Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fish On!!!

Catch of the Day - 40kg (88lb) Sail fish

How do you break the monotony of the endless summer heat, the wear and tear of being a road warrior Monday through Friday, and a slave trapped within the concrete jungle? Answer: you get 4 of your co-workers together at 4AM in the morning with little sleep, but plenty of hopes of hooking into the big one, and drive 3.5 hours north from Singapore on a narrow and curvy road to the sleepy town of Rompin, Malaysia, to seek out and catch the elusive yet athletically beautiful Sail Fish. What follows is our Fish Story, but I promise that this one is all true.

No fishing trip would be complete without the gathering of a Motley Crew. Ours included Leighton, the Aussie who pulled this trip together; Jason, quick witted Brit based in Hong Kong; Cekiel, the American incarnation of a real Expat having lived in Argentina, Brazil, and now Singapore; Lonnie, an American living in Taipei who craved landing a trophy sport fish; and yours truly, your Blogopher and portal into this exciting trip.

Now being a fishing trip, one would expect hearing some real Whoppers or stretches of the truth, but we were fortunate to see by this road sign that in Rompin, Malaysia, B.S.-ing was allowed and maybe even encouraged. Having made the long trip on empty stomachs, we fueled up on strong coffee and Roti Prata and then headed to the docks to meet our awaiting boat. Once boarded, we motored out to the bait zone to catch live anchovies, since sail fish will not strike bait unless it is alive. This was our first chance to drop our lines into the water and even though we weren't hauling up monsters of the deep at this point, it was still good fun and a whole lot better than working in the office. Little did we know that on our first day on the water, bait fish would be the only thing we would catch, as the sail fish eluded us and sent us back to the docks unsatisfied and even more determined to reel in the big ones on our second and final day.

We retreated back to our hotel... and I do use that term very lightly. Its appearance from the outside did not give much semblance to the type of lodging facilities we all typically experienced on the road for work. But we happily found that outside appearances don't tell the whole story, as the inside was quite clean, had five beds, shower and toilet, and satellite TV. All we were missing was the minnie bar, but after a quick run to the local market for some frosty malted beverages, all was right with the world.

The next morning we all woke up with clarity and focus on our mission ahead. We pounded through our breakfast and couldn't wait to initiate our final day on the water in hopes of tangling with the sail fish. Leighton was the first one to hear his fishing reel scream as a sail fish bit the hook and then ran off like the wind. Leighton carefully set the drag tension on his reel not too tight or else the line would snap, but just enough so that the sail fish would begin to tire himself out. After 15 minutes of battle, Leighton brought the first sail fish of our adventure into the boat and posed with his catch. It is important to note that the sail fish are not gaffed by a hook to be brought up on board. After a lengthy fight, they are quite exhausted and can instead be hoisted up by the body and their long sword-like bill. After a short photo session, the fish are placed back in the water and released. Everyone who touches the sail fish wears gloves because the fish emits a natural secretion from its skin that is highly acidic and will cause a rash and burning sensation if exposed to human skin.

A mere 20 mins later, I hooked into my sail fish and the smile on my face said it all. Your natural reaction is to want to reel the fish in as fast as possible, but you must first allow the sail fish to run and tire himself out. My sail fish broke the surface of the sea and jumped clean out of the water as the two of us battled. We estimated that he took about 250 yards of line, which meant a lot of cranking for me to get the big fish back to the boat. You can watch the video of the final moments of this epic struggle between man and fish. My fish weighed in at 40kgs (88lbs) and would end up being the largest catch of the day. I was amazed at the fish's massive dorsal fin, which really does appear to look like the sail on an old Asian junk. As I held it in my arms, I could feel that it was pure muscle and an amazing creature.

We had several hours of downtime after my catch and it wasn't until early in the afternoon when we had a rare but exciting event occur: The Double Hook-Up. Both Lonnie and Jason had sail fish take their bait within seconds of each other. This created virtual chaos on the boat as both guys jockeyed for position and tried not to get their lines crossed.

After the excitement of the Double Hook-Up and the earlier catches by Leighton and me, the time had flown by on our final day. We headed back to Rompin with exciting tales to tell. We has one last triumphant dinner at the local Chinese restaurant and then piled into the van to make the journey south back to Singapore. This fishing trip was just what everyone needed. A chance to mix things up, change the environment, hang out with friends, do something out of the norm, and capture memorable moments to share with others. Now maybe the size of the guys' catch has expanded over time, but that is the nature of fish stories. They just keep getting better each time they are told.