Posted by: 1000fish | February 27, 2018

The Best Disaster Ever


There are days you just shouldn’t go fishing. Your wife’s birthday comes to mind, baptisms of children if any, and significant holidays in whatever religion you may follow. Trust me – I speak from experience. Nearly as important as these considerations are those occasions when the elements conspire against you, making conditions either unsafe (think storms or tropical disease) or just undesirable for fishing (think red tide or armed insurrection.) This post will cover one such day, but I went fishing anyway and was improbably rewarded for a bad decision. The victims here were my buddies, who had to suffer through an awful day – not only were the fish small and far between, but the guys also had to be on a small boat with me for 10 hours.

The place was Singapore, the guide was the ever-reliable Jimmy Lim, the friends were Dave and Jarrod, and the problems were tides and rain.

You can contact Jimmy on or As good as he is, he can’t stop the rain.

Singapore is tropical, so a day of unseasonably cold rain will cloud up the water and put the fish off. There had been three days of unseasonably cold rain. On top of that, the tides, much like Cousin Chuck, were notably slow, meaning limited action even if the water had been warm and clear. But I went anyway, because I was here and I only had one free day – the rest of the week would be (gasp) work. The innocent victims in all this – Dave and Jarrod, buddies who just wanted a nice day of fishing. Jimmy had warned me, I had warned myself, but somehow, I was convinced deep in my hubris-laden soul that I could pull off a decent day.

I haven’t been this wrong since I proposed to my ex-wife.

I started things out on a low note by bringing the wrong rod tube to the harbor. This caused a 45 minute delay, which could have been much longer except for the heroic actions of Filzah, the concierge at the Hyatt, who managed to race up to my room, avoid my dirty socks and find the correct Loomis, then get it delivered to me with great efficiency. Concierges have featured in a number of my adventures, such as “Gobies in the Afternoon,” and Filzah takes an honored place in this group.

Filzah, the heroic concierge at the Singapore Hyatt.

Realistically, waiting for the hotel car was the most excitement we had all day. The fishing was awful, as Jimmy repeatedly warned us it would be. Dave and Jerrod got a couple of small snappers each, and I got roughly the same. The guys were beerfully stoic, even when I pointed out “At least we have each other.” They tried, and failed, to keep a straight face when I caught a teeny ponyfish on purpose.

The good-looking guys are Jerrod at center and David on the right. You have met David’s son in blog episode “I’m Here for the Gummy.” The little guy has captured a species I have not, and don’t think this doesn’t bother me.

But even on the grimmest of angling days, the metaphorical tides can change in an instant. Because the predatory fish were absolutely not interested in eating, the small, strange fish that normally spend their days hiding in terror all seemed to come out and play. As the afternoon went on, my sabiki produced four – FOUR – new species. I would like to note that Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum spent untold time identifying all of these – he must have identified a hundred species for me over the years, and he is remarkable not only for his knowledge, but also for his amazing patience when I am hoping that a fish is something new and it isn’t but I keep asking just in case.

Dr. Jeff Johnson. I have never seen a Malabar Blood Snapper half this size.

The first two were Sardinella species – these are commonly called “herring” or “sardine” depending on location, but the only other ones I’ve caught (in Sao Tome, Belize, and Qatar) are not found here. So these go into the list as a “genus only” ID, but new species.

Sardinella spp. 1

Sardinella spp. 2 – note again the look of complete awe on David’s face.

I then added an anchovy to the list. Yes, an anchovy, albeit a weird one from a weird genus – Thryssa. We’ll never know which specific Thryssa is was, as I didn’t take an MRI of the fish, but I have no other Thryssa in my collection and it was turning into a great day than only I and I alone could appreciate. Luckily, the guys had brought beer.

I am proud of this.

My final addition for the day was an especially thrilling one. (To me, and perhaps Martini.) I somehow dragged up a Reticulate Toadfish, a close relative of the three-spined toadfish that I captured in Cairns in 2003.

There’s something about that complex anterior eye cirrus that makes me so happy.

All of these were caught in places I had fished numerous times previously. The only variable was the rotten water situation – so I had ended up inadvertently making the best of a bad situation. The guys, true Australians, handled it in stride and verbally abused me all day. The abuse and anecdotes thrown my way were uninterrupted and high-quality. Unfortunately, even five months later, I still can’t think of a single thing they said that I can repeat here without making my blog the target of some sort of activist group. (Apart from the usual fish-hugger types, who never understand that hugging fish doesn’t impress the fish and leaves you both with awkward smells.) About all I am allowed to say is that there was a story I’ll call “Wrong Turn on Guai Lo Street” that was partly educational, partly hysterical, but mostly disturbing. Think “The Crying Game” meets “Finding Nemo.”

The guys are smiling because we were done.

