Dateline: January 10, 2016 – Ponggol, Singapore
Sure, Dave exhibited amazing heng on my last trip to Singapore. (Details HERE.) But was this a one-time thing, or is he truly a heng master? You’ll know in about 1500 words.
Singapore is one of my more frequent Asia business stops, so I have been fishing there steadily for the better part of two decades. This means I caught the standard species – and even most of the really weird ones – years ago. But there are still a few blank spots on the list, and one of these is stingrays. So, when I got sent to Singapore in January, this is what I asked Dave to arrange for me – a stingray trip.
He warned me this would not be easy – these species are considered edible, and hence get quite a bit of fishing pressure. Singapore is a small place, and the locals are skilled fishermen, with the exception of Alex, and his sister, although it turns out they are the same person. But we were going to give it a shot, because what else was I supposed to do on a Sunday, go to museums? (If you think this was a serious option, you must be a new reader. Welcome!)
Dave brought in some familiar help on this project – Jimmy Lim, local guide and fisherman extraordinaire. Jimmy would not only add his years of fishing knowledge to the project, he would also add an element of adult supervision, , because let’s face it, when Dave and I get together things get juvenile pretty quickly. I grant you it is a higher standard than when Alex and Jarvis are involved, (see “Angry White Man“) but not by much.
Jimmy Lim, fishing guide and adult supervision. You can reach him at https://www.facebook.com/ItsGrRReat
Flights to Singapore get in around 1am, so it was a short night of sleep – more of a furtive nap – before the 6am wake-up call and a taxi out to the marina. Both guys were there, bright-eyed, and, at least in Dave’s case, bushy-tailed.
This was my first fishing trip of 2016. I know it seems unthinkable that I waited 10 whole days, but remember that Marta’s family is Serbian Orthodox, so their Christmas is January 7. While this results in more gifts and lets me leave up the Christmas lights longer, it also means that our first week of January is always hectic. I have skipped a lot of responsibilities to go fishing, but Christmas is not negotiable. This week is also an excellent time for us to catch up on the more obscure Holiday specials – for example, did you know that there is a version of “A Christmas Carol” narrated by Vincent Price?
One review – “A TV special narrated by Vincent Price with sets seemingly borrowed from a local school Christmas play and a cast that didn’t qualify for same.” I love Vincent Price but this one screams casting error.
My plan was to fish some small rigs while we waited for a stingray to bite, and on my first drop, I got quite a surprise. The very first fish I pulled up for 2016 was a new species – the aptly-named “goatee croaker.” Life looked pretty good. Dave cast a metal high-speed jig, hoping for something larger. The conversation drifted between future fishing trips, tackle ideas, and a series of jokes and anecdotes which cannot be repeated here, except that most of them concluded with Jimmy saying either:
- “You two are idiots.” or …
- “I had no idea Alex was so open-minded.”
The goatee croaker. A bewildered Dave casts jigs in the background.
We continued drifting for rays, and while we didn’t get any bites, the small stuff kept producing. After 15 more minutes, I dragged up a masked shrimpgoby, species number two for the day. Just like last year’s adventure, we were finding new species where I hadn’t expected any. Dave cast tirelessly, and Jimmy kept moving to spots where he remembered catching something odd years before. Both of these guys seemed to know every inch of the coastal waters.
The masked shrimpgoby. These things share a burrow with a prawn, which is positively confusing for me.
The day settled into fairly steady action on small groupers and sweetlips, stuff I had gotten before, but it’s still (marginally) more fun to catch something that to sit there and stare at Dave while he cast and cast and cast that metal jig. In the early afternoon, I pulled up a small grouper that looked different than all the other small groupers, so I took a photo of it. Less than 24 hours later, Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum let me know it was a sixbar grouper, and I had tacked on my third new species of the day. Dave patiently cast without complaint.
The sixbar grouper. Cousin Chuck – can you guess why it’s called that? No, it didn’t go to six bars last night.
As we moved from spot to spot, Dave continued tossing the jig – this is hard work, as the local species only respond to a high speed presentation. But nothing would bite for him. In the meantime, one of my live prawns got nailed by a sicklefish – an oddly-shaped creature found in estuaries throughout the region.
Not big enough the beat the record, but a lovely fish nonetheless.
It was at this stage of the afternoon that Dave’s amazing persistence was finally rewarded, and no, this does not mean that girl from Crazy Horse finally called him back. This means he finally got flat-out crushed on his jig, and he had something meaningful and angry hooked up and swimming the other way at great speed. He calmly and expertly played the fish, and in a few minutes, he had landed a giant trevally. I grant you, it wasn’t a big one, but remember, he was fishing with 10 pound braid and a glorified trout rod. Moments later, I got a GT on a live shrimp, and we got to take the highly sought-after “doubles” photo – two GTs at the same time. I thought to myself that the day couldn’t get any better.
Doubles on GTs. These are one of the best fish ever.
But the day could get better – the next prawn I sent over the side got smashed, and I was into the first of two golden trevally I would land in the next 30 minutes. This species it actually much more beautiful the smaller it gets, and while this striped one was nice-looking, they are bright yellow when they are about half this size. Adults are just a plain gray, but at any size, they pull hard. Dave also stuck one of these on a jig, and with all the action late in the day, he may have been more thrilled than I was. Jimmy was quietly satisfied in the background – it had been another stellar day, even if he had learned some disturbing things about Alex.
One of the goldens. Perversely, I wanted a smaller one.
We got off the water relatively early – this was after all a business trip, and that evening was full of suits, plates of suspicious appetizers, and discussions about things mostly nowhere near as important as a goatee croaker. But no matter how difficult the crab puffs would be in the morning, nothing could bother me – I already had three species in the bag for 2016 – and the possible trip of a lifetime coming up in just five days.