river bed.
Thomas said the catch was too big to bring on to a boat "so it was brought to the shore for a photo".
"It was during this time the large female stingray give birth to a live pup, so it was a double whammy – one hook, two fish," he added.
In the photos, the young stingray can be seen lying on the mother's left wing. After being photographed, both fish were released back into the river. After hooking the stingray, the team battled to get it to the surface, using two bamboo poles with a large net.
"It took two hours to get it off the bottom – it was like trying to reel in a sheet of plasterboard," Thomas said.
"We got it into the shore where we could handle it a bit better. We taped the stinger up because we didn't want anybody getting speared because that can be lethal – the tape comes off later in the water.
"When you turn a stingray upside down, it goes into a state of torpor. So we had it upside down and that is when we noticed the small one coming out. Then we turned the fish over and got a few photographs before sending them on their way.
"I was quite dumbstruck – I've never seen that before in real life."
The giant freshwater stingray is found in large rivers and estuaries in Indochina and Borneo. One of the largest freshwater fish in the world, this species grows upwards of 1.9m (6.2ft) across and may reach 600kg (1,300lb) in weight. Bottom-dwelling in nature, the giant freshwater stingray inhabits sandy or muddy areas and preys on small fish and invertebrates. Females give birth to litters of one to four pups.