My friend and colleague Gareth, soon to be departing from Malaysia, asked me if I could organise a trip to Rompin – he was keen to get a trip in as part of his Malaysia “bucket-list” of things to try. Unfortunately I was just too busy with work and personal matters and was unsure even if I would be able to join the trip. I passed him the details of my fishing guide, Anthony Sullivan (http://www.hook-line-sinker.net). He organised a trip in mid June and managed to get a boat that could accommodate 5 anglers. I wanted to go too, but still had a lot of outstanding commitments to sort out.
As luck would have it, I managed to get on the trip together with Gareth, Jochen and Tom from work and Gareth’s mate Justin Lewis, who flew in from Oz just for the fishing weekend. I did have some reservations regarding the fishing though – the past season had been unusually poor, me and Jochen had already had a slow trip back in April and June is not usually renowned for it’s fishing quality. In fact, this was my first ever visit during this month of the year. But the real reason for this trip was to give Gareth and bit of a send off and have a boozy lads weekend. Good fishing would be a bonus.
So, the scene was set. Me, Gareth, Justin and Tom headed out from KL just after 2 pm for the long drive to Kuala Rompin on the east coast. It was a luxury for me not to have to drive – I could sit back and relax. Jochen, as usual, was taking the opportunity to have a run on his motorcycle. We arrived in Rompin by 6.30pm, in-time to see the day’s catch come in and start on the Tigers ….! Jochen arrived within half and hour of us and we enjoyed an evening of Malaysian food, beer and banter. I also bumped into my mate Noru, who was there with a couple of Danish anglers. Anthony informed us that the tengirri fishing, which had been good the previous weekend, was tailing off, but we could expect reasonable sailfish fishing (his guys had been getting 5+ sailfish per day). We decided to start off trying for tengirri and then switch to sailfish for the afternoon.
Besides two sailfish virgins (Gareth and Justin), I also had two new bits of kit to blood. I had a Stella SW6000HG that I was going to use to lure fish for mackerel (tenggiri) and a new (but 2008 model) Stella SW8000HG that I was using to live-bait for sails. The SW6000 was on it’s first saltwater outing (it had already proved to be a “lucky” reel on it’s previous freshwater tests) – I was hoping for a mackerel or two on it and was secretly also wanting to try popping for sailfish with it (I’d only brought 2 outfits for this trip). I’d already used the SW8000 in the salt back in April, but had yet to land a fish on it.
Day 1 (17.06.17)
We were met with perfect conditions – clear skies with only a light breeze and flat calm seas as we departed Sungai Rompin:
Sungai Rompin – leaving the jetty
We left the river mouth into the open sea and headed toward our first stop to collect live-bait and commence fishing for tenggiri:
Heading out from the river mouth
We arrived at our first stop and started fishing. Whilst the others started jigging sabiki rigs for live-bait I started casting a Jackson Pintail lure for tenggiri. I had a strike third cast and hooked up to what felt like a good fish. Within a minute my line went slack and I reeled in my braid minus the leader, lost along with a wire trace and expensive pintail lure. Damn – I’d chaffed my mainline the previous week on a large Amazon Catfish and had cut out the damaged line. Whilst tying the leader with an FG knot I notice some more chaffed line but stupidly thought that it would be ok ….. and paid the price with yet another lost tenggiri …. arrrrg ..!!
Meanwhile, the boys were busy filling up the live well with quality baits. Our live baits off the stern had also been attracting some attention. Unfortunately, our single-hook rigs resulted in sancocho’d baits without hook ups. After a couple of hours, with the action slowing and only one further strike on lures we decided to troll for half an hour before moving off to search for sailfish.
Trolling for tenggiri
We had no luck trolling, so called it quits at around 12.30 pm and started searching for sailfish. We didn’t have to go far before we spotted bird activity and sailfish feeding at the surface. I clipped a popper onto my light casting rod with the Stella SW6000 and cast towards the sailfish. I was immediately rewarded with a follow, and again with my second cast with a brief pull on the lure. And again a few casts later. The fish were hot and looking to feed. A few casts later I had another follow followed by a good take – my first on popper for a few years. I set the hook and the fish took off on a screaming and prolonged run, taking at least 150m of my 30lb braid. I managed to stop the fish and start regaining line before another run, some brief surface activity, then it turned and the hook pulled. Damn, damn, damn …… lost fish number two. But I knew that we were in for a good day – the sailfish were in a bit of a feeding frenzy and it was just before 1 pm during the usual “mid-day lull” period.
