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Reeling in the viewers

Sittipon 'Oz' Chanarat, aka 'Bangkokhooker', started fishing for the pure love of it — and now he's a star on the Discovery Channel

An arapaima caught for the Bangkok Hooker show. OZ CHANARAT

To the eyes of your average Joe, Googling the words "Bangkok Hooker" may get you some strange, if not disgusted looks. But to anyone who knows a thing or two about fishing, it's a whole different story.

Sittipon "Oz" Chanarat, aka the "Bangkokhooker", is the go-to-guy for the most comprehensive fishing information in Thailand. He's so good, in fact, that he now has his own Discovery Channel programme -- Bangkok Hooker. Premiered last week with rave reviews, the high-energy series is a humorous and information-filled show following Oz's wacky and wild fishing adventures in Thailand.

"We stuck to Thailand but at the same time did very exciting things," said a slightly tired Oz, still jet-lagged from his most recent US tour. "Like learn how to fish with the locals, try to show grassroots fishing, as well as technical stuff like lures for snakehead fishing using soft plastic frogs that we make at home, as well as going to golf courses and catching an arapaima while these Korean tourists are golfing around."

As a poster child for turning a passion and hobby into a lucrative career, Oz has dabbled in everything from being an MTV VJ, to a reporter at the Bangkok Post, to a creative consultant at Animax. But nothing felt quite as right as just being out there in the murky waterways with a rod and reel, wrestling the giant, slimy monsters.

"The joy of it comes from the fact that one, you have to figure out how to do this," he started explaining. "You have to research what you're going after. Where does it live? How do I get there? What will I catch it with? What kind of lures? Rod? Rig? What kind of techniques? So when I finally get to that fish, it's all these things put together. So that's where you get the joy of it. You have that adrenalin high that you caught the fish, and you let it go."

Introduced to fishing by his uncle since the age of three, Oz became obsessed after catching his very first fish -- a bream when he was 11.

With no YouTube or Google available in the 1990s, he started digging into fishing magazines to learn more about lure fishing and discovered the giant snakehead fish. Seduced by their "perfect blend of aggression and beauty", the giant snakehead soon became an unchecked box on his bucket list.

Mid-fight with a giant snakehead earlier this year. OZ CHANARAT

It wasn't until Oz started working at around the age of 24 that he had the money and time to go out fishing on his own, simply to train himself to catch his dream fish. He documented his adventures on his cheekily-titled blog whilst still working in 2009, and it essentially became the first English-language source on sports fishing in Thailand.

"One thing that made my blog very popular is that I started writing about the places that I go to," he said. "When I started writing about the prices of these places, some of them had a two price system. They weren't too happy. [But] the honest guides are happy, because I was promoting a lot of local fishing places."

As things were starting to look up for him, tragedy struck. Days before resigning at the Bangkok Post, Oz's Japanese stepfather suddenly passed in a horrific car accident. Shocked and crying until his eyes bled, the only way he could cope was to go out and fish.

The day Sittipon 'Oz' Chanarat realised that he became a fisherman: July 11, 2010. OZ CHANARAT

"Right after he died, weird things started happening," he said solemnly. "I caught my biggest fish a few days after. I took fishing as therapy. Like many skills that you can learn, like many art forms you can practice, once you really get into it, once you become really passionate about something, it becomes the only thing you can focus on. The pain, the stress, the stupid things that society throws at you, you totally ignore. Suddenly things like class, culture and that kind of stuff is thrown out of the window and you're just kind of there with nature and the fish."

With this intense focus, Oz progressed towards creating videos on YouTube under the same persona. His charismatic and down-to-earth personality, great radio voice, and unconventionally scruffy look, whilst in addition to his informative tips and crazy fishing antics, racked up millions of views.

"I was always niche," he said. "What I wanted was to catch giant snakeheads and catch them on camera as well as release them on camera. All of this is a process which I love doing, and I kind of got good at it to the point that people started asking me to help them.

"It's been a lonely road doing it on your own. Sometimes you go out and it's myself driving alone for six hours to do some fishing, filming and editing. It's been a really rough time but I love doing it. I love what I do and that's why I keep doing it."

As Oz made more and more content, the first big programme that sourced him was National Geographic's King Fishers. A few years later, he was contacted again for the show Monster Fish. Then other channels like the Weather Network and Animal Planet sought him out to use his content for their shows.

"I finally built up a sort of resume in the fishing TV world, and finally one production tried to pitch a show with me to one of the channels," he said. "After two years of trying, we finally got the right slot, right pitch, and Bangkok Hooker came to be as a mini-series of three episodes on the Discovery Channel."

Though his persona may that of a bit of a goofball on TV, Oz is now using his rising profile to advocate on more serious issues like sustainable fishing practices in Thailand. Because Thailand doesn't have a game and wildlife department like that of the United States, we are essentially destroying our own natural habitat.

"For example in the US, each state would have their own game and wildlife department. People buy a licence and the money goes back into wildlife to increase the fish population. The government actually spends money creating habitats for fish in the water. Here the locals will go out, put long lines of nets, catch it and sell it to the market. This doesn't have a long term benefit to anyone. The fishermen who do the netting -- they do it to survive, but it's a practice that will keep them poor. The fish are diminishing, and secondly, the pollution caused by the nets...so many times you go to these reservoirs and you see these old empty rotting dents with old fish stuck in it."

Sittipon 'Oz' Chanarat attempts urban fishing in Bangkok's canals on the Discovery Channel show.

Oz's idea is to promote Thailand as a sports-fishing hotspot -- where tourists can come to catch and release fish like he does. The locals then can make money off of the tourists instead of continuing their unsustainable practices.

"I find that it's not the best solution but it's a damned good one," he said, almost full of fury. "We're already 'Amazing Thailand', tourist hotspot of South East Asia. Why can't we be a fishing hotspot as well? People fly in here to fish all the time but we don't regulate it. The fish can generate so much income for the locals just by having foreigners come in.

"For example, if a foreigner goes to a guide agency to somewhere like Kaeng Krachan, he'd pay something like 8,000-10,000 baht a day. That money goes into the boat, accommodation, petrol and gear rental. So a lot of money goes back into local communities. Everyone gets a cut of something. The problem with guiding though is that they charge quite high in relation to how much things cost. The price should represent the quality, and the quality will never improve until the government's view improves."

Hopefully, someone in the government will bite, but as for now, Oz will carry on creating more fishing content, attempting to get a season two of Discovery Channel's Bangkok Hooker, and keep living the dream.

Meet and greet the Bangkok Hooker at his second episode premiere on Monday at Casa Azul in Ari at 8pm.


Discovery Channel's Bangkok Hooker.

Watch Bangkok Hooker on Discovery Channel, Facebook and YouTube every Tuesday & Thursday at 9pm Thai time.

To see more of Oz's adventures go to:  www.bangkokhooker-fishing.com www.facebook.com/bangkokhookerfishing Instagram @bangkokhooker

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