This was the second (and final) trip of the year to Kuala Rompin. It was the Islamic festival of Hari Raya Haji (Eid al-Adha) on Friday 26th, so I was a bit worried about traffic heading east (vast numbers of people return to their home towns & villages during these event, known as “balik kampong” here in Malaysia, and traffic chaos normally ensues). However, it was my best journey to-date, reaching the Rompin River Chalets (where we stay and depart for fishing) in 3 hours 25 minutes (including a rest stop), for the 365km journey. I only encountered one truck on the entire section between Gambang and Rompin, and none between Gambang & Muadzam Shah, a first! So we arrive in daylight, and in good shape, me and my two sons, Siôn & Ceri. On this trip, we were going to fish with Aziz Daud, as Anthony Sullivan was resting up with a back problem.
Day 1 – 27.10.12 Weather: Long swell & slight chop am, calming pm. Alternating clouds and sunny spells Water Temperature:~30°C
The day started off slowly. Bait was hard to get, so instead of making bait at FADs prior to fishing, we headed straight to the Sailfish grounds & fished for bait simultaneously whilst fishing for sails – once a few baits were caught, they were run off the stern under balloons. Whilst this was happening, both Siôn & I took turns popping at the bow. Siôn went first, for 20 minutes before quitting under the hot sun, and promptly falling asleep! I then took a turn; there was no action – very little bird activity and no follows. Just as I was about to take a rest, a sail rose up, head and shoulders out of the water and took my purple Shimano bull popper. I set the hook and the fish tore off on a screaming run, taking almost 300m of line, before making a few jumps and then settling down. I transferred the rod to the stern and worked the fish steadily back to the boat, where it came in quietly, still full of colour for a quick boat side photo before release. Excellent.
We continued to drift live baits, the mate constantly jigged up baits, and intermittently popped throughout the day. We started getting regular action on the live-baits – the first fish unraveled my leader knot (an Albright) – my first knot failure on a fish, ever (much to my embarrassment). I quickly changed out all of the allbright knots on my bait rods to uni-uni knot connections. As the day progressed we took another 5 sails, plus 4 todak (garfish). We also lost two solid hook-ups to leader cut-offs (80lb fluorocarbon) – definitely on sails, which was very strange. Aziz suspected that the leader may be a pirated copy. In any event, we discarded it after the second failure. We didn’t get any further sailfish on the popper, bit did raise another 3 fish to popper during the day.
We had one close shave at the end of the day, though. Siôn had a sailfish (fish no.6) by the bill, when it suddenly slashed it’s bill. It just grazed Siôn on the cheek and we thought nothing off it. Its was only after releasing the fish did we realise that Siôn had a deep graze on his cheek – no problem, but too close to his eye for comfort. Even though the sails are pretty subdued by the time the y get to the boat, they are very powerful fish and can inflict serious injuries on the unwary. I made a mental note to be more careful in future!
One problem that I’ve never really experienced here before was birds hitting the popper. We’d already hooked a type of gannet on a live-bait, when the captain was messing about (I wasn’t very happy about it); when later, another gannet dove on my popper and managed to tangle himself in the line – luckily he was only nicked by the hook. I wound him in carefully, and then we untangled & successfully released him!
We were also lucky with the weather today – we were threatened with localized thunder storms on a number of occasions in the afternoon, but managed to pass by them, only experiencing a few drops of light rain!
The statistics for the day: – 6 sailfish from 9 hook-ups (including 1 sailfish on popper) – Two missed strikes. – 4 todak
Interestingly, I checked the fish finder for sea temperature – it was 87°F = 30.5°C. The water temperature is remarkably constant in this area, despite the recent increase in rain as the monsoon season approached.
