Friday, May 9, 2008

Pounding Peacocks

By Trevor Tau Fik

Ever hear of fishing trips where one guy in the entire group accounts for all the catch? Just pray that you only HEAR about it. I had the teeth-grating agony of actually experiencing such a calamity.

Before you put your hand on your forehead, let me come right out and say it for you first, “Oh no! Not another peacock bass story!” But hey, just humour me wilya? As many would acknowledge, though factors like fish and venue may be the same, no two trips are alike. This is especially so when you fish out in the wild, in a place like Air Kuning - the “Big Apple” of peacock bass.

Some of the waters here exude a dream-like appeal.

It had been raining hard the few days before our trip, so the water level was expected to be higher than usual. What we didn’t know was whether that would be conducive or detrimental to our land-based fishing plans.

But it turned out that the wet season was a blessing, as our first spot, which is normally cluttered with water weeds, was now completely flooded. The encumbrances were thus submerged, presenting us with a clean body of water for our lures to plough. To answer the beckoning of such inviting conditions, I immediately launched my “never fail” bronze spoon, which has notched up many peacocks on previous missions. Sporadic swirls were seen as we began our bass quest, indicating strong potential for swift success. My spoon fluttered flamboyantly just beneath the surface, flinging amber flashes of the bright morning sun in all directions. Man, even if the fish were not hungry, I was pretty sure they’d gob that metal just for the heck of it.

This is doubtlessly the best way for an angler to start the day.
While I was catching fish in my misty mind, my pal Boon Yew hit one in reality. The startling splash of his hooked fish was announcement enough to grab my attention. Turning to his direction, I saw a frightening curve on his rod, as he pulled back on it really hard with both hands. A huge boil took the place of the earlier splash and I could see Boon Yew losing line… lotsa line! My first thought was, “It’s a toman” (giant snakehead), based on the sheer savagery of the fish in twisting both rod and angler out of shape. But then, as if just to prove me wrong, the rascal of a fish leapt clear out of the water to flaunt its vivid war paint of red, green and gold. Peacock bass!!! It was big enough to make a good splash when it hit the water again and even cleverly used the force of its re-entry to push itself into another line-ripping run. But Boon Yew has seen it all before. Thumbing his baitcaster with just the right amount of pressure, he stopped the belligerent bass at will, and proceeded to milk it of its steam. Within a minute, the exhausted fish was slid in and stretched out to display its splendid colours. Uncle Cheong, though an experienced haruanman, had never seen one before and was simply ecstatic to finally meet a peacock in the flesh. So much so that he wanted to take it home to adorn his aquarium. But that meant we would have to take our chilled drinks out of the ice box for him to store the fish in there. No cold drinks on a hot day at Air Kuning? No prizes for guessing whether Uncle Cheong got his way…

Uncle Cheong wanted these two babes for his aquarium, but had to settle for a photo instead...
After photographing Boon Yew’s fish, I resumed casting with added optimism, spurred by the fact that his fish had hit a lure that was about the same colour as my spoon. But apparently, being optimistic doesn’t cut it in our game. After burning up my entire breakfast at that spot, I gave up and went to sit down for a while. Boon Yew then decides to give it a go and casts his magic lure at the swim I had just abandoned. Would you believe it, on his very first cast… wham! His second fish instantly showed its identity by doing a proud leap, with the “peacock eye” on its tail clearly visible. Boon Yew made short work of playing in and landing his fish, with Uncle Cheong watching in amazement.

Boon Yew with the bass that was "stolen" from my spot.
Doggone it! Whaza matter with the fishes here? I had been carpeting the same area with my casts all morning, as did Uncle Cheong who was using a succulent frog bait… and they hit Boon Yew’s lure on the first swing! Was it the lure or the angler that made the difference? As the day later revealed, it was a combination of both.
Just before noon, we moved to another area of Air Kuning that is reputed to consistently yield good sized peacocks. While our other three friends went off to find their respective choice spots, I tailed Boon Yew to a deep and still section of the huge lake. Gotta hang out with eagles if you wanna fly high, right?

