Saturday, July 23, 2016

Maldives is a light and micro jigging fishing heaven

“It’s not about whether the fish were bigger or how easy it was to get the fish on jig but rather, it was that two hours of catching various, unique reef fishes with just about any jig in your tackle box. Yes some jigs were better than others and I’ve caught bigger fish on light jigs but never before was I so enthralled with jigging before. It was kind of like catching Pokemon except that it wasn’t a virtual game. It was real – the strokes, the sights and the sound. Simply beautiful.” – Nigel, when recollecting his light fishing adventures in the Maldives (2016)

 

Beautiful video done by Shawn shows most of the light jigging action we had. Skip to 4.44 if you want to avoid Nigel losing the big fish (grrr...)

Well, so this is it. I know I mentioned that light tackle fishing in the Maldives wouldn't work but the weather was turning bad and the the fact is I still love some light jigging fun. Singaporeans are still quite good at it so off we went for some small fishes. The light jigging was done at some sheltered reef areas with drop-offs so it can be a sure-win insurance if you want to hide from the bad weather or you really need to inject your trip with some fishes. 

While light jigging didn't produce the big fishes (not in our two hours session at least), it guaranteed us lots of fun as the bite rate was good (about a minute or two to get a bite) and the hits got very frequent when we were close to the drop-offs. Unfortunately, the strong winds meant that we only had a minute or two before we were blown to the shallower side of the drop-off so the boat had to readjust again. The variety that came with light jigging in the Maldives was absolutely mind blowing. We filled up the pail in about two hours and caught a myriad of reef fishes which included rainbow runners, groupers, trevallies, job fish and even extra large leng chiams (or long nosed emperor).

After being humbled by the GTs of Maldives, this was a good way to reclaim some honor (as Shawn put is so aptly) and we just had too little time.

Beautiful extra large goat fish on jig. We had this for lunch later.
The goldspot trevally!
Looks like an arumugam but way bigger
Fiesty jobfish. A small one but an increasingly rare sight in Maldives I heard
All leng chiams were extra large in size
Filled up the pail in no time. The locals were happy.
A larger specimen. The rainbow runners were good fighters.
We had this one for the BBQ
Apparently, Maldivians also love red grouper
Pesky triggerfish were everywhere!

If you’re interested in joining such a rustic fishing trip, I can arrange one for you and although there are certain packages available, such trips are purely exploratory and still at an infancy phase. If you have good fishing finesse skills though, you’ll probably do very well. Contact me at nigel.lian@gmail.com 

Friday, July 22, 2016

5 Key Tips of taking a transport service to Malaysia for fishing

Anglers from Singapore are increasingly heading to fishing grounds out of Singapore as Singapore fish stocks decline. Anglers now head to places such as Pekan, Rompin, Sedili, Tioman, Sibu, Penang, Desaru, Pontian and even KL! This has been happening for years now and as anglers go further and further away for their fishing, here are some key considerations that they can look out for. These come from my personal experience and you don’t have to agree with me but here goes. Note that the transport services are also applicable to other hobbies like Diving, Durian Picking and so on.

Vehicle Type – Car or Mini-bus

The two most common forms of transport would take shape in the form of a Car or a Mini-bus. Most anglers typically form a group of 4 to 6 pax (for a fishing charter). While the Mini-bus should generally be cheaper (due to Diesel fuel), the difference is that you have to get down at the causeway (be it Woodlands or Tuas) and lug your items across to the immigration counters and back to the vehicle. While this may be acceptable if you have young, strong chaps or little equipment, it can be quite a physical exercise if you have lots of fishing equipment like fishing rods, tackle boxes and iceboxes. Worse still, if your fishing trip is productive, you’re going to have to lug full iceboxes. This isn’t the problem for cars since there is no need to get down – you clear immigration customs at the immigration booths directly. Most transport operators use MPVs which can sit 5 to 6 pax so my personal recommendation would be to always go for the car.

Vehicle Registration and Nationality of Driver

This may be a point that most overlook but I would always recommend Singaporean drivers and vehicles for practical and safety reasons. Singaporean drivers are usually more reliable because of a few reasons – they know roughly where you stay when you tell them, they are quite flexible with the pickups, schedule and so on (no need to give them extra money for additional pickups or programme add-ons).

The most important reason though, would be the credibility of the Singaporean driver and his vehicle registration. In the past, during a trip to Ah Fatt Kelong, the Malaysian Mini-bus driver told me he wasn’t licensed to do transport services and as a result, all of us had to meet him at an alternate location after clearing the immigration customs. We had to walk quite a distance and most of us were wary as we had all our fishing gear in the bus! I’ve also heard stories of Malaysian drivers having past criminal records (additional waiting time at customs) and drugs/tobacco/illegal items smuggling is a real thing these days so you don’t want to get caught with contraband cigarettes smuggled in by the driver when you come back to Singapore! I’m not saying that Singaporean drivers are more law abiding but generally, your heart feels more at ease when traveling with a fellow Singaporean.

