My wife’s friend, Julie, was preparing to leave Malaysia after more than 20 years in-country and was in the process of rounding off her Malaysian experience. She’d seen photo’s of some of my fishing exploits when visiting our house and remarked that her husband Geoff had been a keen fisherman when he was younger and was interested in doing a fishing trip before they left. The scene was set for a trip chasing sailfish at Rompin with The Greens and my wife, with my usual guide Anthony Sullivan (http://www.hook-line-sinker.net/).
The trip followed the usual routine – we left KL at 2.00pm for the 4 hour long drive to Kuala Rompin, to arrive just as the boats returned from the day’s fishing. We could get information about the catch, fishing conditions and, of course, enjoy a cool beer at sundown with spectacular views over the Rompin River. As usual, I started the trip with my usual dinner of pan fried tenggiri and fries, joined by the rest of the party, washed down with cold beer and red wine. After spending an evening of conversation and banter (plus more alcoholic beverages) with Anthony it was time to hit the sack and try to get a good nights sleep before the first day of fishing.
Day 1 (12.05.18)
We awoke to perfect conditions – slightly overcast, with light winds and forecast calm seas.
Dawn at Sungai Rompin
After breakfast we loaded out gear and headed out across the tranquil river downstream towards the sea:
Casting off from the jetty
Sungai Rompin views
After navigating the river mouth we headed offshore in search of bait and then sailfish activity:
Powering to the fishing grounds
Bait was hard to come by and we had to stop at a number of FADs (fish attracting devices consisting of submerged bunches of palm fronds marked by floats) until we finally managed to hook good numbers of ikan tamban to complement our meagre supply of selar and kembong baitfish. One bonus was that the ladies managed to catch a succession of kilo+ sized grouper at one stop, so we had the evening fish dinner sorted out early in the day. Finally, we had secured enough bait and made the final part of our outbound journey to the waters surrounding the nearby Pulau Berhala.
As the island came into view, signs of sailfish feeding activity also appeared as we saw small groups of birds milling about. Suddenly the captain brought the boat to an abrupt halt as we arrived at a small group of feeding sailfish. The captain urged us to quickly cast out live-baits – Anthony threw one off the port side, I cast to the starboard. Almost instantly Anthony was hooked-up and past the rod to Geoff to experience his first sailfish. In the mayhem that ensued the leaping sailfish managed to break off. But I’d left my bait in the water and had also felt it being taken. I set the hook and past the “spare” to Geoff to fight:
Geoff fighting Sailfish #1
With some guidance from Anthony (and some additional excited exhortations from me) Geoff played and landed his first sailfish, a nice fish of c.30 kgs:
Geoff’s first Sailfish
With the very promising start of a double-hook up on the first drift, at 11.00am, I thought that we were in for a high catch rate day. It is, however, the start of the slow period for Sailfish, and we had to wait until after the mid afternoon lull for our next fish. Despite repeatedly chasing small flocks of birds, it was evident that the sailfish were in small localised schools, and were moving very quickly, making it difficult to get the baits in-front of the fish. Finally, about 2.5 hours after our first fish, Anthony managed to get a take and set the hook on a powerful fish. Mako was up to the challenge and did well against a strong and dogged sailfish, only her second ever. This fish fought hard, with Mako eventually bringing it for billing after a hot and sweaty 15 minute fight:
Mako battling Sailfish #2
Reviving Sailfish #2 for release
Again we resumed the hunt for sailfish, making repeated chases and drifts without reward. As time crept into late afternoon the captain got a hit when bringing in a bait but didn’t manage to hook-up. Then, Geoff got a follow on popper and Anthony simultaneously got a hit that he missed. The fish following the popper took a ninety degree turn about 5 m from our port side and swam straight towards where my line was entering the water as my just cast live-bait was trying to swim away. Almost immediately I felt the sailfish pick up my bait and then run off the stern. I flicked the bail, set the hook and was on for sailfish #3:
Sailfish #3 on!
I kept the fish under pressure and soon had it boat-side for a quick picture, revival and release:
Revived and released
With the bite picking up as the afternoon wore on, I was hopping for another fish or two. But, despite the crew’s efforts, we had no further luck and it was time to make the long run back to port, as usual refreshed by a welcome cold beer or two:
End of Day #1
Geoff had been tracking our progress on his GPS – the trace attests to our relentless search for fish. We had covered approximately 140 km’s during the day:
GPS trace of the days movements
We arrived back in the tranquil waters of Sungai Rompin:
The Jetty & Sungai Rompin at dusk
After a quick shower we continued the day at the Rompin River Chalets restaurant where we enjoyed our catches of the day – steamed groupers and pan-fried ikan kerisi. All washed down with nice red wine:
Remnants of steamed grouper
We retired early for a well earned sleep after a long day. It had been reasonable fishing, not the best for Rompin, but not bad for the time of year. We’d landed 3 from 4 hook-ups, good statistics. But, more importantly, Geoff had caught his first sailfish so the trips’ objective had already been achieved. The day’s action is summarised in the following video:
Rompin Sailfish – Day 1 Summary
Day 2 (13.05.18)
Once again we were treated to perfect conditions. The plan today was to head straight to the Berhala Island area and collect bait at FADs close to there (as opposed to yeterday when we tried FADs along the way with limited success). Hopefully this would give us more sailfish fishing time.
