Using a stomping basket to catch fish in Vietnam
Fishing with a stomping basket is a traditional craft that has been practiced in Vietnam for centuries. Postcards from the French colonial era depict this unique fishing method as a typical way for locals to catch fish. While similar techniques exist in other Southeast Asian countries, they have not gained the same level of popularity as they have in Vietnam.
Map showing the Red River drainage basin. © Kmusser, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.
The favorable conditions of the Red River basin, particularly in the Northern Delta, have made it the primary area where stomping basket fishing is practiced. In contrast, the Mekong Delta, which constitutes the Southern Delta, does not have widespread usage of this fishing technique. However, it is important to note that the Northern Delta has undergone significant industrialization in recent times, resulting in many riverside areas being transformed into housing developments or privately owned properties.
Stomping basket fishing requires specific conditions, such as water depths ranging from half-knee to half upper leg deep, along with a substantial presence of vegetation. Additionally, the area should be undisturbed, unpolluted, and easily accessible. Unfortunately, in today’s modern world, it has become increasingly difficult to find locations that meet all these criteria. Furthermore, due to the allure of educational and employment opportunities, most of the younger generation in Vietnam tends to migrate to cities, which further contributes to the decline of this traditional craft. As a result, stomping basket fishing is now primarily practiced in remote rural areas or in regions that receive protection from the government in order to preserve this fading tradition.
Equipment used for ‘stomping’
The fishing tackle used in stomping basket fishing consists of a sizable basket with a scoop-like shape, equipped with a long bamboo handle and a stomper board that has a holding device. Additionally, fishermen/women engaged in this activity typically wear a trapdoor basket for storing the caught fish, shrimps, and crabs. Moreover, it is essential for the fishermen/women to protect themselves against the elements while participating in this craft.
The scooping basket used in stomping basket fishing typically measures approximately 1.5 meters in width and 1 meter in depth. The frame along the lower lip of the basket is designed to be straight, enabling it to cover a flat muddy bottom effectively. To facilitate handling, a 2.5-meter-long bamboo pole is positioned in the middle of the scoop. It is crucial for the entire device to be as lightweight as possible, which is achieved by using thin and flexible bamboo strips for the weaving process. The main frame of the scoop is constructed from a pliable bamboo species with long internodes. Additionally, the pole is ideally made from a bamboo species that features thin stems but numerous nodes, providing increased strength to the overall structure.
The stomper board, on the other hand, is crafted from a thick bamboo stem with numerous nodes. It measures approximately 1.5 meters in length and has holes on each end for connecting the holding string. Unlike a permanent connection, the bamboo string is designed to move up and down, producing a rattling noise when operated.
To create a relatively flat stomper board, one-third of the diameter of the bamboo stem is cut out between the strings. Additionally, a 50 mm/2” hole is cut in the middle of each internode. These holes allow water to flow easily, resulting in the creation of suction-like noises.
Fish holding basket
The holding basket used in stomping basket fishing is traditionally woven from bamboo strips and features a woven non-return inlet valve. This valve allows caught fish to enter the basket while preventing them from escaping. The basket is securely attached to the bearer’s hip using a string or rope.
In Vietnam, conical straw hats have been a traditional form of face and head protection against the sun and rain for centuries. These hats help to keep the head cool and are highly effective in their purpose. To further protect against harmful UV rays, it is advisable to ensure that all exposed skin is covered. In the past, fishermen/women would often walk barefoot or wear simple canvas shoes. However, in modern times, waders with connected boots have become the popular choice for footwear in this activity.
Once a suitable fishing spot is identified, the operator will position the scooping basket as far forward as possible. Behind the scoop, parallel to it, the stomping board is placed and lifted using its string handle. With a forceful motion, the stomping board is repeatedly stomped upon, lifted, and stomped again. This process is typically performed around three times before moving the stomping board closer to the scoop for further stomping.
Afterwards, the handle pole of the scoop is swiftly moved backwards in a circular motion. This action aims to trap all the aquatic creatures that sought refuge within the scoop area due to the noises and vibrations generated by the stomping board. The scoop is then lifted up, and the catch is transferred and stored in the holding basket. This sequence of motions is repeated repeatedly in different locations throughout the fishing session.
The full-length video (abt. 1 min long) can be found here at my Video section.
Lessons learned from fishing with a stomping basket:
- The scooping basket and stomping board can be crafted using readily available natural materials from the surroundings.
- The technique of stomping can be quickly learned and mastered.
- This fishing method allows for the capture of various species, which can be used as a food source. This includes small fish, eels, shrimps, crabs, and water beetles.
- Ensuring adequate sun protection for all body parts is crucial during the fishing process.