Besides, Singaporean drivers also speak English or Chinese (Malaysian Malay drivers don’t and I do have problems communicating with them) and love food a lot so we usually go to the best eating places for our stopover meals!

Car and Travel Insurance

The organizer of the trip should always ensure and check with the transport operator about the availability of car and travel insurance (and that extent of it to – for example, what does it cover? Theft? Accidents?). This is very important if you are travelling on the road. I’ve been to Malaysia about fifty times to do fishing and I’ve had two accidents – one involved a car upside down in a drain and another involved a collision with a wild boar. You don’t want to get into ugly incidents when shit happens and there’s no insurance to back you up! Very often, reliable and decent transport operators get their vehicles insured to protect themselves. Personal travel insurance is also recommended for the individual passenger.

Plan your route well

Most Singaporean transport operators will do this for you and will advise you on pick up locations depending on the passenger’s drop off point but it’s always good to also check if the plan is good. Singapore is pretty small but if you have passengers staying far away from each other (and it’s a door to door pickup), the schedule often stretches as well. For our previous 1 day Sibu fishing trip with Engler’s charter, the first pick up point was at 3.30am. Timings are also a key consideration in the reverse – for those that stay in the East, they are often the last to drop off (Can be pretty late) so do treat them nice and buy them a drink! If the locations of the passengers are really very complicated and/or diverse, it is recommended to set up a joint pick up location at a convenient location (nearby MRT) so you can save time and waiting.

Facilities and special services

Anglers are really spoilt when it comes to customer service and facilities. While you might only think of the transport as a means to get to your fishing location, you should also know what your transport operator provides. Most Singaporean transport operators provide a full spectrum of services such as trip planning and booking such as booking the fishing charter, fishing accommodation and even advising you on fishing tackle. Although these services are usually provided at an extra cost, I find that it’s really worth it as you ride on the experience of these transport operators and their fishing contacts.

Also consider the special services that the transport operators provide because not all transport operators just provide a normal vehicle for your fishing trips. The vehicle must have special storage meant for anglers and this means overhanging storage for fishing rods, enough space in the boot for icebox. My time on Engler’s Charter brought me to a whole new level because he offered free Wi-Fi and even had a mini fridge for drinks in the vehicle!

See what I mean?


Nigel may not be the most enthusiastic fishing professional out there but he certainly has his views. While he is not a qualified academic, he is an environment enthusiast with a particular interest in sustainable fishing, urban farming and climate issues. He has been featured in the media for a few fishing related cover stories and articles.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Here’s why we should give the Singaporean authorities a break when it comes to illegal fishing in reservoirs

Did you know that the "LSR MRT Tracks" were illegal last time?
I’ve been reading rather strange opinions on fishing in Singapore lately. One of them was an article on The Independent which read, “PUB’s ‘No Fishing’ environmental policy is a short-sighted one”. Initially, I thought of just ignoring the whole issue which has been there since ages ago but no, I guess I have to share my take on the whole Singapore illegal fishing thing. I’ll keep my piece to our Singapore reservoirs and also these views are not necessarily replies to TI article and other strange opinions – they’re just what I think (after fishing in Singapore since I was 5).

The number one reason of why we should be chill about illegal fishing grounds is that illegal fishing grounds simply give fish a chance to recover. Lack of fishing pressure (even from anglers who catch and release) and fish stock pressure (for anglers that bring their catch back) contribute greatly to this since Singapore does not yet have a designated open/closed fishing season. It is very likely that once you open a reservoir up to fishing, fish stocks decline and fishing gets bad over time. Just ask those who have fished legal areas when they first opened up and after that. Pandan Reservoir was amazing before it was deemed legal – you could see big Soon Hock and Peacock Bass at the side of the jetty. It didn’t disappoint in the first few weeks of its opening but 4 years on, it now hardly produces any fish, not to mention quality fish. Other than the above reasons, illegal fishing grounds also give authorities a clear cut decision on enforcement action when it comes to nabbing illegal baiters or poachers that Singaporean lurers often complain about. See illegal poachers at Sungei Buloh.

Number two is simply the age old reasoning of safety in our reservoirs. Safety includes considerations like deep water and feral wild animals like wild boars or snakes. Most of us anglers are responsible adults and many of us (including me) would moan and say that we know what we are doing, just let us fish. Hang on now because aren’t we forgetting about the kids who go fishing? I don’t want to highlight irresponsible anglers who compromise safety during fishing but it is without doubt that the average age of anglers has been going down. I know many of these kid anglers like Pierre Ong and safety comes first for these kids because they are simply too young to be able to fish responsibly at areas which can be challenging or less safe (like slippery breakwaters).

