siem reap creek

Fishing Steung Siem Reap in Cambodia

Steung Siem Reap is a low-gradient stream in Cambodia. The stream rises inside the massive Angkor Wat temple complex before flowing through the middle of Siem Reap city. From there it flows through some large rice fields and trees before finally emptying into the expansive Tonle Sap Lake. The stream is impounded once in the city and again below that. The dams are impassable to fish.

In English, the stream is often called Siem Reap River. I am not sure why. The name literally translates to “Siem Reap Creek,” so that’s what I call it. It is more of a stream then a river. Especially when local rivers include the might Mekong River, which is one of the largest in the world.

snakehead from siem reapAn average Siem Reap Creek snakehead

Steung Siem Reap is severely impacted by pollution. The further downstream you go, the worse it gets. The stream is relatively pristine in the Angkor complex. Just outside of the complex it is inundated with raw sewage and trash. There are several open drain pipes that flush right into the creek. There is also a lot of pollution in the form of plastic packaging, bottles, and even the occasional motorcycle. High nutrient levels and low flow help plants to flourish too. They can make the fishing tough at times, but it is never impossible.

Siem Reap Creek is home to several species of fish, ranging from native to introduced species. Many people fish the stream for fun. Even more fish the stream for food. On most days you will see at least some people fishing the stream. Yet there continue to be a lot of fish in the water.

Fish species in Steung Siem Reap

Many different fish can be found in Siem Reap Creek. Some of the species include hampala barb, spotted hampala barb, climbing perch, gourami, three spot gourami, croaking gourami, silver flying fox, silver sharkminnow, striped snakehead, tilapia, Asian Freshwater Needlefish, Mystus catfish, freshwater pufferfish, half-banded spiny eel, peacock eel, Malayan leaffish, red-tailed rasbora, flying barb, princess carplet, and more.

There are certainly other fish in the stream too. Cambodia is home to a lot of different fish. Many of them live in Steung Siem Reap. I have seen some fish in the stream I was unfortunately unable to identify. There are also some obviously introduced fish such as guppies and koi present at times.

red tilapia steung siem reapI caught this red tilapia in Steung Siem Reap

Large tilapia are also found in the creek in decent numbers. They were probably introduced from flooded fish farms. You can often find tilapia around the round nests they clear out. They’ll sit on top of these bright circles when nesting. The red tilapia really stand out. They aren’t that difficult to catch, and people certainly like to eat them. Still it doesn’t seem like many people fish for them here.

The native hampala and spotted hampala don’t get much attention here either. In my opinion, they provide some of the best fishing in the stream. People do eat them too. Still most people fishing here aim either for snakehead or smaller fish that can be caught with a fixed pole and a worm or some doughbait on a small hook.

Fishing in Siem Reap Creek

I’ve caught hampala barb, spotted hampala barb, climbing perch, Asian freshwater needlefish, striped snakehead, and tilapia in Steung Siem Reap. I have fished the stream many times. I usually catch fish when I do. The best time of the day to fish is normally the early morning. The evening just before sunset can be good too. Fish can be caught throughout the day, but it’s often very hot in Siem Reap. That make things tough for fishing.

Locals who spin fish Siem Reap Creek normally use long and heavy telescopic poles with large arbor reels. They rig live frogs onto weedless rigs then cast them across the grass. A few will use artificial weedless frogs instead. They bring the frogs back across the vegetation on the surface, hoping for snakehead to explode on the bait. It can work, but I don’t find it to be the most fun or effective way to fish here.

freshwater needlefish cambodiaThis Siem Reap needlefish hit a lure

Other people will use telescopic poles in the 9 to 12 foot range. They tie a leader to the end of the rod and fish worms or fishy dough baits on the bottom just off the bank. They normally catch small catfish, loaches, and a few other species this way. Occasionally they’ll hook into something larger. I sometimes use this method when I am going for smaller fish.

Otherwise, I find that a medium action bass pole is plenty to handle the vast majority of fish you would encounter in Siem Reap Creek. I use a mid-size spinning reel rigged with 20 pound braided line. I tied a black barrel swivel to the end of the braid. Then I tie on a few feet of 8 pound clear fluorocarbon as a leader. Lures like the Original Floating Rapala and Ryuki Spearhead in natural colors work wonders here. I’ve caught lots of different fish on them. I just pitch to open spots and give my lure a few jerks then retrieve it.

spotted hampala barb from cambodiaA nice spotted hampala from Steung Siem Reap

Topwater lures and flies ranging from plastic frogs to the Umpqua Deerhair Bass Bug Frog Fly will work too. A six weight rod can get them out, but there’s usually not much room for a back cast. People might also give you strange looks since fly fishing is virtually unknown in Cambodia. I’ve caught a decent number of fish on topwater flies and lures in Steung Siem Reap. But I get a lot of short strikes that way. Using streamers like Muddler Minnows and the lures mentioned above I get more aggressive strikes that lead to a lot more hookups.

Steung Siem Reap fishing regulations

Non-commercial and recreational fishing is unregulated in Cambodia. There are no fishing licenses or any other rules in relation to individuals fishing on their own for food or fun. This makes it easy to pick up a rod and go fishing, but it can also impact the fish populations. As it stands, fish remain plentiful in Cambodia and in Steung Siem Reap. Commercial fishing and pollution undoubtedly have a much larger impact that recreational or sport fishing.

Many people fish for their food in Siem Reap Creek. Along with the people fishing long spinning rods for snakehead and shorter telescopic poles for eels, catfish, and leaffish, there are many more who fish Steung Siem Reap by other means. That includes everything from throw nets, jug rigs, and limb lines to gill nets stretched across the entirety of the stream. It’s not very sporting, but then it’s not meant to be. The goal for those using nets and set lines is to catch fish for eating.

From what I can tell, fishing is not technically allowed anywhere in the Angkor complex. You may see locals fishing anyway, and no one will probably bother them about it. But foreigners would likely be approached and told not to fish anywhere inside of the expansive Angkor complex. Fishing outside of the complex is no problem. So that’s where I fish.

Most people keep the fish they catch in Siem Reap Creek and other local water bodies. Only a select few will actually release fish. That goes for those using long spinning rods for snakehead too. This doesn’t mean you can’t release fish. I almost always do. I have kept the occasional fish here by request of people who wanted something to eat.

Siem Reap Creek fishing at a glance

Fish species present: Asian Freshwater Needlefish, hampala barb, spotted hampala barb, climbing perch, gourami, three spot gourami, croaking gourami, silver flying fox, silver sharkminnow, striped snakehead, tilapia, Mystus catfish, freshwater pufferfish, half-banded spiny eel, peacock eel, Malayan leaffish, red-tailed rasbora, flying barb, princess carplet
Closest tackle shops: Derm Krolanh Market Tackle Shop, New Places Tackle, Pov Fishing Shop
Recommend line: 20-30lb braid, 8-10lb fluorocarbon
Recommended bait / lures: Original Floating Rapala, Ryuki Spearhead, Lunkerhunt Popping Frog
Recommended flies: Muddler minnow, Umpqua Deerhair Bass Bug Frog
Nearby hotels: Lynnaya Urban River Resort, Treeline Urban Resort

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