Day 2 – 28.10.12 Weather: Calm, hot, mostly sunny. Water Temperature:~30°C
For the second days fishing, the captain decided to head to an island NE of the jetty. Apparently large numbers of sails had been holding in this area for the past month, and spectacular catches had been made. However, they had suddenly moved off a few days earlier, and the fleet had been struggling to find the main aggregation of sailfish (with corresponding lower catch rates) over recent days (yesterdays catch of 6 sails was considered poor by recent standards and for this time of the season). Upon reaching the island (my first time in this area in 5 years of fishing Rompin), we were struck by the low levels of bird activity, although we did see evidence of feeding sailfish and occasional free jumping sails. After a very slow start, we finally hooked up to a decent fish. Whilst my youngest son, Ceri, was fighting that fish, I worked a popper at the bow, and the mate kept a live-bait in the water at the back. Within 5 minutes we hooked into a second fish at the stern, which Siôn took on. After that it was dead for about 3 hours +. We tried popping, moving location, tying up to FADs, nothing.
Finally, at about 3.30pm, we found some surface activity and birds. After that, we had a manic 2 hour session where we hooked up 6 fish and missed a further two strikes. Unfortunately, one fish wrapped in the hook-length and managed to break off at my 65lb wind-on section and 2 pulled hooks. So, we finished up this bite with 3 from 6, including a c.5kg juvenile fish. I also managed to raise a number of fish, including juveniles, to the popper but couldn’t get any further takes. We worked hard for these fish – we always had a live-bait in the water whilst somebody was hooked-up on the off-chance of getting a double; in addition, we often had somebody working a popper at the bow to raise fish.
Interestingly, after conversations with Aziz, we decided to experiment with in-line circle hooks (versus the usual 5° offset circle hooks that we usually use in Rompin). I thought that they would reduce the number of hook-sets inside the mouth, which we’d been experiencing, including one fish bleeding from the gill cavity the previous day. I was amazed that we still ended up with 2 or the 3 afternoon fish hooked deep (although not bleeding) – I was expecting them to all be in the corner of the mouth. We also pulled hooks from two good fish. I know the sample is not statistical, but the results were worse than earlier in the day and the previous days fishing! After I returned to KL, I did some research, and read 5 or 6 scientific papers on J, offset and in-line circle hooks. These studies found a big difference between J-hooks and circle hooks with regard to deep vs. jaw hooking, with circle hooks clearly (statistically) better for jaw hooking and post release survival rates of billfish (versus J-hooks). However, very little difference was observed between offset (5°) and in-line circle hook behavior. So, in future, I think that I’m comfortable to stick with the Rompin standard offset circle hooks!
Oh, and after a record trip from KL to Rompin on the Hari Raya Friday, we set another time record on the return trip. We travelled back Sunday evening as the kids had school the next day. Ithought that leaving Rompin at 8pm, we would be at KL by midnight, and would miss the bulk of the traffic. Uh huh! I was concerned as we headed west on the Kuantan-Karak highway that there were long ques at each of the service stop petrol stations – it was a sign that a lot of people were moving, and traffic was heavy, but I was still making good time. I heard a traffic report on the radio of jams on the highway, but hoped that it was from earlier in the day. Suddenly, c.65km out from KL, we hit a bumper to bumper jam, leading to a toll station (this toll station didn’t have many extra booths, so a jam was inevitable). Once we passed that bottle neck I hoped that the traffic would be moving, but soon hit another 20km jam to the next toll booth. We went 25km in 3 hours!! And it was madness – people ripping down the hard shoulder, weaving in & out of slow moving lines of traffic. Lot’s of people just parked up on the hard shoulder or any turn-offs or rough ground to sleep, drink coffee, and just wait out the jam. Quite a few had overheated engines, too. We saw one police car the whole 3 hours, & they didn’t do anything! It was very frustrating. Then, as we hit the approaches to the Genting Highlands, the highway expanded to 3 lanes and the traffic suddenly started flowing – we covered the last 30km in half an hour, for a total journey time of 6 hours 45 minutes! Needless to say, the kids missed school! I won’t be travelling on a Raya weekend again (at least, I’ll come back on the Monday, not the Sunday). Ouch!!
Trip Summary: – 11 sailfish C&R – 4 garfish C&R