Dateline: October 13, 2013 – St. John’s Island, Singapore
We established a long time ago that I have no shame when it comes to fishing. A species is a species, a country is a country, and a fishing buddy is a fishing buddy, even if he puts live crabs in the pocket of your raincoat.
I have fished Singapore hard over the years with buddies Alex and Jarvis, (see Singapour) and it’s realistic to say I have very few species left to catch there. Still, I am sent to Singapore on business quite a bit, and if I am there, it’s not like I’m going to spend my weekend in a museum, unless it’s an aquarium with no surveillance system.
This trip was at the end of the season and was risking iffy weather, so Alex thought we should try something local. In November of 2009, we tried to squeeze in a three day trip to Indonesia late in the year, and we paid a stiff price in constant wind, persistent cold water, and occasional barf. This time, Alex suggested that we try a local island, St. John’s. It is a short ferry ride from downtown, and Alex thought it might have some interesting small stuff – “panty species,” as he calls them. (See “Angry White Man“)
When I got to Singapore, it was raining hard. The kind of rain where you have to hold your hand up over your mouth so you can breathe, or, if you are smarter than I am, you just stay indoors. I made sure that I had the Gore Tex in my equipment bag, and prepared for a difficult day.
We set out very early – something like 5am – and caught a small ferry over to St. John’s Island. The guys were all set up to cast high-speed jigs and plugs around the island. It’s not as good as Malaysia, but there is still an occasional big jack or queenfish to be had.
The guys on the ferry ride over. Who the heck is this enthusiastic at 5am?
Despite the vile weather, enthusiasm ran high – not that Alex could ever be anything less than unrelentingly cheerful. He just loves to be near the water – almost as much as he loves putting wildlife into my clothing. (More on that later.) His positive attitude, when it isn’t annoying the heck out of me, has kept me going on some tough days – and we have put some very nice fish in the boat together. (Along with his dark and sinister companion, Jarvis, who couldn’t make this particular adventure.)
We set up under a small concrete pier that hung out over some promising mangroves. It had an awning, which was important, because it kept raining. The guys spread out and cast. I put out a larger bait in the middle of the lagoon and then started working the shoreline with tiny sabikis. I caught a few glass perch, which are ubiquitous in this area, but then I got a cardinalfish that looked unfamiliar.
The humpback cardinalfish – species # 1243.
The guys were bewildered at my joy over something small enough to be used as bait to catch baitfish, but they smiled quietly and kept fishing. Just then, something furry and warm brushed against my leg. Naturally, I thought it was Alex, but it wasn’t. It was a stray cat. It looked at me imploringly, as only cats can, hoping I would share a squid with it. I have always had a soft spot for animals, and I started to cut it a small meal. That’s when I noticed that it had friends. Dozens of them. In Hitchcockian fashion, they began moving in.
The cats move in.
I had to shoo them away quite assertively, and it was clear that they were retreating only to consult with one another and come up with a better plan. As I turned back to fishing, they would creep in and stalk the bait, so I had to hold the pail with one hand and cast with the other. The cats were not aggressive, but they were very opportunistic, and any prawn or squid that was even briefly unguarded was quickly snatched.
The cats approach Alex. They apparently didn’t mind the smell.
Alex noticed some small mudskippers on a stretch of sand by the mangroves. Naturally, I spent much of the day trying to catch one. They took a lot of concentration. They were aggressive, but very skittish, and they only seemed to like a moving bait. So I had to cast perfectly onto the small beach, give it a moment for the mudskippers to calm down, then twitch it quickly enough to get their attention but slowly enough where it didn’t go into the water where they would lose interest. I was at it for more than an hour, and had a couple of hookups but nothing landed.
Finally, in the driving rain, one of the mudskippers stayed on the hook and I flipped it up on the bank. A species! It wriggled off the hook and landed on the ground behind me, and when I was getting my camera to photograph it, a cat raced in and snatched it. Sigh. So I had to spend another 30 minutes catching one for pictures.
The second barred mudskipper I caught that day.
They are adorable if frustrating … kind of like Marta.
Late in the day, during a break in the rain, I took a sabiki rod and one prawn – which can last a long time on # 20 hooks – and headed off to the end of the breakwater. I set up and began catching a few wrasses and damsels, and then, wonderfully, one of the damsels was completely unfamiliar. It turned out to be a silver demoiselle, my third species of the day.
It’s at least prettier than the other two.
I got quite occupied photographing the beast, and when I looked up, my prawn was gone. The feline miscreants had followed me, snatched it, and scampered off. I was facing a half-mile of walking to get more bait. Sigh.
That about wound things down for the day. The guys hadn’t gotten much on the jigs, but they were a pleasant bunch, except for Alex, who was even more pleasant. As I repacked my gear, the clouds darkened again, so I put on my rainjacket. I was walking to the ferry dock when I felt something heavy in my pocket, likely a weight I had left there. So I reached in with my hand, and to my surprise, the weight bit me. It was a crab.
I would like to think I uttered a simple, manly grunt – but the fact is I screamed like a little girl and danced around until I had gotten the jacket half off and spun the crab out of its hiding place. Alex and crew, almost 200 yards away, were all laughing hysterically. Jerks.
Alex does his crab imitation. Ha, ha, ha.
Alex, because he is an idiot, had put a crab in my pocket and was waiting for my reaction. I didn’t disappoint him. Pranks like this are juvenile, sophomoric, immature, slimy, and Jaime Hamamoto-like, but what upsets me most, what REALLY makes me mad – is that I didn’t think of it first.
And let’s face it, by the time I got back to Hilton, I was already looking forward to my next trip with these guys. But I’m keeping a close eye on all of my gear and taping my pockets shut.