The first trip of the 2015 season to Kuala Rompin. Me, Ben Urlwin and Jochen Kassan were making hoping to make a reprise of our previous April visit in 2014. Then we arrived on a hot Tenggiri (ak Narrow Barred Spanish Mackerel, Kingfish) bite and we were hoping to replicate that again this year.
Generally, early in the season there is a decent mackerel run, but the sailfish fishing tends to be slow compared to later in the season. So, the loose plan (depending on the current bite situation) was to spend one day chasing tenggiri, and one day fishing for sails. We would either dedicate a day to each, or (depending on the proximity of the current productive areas for each species), spend approximately half a day each day dedicated to each.
Me and Ben arrived by car from KL just before 6pm, in-time for a sundowner. Jochen arrived by motorbike about half an hour later. The fishing news was not so encouraging though – the day’s catch was low and both tenggiri and sailfish were slow …! We had a discussion with Anthony and decided to start day 1 trying for tengirri.
Day 1 (18.04.15)
Ben awoke early (Operations Geologist’s habit ….) and got some excellent shots of dawn over Sungai Rompin:
Sungai Rompin dawn
Jochen and me were up a little later ….! after the usual Rompin breakfast of eggs, nescafe and iced lime drinks, we loaded the boat and awaited our turn departing from the jetty. We then set off for bait and to fish.
The first stop was at a FAD to try for bait, but it was slow going. We moved on to another FAD which held bait in abundance. Whilst we were jigging up bait, a few baits came up bitten through – a sure sign of toothy predators! Captain Ah Wei decided to tie up to this FAD and fish for tenggiri (mackerel). Whilst livebaits were put out over the stern, I went to the bow and commenced spinning.
Meanwhile, the first bait out got struck but failed to hook-up. This rod was re-set and almost immediately got hit again – Jochen was on point and brought in a barracuda on c.3 kg that put up a disappointing fight on the light gear. It was a great looking specimen, but Jochen was unimpressed by the fight (compared to a similar sized tenggiri he’d experienced the previous year). After a quick photo or two, the fish was slipped back into the water, revived and released.
At the bow, I was trying a variety of jigs, plastic squid and feather lures (the lures that work well on the queenfish of Port Dickson), but to no avail. Finally, I jot a strike on a dark blue and red 27gm Jackson Pintail plug that unfortunately failed to hook-up. Small, regular tooth marks on the lure suggested a tenggiri was the culprit (my tenggiri curse continues …..).
We stayed at the FAD for another hour or so, but saw no further action. We spend a good part of the rest of the day bouncing from FAD to FAD looking for tenggiri but without success. It was just very slow. We then spend a few hours drifting baits for Sailfish, again without success.
We started to trace our was back to port via another couple of FADS. at the final stop, Captain Ah Wei spotted a turtle trapped in discarded “ghost” fishing net. After a few casts he managed to snag the debris and bring it to the boat. It was a mix of fish net and thick rope that had been in the water a while – it was encrusted with barnacles and had a mini ecosystem of small fish and crabs in attendance. The turtle (the type was a Green Turtle) was horribly tangled in the net, at the neck and at both front and rear flippers. When I first saw if coming to the boat I thought that it was already dead, but it raised its head clear of the water and took a gulp of air.
We quickly brought the turtle on-board. I grabbed it’s shell from behind and the mate began to cut the netting free. Apart from netting chaffing on the left flipper, the turtle seemed to be in good condition. After clearing all of the netting and giving the turtle a quick check over we released him back into the ocean. The rescue was captured on film:
We carried on fishing for a further half an hour at this final location. We got a couple of strikes that bit the bait clean in half but failed to hook-up …. the cunning and wily tenggiri again. with the afternoon drawing to a close we decided to call it a day, and determined to return to this spot the next day to try for tenggiri again.
Day 2 (19.04.15)
Ben was up bright and early again on Day 2, taking some more excellent dawn images:
After assessing the (poor) day’s catch from the previous day, we decided to switch species and start the session trying for sailfish. However, we new that this was also going to be slow, but with a better chance of success than trying for tenggiri again. In contrast to day two, baitfish were hard to find and we had to visit a number of FADs until we found one with baitfish I residence. After that it was out to the likely sailfish grounds, on the hunt dor signs of activity.