Commencement of Day 2
As anticipated, the strategy worked and after a couple of stops we managed to fill the live-well with tambam – a fragile sardine-like fish, but like candy for sailfish. We then went directly to the Berhala grounds. We arrived to find birds and small dorado (mahi-mahi) breaching the surface. We quickly sent out livies, but to my and Anthony’s surprise, we had no luck. This set the pattern for the morning, repeat chasing to get ahead of feeding birds, set the drift …. and ….. nothing.
It was well into the afternoon and we’d not caught a single fish. We’d had a few tentative bites but had not had anything that we could set the hook on, just a brief tug on the line and a stolen bait. It was very frustrating. we decided to stop for lunch about 1.00pm, and set out two live-baits. My reel was set under an open bail arm with the line secured in a loop under a balloon tied as a strap around the rod’s handle.
I said to Julie that we often got a strike as we were eating lunch – one of the superstitious “laws” of fishing – that fish bite when you at the least opportune moments. Anyway, as we sat eating our food a small flock of birds slowly moved closer and closer, approaching from our port side. The birds, and feeding sailfish, then proceeded right past, and about 50m, of our stern. Suddenly, I heard a twang as my line was pulled from underneath the elastic balloon retainer. I jumped up, engaged the bail arm and was in action with the first fish of the day. Moments later, Anthony took a strike on the second bait and hooked-up fish #2, and he called to Geoff to return from the bow where he’d been doing some post-lunch popping. After some careful manoeuvring, and guidance from the captain, we soon had both fish landed, to kick-start our day (at 1.35pm!):
Double – Sailfish #1 & #2
Unfortunately, one of the fish died whilst we were reviving it, despite been brought in quickly and being cleanly hooked. This is a rare event (I’ve only seen three die in c.250 fish caught), but it does happen from time-to-time. But in the grand scheme of things, the sports fishing operation at Rompin actually helps conserve these fish – the sports fishing fleet help encourage and pressure the local commercial fisherman into releasing all sailfish caught. Even the Ikan Bilis trawlers are encouraged to release any sailfish that they inadvertently capture in their nets. So the overall effect is positive. Without the value of the sport-fishing industry these magnificent game fish would almost certainly be under significant commercial fishing pressure.
With lunch over, and two fish on the score-board, we set about catching more. As on the previous day, it was a frustrating game of run and gun, but with most sets turning up a blank. Each time we got close to feeding fish they quickly moved tantalisingly out of casting reach. But on the few occasions when we got the drift just right we were rewarded with a double strike.
The first came just over 30 minutes after our landing our first fish. I had a pick-up than was running out line fast. I set the bail and …. nothing … just a stolen bait. Suddenly, Geoff shouted that he had a bite. I looked to see line ripping of his open spool at a rate of knots. I shouted at him to flip the bail arm over and he set the hook on his first sailfish hook-up. The fish started frenzied jumping, and quickly running towards the bow. Geoff’s line was still pointing to the stern, as the fish had run towards the boat leaving a big loop in the line. Geoff cranked the reel like crazy to come tight on the fish. We were then treated to another aerial display as the fish made a number of jumps and cartwheels not far from the stern. Gaining in confidence and experience, Geoff soon had the fish under control and alongside for a quick in-water picture and release:
Geoff with Sailfish #3
Three fish caught and it was still only 2.15pm, the later afternoon best fishing period had commenced! But still we were frustrated. Multiple drifts without incident. anthony had one stike but failed to hook-up. All very frustrating. We were about to move again and the captain had called lines up, Geoff had started retrieving his bait, and as his bait started skipping on the surface a sailfish emerged behind it, chasing it down. I shouted to open the bail and suddenly line started ripping off as the sailfish grabbed the bait. Geoff set the hook and was in action again. Then, almost immediately, I too had a take as I was about to reel in, and closed the bail on a fast running fish, I briefly felt the fish as it jumped, and then threw the hook. Meanwhile Geoff was working his fish. Julie briefly had a hold of the rod to feel the power of the fishing before ducking back to the safety of the cockpit.
Geoff soon had the fish ready for billing, fish #4 of the day, another in-water release:
It was now 3.10pm, and we still had about an hour left on the clock before the long run back to port. Despite further efforts, we had no further take or action. It had been an unusual day, but we had landed 4/4 hook-ups, although we’d missed 3 or 4 other takes. Still, a good day and Geoff had achieved his objective of hooking up a sailfish himself. Once again the key highlights were caught on video camera:
Rompin Sailfish – Day 2 Summary
And that was the end of the (fishing) part of the trip. We still had an evening to relax by the river. The final treat was to enjoy the signature clay pot curry (in this case chicken) at Jame’s restaurant. And another bottle of red …..
The next day we had a roti canai breakfast at a nearby mamak restaurant before taking an easy drive back to KL in light traffic and good weather. Definitely a better end to the weekend than the usual weary Sunday night rush back to KL. A very enjoyable trip.