Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sampan fishing trips with Jeff Tsen in Sembawang, Singapore (2017 update)

"Huh, you mean on sampan fishing trips, we can spin live prawns like how we do in fishing pay ponds in Singapore?"

That was the pivotal question that we asked ourselves before we went to board the sampan. I've went for sampan fishing with Jeff before and it was quite a good experience in urban Singapore (where every sort of lobang and fishing spot is now fenced up...). The instructions were simple: Light rod 5ft, size 1000 sized reel. Leader line of 30lbs, hooks size 1/0. No need for split shots.

One might expect pay pond sized fishes when looking at the tackle requirement but no… after a few trips, we had a few decent sized fish. We met with the wild magnificent mangrove jack (ang ka tia), wild barramundis, wild groupers, some tarpon and even herring.

What are some tips if you are going sampan fishing with Jeff?

The one tip that I know will work is hard work. Some nights, the fishes are just elusive and don’t want to move their mouth. You have to keep searching, keep knocking on their homes. Don’t give up! The more rocks you snag, the more chances you have in “the zone”.

Bonus tip? Don’t rush into the hook up and fight. Big fish may take very slowly at night and a small nibble doesn’t always mean a small one at the other end. As the tackle used is very light, we want a secure hook up so we can tire the fish out. Get a firm hook set, play the fish right (listen to the captain) and keep the rod down when the fish dives under the boat.

That’s really all you need to know…

Here’s a few catches over a trip or two…

 Looking forward to the next one!  

* Note that some of the smaller groupers were released…

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Baktao fish ball making project: 5 kinds of fish and their characteristics [Failed Attempt]

I have always been very curious about making fish balls. Being a fan of handmade fish balls, I often wondered what it was like to make your fish balls from scratch. As I googled different fish ball making recipes, it seemed that making fish balls weren't that complicated. It was just a little flour, salt and water. I was wrong. I thought that I was easy but the fish balls failed miserably, and they didn't turn out like they were supposed to.

In hindsight, I was probably a little too ambitious. I had freshly caught ebek (diamond trevally), grouper, kaci (sweet lips), barracuda, eng ko (parrot fish) set aside for this project and by the end of the day, I was exhausted with too much meat to work with. The fish balls weren't springy enough due to not enough slamming as I underestimated the manual labour needed. It would certainly help if you had a food mixer or a horde of workers to help you throw the fish balls against the chopping boards!

Still, not all was in vain, and although the end products were failures, I managed to ascertain the different texture and taste of the fishes that I used. I hope that this will be useful information for you.

Preparing the different fish meat took so much time!
Not worth it if you use small fishes!
You should end up with a gooey mixture after a bit of slamming
What failed fish balls look like. The balls were too mincy and not QQ enough due to not enough slamming. Also, probably too much flour.

 Tips for fish ball making (I realised this after I failed)

  1. Have a food mixer or an army of fish ball makers. Don't underestimate the effort to make a few fish balls!
  2. If possible, bleed the fish during your fishing trip to keep the fish meat white and clean. Blood or dark coloured meat can stain the rest of the fish ball and make them look "dark".
  3. If you're using smaller fish, do have many of them to scrape the meat out and make a decent feed of fish balls.

Types of fish and characteristics

The large ebek yielded so much meat!
1) Ebek The texture was a little too mincy, and although there is much meat to be used for fish balls, the texture was too coarse. There was a slight fishy taste, but you can't tell if don't focus on it. It took much effort to get the protein in the fish meat to get "sticky". Colour was a good white colour. Might be better to use ebek for otah rather than fish balls.

Notice that Barracuda meat is slightly darker?
2) Barracuda. These were surprisingly very bouncy, and the meat was not too bad. It got "sticky" rather easily too. The meat was surprisingly not fishy at all. The only problems using barracuda was that the colour of the fish balls was a little dark and the fish didn't have much meat to scrape in the first place!

White and sweet smelling flesh!
3) Eng Ko (Parrot fish). Eng Ko is your rich man's fish ball. I've already heard from Merchong King Chong that these fish make wonderful fish ball, but nothing prepared me for this! I screwed up the bouncy texture of the fish balls, but parrot fish balls were still very sweet and had a good texture. You can smell the meat's sweetness as you make the fish balls and the best thing was that the fish ball colour was a good pearl white. Definitely a good idea to make fish balls if you get sick of eating it the usual way.

Very normal flesh
4) Kaci. These were nothing special regarding flavour. I rank it under the Barracuda. The fish balls itself were kind of duh - nothing to talk about and pretty plain. No fishy smell, no sweetness. Kind of tasteless. Can skip if you are thinking of doing it.

