The betta prima (betta prima) is a species of betta in the gourami family. A relatively unknown species for most people, the betta prima is a close relative of the common betta or “Siamese fighting fish” kept by many aquarium hobbyists.
Although this is not a fish most anglers would commonly encounter it can actually be caught on a hook and line with just a bit of effort. It is a nice addition to the life list of any specimen angler and an interesting fish all around.
Identification and ecology
The betta prima is a small fish that looks similar to many of its relatives its the gourami family. It most closely resembles betta pugnax which is much better known to aquarium keepers. Scientific literature I’ve read says the betta prima reaches a maximum size of around 2 inches (5 cm). The betta prima I’ve caught were closer to 2 3/4 inches (7 cm).
Betta prima caught in Cambodia
Bettas are commonly described as colorful fish but the wild betta prima is quite subdued. It has a beige to brown body with scattered dark markings. At times the betta prima can also exhibit an almost blue or purple hue. This iridescence is most commonly seen on the gill plate or tail fin.
Range and habitat
Unlike it’s better known fighting fish cousin, the betta prima has a relatively limited range in southeast Asia. It can be found from southeastern Thailand through Cambodia and on to the Mekong delta region of Vietnam. It has also been discovered on the Phu Quoc island off the southern shore of Cambodia.
Betta prima prefer cooler water and can often be found in forested areas and swamps where the sun does not shine directly on the water throughout the day. Betta prima appear to be more solitary which would make sense since they are related to the famed fighting fish. But they do swim along with other species. I’ve caught them among pearl danio in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia.
Fishing for betta prima
To say that fishing for betta prima is a niche pursuit would be a major understatement. I’m unaware of any other anglers catching these fish anywhere. Though our experience proves that it is in fact quite possible and not even that difficult.
The main obstacle to catching betta prima is finding them. They aren’t the most common species of fish by any means. But they can certainly be found in the right conditions. Where they can be found they can also be caught by means of micro fishing.
Our approach to catching betta prima is effective and reliable. I simply baited micro fishing hooks from Japan with small pieces of Gulp! Maggots and cast to the margins of pools in small streams. When we got the bait to the betta prima they bit without much ado. We’re happy to say that they swam away looking healthy after we released them with care too.
While we did use specially designed micro fishing hooks from Japan it is feasible that betta prima could also be caught on small light wire fly hooks. The advantage of micro fishing hooks is that they have small points. Even the smallest fly hooks are usually designed for catching much larger fish. But they almost certainly can work with or without bait.