My hands trembled in exhaustion as I struggled to bring up the monster I had hooked. Deep in its underwater lair, the creature thrashed and battled in desperation against the steel barb in its mouth. The taut line, capable of taking sixty pounds of pressure, is straining, threatening to snap at any time. Inch by inch, the creature is pulled up to the surface. Already, I could see it’s silvery scales gleaming under the glare of my headlamp.
Hoots of laughter and cheers filled the boat as my hour long battle seemed to draw to a close. I grinned, knowing I had it in the bag. Then, with a sudden burst of energy, the creature sped off back into the dark depths of the ocean. My reel screeched in protest, the rod bent to its limit. Then a loud crack as the line snapped, throwing me off balance onto the cabin window.
Cheers turned to groans of defeat. Joy turned to dejectedness. I slid the rod back into the holder and gazed into the depths of the ocean. I hardly noticed the burning sensation in my forearms as my frustration slowly turned into weariness. The monster of the deep had eluded me once again.
Fishing off the Coast of Indonesia
Every year, I head for the game rich waters of Indonesia to do battle with some of the ocean’s large predators. Great trevallies, leopard rays and massive groupers roam these waters providing an opportunity for anglers like me to test our skills.
The two hour ferry ride from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in Singapore ended at the Tanjong Pinang Ferry Terminal in Indonesia. Having reserved our fishing vessel a year in advance, we were greeted by the agent who wasted no time in getting his workers to lug away our cooler boxes and bags of angling gear. The two hours we had before being hustled onto the fishing vessel was spent buying last minute ‘essentials’ such as diabetes inducing soft drinks and cancer causing cigarettes.
At 12pm, our fishing vessel chugged out to sea. Being an old sea salt, I knew that it would be an eight hour journey across somewhat choppy seas to reach our first fishing spot. While the newbies excitedly chatted and eagerly fixed up their fishing gear on deck, I snuggled up in the cabin’s double decker bed, enjoying what I knew would be the few times I would get to sleep for the next three days.
Our fishing vessel was unfortunately not one of those flashy fibreglass sports fishing vessels as always seen in Hollywood movies. More a 12m wooden boat with a fibreglass deck. Despite its raggedy appearance, it held a 12 bed air conditioned cabin, a small galley and a wide rear deck for fishing. It carried a crew of five Indonesians and twelve passengers. Cost for chartering the boat? A cool S$2000.
The waters we were fishing in were also not the safest in the region. Pirates were known to operate in the area. Forget Jack Sparrow and think AK-47 wielding bandits who have no qualms robbing and kidnapping the passengers. According to the International Maritime Bureau, Indonesia is the most piracy prone country in the world. Just ask the crew for stories and they could relate to you a novel full of them, from how a yacht from Australia was hijacked and the woman on-board tragically raped in front of her husband to how massive tankers were hijacked and broken up to be sold for scrap metal.
So, it was well after sunset, still snuggled up between the sheets when I felt the boat slowing. Jumping out of bed, I headed up to deck to begin fishing. With my rod assembled in minutes and my line baited, it took less than fifteen minutes after it hit the water before the fish began to bite.
Minutes later, I easily hauled in my first fish, a small 1kg trevally. Lines were rebaited and tossed in again. For the next few hours, the fishing was good. I lost a few seemingly large ones but generally managed to snare some decent sized fish. Fishing continued throughout the night into the morning with the most aggressive bites spanning from 5am to 8am.
The next evening, fishing was similarly spectacular. The entertainment value was upped by the sight of wild dolphins frolicking around our boat. To top that off, I scored a trio of barracudas sealing my reputation as the Barra Hunter among the rest of the anglers. There was a sense of exhilaration throughout the night. Then, without much warning, the first raindrops started falling.
Not long after, the rain turned into a maelstrom which caused us to hurriedly reel in our lines. The water was getting choppier by the minute and we were struggling to even stand upright. One by one, everyone started to get seasick from the intense rocking on the boat. The newbies were the first to fall, taking turns to ‘make out’ with the toilet bowl.
Despite my reputation for not easily succumbing to sea-sickness, i feel a weird nauseous sensation welling in my throat. I dug deep inside me, enduring the discomfort i felt. Standing out in the rear of the boat, i was drenched, trying with futility to light a cigarette in the strong winds. For a moment, i felt a sliver of fear in my stomach. A fear of capsizing and drowning.
When it became apparent that the storm would not let up, our boat turned tail and fled back to the shelter of the islands. The boat rode the waves reluctantly, the bow slamming back down into the trough of the wave after ascending it’s crest. It was well after 3am when the storm calmed, the waters receding back into the small waves.
Thus, in slightly calmer waters, we continued to fish albeit the fish there were smaller and sparser.
I woke up to a brilliant sunrise that morning, the indication that our fishing trip was finally over. In all, we had caught well over two hundred fish with a hundred of them being mackerel. The largest so far was a 25kg black stingray. My personal largest for the trip was my 5kg barracuda.
The catch was not wasted, with the bulk being divided up and transported back into Singapore for distribution among friends and family.
As the fish was cleaned before being packed, the cook turned to me and grinned his toothless smile.
‘Are you coming back next year?” he cackled.
I did not hesitate. “Absolutely!”