an old stomping ground to take a dip in the Sailfish Soup off
always turns up... I must keep reminding myself.
is enormous and beautiful. I can't confess to having seen more than the tip of its
iceberg really, but I love it. In a month there there'd been cloudless
skies and turquoise seas, deserted beaches, (bastard) volcanoes, insane bus rides, Manta Rays, Komodo Dragons,
overnight boat journeys, diving, forests, dusty villages... and the
islands reminded me over and over again just why I love travelling so
much. But, despite all the adventure and all the lovely islands... there
had been just one little disappointment: the fishing. Of course.
I know. I can hear those of you who've been
regularly suffering this drivel muttering "Tell me something new..." But I'll be
honest; Indonesia finally broke my resolve, my spirit, and ultimately my
heart. Over the last couple of years of trawling round the planet with
some fishing rods there's been lots of highlights
and more than a few lowlights. But at the end of the day, I've been
trying to do it my own way, see as much of the countries concerned as I
can- and if the Fish God's have kissed my arse, then so be it. But
Indonesia should have been brilliant. The diving in the Komodo National
Park was the best I've ever seen: in just a couple of days we'd
encountered huge 50 kilo GTs, Giant Morays, massive Red Bass, Giant
Sweetlips, Tuna, Grouper, Sharks, Rays, Barracuda,
Mackerel, Napoleon Wrasse, Turtles and even the elusive Milkfish. And
the huge Manta that swooped up
to us through the azure blue of 30 metre visibility was a spine-tingling dollop of cream on top of the cake. But the fish are in
the National Park for a reason - that reason being that with all the
nets, long-lines, cyanide and dynamite flying around outside, it just makes sense for them to
keep their heads down.
into the eye, don't look around the eye..."
a pink one!" Like
kids at a birthday party the Sails seemed to have a thing for balloons.
is possible to fish in the park though, but it has to be booked
long in advance, its strictly controlled (though the barbless
hooks and catch and release are all fine and dandy by me...),
and it ultimately costs about a thousand US a day- which of course was
out of the question. But rest assured that if I ever get a
few quid in the bank, I know just how I'm gonna waste it! After
traipsing across the tropics for days to find a tiny, quiet,
almost deserted island, where I'd been tipped off that I could
do some fishing and rent a boat, only to discover it was pillaged-out, I finally bottomed-out one evening as I
blanked and listened to the
thud of dynamite behind a distant island. I later dejectedly shuffled back to the
bamboo hut across the perfect white sand to find
Lynne sat in the twilight reading her book, and after I'd had a
good whinge about the whole situation, she tended my
dented spirit: "Awww hun. When this is all over and we get back
home, what you need is a fishing holiday".
I recount that episode here for no particular reason, other than to
put that last quote on record.
gets grippy with another lovely Rompin Sail.
in front of the beak.
at the top I mentioned my edict "something always turns
up". And it's true- I shit you not. Through all the
resolve-busting disappointment of Indonesia (amongst others...)
my good buddies back home in Europe had kept in touch by the
email. And it turned out that the Dodgy Fen Boys Steve and Mark,
Danish Johnny and Jesper plus friends had booked up with Dominic
Sportfishing, and were heading to east coast Malaysia for a week of
fishing at Kuala Rompin- an old stomping ground from a couple of
years back on my round the world trip- for a trawl through the
Sailfish Soup that passes for ocean out there. After several
emails back and forth, a loose invite (all I ever need!),
change of flight date back home to
sunny England, and a fun-filled 'slop-over' in Kuala Lumpur with
the lovely Lou and
Iain (for which I still owe my liver the sincerest of apologies), we
were soon on the coastal fun-bus to Mersing and beyond on the trail of the beautiful
felt pleasantly strange to be back in Kuala Rompin again. It all
looked just about the same, the random ten foot tall watermelon
was still sat at the side of the road and even the same old Chinese fella
was parked behind the desk of the Hotel Sri Rompin across the
street from the bus station. We ended up with another cheap room,
dumped the bags, and sat at the best eatery in town for a few
hours, Restoran Rompin Bahru, as the lovely ladies there served
us cold Tigers and hot prawn noodle soups, and we awaited the boy's
arrival back in port after yet another hellish day catching
under the warm tropical sunshine.
Steve and Johnny and the boys turned up back at port that
evening, the Sailfish were clearly out to play, and were having
some murder and mayhem out there on the deep blue briny- after
play with the nice Sailfish". Bob The Scad looks a tad startled that his
to go a bit tits-up.
Sailfish Division gave us several fly-bys.
had already caught loads of them, along
with some other bits and bobs, they'd snorkelled with a lot more, and Dominic had arranged for them
to see how the
other half sleep for a night out on a stick fishing
village right in the middle of the sea- a
unique experience and good fun for all.