Unlike the previous day, there was definitely more bird activity. Unfortunately, a lot of it was associated with large schools of fast moving tongkol tuna (a.k.a. Kawakawa or Mackerel Tuna). Now these would have been fun to catch casting lures on light tackle, and we tried on a number of occasions. But as soon as we got closer, they moved away, always out of casting range. And they were moving so fast! On the other hand, there was hardly a sailfish to be seen …..!
We kept persevering, and soon started to get knocks and hits on the live baits under the balloons, occasionally hooking up only to reveal a todak (garfish) that always managed to spit the hook before being landed! Meanwhile, we also kept periodically working a large purple popper at the bow. Finally, after a couple of slow hours, a sailfish appeared behind my popper. Anthony already had a livie rigged up on a casting rod and dropped the bait just behind the sailfish as it tracked my popper to the boat. As soon as the bait hit the water the sailfish did a sharp U-turn and sank below the surface. I saw the live-bait flash and then disappear under a dark bluish shadow as the sailfish engulfed it. After a few second Anthony flipped the bail arm and the hooked fish erupted throught the surface. Ben took the rod but unfortunately saw the sailfish throw the hook after only a minute into the fight. Damn, it was going to be a tough day …!
After another lull, suddenly, out of nowhere, the port bait rod reel screamed as a good fish hit the livie. Captain Ah Wei was on it in an instant, set the hook and then wound down furiously as the fish ran towards the boat. He passed the rod to me as the fish veered to the starboard side on a powerful run. I thought it was a sailfish, but it didn’t breach the surface. “Tenggiri” muttered Ah Wei, “big tenggiri”. This was my chance, one of the species that I have sought for a long time (tenggiri, a.k.a Narrow Barred Spanish Mackerel) – I’d caught one the previous year, but it was small …. I wanted a smoker and this was the fish. Anthony urged me to keep the line tight, mindful that we were on mono leader. I kept the tension on and muscled the fish towards the boat. The wind on leader knot appeared, the fish only 15′ away, when the line suddenly went slack. The hook know loop came up snipped through. Ahhhhhhhh …..! That was it, game over. “Big tenggiri” muttered Ah Wei under his breath. Damn, damn, damn!
Disconsolate, I had a bottle of water and returned to the bow to continue popping. Shortly thereafter, I returned to the stern to answer a call of nature. Before I could commence, the starboard rod went off. I picked up he rod, let the fish run then set the hook on a small sailfish, the came to the boat easily for a quick release. At least we’d finally managed to land a fish, at last, by 1.30 pm!
The first Sailfish
After the sailfish, things started to liven up a little. We were starting to get more strikes, mostly from large garfish. Jochen and Ben both landed fish, plus dropped a few more at various stages in their brief, but spectacular aerial displays:
Jochen then raised a second sailfish to the popper. This time we weren’t ready with a live-bait and by the time we’d cast one out the sailfish had slipped away.
It took another two hours before another sailfish managed to beat the garfish to the bait. Ben was in action and made short work of another small sailfish – the fish were definitely smaller sized than average.
We kept searching for sailfish, and still had a few goes at school of tongkol. Infact, one school passed by within casting distance – I managed to fire of one cast with a red jig, but didn’t get a strike, before they were gone. We then took a radio message – one of the other boats had encountered a hot bite, but sadly it was too far away for us to reach given the remaining time. We moved back in the direction of port to try a reef location that could offer chances of sailfish and tenggiri, but drew a blank. We finished up be spending 15 minutes trolling lures around a FAD on the homeward journey, again to no avail.
So, we finished Day 2 with 2 sailfish and a handful of todak releases. When we got back to port we saw the catch of the boat that encountered the bite action. They were top boat with an impressive catch of tenggiri, dolphinfish, a couple of tongkol, and diamond trevally and an assortment of bottom fish and squid. Definitely catch of the day: