My last trip of the season to Kuala Rompin, my annual trip with my mate and his son. This time, for the first time in over 3 years, joined by my eldest son, Siôn, who is currently staying with me in Malaysia whilst he figures out his next step in life ….! On this trip we planned to be chasing sailfish, but when we arrived the catch reports were not good. The poor fishing in the second half of the 2016 season was continuing. Still, we had little choice but to head out and try for sailfish and see what we could catch.
Day 1 (15.10.16) – Sailfish
We headed out around 8.30am and made the usual stop to catch bait. It was slow, but steady, and eventually we had enough, including a small squid, to head offshore in the vicinity of Pulau Berhala in search of feeding sailfish.
As expected, it was slow. In-fact, it was so slow that by noon, there were still no reports over the radio of any sailfish being caught. There were, however, occasional flurries of diving birds indicating that at least some sailfish were in the area and on the hunt.
Finally, after at long wait, just as after we’d finished an early lunch, Siôn raised a sailfish on the popper. I cast a live-bait towards it on a Lemax Storm Legend – Baitrunner 8000D set-up, but the fish disappeared quickly and showed no interest in the live-bait. But only a few minutes later, that same live-bait (which was by now off the stern with the rod in the rod-rest) was picked up and the Baitruner reel started to turn. I gathered up the rod and, after a slow take and a long drop back, set the hook on a decent sized sailfish that put a decent bend in the light casting rod. Abdullah took over to claim his first sailfish on his Lemax Storm Legend – Batirunner 8000D combo. It looked fun to fight a big fish on this gear, with Abdullah carefully bringing the fish under control and alongside the boat:
Interestingly, we noted that the fish had regurgitated it’s stomach, so the fish was revived and released without a photo stop. However, we got good GoPro footage of the fish underwater coming to the boat and being released.
The fish also appeared to have a deformed lower jaw, but other than that it was in good condition:
She still swam strongly away upon release
With a fish under our belt, particularly during the usually slow early afternoon period, my hopes were raised for a good catch rate for the rest of the day. But after that, it was back to complete tedium. All the other boats were also struggling. The main body of sailfish had obviously moved on to a new, as yet unknown, location. We continued to struggle, chasing the occasional bird activity or searching for signs of sailfish, punctuated by long drifts without any takes, even on the small squid bait that had lasted well over a number of sets.
Eventually, after moving once again and re-setting baits, we got our second strike. Siôn, taking a break from popping, was near the bow and came to catch his first sailfish in a long time, once again on the light Lemax-Baitrunner set-up. Despite his long absence from fishing, he did a good job of subduing the fish:
15-30lb class Lemax Storm Legend rod in a wicked curve ….
We got great underwater video footage of the fish, with a number of good screen-shots capturing the scene:
All the action was captured on video by Abdullah:
I was particularly pleased that we’d taken the fish on Abdullah’s tackle – I’d recommended the selection to him over a year before, and it held up well to it’s first sailfish test ….!
Following the second fish, we were soon in action again. Siôn once again managed to raise a sailfish on the popper. Both Anthony and I cast live-baits towards the bow, Anthony first followed in quick succession by me. The first cast bait was picked up immediately by the sailfish – Siôn actually saw it turn and take the bait. Anthony set the hook and, after an initial dive under the boat, the fish surfaced in a spectacular series of leaps and jumps. I took the rod and proceeded to fight the frisky fish, a battle complicated by the close proximity of another boat, that ungraciously decided not to move to give me space, about 50m off of our stern. I had to fight the fish with a tight drag, but it was no problem on a nice 2008 model version Stella SW8000:
Fighting Sailfish no.3 of the day
I soon had the fish subdued and alongside the boat, a good sized sail, for a quick in-water pic and release:
Despite the flurry of late afternoon activity, that marked the end of the action for the day. We were a long way offshore and had to finish up after another half-hour or so of fishing, by c.4.00pm, before the long run back to shore. Once again, it had been slow fishing for the time of year, but it was the same story for the rest of the fleet. We finished up top boat for the day on sails, going 3 for 3 – 100% catch percentage but crap numbers. However, Anthony’s second boat had abandoned trying for sailfish and had tried trolling around nearby Pulau Berhala, and had had 5 strikes from tenggiri, bringing in 3 fish to 6kg. Hmmm ….. that gave us food for thought for our strategy for Day 2.
Due to a combination of very slow fishing and serendipity, my much anticipated test of my FG knot(s) failed to happen. All fish taken managed to avoid my forest of rods on this day!
Day 2 (16.10.16) – Tenggiri
Given the very slow fishing on the previous day, Anthony advised us try our luck at Berhala Island for the first part of the second day. Everyone agreed, so we headed out to troll for tenggiri around the island whilst monitoring the radio for sailfish catches from the nearby fleet. We were fishing with Jim, the guide that had the tenggiri success on the previous day. Meanwhile, Anthony was to take another party on the hunt for sailfish and would give us fishing feedback throughout the day.
Out first stop was at a series of near-shore FADS where we soon gathered a selection of live-baits. We were in a bait rich area, that had also attracted some mini predators. We each in turn were briefly hooked up to powerful pelagics or had our sabiki rigs bitten clean through. “‘Cudas” I muttered. And, sure enough, Abdullah managed to hook one up and stayed buttoned to bring a small, feisty juvenile barracuda onto the deck:
Bait-stealing juvenile barracuda
I wanted to release the fish but the deckie, Bulat, was on it like a flash, putting it in a bucket with an assortment of other non useful baitfish that he was saving for makan in the evening. With the bait-fish being co-operative, we soon had a full live well and were powering off towards Berhala.