Better off for steamed fish!
5) Grouper. Grouper fish balls were not bad. You could taste the sweetness of the fish but there is also this "grouper" smell to the fish balls that was weird. Also, you have to choose really big groupers if you want more meat. Using grouper (which is considered a premium fish) didn't really add or take away anything so I would suggest you keep it for steaming instead.

Better off for BBQ

6) Rainbow Runner. I don't really remember anything special about this as I was already too tired.

I've decided not to share the recipe here as I couldn't master it. You can google for some recipes. There are quite a lot of resources.

This is not the end of my fish ball project for sure but I'll be back with a food mixer! Got any recipes to recommend or want to teach me? You can always contact me at this page.

Some of the failed fish balls and how I kept them

Gave up after the fourth fish
Ebek balls tasted like meat balls really
These were the best!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Red tenya, red madai and red mouse madai topped up at bakgalfishing shop!

Mouse madai 150g
Red madai 200g
Red tenya assorted weights
Good news everyone!

We've loaded 60g, 80g, 100g and 120g red optimus prime tenya for fishing, red madai 200g and red mouse madai 150g to

These products are proven to catch fish in Singapore and very useful for offshore fishing.

Scores a good gao
Good gao tun fell for it!
Snappers love them too
Rare ang kuey!
Best ways to get parrots


Monday, April 10, 2017

Sibu Island is now a light and micro jigging fishing paradise

Gone are the days when we looked to Sibu Kelong as a quick getaway from Singapore. It used to be a kelong fishing paradise but suddenly it was gone as authorities closed it down. Fret not though, one style of fishing may be gone from Sibu (from Tanjung Lehman Jetty) but another has taken its place.

Preparing to set off
Good old Tanjung Lehman jetty. Memories!
Enter the likes of Ah Bee, Micro Jig, James Chai (Ah Niu) and so on. These people have really set the tone for fishing at Sibu ever since the kelongs were closed. They have already been there for some time so they're rather experience with the fishing spots there. A typical day of fishing would involve light & micro jigging, lure casting, and even some bottom bashing via live prawns. Tenya is also rather popular.

Our group of kakis caught on to the Sibu fishing scene quite late on as we were busy with Merchong. Soon though, we booked a trip and called Ah Yip (Engler's Charter) to send us there. The trip was very easy to arrange and we just had to meet Ah Bee (the fishing captain) at Tanjung Lehman Jetty. He would get the ice and prawns. The good old provision shops were still around at the jetty so getting some food and drinks were easy too.

Ah Bee (even though he was young) was quite knowledgeable on the fishing spots and had good variety. He had some bottom fishing spots where we scored some good parrot fish (eng ko), ebek and other reef fish. The highlight though was when he brought us "close to the island", a term familiar with many Sibu fishing regulars. Monster fish were often found here as the rocky terrain meant that the area was less prone to over fishing and you needed skill to get the fish. Sometimes anglers lose the battle to the big ones there. We've seen some 30kg GTs landed on light setups there and according to Ah Bee, coral trout aka ang gao were so common here he would get a few every trip.
Master Yip with most tastiest catch of the day

Great capture on pink tenya
Not sure why Yip's face is in shock
Strong hooks won't open on you
Good sized ebek on pink tenya!
It wasn't happening for us though. The gang lost a few jigs and lures during the initiation when we went close to the island but during that time only Yip got a decent coral trout on tenya. Ah Bee later told us it was very windy and the water conditions made it difficult to drift past the coral peaks. He didn't smoke us though as we saw good fish the next day on his Facebook.

Conclusion? We only had one trip there but it really is a good place to wind down, get your casting gear wet and land a few good fishes. Day trips are possible and the fishing is reasonably priced. If you're looking to go test some fishing gears, you can do it here. One wonders though whether the wonderful catches are just temporary. Some of the fish caught in Sibu aren't migratory and at the rate they're being hauled up, it's only a matter of years before it is over fished...

Our decent haul
Some Sibu light jigging and micro jigging contacts available here:

Ah Bee

Micro Jig

James Chai (Ah Niu)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

8 tips for catching or prawning for yabbies in Singapore

Yes yes, I know. Probably everyone in Singapore knows how to do prawning by now. It's become such a cliche activity that everyone brings home a few kg of prawns every time. NOT. Well, prawning has gone from below average to bad now in Singapore mainly because of rising costs. You don't really blame the operator as well because like well, water price increase...

