Fishing is an activity where everybody would like to think that they know everything . . . until the fish teaches them something.
Sometimes, I surprise myself. It was not that long ago that I swore myself off deep-sea fishing after one particularly horrendous trip marred by inclement weather that had my guts in knots.
Yet here I was, on the deck of the Sea Monkey with one foot propped on the anchor chain and the wind in my teeth, bravely going where I had gone so many times before . . . Seasick Land.
So why do I keep going back? It is because of that seductive siren’s song, with lyrics that tell of boundless bounty with scales of gold, fins of silver and eyes of rubies.
We had left the fishing town of Kuala Sepetang, Perak at 3pm and arrived at our first location just before sunset. As the Sea Monkey positioned for the anchor drop, my seafaring sifu, Ken, and his team of seasoned veterans attached the wires of their electric reels to the car batteries each of them had lugged aboard. These guys take their fishing seriously.
On the other hand, me and my fisho accomplice, Kevin Poh, had decided earlier that this would be a test trip for us to try an alternative method of fishing, known as “jigging” .
Neither of us had any real exposure to this art but thanks to the Internet and some desperate consultation with a couple of regular jiggers, we were now kinda good to go. Or so we thought.
As Ken and the gang put their electric reels into reverse mode to lower their baited rigs, Kevin and I flipped in our jigs, which are essentially heavy pieces of metal made to look like baitfish.
The premise for jigging is simple — just drop the darn thing to the bottom and bring it back up in an erratic, jerking motion. Somewhere along the way — it is hoped — a predatory fish would be sufficiently interested or irritated by your weird looking “fish” to chomp on it.
How hard can it be, right?
The first half hour, we were enthusiastic. We pumped and jigged, but nothing would so much as sniff at our jigs, so we changed the colour of our offerings. Still no bites. Then, we changed the shape and size of the things. Still no bites. By dinnertime, our morale had declined to “sad and desperate”. It did not help that Ken and everyone around us were regularly pulling up delicious-looking fish.
Then just before midnight, Ken’s reel whirred with gusto, indicating a catch bigger than any other thus far. Golden snapper! Ken hollered for a landing net and one of the deckies promptly slid one under his trophy and lifted it aboard. As Ken flashed his teeth for photographs, I ground my molars in envy.
Sticking to the knitting
Surrendering to the sedative effect of the seasick pills I took the night before, I awoke way past breakfast. I kicked myself upon learning that numerous big scores had been chalked up. Someone had brought in a 5kg snapper, while our host for the trip, PL Chong, raised a grand grouper with a girth that was thicker than my skinny thigh.
Apparently, the sea beneath our boat really came to life close to dawn. Ken and friends had a ball of a time waiting on fish that ate like they were at a happy meal buffet — all the while I was counting dolphins in la-la land.
So it was time to get serious, and that meant going with what I knew best. Matching the rigs that were already delivering the goods for Ken and the others, I dished out juicy slices of kembung for bottom fishing.
Veteran seafarer, FL Foo, advised that the leader between bait and sinker should be at least three depa (arm span). Also, when lowering the bait, you should be mindful of the “thump” when the sinker hits the seabed, then crank the rig back up about 2m.
Apparently, the bite would never be felt with the half kilo sinker anchored in the sand. As if to prove the wisdom of his words, Foo’s rod bucked hard at just about that time. Foo tapped the assault button on his electric reel and the machine exploded to life. In high retrieve mode, these babies can winch in a metre of line per second.
As is usually the case with bottom-dwelling quarry, the fish is incapacitated once it is raised about 10m off its safe zone. The quick change in water pressure renders it “unconscious” and as good as dead. In Foo’s case, this was evident in less than 10 seconds. It was a prized sweetlip, with a pretty pout that makes you just want to smooch it.
Having seen the pro at work, I sprang to get my act going. Selecting a plump kembung, I pinned both fillets from it onto a dual hook rig and lowered it into the depths. I moved the dead bait a little to make it more appealing with gentle lifts and dips.
I guess I will never know for sure if it worked out that way, but 10 storeys down, a fish thought my bait was worth a gobble. The bite came up the braided line like a thud on wood — “Tock!”
My heart reciprocated with a double skip and my hands turned clammy as I tightened both palms around the rod. It was, after all, my first bite. The fish blasted off the starting blocks and burst into a sonic sprint. My PE 4 rod snarled into an angry curve and I knew that the twin Daiichi hooks had sunk home. But I struck nevertheless, just for good measure.
The fish was really upset about that, shaking and stomping all the way to Indonesia . . . It may have succeeded, too, had it not been for the steely 50lb braid I was using with the submarine class drag setting on my reel.
The fish, which did not feel like that big of a brute, seemed to have accepted its fate and came quietly, albeit with the occasional kick. It was a frisky kerisi dressed in its native pink outfit, with yellow and blue eye shadow to boot.
