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Back To Northern India Pt. 4

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Revisiting an old stomping ground to take a dip in the Sailfish Soup off Eastern Malaysia.

Something always turns up... I must keep reminding myself. 

Indonesia 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.

Ok. 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. 

"Look into the eye, don't look around the eye..."

"Oooh a pink one!" Like kids at a birthday party the Sails seemed to have a thing for balloons.

It 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". 

Anyhow, I recount that episode here for no particular reason, other than to put that last quote on record. 

Mark gets grippy with another lovely Rompin Sail.

We're up in front of the beak.

Furry Kipper 

So, 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 at Fishzone 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!), 

a 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 Indo-Pacific Sailfish.

It 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 mental fish under the warm tropical sunshine.

King Prawn Balls

When 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 all,

"Go play with the nice Sailfish". Bob The Scad looks a tad startled that his day's about
to go a bit tits-up.

The Rompin First Airborne Sailfish Division gave us several fly-bys.



they 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,

Whiplash popped 'til he dropped at the bows, but "Um Sailfish no want um plastic, him want um meat", as the saying goes.

I was ready to go and hit the ocean and soak some Scad right there and then.

First 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.


"Jesus H. And you lot do this for fun?!"
Our Lynneth Living The Dream.

So 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?


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...

And so this just left our Lynne to have a tussle with one. She maintained she wasn't bothered, Johnny kept





Taking advantage of the chaos, Dr Evil  slipped himself in amongst a pile of knees. Crafty... You've gotta watch him.

insisting 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..." she whined.
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.

Of 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 Bahru that night... washed down with another couple of cases of Tiger, some Johnny Walker and anything else that loomed into view... 
the banter was of leaping Sails, 
screaming drags and  disappearing 
braid. We had no idea just how much
more hectic sport could get. 

Banger's Bridge

But 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,
as the
day gradually


"My life is shit".

Back 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.

Mi Amigos, Los Tres Honchos steaming back to the Rompin Jetty at the end of another 8 hours of sheer hell....












Johnny & 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!

As 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 recovery...

Cock Fight

The 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 something...

Jesper gives hugs...

...while Stevo hoists the Sails.

You 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



after heart-stopping scraps on his little toothpick rod and reel! Great 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
things dangling
right in their
eyeline, well
they're just
asking for it!
And they got it...




"Come on love, hold it arms length. Make it look halfway decent".

The 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.

Trouser Snake

The 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 via 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 enough.

Our host with the most, Dominic- with his shorts on for once (just out of shot).



Finally, 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 in the world! Finally, big pat on the back to Ace 1, our resident top guide and skipper. 
Thanks a million boys- it really was rather good fun!

Fishzone Sportfishing

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