Ok, that's end of my ranting but what I really wanted to point out is that many prawning ponds in Singapore do have YABBY ponds these days and they are definitely cuter, tastier and more challenging to catch than usual freshwater prawns. Also, the ponds aren't really crowded since everyone still prefers prawns.

In fact, I would say, if you master yabby catching, you will have no problems in the usual prawning ponds. Yabby prawning is all about hook set and timing. It's also about patience when fighting the yabby.

I've been doing more of yabby prawning recently at ORTO bottle tree park and here's eight suggestions that could help you if you're really clueless... 

1) TRY the yabby pond

This is a rather strange tip but the fact is that people don't really go for yabbies so the ponds may be well stocked with yabbies. The yabbies might also be very hungry. If the prawns aren't biting in the prawning pond, head over to the yabby one and try for a few minutes. You must might hit gold.

2) Ensure your hooks are sharp and set hard!

Yabbies have tougher shells and claws than usual prawns. You'll find that the newbie method of simply "lifting" the rod doesn't help since the hook doesn't penetrate their shells. Sharp hooks and proper, firm setting of the hook does help get you more yabbies in the bag so go ahead and set set set!

3) Yabbies love pipes, corners and usually stack put after being released. They also love clustering with each other

Yes, prawns also have such behaviour but I realise that yabbies exhibit the pipe, corner, pump loving thing more. They cluster together more often and they often park their bodies into the debris/pipes if they can. They don't really do that scouting for food thing like prawns. Also, if the workers release the yabbies in a certain location, they tend to just stay put there so focus around that area.  

4) Baits can be big, variety usually doesn't matter

Compared to prawns, yabbies are probably better with their claws because their claws are firmer and shorter. This may explain why the bait often tends to be taken in in a firm way and even if you tension the line, the yabby usually doesn't let go. Prawns usually let go if you are too firm on them. Also, they aren't really picky on the baits. House bait, worms all work well.

5) Wait longer before you set the hook

This point helps if you want to really give yourself a high chance of a hook up. Why? If you don't wait long enough and set right after the floater goes down, chances are that the bait may still be at the claw area which means the hook may not penetrate the shell. If you wait about 5 to 10 seconds after the floater goes down, the yabby can put the food into the mouth area which is a little softer and the hook can have a larger surface area to penetrate.

Also, yabbies don't usually do the take the bait and run thing. They usually use their claws to grab the bait that floats past them and then settle down at the same spot to feed. When you notice your float going down, simply stay put there until you set the hook. There is no need to follow the yabby or panic because "your floating is running away".

6) Keep the fight very short (if you think the hook up isn't firm) or have a slow fight if you think you hooked a big one

I'm undecided on this one. Some folks like to do it fast and that works because the longer you drag, the more chance the hook has to dislodge. Similarly, because of the way yabbies fight (and their weight), bringing it up forcefully may result in a dislodged hook too.

I say, you decide. If you see that the yabby has been hooked on the claw, bring it up fast! If you think it's a big one and well hooked, play it slow.

7) Try to move the bait around more

Yabbies are very excited by movement. In fact, sometimes they may not be hungry and maybe they're just using their pincers to kiap the bait because of self defense. This works for us since you can set the hook into the claw. It also explains why many yabbies only have one claw remaining and why many of them are claw hooked.

Move the bait around slowly, try to find those yabbies. Prove them by dangling the bait in front of them like a live fish. Make them ATTACK the bait or EAT it. Both works.

8) Fasten your draw string on the keep net

This is not related to catching them but do fasten it. Yabbies can survive out of water and can crawl up the net back into the water!

Well that's all. Very simple tips lah really but probably may help you if you really are quite bad...

Not keen in yabbies? Read my prawning guide here.

Baktao Lollipop and Ice Cream micro jigs scoring on a Merchong fishing trip!

Lollipop micro jigs were conceived when Baktao wanted a micro jig that could be jigged fast or jigged slow. Adopting a very common cut, the Lollipop micro jigs are recommended to be jigged at slow or medium or fast speeds. One of the key features of the Lollipop jig is that it is very deadly on the drop or using a pitching or drag and drop (bottom bouncing) method when the boat is anchored. The jigs come in a variety of colours all centered around the theme of aurora or rainbow colours. Aurora or rainbow colours are very effective for a wide variety of species. 

Earlier on, I tested them in Port Dickson and the queenies there simply went crazy over the jigs. The question for me was then whether they would actually do well in East Malaysia (Rompin, Pekan, Tioman, Desaru, Mersing etc.). Would they be good for bottom species? Ebek? Cobia? Tengerri? Well I got my answer when Ah Biao aka Nenasi tested some of the jigs during his trip there. 