We re-set out drift and put two baits off the stern. We got a take almost instantly – Anthony passed the rod to Gareth to fight his first ever sailfish. After a short fight, and with some coaching from Anthony, Gareth soon had the fish boat-side for a quick picture before release:
Gareth fighting his first ever sailfish
Sailfish #1 – the obligatory picture
Barely 15 minutes after out first fish, we were in action again. This time it was Justin’s turn as he took over the rod to do battle with his first ever sailfish. After a 15 minute fight we had fish number two on the leader:
Justin fighting his first sailfish
Sailfish #2 on the leader
Justin with his first Sailfish
Whilst Justin was fighting his fish we had another take for a double hook-up. Jochen was up and took on the fight. Jochen is a seasoned sailfish angler and did a good job of bringing the powerful fish under control. This was a good sized fish and the biggest of the day so far, around the 40 kg mark:
Jochen with sailfish #3
4 hook-ups and three fish landed within the hour. Things were shaping up well for a very good day …..!! After these first three fish we moved slightly towards an unjam (FAD) in the distance that had large frigate birds circling overhead like prehistoric pterodactyls. This place was alive with sailfish feeding activity.
We tied up to the unjam and the first set at this new location produced yet another fish, with Tom taking over with only his second ever sailfish. Whilst Tom was fighting this fish, we continued to soak a live-bait off the stern and we soon had a double hook-up, which I proceeded to fight. The problem now was that we had to thread the fish between the floats and ropes of the unjam, which was particularly difficult with two fish on!
Double hook-up in the unjam
My fish managed to run under a line and I was beginning to think that it was going to be a loss, but the captian expertly manoeuvred the boat alongside, the mate picked up the rope with a gaff and the captain cut it clean through with a “chinese chopper” (meat cleaver). The mate freed the line from the encrusting gooseneck barnacles and I was still in the game:
Freeing the fish from the unjam … game still on!
With the line released from the unjam ropes I was free to fight the small, but spirited fish, and soon had it alongside for billing:
Sailfish #4 alongside and billed
Tom’s fish was a different story though. It was a much bigger fish and was fighting hard:
Tom concentrating in fight mode
An aerial display near the boat
Slowly but surely, Tom got control of the fish and after a good 20 minute+ fight finally had the fish landed, another good sized and chunky sailfish, probably approaching the 40 kg mark:
After reviving and releasing Tom’s fish, we returned to the unjam, tied up and trotted two baits out off the stern. This had been a fantastic hour and a half’s fishing – we now had each landed a sailfish and the pressure was off. But it didn’t take long before we were in action once again. Jochen stepping up to take on sailfish #6. It soon became apparent that this was a decent fish as it was fighting hard and taking a lot of line. The captain had to slip off the unjam once again to get this fish clear of the floats and into open water to chase the fish down.
Jochen doing battle with the hard fighting fish
It was a real tug-o-war fight, with Jochen straining against the big girl. After a number of long and powerful runs the fish eventually came in near to the boat. But it remained tantalisingly off the port stern, refusing to come in the last 10 m or so to be leadered. It was a stalemate for a good 6 or 7 minutes before finally succumbing to the pressure and finally coming to the boat.
Sailfish #6 – remaining stubbornly just outside leadering range
This was a big fish, a true leviathan of the ocean. Certainly the biggest sailfish I’ve ever seen and the biggest that Anthony has seen for at least 3 years. The Captain estimated this fish to be around 65 kg (c.140 lb), a very large sailfish specimen indeed and a great catch:
Monster Sailfish: estimated at c.65 kg
That was now 6 sailfish landed in two hours … extreme sailfish action indeed. But we were not finished yet …….
We had a brief “lull” of all but 15 minutes as we returned to the unjam and re-tied the boat. As soon as we fed live-baits off the back we were in action once again. Gareth was up for this fish – his second and sailfish no.7 for the day. Another decent sized fish, another epic battle, this one caught in detail on video footage:
Gareth in action fighting his second fish of the day
We were now approaching late afternoon, with 7 fish under our belt in about 2.5 hours of fishing. A feeding frenzy was starting to develop – first Tom snagged a fish on a sabiki rig whilst jigging for bait, whilst almost instantaneously both me and Anthony had strikes on free-lined livies. It was chaos, with the sabki hooked fish breaching on the opposite side of the boat before running through the other two line. I broke my fish off well above the leader during the ensuing tangle, meanwhile Justin took over the third hooked fish. It was Justin’s second fish and with his growing confidence following his first fish he made light work of his second, taking only 5 minutes to bring the fish to leader:
Justin working sailfish #8 to the boat
Whilst fighting his fish, we had yet another hook-up for a double, with Tom doing the honours this time:
Tom on sailfish #9
And, whilst Tom was in action we had a further hook-up for a double-double …!! This was my first decent fish on the Stella SW8000 and it tore off on a huge run, leaving my spool dangerously low on line. I started at the stern port corner and ended up going a full circle around the boat (a walk-around design) before pulling the hook …..
Fighting a sailfish on a Stella SW8000, another double hook-up
However, I soon followed up on my lost fish with another, this time solid, hook-up and brought in fish number 10 to the leader:
Sailfish #10 billed
This was another nice sized fish, well into the 30’s kg:
It was now approaching the end of the session, almost 4.30 pm. But we still weren’t completely finished. Jochen was hooked-up again at the death only for the fish to throw the hook on a jump after a long powerful run.
What a day it had been, 10 sailfish caught and released (from 13 hook-ups), 2 fish for each angler and one monster sailfish of c. 65 kg. We’d had double and double-double hook-ups. I’d also hooked-up my first sailfish on a popper for quite a few years and also managed to hook (and lose) a tenggiri – both on my new Stella SW6000HG (which is not quite as lucky as I was starting too imagine ….!).
These were great numbers for mid June, particularly given the fact that we didn’t hunt sails until well after noon. However, it was now time to head back to the dock for food and yet more Tigers …..! We were all looking forward to Day 2 with anticipation.
Day 1 Highlights – sailfish no’s. 1 to 5
Day 1 Highlights – sailfish no’s. 6 to 10
Day 2 (18.06.17)
We awoke to what seemed like reasonable conditions – still air and slightly hazy skies over the Rompin River:
Sungai Rompin and jetty, 7.30 am
After the usual Rompin River Seafood restaurant breakfast of omlet, toast and coffee, we grabbed our gear and set of down the river to begin our second day of fishing. The plan was the same as the previous day – try some unjams (FADs) for baitfish and mackerel (tenggiri) first and, depending on results, continue to pursue mackerel or switch to hunting sailfish.
It was a surprise when we left the river mouth to be met by a stiff offshore breeze. At the first unjam it was decidedly choppy, making lure fishing uncomfortable at the bow. It was also very slow. We made good progress with the baitfish but got zero activity from tenggiri. After about two and a half hours we decided to give up on tenggiri and return to the scene of the previous days sailfishing success.
Choppy conditions, Tioman Island in the background
When we arrived at the sailfish unjam, it was a completely different scenario to the revious day. although the breeze had dropped off and the seas were calming down, there was no bird activity – the frigate birds from the previous day were gone. I though that this might be a bad sign, but as we arrived one of the two boats already in residence was already hooked up to a sailfish:
Neighbouring boat hooked-up
After scouting the area, we selected our spot and headed into the maze of floats and ropes of the unjam. We tied up right in the middle of the unjam and started fishing, with two live-baits off the stern under balloon floats. Jochen headed to the bow and cast a live-bait out, and it didn’t take long before he had a take and hooked-up the first sailfish of the day. After a drawn-out fight which saw him move from the bow port side to finish up at the stern starboard side, he worked Sailfish #1 of the session boat-side for a quick release:
Jochen commences fighting Sailfish #1
We trotted out two new live-baits under balloons and had a double take and hook-ups within five minutes resetting our spread. Tom took one fish, Gareth the other. These were both good fish and a handful whilst still amongst the unjam floats and ropes. Unfortunately, after pulling the anglers around the boat, and with the Captain doing his best to manoeuvre the boat, we eventually ended off losing both fish. One to a pulled hook and the other tangled around an unjam and broke off.
Tom and Gareth, double hook-up
One of the fish that had tangled the unjam and broken-off was sill caught by the line to the unjam rope. Before we could return to the float to try to free the fish we had another strike, which Justin took for sailfish #2 of the day. Luckily, whilst we were fighting this fish another boat came to our aid and freed the sailfish from the rope.
Jochen was keen to catch some table fish to bring home from the trip. He put out a live-bait on a wire trace and two-hook rig for mackerel (tenggiri) on a trike drag setting and was soon rewarded with a decent strike and hook-up. The hoped for tenggiri didn”t materialise however, it was another sailfish. This fish put up dogged resistance and Jochen was in for a prolonged fight. After a good 20 minutes or so he had the fish close to the boat, but it held its position with the leader tantalisingly just beyond reach ….!! This stalemate endured for a good 10 more minutes before Jochen was finally able to bring the fish in. The fish was foul hooked at the top of the head, explaining the difficulty in guiding it to the the boat.