If you look at the illegal freshwater fishing spots around Singapore, one would also realise that almost all of them are either private or designated as conservation catchment areas. Fishing areas located at Marina Barrage, Marina Bay and numerous Golf Courses are almost all private. Other fishing spots which may lie deep into the catchment area are already designated for conservation. Some may argue that in developed countries, fishing is still permitted in areas meant for conservation but that’s another story altogether. If you look around us, fishing in Marine Parks (like Tioman) are a big no. Authorities will never take the risk because not all anglers may fish responsibility and it only takes one bad egg to spoil the whole crate. The question is that if it’s private property or for conservation then what’s the point of pinning the authorities down?

One of my favourite ones is that fishing in Singapore still isn’t going to result in any superior, economy boosting industry or tourist attraction yet. Many folks (myself include) believe in the massive potential that our waters can provide but many forget that the fishes in our reservoir aren’t even native (not even Tomans are native). The world class freshwater fishing places like Brazil or Thailand have boasted years of heritage, culture and history. The fish that anglers land have shattered IFGA records. Unless Singaporeans engage the authorities objectively and go develop our waters into sustainable freshwater sport fishing attractions, we’ll still be stuck in this area. So fishpreneurs or entrepreneurs, this is your game. Do us proud.

Does anyone also realise that the authorities have in the last few years, opened up more legal fishing spots for us? Not many of us were luring back in those days but in those days, the only legal fishing spots were in places like Lower Seletar Reservoir (even the MRT tracks area was illegal) and Kranji Reservoir. These days, there are 10 legal fishing areas (out of 17 possible reservoirs) that Singaporeans can choose from. My other point is also that according to the PUB, fishing violations have doubled in the last two years and while anglers may argue that’s because legal fishing spots don’t produce, that’s utter nonsense because let me paraphrase the whole thing for you. Simply put, if more anglers are violating rules and breaking trust, do you expect the authorities to then open up more fishing grounds for you? The authorities have to be logical here and if they have already opened up more grounds for fishing and anglers continue to venture into illegal fishing grounds, what will they do?

Another hands down reason that everyone can accept is that the primary usage of our Singapore reservoirs are meant for collecting water. As PUB director of catchment and waterways Ridzuan Ismail said, “While it has opened up reservoirs for activities like water sports and fishing, they serve "first and foremost" as storage for raw water.” As Singapore faces water challenges like water supply shortages, the threat of drought and climate change, do you think that resources will be spent to see how better fishing can be provided to the public? The bulk of our authorities resources (and rightly so I say, as a responsible citizen) will be spent on ensuring that Singaporeans continue to have access to affordable drinking water.

The density of the Singaporean population is also one important aspect we should look at. Singaporean anglers often compare the fishing permits and how anglers have fantastic fishing spots set aside in many developed countries overseas. One prime example is Australia and many Singaporeans want the fishing permit system here. I’m sorry to inform everyone but to compare Singapore (a country with 750km2 land mass) with Australia is simply illogical. Here’s a simple calculation (I’m not math wizard)… Singapore has 5.4 million folks with 720 km2 land mass while Australia has 23 million km2 to 7.6 million folks. In other words, there are about 7500 people per 1km2 in Singapore compared to 3 people per 1km2 in Australia. That means that every 1 km2 in Singapore, there are probably 7500 people with varying views of what fishing means to them! To be honest, it’s already amazing that we have a local, thriving fishing community here in Singapore. As fish stocks and fishing spots go down, it seems that the fishing community has followed an opposite trend. 

Some upbeat news though is that when the authorities are engaged objectively, success can result. After all, there are also avid fishermen and reasonable folks working in the civil service. Have you ever wondered at how Kayak Fishing has evolved over the past few years? Kayak anglers and merchandise owners alike have long been involved in educating the authorities and being responsible in their fishing. The community had even been involved with PA Water-Venture (a government initiative) to conduct conservation/clean-up operations and fishing activities. While I must say that during Kayak Fishing, we often face challenges communicating variations and interpretations of rules/laws with the authorities (Coast Guard, Marine Port Authority and so on), it is always on the basis that Kayak Fishing was new to the authorities and not something that they had prior knowledge of. As Kayak Fishing got more common and authorities got more relaxed (or experienced) at handling Kayak Fishing, a “healthy” sort of equilibrium ensued. I’m not exactly how sure how long this equilibrium will last but until now, they have been no reported major incidents or accidents with regards to Kayak Fishing and that’s because many Kayak Fishing anglers (I would know since I used to have a fishing kayak myself) invest in safety, fish responsibility and at the end of the day, cherish a privilege that they have been given.

To end off my part ranting, part objective piece, I do hope that anglers can channel their frustrations (I fish too so I understand) into building or investing into a more productive or objective means of getting their views across. Take the Kayak Fishing folks for example and look at what they have done. The best way forward is often self-stewardship and a care for your community.