The micro jigs proved deadly no matter how they were worked during the trip. You can surface skim them, bottom bounce them, jig them across water columns or simply just fast retrieve!

Bonito couldn't resist taking a chase at the jig. Great topwater action!
Jigged across a reef column, the jig drew the attention of this cobia. Note that colour was murky and it was overcast. The lumo stripes probably did help a little.
Bottom bouncing using micro jigs! My favourite and most lazy way of landing most species.
Great take and awesome fight with this tuskfish. Destroyed the paintwork of the jig though!

You can get the micro jigs at Bakgal's fishing shop.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Queenies of Port Dickson

Waiting for the wind to die down
It's not everyday that you find top class fishing destinations for Queenfish so close to home and I was pleased that nearby Port Dickson did just that. Located about 3 hours away from Singapore by car, Port Dickson was just in between Kuala Lumpur and Malacca. My expectations weren't great for this fishing trip and I managed to piece together a day light jigging trip to do some field testing for hybrid versions of the Baktao Lollipop Micro Jigs.

The place where we launched from was filled with other fishing charter boats - mostly center consoles and some extra large sampans. It was a rather windy day today so we had to wait for the wind to subside. The people here were adamant it would so I just mucked along and prayed for the best.

Most of the captains looked like they were expert jiggers and as everyone gathered to wait for the wind to die down, you could feel the heartbeat of the community here. It was raining, it was windy, it was a Monday morning and yet men (and women) gathered here, shared coffee and talked about the last big catch. This was very different from some of the other places where competition is really stiff and everyone's all touchy with one another (especially spots). I played the curious reporter a few times and I asked around on whether fishermen here use live prawns. The answer was they never had to because the ocean provided everything. They further explained that during the day, all they use are live bait-fish caught by traditional sabiki and during the night, they would scoop squid. With the advent of metal jigs, it was even easier for them to get the fishes here. Tall stories of huge spanish mackeral, giant groupers and big jenahak (ang chor) were tossed around. It felt real.

It's launch time!
Our boat was launched using the boat captain's vehicle and true enough, the wind was gone! Our first spot was going to be a sunken tanker wreck and the possibilities kept ringing in my head. What were we fishing for?

Rain was clearing. Calm waters ahead!
I probed around as the boat rode the waves and I got some answers and even more questions. Apparently, the tide was suitable for top water fishing and top water column jigging now as the change in tide and water pressure would push fish like the talang (queenfish), spanish macks and GTs up into the surface. My guide explained that this was just how it works near the wreck and bait-fish would be crammed up to the top. He even went on to suggest that top water was the way to go here.

Baktao Lollipop scores the first talang

Took on surfacing skimming!
And the frenzy was on

They hit the micro jigs left right centre!
Got bored and changed to duel hardcore
Double hook ups!
The sharks and barracudas were also up and about...
As we circled the spot in order to find the best drifting location, the captain and guide were rigging up rather interesting lures. On a closer look, they were freshwater rubber frogs with the propeller! Now this was going to be interesting...and I was right. It took only the third cast for me to hook up with a decent sized talang. The take was very interesting because we could see the fish swimming slowly around the top with the fins actually sticking out. These fish weren't sick though and I found much joy in casting the jig behind them and zipping it across at lightning speed. They got very agitated at this method and they would suddenly lunge out at the jigs! And well, they say, the rest is history and we landed more than two dozen queenies before we called in a morning. Popper, minnows, jigs, frogs all worked as they fish were in a frenzy. When the fish are in a frenzy, it's always a good time to do some field test for the jigs and although they were taking almost anything, they did have a slight preference to the rainbow or full coloured lollipop jigs. Single colours like green and silver worked too but to less effect.

As we ended the morning session and had lunch, I was briefed that our next mission was slow pitch fishing for bottom species. This excited me as slow fall fishing was picking up in Singapore. The bottom fishes to expect were namely two kinds - jenahak (ang chor) and groupers. Best colours were said to be pink and green. The waves were picking up again though as we drifted along the channel searching for the elusive bottom species. The terrain was not very rocky but it was had really high drop offs.

Took on slow pitch off the bottom
No luck though and conditions were really getting tough. The rainbow slow fall jig hybrid did catch a good fish close to the end and it was a huge disappointment because it was another queenie! That was really unexpected as it took the jig very close to the bottom. We were all expecting a snapper or a good grouper...

Well, no matter what, good things do have to end and we ended early as the rain started falling down on us...

Beautiful Port Dickson

Baktao Lollipop and Ice Cream Micro Jigs are currently in stock and you can find them at Bakgal's fishing shop.
There was an error in this gadget