We had been in constant action since we arrived at the unjam an hour and a half before. We were then treated to the sight of a largish juvenile whale shark that glided gracefully past the boat, only a couple of metres away, with an associated menagerie of remora and cobia in attendance (my first ever whale shark sighting):
Following this welcome interlude we resumed fishing. I flicked out a live-bait off the port side whilst Anthony set a bait off the stern. I was using my still virginal new Stella Sw8000. I said to Gareth that if I hooked-up I would take the fish on my gear, but that he could take the fish if Anthony got a strike. almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth than I felt my free-lined live bait twitch and then felt a sudden jerked. I watched the line play out from the open-bailed spool, slowly at first then rapidly gathering pace. I flicked the bail shut and set the hook on a decent fish that set off on a powerful run taking at least 150 m of 30lb braid. After the run eventually stopped I started the laborious task of working the fish to the boat – I tried to regain line as quickly as possible (I’d already lost some line in the previous days tangle) and didn’t want to risk getting spooled. I managed to get the fish near the boat within 15 minutes or so, but it was evidently a good sized fish and was difficult to control. It made repeated long pin-wheels, each time swimming under the boat and requiring me to plunge the rod tip deep into the sea until I was sure that the fish had cleared the engines. This happened 3 times before finally snagging on the engine skeg – the captain saw the danger and helped me clear the line. Finally I had the fish on the leader – a big fish and easily my biggest sailfish estimated at around 55 kg. A fantastic first fish on the new reel, and sailfish #4 for the session:
Sailfish c.55 kg
We returned to the unjam and reset out baits. Gareth took the next fish to make it no.5 for the day. The weather was now starting to cause concern – the day had started breezy and with choppy seas but had been getting calmer all day. Now, storm clouds and heavy rain were evident in the distance:
Storm watch …..
We continued fishing, hoping that the storm would pass us by. Now we’d all caught a fish except top. I cast out a live-bait and garnered another take on my Stella SW8000. I set the hook and past the rod to Tom for fish #6:
Tom fighting Sailfish #6
Everyone had now caught a fish on the day. Justin, however, was particularly keen to hook-up his own fish. He spent the next hour or so trying to set the hook. He missed a couple of takes and then hooked-up, only for the fish to pull the hook within a few minutes. The captain notioned that he’d set the hook too early. Whilst Justin continued with his efforts, Anthony was coaching Gareth to a hook-up, and suddenly he was on for Sailfish #7. Within a few minutes Justin also managed to get a good set an we had yet another double on our hands:
Double hook-up: Sailfish nos. 7 and 8
Justin’s second fish, sailfish #8 being released
One of the fish we caught (I’m not sure which one) had a fresh (unrusted) sabiki rig in its mouth with exactly the same type of sinker that we were using – almost certainly the fish that Tom had snagged with his sabiki rig the previous day ….!!
It was now 4.00 pm and the trip was drawing to a close, with 8 fish under our belts. But there was still time for more. On the next drift we had yet another strike which Gareth took for sailfish #9 and his third of the day. Whilst we chased Gareth’s fish down, with Gareth fighting from the bow, I cast a live-bait off the stern and free-lined it about 100 m back. I soon had another strike for a third fish on the Stella and the 10th and last sailfish of the day …. another perfect 10:
It was now 4.30 pm and time to return to port. The storm that had threatened earlier had past us by with just a few spots of rain but now we were heading straight into it:
Into the storm
We were soon right into the storm, with heavy, cold rain and churning seas. We hunkered down for shelter and enjoyed cold Tiger beer, as the rain lashed the deck and blew in from the sides:
Then, almost as quickly as is started we were back under clear, warm skies and calm seas and were soon heading back up the Rompin River to the dock. There was time for a quick team photo before we had to rush to pack our gear, shower and grab a quick dinner before the long drive back to KL.
Group Picture (l-r): Jochen, me, Gareth, Tom and Justin
I’d never fished here before in June (traditionally the slowest part of the season) and had come on the trip with no real expectation about the fishing quality. But it had turned out to be one of my best trips here. We’d had great banter, good food and plenty of beers. But the fishing had been awesome, the perfect 10 on both days, with everyone getting their fair share of fish and action. Finally, we’d caught two really big sailfish, true leviathans. A great time – thanks go to Gareth for organising the trip and Anthony Sullivan for putting us in the fish once again.