By the time we'd devoured a huge table
of the best
seafood that night,
then drank a case of Tiger and
extolled the fighting virtues of
Sailfish on repeat mode
for a couple of hours,
popped 'til he dropped at the bows, but "Um Sailfish
no want um plastic, him want um meat", as the saying
was ready to go and hit the ocean and soak some Scad right there and
stop of the morning, and the Sabiki rigs soon brought
strings of small
Indian Mackerel and Scad fluttering in the boat, and
once there were enough in
the tank, the 4-strokes soon had us over the grounds and
drifting amongst the Sails.
Johnny kindly insisted that I get a Sailfish first- I
think it was some kind of sympathy vote-
and our capable guide, Ace 1, soon had a couple of Scad
fluttering out the back some
four metres under a couple of kiddie's balloons. And to
be honest, it took no time at all
for one of them to get eaten- but somehow it managed to
spit the circle hook before the
fight got underway in earnest. Next chance, and instead
of the usual screaming lock-up
the clicker on the reel just, well, clicked a bit. I
held the rod and waited, and eventually
the line zipped steadily, if a bit sluggishly, from the
spool. Heart fluttering, I wound down
and set the hook... the rod hooped over... the reel
buzzed a bit... and about five pounds of
Spanish Mackerel came splattering to the boat. Nice.
Still, I suppose that sorted the lunchtime sashimi out.
there we go- my first fish in the boat, and not even a Sailfish! I'd
been wondering for a while if I'd finally lost my Fishing Mojo, and
after this I was really thinking it... surely I couldn't come to
Sailfish manna and not get one. Could I?
really should have known better. Next up, one after the other my friends
all went on to get a fish or two in the boat, and by the time my next
stint on strike came round I was sure it had got to be on. And within
fifteen minutes a crazy neon billfish was throwing it's weight around
miles back from the stern, wildly spinning across the surface one
minute, then screeching fifty metres of braid off the reel the next. I'd
forgotten what spectacular fighters these things are, and even nearing
the boat, a few more leaps and some zipping surges had to be negotiated
before Ace could grab it by the beak
and drag it aboard for a holiday snap. Easy as that. In fact I'd
forgotten just how easy fishing can be... when you've got a good boat,
engines that work, a sea full of fish, some bait and a skipper who
really knows what
he's doing!! It had been a while...
so this just left our Lynne to have a tussle with one. She maintained
she wasn't bothered, Johnny kept
advantage of the chaos, Dr Evil slipped himself in amongst a pile of knees.
Crafty... You've gotta watch him.
that she should be, and so she took her place in the turret. By then the
Sails must have been on the lookout for balloons, cos within twenty minutes
they'd found Scad and she was getting her arms pulled off.
Ten minutes later, she was sweating (sorry, perspiring) and panting
while the loopy fish was on it's 6th lap of the boat. It all made a bit of a change from
winding in half pound Snapper and Triggerfish:
"And you lot really do this for fun? I think I like the little ones..."
Eventually the hooked fish realised it was on a hiding to nothing in the
stubbornness stakes and gave in, and as Ace dropped it in her lap for a
cuddle, the cameras clicked and Lynne gave us a big grin. Happy days and
all that, though for some reason I don't think she actually bought it
when I declared she was now officially Living The Dream.
course, aside from all the fish that were boated and
released, there were several more that either spat the bait
or the hook, and all in all it was an eventful day out on
the sea. Working our way through another monster table full
of fat garlic prawns, sautéed squid, steamed mackerel and
delicious crab in chilli sauce down at the Rompin
night... washed down with another couple of cases of Tiger, some
Johnny Walker and anything else that loomed into view...
banter was of leaping Sails,
screaming drags and disappearing
braid. We had no idea just how much
more hectic sport could get.
hectic it was. Although the next day it
took me four goes to actually make the circle hook stick in
one long enough to get it to the boat,
the sport lifted off big style. There seemed
to be rarely a minute when someone
wasn't playing a fish; there were
double hook-ups, and even a triple,
"My life is shit".
you go, beak-face.
escalated into The Rompin
Sailfest. At one point I had a
particularly angry fish hooked up some 30 metres from the boat,
careering mostly airborne and roughly straight at us, spinning
wildly. Meanwhile Jesper had a fish on at the same time, which had
gone under mine but in the other direction, trying to braid the two
lines together... Great. My fish kept throwing itself from the water
over and over as I struggled to keep up, and while the boys were
laughing and taking the piss (as per) Steve was still at the bow
chucking his poppers around to try and raise another (as if having
two fish hooked up wasn't enough...). Suddenly, there was a huge
"Kersploosh!" right under the boat behind Steve.
"What the hell was that??!!" he shouted.
"I think it was this bloody fish mate" I answered. Steve
looked down to try and get a glimpse, but instead of a neon blue Sailfish zipping under the surface, there was
only a navy blue bikini flapping around on top of it.
"No it wasn't mate..." and he burst into laughter.
