Dateline: June 7, 2011 – Southern Islands, Singapore
This post wasn’t supposed to be about casting lures in the Southern Islands. It was supposed to be about an amazing trip to Malaysia. But the trip to Malaysia got rained out – for the second year in a row – because the Fish Gods are, to put it simply, sadistic. So we decided to schedule one more day with Henry down by Sentosa Island. And of course, once we had given up on Malaysia, the weather turned lovely. Jarvis and Alex picked me up early on the 7th, and as they were not in a tank, Jarvis was driving. The abuse started early. (“Where did you buy that panty shirt? Do they sell men’s clothes there?”)
There is no mercy in this group. The ragging is pointed, high-quality, and relentless. Nothing is off-limits. My choices in clothing are too feminine. I drink “panty drinks.” They insisted my last girlfriend was actually a man. And one of the ways that Jarvis and Alex have shown their love for me is to christen me with their own special nickname – “Angry White Man.” This may have been out of their deeply mistaken belief that I take the whole fishing thing too seriously and do not react well when things do not go my way, which is ridiculous. I am always patient and constructive. Just ask Jaime.
Over the years, we have pulled quite a few heartless fishing pranks on each other. One that stands out occurred in Malaysia in 2007 – I hooked a big Sailfish on light gear, and instead of jumping to maneuver the boat and help me, they both sat down, opened sodas, and laughed their soft little heads off while I frantically ran up and down the deck trying to keep the thing from tangling me in the motor. For the record, I landed the fish. And for good measure, I may have thrown them both into the water.
The Malaysia Sail, October 2007. I am still angry at them for not helping me.
The Fish Gods had been very kind to me on the species front, and with the endless abuse I had been absorbing for catching “panty fish,” I figured I would devote a day to fishing lures instead of bait for the local gamefish – the Queenfish and Trevallies will take a lure under the right circumstances. This is all done on light tackle and can be an absolute blast on the right day.
June 7 was the right day.
We started hitting Queenfish on poppers 5 minutes out of the dock. They were solid 3-5 pounders and they were everywhere. I also dropped a jig to the bottom and got a solid Spangled Emperor. Things were going our way.
The Spangled Emperor – these get to about 20 pounds, but even this size puts up a spirited fight.
The weather, which had betrayed us so badly the day before, stayed just hazy enough to keep it from getting oppressively hot. We worked our way around the lush tropical islands, hammering Trevally after Trevally, with Jarvis and Alex dumping non-stop abuse on poor, innocent me. (“Put away the panty sabikis and fish like a man!”) None of the fish were new species, but to tell the truth, today, it didn’t matter. It was non-stop action the minute the lures hit the water.
In the video below, Jarvis demonstrates proper use of the popper and gets a toothy surprise.
Most of our activity consisted of dropping small metal jigs to the bottom then ripping them up at breakneck speed. My arm ached after a few hours of this, but when a fish slams a speeding lure and stops it dead, it’s a huge thrill. Advil can take care of the pain later.
Jarvis laughs – likely at something unfortunate happening to me.
We only did a bit of bait fishing during the trip, dropping big live shrimp out in a deep shipping channel. Henry carefully maneuvered us around the oceangoing freighters as I felt the smaller “bait stealers” nip at the prawns. A few minutes later, my rod tip surged down and stayed down for about 2 humiliating minutes until whatever it was buried into the coral and broke me off. Henry smiled politely. “There are some biiiiig fish down there.” he said.
“And they’re STILL DOWN THERE!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!” added Alex helpfully.
Not to be discouraged, I tied another rig and lowered it back down with the largest shrimp in the tank. Moments later, as we drifted over a deep, rocky bottom, I got crunched – literally, as you will read in a moment. The fight was very strong and I could feel my line scraping across the bottom. I pulled inadvisably hard, preferring the dignity of breaking my own line to the pain of losing another fish in the coral. In that moment of truth, my knot held, and the fish started stubbornly edging off the bottom. Ten minutes later, I had landed the largest Blackspot Tuskfish I have ever seen – and to my astonishment, the world record is more than twice as big as this beast.
The beastly Blackspot. Note the in-process leg sunburn.
And yes, they are cute.
This is a normal-sized Blackspot Tuskfish.
We then continued catching Trevallies, and frankly, Alex and Jarvis were hammering me, each of them catching about 3 fish to my one. There are 3 or 4 kinds of Trevally in the area, generally weighing about a pound, all strong and active fighters.
Steve, Alex, and a normal-sized Sawai. We caught tons of these.
I was happy catching a few of these gamesters, although a faint tinge of competitiveness had crept into my psyche as I watched these guys totally outfish me. This is why I found myself very engaged when I had a jig strike that was noticeably heavier than the other fish. I thought – “There’s no way this is a normal-sized Sawai.” (Sawai is the local name for one of the Trevally species.)
The beastly Longfin Trevally. Alex has not caught one this big. Neither has Jaime.
And so, as I finally got the creature to the side of the boat, Henry looked down into the water and said “Man, that’s one big Sawai.” After I brought it on board, I immediately went to the collection of ID and record books I carry with me for just such an occasion. After a few minutes of research, it was clear – this was not just a bigger Sawai, it was a potential record Sawai. Hahahahaha yourself, Alex. (Alex responds “There you go again, Angry White Man.”)
Alex expresses his love.
We headed back to port as the sun started down, so it was already dark by the time we got cleaned up and into the car for the short ride back to the Hilton. I had a wonderful Chilli Crab dinner awaiting me, a local delicacy which is best eaten hand-to-hand and is the enemy of clean white shirts everywhere.
Group shot with assorted Queenfish and Trevallies. This is about 20% of what we caught in total – the rest went back.
Carrying Jarvis over the threshold. He’s heavier than he looks. I may have thrown him in the water after this shot was taken.