Manually draining ditches to catch fish is a long-standing practice in several Mekong Delta provinces in Vietnam and if tourists are lucky enough, they might find themselves in such an intriguing sight during Tet (Lunar New Year) tours.
Tours to such Mekong Delta places as Dong Thap, Can Tho, An Giang, Ben Tre, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, and Kien Giang are offered throughout the year and is an attraction for foreign tourists.
Those organized before, during, and after Tet also appeal to a large number of local and international holidaymakers.
Tet begins on February 19 this year, with festive activities lingering on around one week after that.
Apart from the crisscrossing rivers, fruit-laden orchards, architecturally unique pagodas, and stunning seas such as those off Kien Giang Province’s Phu Quoc and Ha Tien Districts, the delta provinces allure both natives and tourists with one of their rustic delights: manually bailing water out of ditches to catch fish and cooking them right away.
Hoai Vu, a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper contributor, said he “relived” a priceless experience of his childhood’s memorable activity during a recent trip to his hometown.
The activity would particularly burgeon in his neighborhood around the 15th day of the twelfth lunar month, when tides begin to retreat.
Their bumper catches would be enough for meals for several months following Tet.
During the trip to his hometown, Vu observed that though fish were no longer found in abundance in ditches as in the past, the activity still brought a festive atmosphere just as in the good old days.
Two men are pictured clearing away water plants in a ditch in Phong Dien District in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho. Photo: Tuoi Tre
His neighbors and relatives divided the tasks among themselves, including clearing the surrounding vegetation and weeds and dividing the ditches into two sections.
The people then began bailing water out of the ditches either with buckets or “gau” (large wooden scoops) for the entire morning.
Though they were all sweating, they beamed radiantly with hopes for a good catch and cracked jokes all the time.
Residents grope for fish from a drained ditch in Tinh Bien District in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang. Photo: Tuoi Tre
As the water was half bailed out, fish, lobsters, shrimp, and even turtles began to emerge.
Young men dipped their arms into the knee-deep mud and pulled out large trout in the roaring applause and laughter of the spectators, particularly kids.
The people’s sweaty work finally paid off: most of them caught dozens of fish.
Then came the most appealing part, when they prepared the fish and grilled them right there.
These fish are part of what have been caught after half a day. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Everyone then gathered around to relish the appetizing food. Some even sang a few “ca co” (traditional southern Vietnamese music) songs and recited poems.
In recent years, fewer fish have been seen in ditches and rivers, while a large number are raised on farms and in ponds throughout the delta.
The practice of manually bailing water out of ditches for fish has thus been on the wane.
Even in the localities where the practice lingers, people tend to use pumps or fishing nets instead of buckets or wooden scoops and their bare hands to drain water off ditches and catch fish.
Locals are pictured grilling their fish. Photo: Tuoi Tre