Crafting a bamboo fish trap in Thailand

Learning the craft of bamboo fish trap weaving

Correct English wording for a ‘Lop’ in the Thai language would be ‘Horizontal cylinder trap with entry cone’. It is used for catching a variety of freshwater fish and crustaceans. This includes small snakeheads, catfish, shrimps, swamp eels, and many others. Traditionally, for fish trap weaving, bamboo, and rattan vines were used. Nowadays fish traps are also made of a steel wire skeleton and covered by nylon netting.

The intention was, to learn bamboo fish trap weaving and using nylon string for binding. One of our company employees in Bangkok had an uncle in the upcountry. He was producing Lops for his purposes and whenever he needed a new one. Mr. Boonchuay Gasun was a friendly and patient teacher. Due to my limited Thai language speaking ability, my driver, Mr. Bu, acted as a translator.

Carving bamboo poles into bamboo sticks

My first impression of learning bamboo fish trap weaving was a bit strange. Mr. Boonchuay hopped onto his motorbike and off he went. He came back half an hour later with some 3 m long, green bamboo poles of about 5 cm diameter. Which was an interesting sight. Somebody driving a motorbike and is balancing a bundle of long poles on his shoulder. We split these poles again and again until we had a heap of about 5 mm wide bamboo sticks. Not all of them were split straight, but the majority were.

Next, we had to round up all these sticks with a special bamboo knife. The split stripes were moved in between the knife-cutting edge and our protected index finger. Our blue cloth for finger protection looks good in the picture. But in reality, it only protected the fingers partially from the silicate-rich, hard, and brittle bamboo splinters. Luckily Mr. Boonchuay helped rounding the heap of sticks. And we finished the day with enough splinters in the index finger for the whole next year.

Crafting bamboo sticks into the various design elements of the fish trap

On the following weekend, we cut the rounded sticks into the correct lengths. And thereafter we knotted them with string into a kind of mat. As a next step, we cut thin twigs from a local tree and bound them to form rings. They served to hold up the round shape of the trap. On the following day, the most demanding work started. We crafted the inlet cone with thin bamboo sticks. The inner opening of the cone was of such size, that an average-sized snakehead fish could move in. He should just touch the sharp stick ends and not be able anymore to move out. Thereafter fitting all parts together (mat, rings, end ring oval, inlet cone) took us the whole day.

Making the backdoor design of the fish trap

Following Saturday, I had to craft the opposite side of the inlet cone. That’s the place where the catch will be removed and can be closed again. This took me, as a junior fish trap weaver, a whole day’s work. I even had to carve the shutting board out of a massive piece of Teak wood. And the bamboo sticks were very thin. Knots to the string have to be kept to an absolute minimum, as space is very limited. And it seemed to me that my fingers were by far too thick.

Finalizing the bamboo fish trap

In the following days, Mr. Boonchuay improved my work of art wherever necessary and possible. He tweaked the tensioning of the binding of the inlet cone and improved spots here and there.

Following Wednesday, I pushed off early from work. And picked up very proudly my own crafted fish trap from Mr. Boonchuay and his family. With that, we not only created a new fish trap but more importantly a new friendship.  

In the following years, Mr. Boonchuay was one of my mentors for traditional fishing in Thailand.

Lessons learned from manufacturing a bamboo fish trap

  • How to cut bamboo poles into thin sticks
  • How to defuse the dangers of sharp bamboo stick edges and handle bamboo knots
  • How to weave a bamboo mat
  • Design and crafting of fish trap inlet cones
  • The reason for the pointed nose at the fish trap back side

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