One we arrived I took a deep-swimming Storm 15cm Deep Thunder Red Head from my tackle box and rigged it with a set of treble hooks that I fished out from the recesses of my tackle box (I rarely use treble hooks but realised that you need every advantage that you can get with tenggiri). I was keen to use this lure as it had proven to be a good lure on kingfish (tenggiri) in Musandam, Oman, for a business acquaintance of mine and he’d kindly donated me a pair of lures to try. I’d fished them a number of times in Rompin without success, save for a single large sailfish that I actually thought at first was a big tenggiri:
Anyway, I wanted to give this lure another try. I also had a couple of Halco Sorcerer 125 lures in white-red and gold-orange, that are supposed to swim at c.8m depth, that I’d bought specifically for tenggiri and that I was keen to try out. Captain Ah-Ping looked at my lures and suggested that we put out the my Storm lure and his (old model) Halco red head, adding “let’s see which lure catches the most fish”. Now, I like a challenge and agreed and we set the two lure spread about 25m behind the boat. Sion was moaning about trolling, as he preferred that more active popping and run and gun live bait fishing, but that was not a good option under the current fishing situation. To cut the debate short, within only 10 minutes or so of trolling we took a vicious strike on the heavier port rod, the rod pulling my big Storm lure ….. I pulled the rod from the rod holder and could tell it was a good fish, and was sure it was a tenggiri. I passed the rod to my mate, who was first up on the roster. He took the rod and cranked hard, as per the Captain’s instructions, to try to catch up to the fish that was swimming hard at the boat. Just as we thought that the fish was off, he came tight, and the fish made a screaming run along the starboard side before settling down and succumbing to a consistent pump-and-wind on the heavy tackle. A bar of silver soon revealed itself as the fish came in off the stern port side, a big (for these waters) tenggiri:
Big tenggiri on Storm Deep Thunder lure
It was soon alongside and Captain Ah-Ping made no mistake, plucking it from the ocean with his first gaff shot:
This was a great fish, one that I’d been waiting for for a number of years. My mate was pretty pleased too! It was also satisfying to finally get a tenggiri on the Storm lure. Satisfaction indeed. Abdullah managed to capture some of the action on his GoPro, the results can be seen here (the first version with an instrumental track by Damian Marley, the second with the full vocal version. They can only be played on Pc’s or this version embedded in the blog on mobile devices):
Tenggiri no.1 – 8.5kg
Enthused after the early success, we re-set the lures and continued to troll, zig-zagging around the small island. After 45 minutes we got another strike, this time on the Captain’s Halco red-head lures, 1-1 …! Abdullah took the rod and quickly brought a second, smaller, tenggiri (new species for him) of 4kg to gaff:
Two mackerel in an hour. This was looking good and we started to fantasise about a good haul of tenggiri. But, as is often the case with fishing, the bite went off. We trolled around the vincinity for a further hour or so without anymore action. The news from the rest of the fleet was not good – the sailfish fishing was even slower than the previous day, with only the odd fish being taken up to this time. The Captain decided to try trolling at a nearby FAD for more mackerel. We moved, and re-set our lure spread. After half an hour, the starboard reel buzzed after a brief strike that failed to hook-up, and that was it. Nothing more.
Finally, news was coming in of a slow mixed sailfish & mackerel bite in the direction and on the route back to port, so we headed off once again. We joined the fleet only c.10km offshore and began to drift live-baits, whilst Sion and Abdullah continued to pop and pull a variety of other lures from the bow. Suddenly Abdullah shouted out in surprise as a sailfish unexpectedly hit his Halco C-Gar stick-bait (toffee apple pattern) just as it hit the surface. He felt the fish, briefly, before it threw the lure.
The new location was definitely more fishy, with the occasional cheer filling the air as individual boats hooked-up a sail or scored a mackerel. We finally got a take on one of the the port live-baits. I picked up the rod and watched as the reel turned slowly, but steadily, almost imperceptible from the pull from the live-bait. It then stopped. I waited a while, but felt nothing. I engaged the reel, and almost immediately a sailfish broke the surface, felt the line resistance and dropped the bait. Damn, damn, damn! It’s annoying to miss fish when the bite is slow …!!
Finally, as the day drew to it’s inevitable end, Captain Ah-Ping cast out a live-bait on the Lemax-Baitrunner set-up and got an almost instantaneous take. He tried to set the hook but missed the fish that splashed at the surface ….. another tenggiri. As he retrieved the bait the mackerel breached again as it made a second, unsuccessful, attempt on the bait ….. damn. The bait came back with tell-tale damage:
Slashed selar live (now dead) bait
And that was it for the day and the trip. Two tenggiri to add to the three sailfish of the previous day. Extremely slow sailfish fishing for the time of year, a pattern that’s held almost continuously through the second half of the season. And, once again, no test of my FG knot. That will have to wait until next season …..!
We headed back to port with some fish to bring home, plus we’d opted to stay over the Sunday night and return to KL on Monday morning. That made for a very relaxing end to the trip. Once again, I look forward to next season when I will, hopefully, reach my 100 sailfish goal.