High five! At about 2.5kg, it was a good start. Kevin and I managed to box another two sweety lips before nightfall.
For the finale of our trip, the captain gunned the Sea Monkey’s engines for two hours after dinner, taking us to a much-praised shipwreck location. Visitors call the place Sun Vista, which was the name of the ship that now lay beneath us. Fishing here is tricky business, what with the ship’s mangled carcass just waiting to seize our rigs.
As soon as the skipper gave the OK, seven spiked baits raced downwards. As if able to associate the drone of the boat’s engine with food, the fish turned up like a rioting mob. The fish finder had so many blips that it looked like a flippin’ Christmas tree!
Naturally, it was not long before the electric reels started whirring and whining. Ken raised a racy rainbow runner, and then another in quick succession. At the front of the boat, someone brought aboard something heavy. It hit the deck with a thump and then we heard the drumming of a powerful tail flapping on the woodwork. It was a trevally.
As its school circled the boat, a couple more of these thugs were tamed in the aft section. The captain also jumped into the fray, scoring a pair of scarlet Japanese Reds. He caught a third one, but as he was bringing that one in, his reel suddenly went berserk. It was as if his captive had turned from Jekyll to Hyde. But just as suddenly, the fish stopped fighting and submitted to an easy retrieve.
When the load was raised, there was a chorus of awe — the captain’s catch had been bitten in half! Looked like the “tax team” had arrived — sharks. Another angler also had a 50% tax imposed on his catch.
I lowered a freshly caught squid and it promptly got mugged midway to the bottom. I wrenched the rod back maliciously, hurting my customer into a maddened fit. This one fought all the way up. It was a bratty barracuda with a hot temper, so we let it chill out in the ice box.
While the going was still good, I rigged up a whole kembung and put it on the seabed. Securing the rod in its holder, I turned around to wipe my hands.
“Hoi!” the angler next to me shouted. I whipped around to see a crushing curve on my road, but just as I reached for it, the load vanished. Reeling in the rig, I found the entire ensemble had been bitten off at the wire.
The guy beside me asked about the poundage of the wire I had used and I truthfully said “40lbs”. The moment I heard myself saying that, I realised I had goofed. But it was too late, the guy already had a “You idiot” look on his face.
Indeed, I was guilty as charged. Did I not hear them say that we were in the company of sharks? I thought I had it all covered, but the fish showed me otherwise.
No worries though, there was still plenty to go round. Ken had such a good run that his icebox runneth over, so he hijacked Kevin’s cooler. Fish were being decked faster than they could be put away and the stern area was a mess. But what a pretty sight it was.
As if telling us not to overindulge, Neptune sent clear warning of an imminent storm. The wind sang loudly and the waves began to dance. We weighed anchor and the skipper pointed the Sea Monkey’s bow towards land, which was a good six hours away. Having had the kind of results that dreams are made of, we all squashed into the cabin for a siesta.
Now that we’ve had one dream come true, it seemed the right time to dream up another dream…
Gettin’ jiggy with it
For the uninitiated, a group to which I currently belong, mention the word “jigging”, and one could be forgiven for thinking about the wiggly moves associated with that Will Smith song.
But in the angling fraternity, it describes a technique of fishing that its followers claim with sincerity as the only way to fish.
Unlike conventional fishing methods that involve the use of baits, jigging is a method whereby the only time you get your hands soiled is when you unhook your catch. While rods and reels used in jigging may be similar, the business end of the line is attached only to a jig — no sinker, spreader or bait.
A typical jig is basically a shaped chunk of metal, which may resemble anything from a fish to a chopstick.
Although jigs have been available in tackle shops for as long as I can remember, this form of angling has only gone viral here in the last decade or so. Of course, the jigs available these days are far more artistic (and expensive) than those I saw as a lad.
An “OK” one would now cost about RM30, while a “good” model may set you back more than double that price. FYI, those used by aficionados and self-professed pro-jiggers are in the RM80-RM100 a piece.
One distinct requirement for jigging is that it has to be done from a boat. You sink it, bounce it on the bottom and zip it up and down the water column until something tries to eat it. Regardless of how unconvincing that may sound, it is a proven way of catching fish. The Internet is stuffed with texts and testimonials.
For more “tangible” proof, one may look to tackle shops and its customers. There is this place in SS3, Petaling Jaya, that is the acknowledged venue for diehard jigsters to gather. Run by a mild and soft-spoken “Jig Jedi” by the name of Kenny, it offers photos, videos, equipment and even free advice on the art of jigging.
Considering the embarrassing outcome of my recent jigging foray, I am seriously considering signing up for one of Kenny’s much acclaimed jigging trips.
If anyone can teach me about “The Force”, I’m guessing it’d be him.
For the benefit of like-minded fishos, Obiwan Kenny’s e-mail address is: email@example.com. Better to be taught by a friend than a freakin’ fish, right? – Stories by Trevor Tau Fik