Nigel may not be the most enthusiastic fishing professional out there but he certainly has his views. While he is not a qualified academic, he is an environment enthusiast with a particular interest in sustainable fishing, urban farming and climate issues. He has been featured in the media for a few fishing related cover stories and articles.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Well played, GTs of Maldives



Ice cream - the local lingo for being outgunned/no fish
In my overview of my mini Maldives adventure, I shared about being well beaten by the Giant Trevallies (GT) of Maldives and well, all my shame is being showcased here. Although I fish a lot, I’ve never truly went on a “Big game” fishing trip except for a one time New Zealand Kingfish jigging trip so this was a serious eye (sore) opener for me.

Comfortable Dhoni. Easily can fish 6 pax.
We started the first day fishing with a pleasantly angler friendly schedule. We would fish sunrise, break for lunch (return to island to have our meals) and then go for sunset fishing. This actually was about 8 hours of fishing considering sunrise fishing was 6am to 10am and sunset fishing was 4pm to 8pm!

I won’t write much about the actual fishing (you can view the videos to get a sense of that) but some technical observations below: 


We were seriously under-gunned
One of the headaches of not being on an actual “Big game” fishing trip (and also because of conservative packing) is that we simply brought too little of the serious, mean fishing gears. A quick check on our fishing gear showed one thing – we were thoroughly under-gunned. I was quite happy with my micro jigging, light jigging and light popping gear while Shawn was happy with his strange array of random fishing gear (including a hastily put together “popping” setup which was a Zerek popping rod and a Daiwa Freams 4500J).

I thought I was ready – simply because my gear served me well on numerous fishing trips except that my heaviest gear was a PE 2 – 3 CTS custom and Trinidad 12! I also did the “in-thing” and brought along my Shimano Ocea Jigger 1500 and Shimano Ocea Infitini Slow Fall setup.

How na├»ve we were. Bent hooks, bust lines… you’ll see later.

The Singaporean idea of “light jigging” and coaxing fish is bollocks
Another key observation was that the concept of “aiya, let the fish run and slowly bring it up… give it some slack” didn’t work at all! Terrain was vicious here and a thousand times more treacherous than the terrain we have in Singapore. Steep corals, sudden drop offs and even sharks – you name it, you got it.

Coaxing the fish in is a reality most Singaporean light jiggers dabble in these days. Anglers use very light lines like PE1 and light drags to coax in the fish and while most of us managed it well in local or regional (Rompin, Pekan, Desaru etc.), the fishes at Maldives weren’t so obliging. I bust off about 4 – 5 suspected GTs (because Shawn always chickened out and refused to fight the fish) and this was after trying various means to get the fish up on light tackle.

Often, a single scenario occurred – the GT would hit the jig near the bottom and then take out line for 5 seconds and then reef me. If you somehow manage to hook the fish near mid water, it was always going to be a matter of terminal tackle quality. Our terminals didn’t stand up to the fight though (and I must take some blame for not pairing the light jigs with bigger hooks) and bent hooks came back frequently.

I had a really good chance to land one of the GTs on the PE 1 setup and Daiwa Branzino 3000 (with 12lbs Spiderwire!) but the SK Twin Seriola 2/0 opened when the fish was about 5m from the boat. Man…

Presentation is key
Another technical highlight was that contrary to popular belief, Maldives is not an “anyhow jig, any jig” fishing ground. When the fish were really picky, the hit rates depended a lot on jigging speeds and presentation. Changing jigging styles, jig action and colours proved to be very effective and once you have a “winning” formula, stick to it. This was very consistent throughout the few days of fishing and the long fast stroke with pause technique probably scored the most hits.

Crippled Herring was a favourite among the fishes.
But ok we still had some fun
Thankfully, after all the crying, cursing and bruising of egos, we still managed some fun. Shawn fought a good sized Dogtooth Tuna (mistaken by everyone to be some tuna) on my setup (PE 1 – 2 Jigging rod and a Shimano Stella 4k) and it was brought up for a good photo taking. Dogtooth Tunas don’t usually fight better than GTs though and the fish was taken in mid water so the “coaxing the fish” rule applied here.

Now, don’t be fooled by the sad faces because we still had fun in the next few days of fishing. When we realized during day one that light tackle wouldn’t make the cut, we opted for light fishing the next day and we were pleasantly rewarded by a large array of reef fishes. It was probably the best few hours of jigging I have ever experienced – more to come in the next post!

Thankfully, it took the jig in mid-water
Shawn brought up a decent doggie with my light jigging outfit
If you’re interested in joining such a rustic fishing trip, I can arrange one for you and although there are certain packages available, such trips are purely exploratory and still at an infancy phase. If you have good fishing finesse skills though, you’ll probably do very well. Contact me at nigel.lian@gmail.com

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