I thought about offering to pay for a night out for them, but a bar tab for Australians can be a financially crippling obligation. I did end up having dinner and drinks with David later in the week, so he got at least partially even with me.

Dis Elephant

This is a real Thai restaurant in Singapore. It has an elephant butt for a logo. 

He has also discovered some rather exquisite underground bars, which feature exquisite underground drinks and exquisite underground bar tabs.

Yes, that’s a three-story high liquor cabinet. The stuff on the top shelves gets a bit pricey – note that there are no stairs. They send a waitress, complete with wings, up on a wire harness.

But the Singapore fishing wasn’t quite over. Many of you newer readers are familiar with the whole Singapore gang – Jimmy, Dave, Sherwin, and the assorted peanut gallery from Lure Haven. But only those who have been around since the beginning of 1000fish – and before – will remember the founder of all my Singapore adventures – Jarvis Wei Lee. Jarvis guided me to my very first fish in Singapore – a barramundi and a mangrove jack – back on July 4, 1999.

Steve and Jarvis, a long time ago. He never seems to age.

We’re still in touch – he often makes dark comments on my blog – but it had been quite a few years since we were able to put our schedules together. Purely by chance, a few weeks before this trip, he emailed me a note mentioning that he had figured out a couple of Singapore species that I could add whenever I visited. So we set up a late afternoon to run around some of Singapore’s lesser-known backwaters and hunt a few truly exotic species, at least one of which was not in a hatchery environment.

Our first target took us deep into the jungle.

There were monkeys. Unlike Gibraltar, they kept their distance. (See “Rock Fishing” for details.)

There is a surprising amount of jungle in Singapore, and no one will convince me that every jungle does not have at least one cobra. My strategy was to let Jarvis go first, so that I could run for help while he held off the snake.

Prime cobra country.

See – he never ages.

Our fishing target was a rare snakehead species, and we eventually found and fished some very small pools in a stream that meandered through the foliage. The water level wasn’t quite right, but while we did not get the snakehead, we did score some Penang Bettas, which were there in droves.

The Penang Betta. A savage new species.

The trophy shot.

Later in the afternoon, we drove to about as isolated a spot as one can find in Singapore. Remember, the island is only 31 miles wide, so it would seem difficult to find someplace that no one could hear me scream, yet here we were. The target was a jewel perch – don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of them either. They are apparently really good to eat, which in turn means that they are grown in ponds for the markets, which in turn means that Jarvis knew which pond. We spent about 45 minutes messing around a complex of ponds and small backwaters, and we had a blast hooking up (and releasing) the hard-fighting perch.

Species 1736 if you’re keeping score at home. Dr. Johnson informs me that it is actually a Barcoo Grunter, an Australian species. Jewel perch and Jade perch are marketing names meant to make them sound more edible, sort of like “Rocky Mountain Oysters.” The scientific name for the species is Scortum barcoo, which I only mention because “Scortum” kept spell-correcting to “Scrotum.”

While we were catching perch, we noticed a larger, black fish that kept popping up and eating bread off the surface. After we saw it a few times, we both figured out it was a sharkminnow, a fairly rare cyprinid that shows up in this part of world now and then. I had caught one in Thailand – made famous in “The Carp and I”  – and was frothing at the nostrils to get another. We must have spent half an hour casting to it, and either having perch eat the bread or having the sharkminnow come up, sniff at it, and wander away. It was getting dark. We both had stuff to do. But we couldn’t leave that fish, and after about another hour, I got lucky. Meaning I caught the fish – get your mind out of the gutter.

With that catch, we were on our way to respective business dinners downtown. It had been great to see Jarvis – we’ve been doing this for almost 18 years – but then I had to face a few days in the office. (I am even less popular in this office than I am in most of the others globally.) But all that was fine, because once the week was over, I would be heading for an adventure in the last Asian country I am likely to ever add to my list. No, it’s not North Korea. Dennis Rodman won’t call me back.







  1. Hey buddy. Are you still playing with those panty fish? When will you be back to Hawaii? Some weird things coming up. If you can make in October or November your ladyfish is very possible.

    Jamie’s dad

  2. Haahahah.. angry white man with panty fish.. hahah. hey steve i miss putting crabs into your wind breaker. haha. come philippines , i am located at clark air base, i bring you light jigging .

    • Dude!! Just published a blog that featured Jarvis, brought many memories of fishing with you, most of them unpleasant. I would LOVE to go fishing in the Philippines. Any suggestions for my kind of panty fishing – coral reef species and such or some really deep water? I am on



  3. […] Chris Armstrong, who also introduced me to Jarvis in Singapore. […]

  4. […] way home, we got going on the subject of “rules to live by,” which always brings back David Barkess’ timeless “Park in the shade, don’t take any wooden nickels, and be nice to your […]

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