As Lynne spluttered back over the transom, it appeared that she
thought she'd preserve her modesty (of course...) by having a bit of a sprinkle over the side of the
boat as everyone watched Jesper
and me doing some knitting. But her calculations were a bit out. So
though she'd only bargained on shaking her lettuce, unfortunately she'd
accidentally locked the brakes and ended up washing the
whole salad, as it were. Poor girl.
Tres Honchos steaming back to the Rompin Jetty at the end of another
8 hours of sheer hell....
& Jesper donned the snorkels to get some underwater shots of the
Sailfish during the fight... which
lead to some interesting 'cheese wire' moments back at boat side!
a footnote, I'd like to report that both Sailfish were boated
safely and released
unharmed, and although mildly traumatised I understand they have since made a full
established method for catching Sails out in Rompin is drifting or
(very) slow trolling with livebaits set under balloons some 50 to
100 metres back from the boat. And it clearly works very well.
However, another method employed is the use of surface poppers, and
this is something Steve intently took under his flapping wings
during our time there. For hours on end he'd stand up on the bows,
frantically chucking lumps of plastic out onto the surface like the
bastard lovechild of Zorro and Miss Whiplash, and then burping them
across the top all the way back to the boat. And the Sails were
clearly interested. Many, many times illuminated Billfish would
excitedly trail them right up to the rod tip, backs breaking the
surface film- dead exciting to watch. But the problem was that they
didn't seem to really want to eat them; they'd cruise up behind the
lure, they'd knock it with their beak, they'd shy away at the last
minute... anything but really nail the bloody thing! Nevertheless,
accidentally, it turns out that I think we all may have stumbled across
Jesper gives hugs...
...while Stevo hoists the Sails.
see, there are some big Cobia living
out there. And their curiosity means they
will often slink up right under boats
to be a bit nosey. To this end Mark and I
had set up a spinning rod each, with
fixed spool reel, 30 kilo braid, 4/0 circle
hook and 80lb mono leader, and then
simply freelined a little Scad just 4 or 5
metres under the boat- just in case.
And then we started hooking
Sailfish. I lost the couple I
hooked that day when they
melted 200 metres of line
from the spool and threw
the hook, but it was great
fun while it lasted! And I think
Mark missed 2 or 3 chances and
managed to boat another 2
heart-stopping scraps on his little toothpick rod and
work! And thus we realised what was probably
happening... As the Sails fluffed themselves up by
chasing poppers to the boat, they realised ultimately
that a lump of plastic and metal just isn't gonna hit
the spot. However... those couple of little Scad
right in their
asking for it!
And they got it...
on love, hold it arms length. Make it look halfway
day ended in the most perfect of weather- flat calm seas and
warm tropical sunshine. Mark was making us laugh with his
impersonations of a certain other angler acquaintance ("Vhy
iss it ve are usink ze green balloon vhen ve should be usink
ze orange vone?! Zis iss not gut! Zis vould not happen in
Germany!!") and another little flurry of action finished
it in style. Lynne had a really nasty fight with one when it
went mental, threw the hook, and immediately re-hitched itself
under the pectoral fin. It then spent the next half an hour
sounding around in the current wondering what the problem was.
And she thought the first one she hooked was a pain! The girl
done good though, and she determinedly hung on in there and
ground the thing down until it gave in and came into the boat-
a mighty fine effort.
fish were still feeding when we packed in and headed for dry
land. And us anglers were soon feeding heavily too, as the
lovely people at the Restoran provided yet another feast fit
for a fat-bloke... and yet again the piss-taking and banter
flowed forth. Happy days. I'd forgotten just how good fishing
amongst friends can be- especially when you just turn up, get
on the boat, catch some bait and then get your string pulled!
And after all, there are so many fish there off Eastern
Malaysia that it really is just plain rude not to.
After Lynne and I got the bus back to Kuala Lumpur (and
ultimately home after a 36-hour-never-ending-journey-from-hell
Colombo, Delhi, Milan and finally Heathrow... Oooh... but somehow we're still
talking!!), it turns out that the Sailfish
went even more crazy. The boys managed to boat 29 of them in a
day, and missed/lost nearly as many again, which is just plain
crazy. And Steve informed me on his return home that him and
Mark had spent the day up front with the "Popper &
Toothpick" combination and caught loads of them... Hmmm. It
might just be something worth concentrating on? Anyway, I'll let
you know when I go back... which I have to cos I'd love to catch a big
Cobia- if we can just get the Sailfish to leave the bait alone long
host with the most, Dominic- with his shorts on for once (just out of
a huge thanks to Johnny, Steve, Mark, Jesper, Kim, Claus, Peter and
Rune for letting us gatecrash their little foray into Rompin waters,
and to Dominic and Ian at Fishzone in Singapore for sorting
everything out there in what is probably the chunkiest Sailfish Soup
the world! Finally, big pat on the back to Ace 1, our resident top guide and
Thanks a million boys- it really was rather good fun!