We started casting simultaneously, hitting about the same spot with our barbed projectiles. On my third cast, a brazen bass follows the lure right up to my feet… and turns away. Drat! Just as I am about to complain to Boon Yew, he makes a recoiling whip with his rod and a bratty bass of about a kilo takes to the air. He hit another one! Fighting it with ease, he brought it to the bank in a jiffy. After landing it, he tells me that he was using the same charmed lure that caught the other two fishes earlier. That’s three in the bag for him, while the four of us had not received so much as a scale-scrape. Man, this was really beginning to hurt. Again… was it the man or the lure?

A beaten bass comes to grips with its fate.
To put the notion to test, Boon Yew let Jacky use the hot lure while he rigged up a juicy frog to join Uncle Cheong in attempts to add a haruan to our day. While the two of them dredged their frog baits across weedy swims where them brown snakeheads just love to hang out, Jacky dilligently worked the red lure in open waters where pompous peacocks would occasionally show themselves with a seductive swirl. Jacky and I worked ourselves into a rage, chasing the scattered signs of rising fish. Then along comes Boon Yew, and he spies an open patch of water within a field of partly submerged weeds. Just as any of us would have done, he popped his frog right in there and started twitching the line. Instantly, a huge wake erupted at the spot, pushing the weeds further apart, indicating the bait had been gulped. Big haruan! Boon Yew slammed it with a tooth-yanking strike and his line twanged out an urgent chord. Good hookup! My mouth went dry as I watched the strong fish paddle its tail downward with such force that it made the entire weed patch roll, like spectators at a stadium doing the wave. Just as I thought that a snag-up was inevitable, Boon Yew made a hard pump and his braided line slit a bit of the soft weeds, allowing him to drag the fish out. Away from cover, the fish dove deep, perhaps attempting to find something else to wrap the line around. But it found none, and under such advantageous circumstances, Boon Yew could do no wrong.

This swarthy bass wolfed a frog bait that was meant for haruan.
As the line drew near, I cocked open my lip-grip and thumbed the trigger. Leaning forward to palm in the leader, in anticipation of seeing a good-sized haruan, I noticed an unusual colour in the water. Boon Yew made a determined pump and although the fish was still deep, I caught a definitive glimpse of it. A peacock! He caught a bass on a frog bait! Although not that uncommon, I just couldn’t believe his (b)ass luck. Were these darned fishes following him around or what? An answer to the “man or lure” question was beginning to form, especially since all Jacky caught on Boon Yew’s lucky lure, were clumps of water weed.

A peekaboo of Boon Yew's bewitched lure.
INDISPUTABLERefusing to believe that the bass would hit only Boon Yew’s lure, Jacky gave it back and the four of us proceeded to cast fish-catching gizmos of every type and colour into the waters, which produced nothing but anxiety. Boon Yew announced that he would take a break, getting up only occasionally to casually cast that enviously enchanted lure of his. And even when he did, he wasn’t flinging out full-bodied casts like us. He just made aimless lobs that barely covered fifteen feet. But at work here, was the potent combination of the man and the lure.
While we cast and cussed, I suddenly hear the sound of Boon Yew’s feet doing the shuffle. I look over and see him hugging a berserk bending rod that seemed to be trying to leap out of his grip and into the water. He had another hit… and it’s a big one! It was one of those “unbelievable, yet not surprising” kinda situations. From the heavy exertion of force on both ends of the line, we could tell that winning this battle would render a worthy reward for Boon Yew. As if to solicit his earnest efforts, a golden slab with dark markings rolled near the surface, churning the water with a mighty swoosh. Given such motivation, Boon Yew wrenched and winched his gear until the leader finally showed. By this time, the fish was already drained of all resistance and Uncle Cheong easily reached out and cradled it onto the bank. Although well in excess of a kilo, we were surprised that it was smaller than an earlier one Boon Yew caught, considering the spirited struggle it displayed.

As though planned to give Boon Yew a grand closing ceremony, his final fish was the hardest-fighting one.
Unfortunately for Boon Yew, but fortunately for us, that was the final fish he caught for the day. I don’t think we could have taken any more of such slanted distribution of bounty. However, amid the jest jealousy and baying banter, we were truly glad for his good fortune that painted our day with the pleasant colours of five bestially beautiful bass.
But don’t get me started about the other dozen or so fishes that he hooked and lost in mid-fight throughout the day… %$#@*!!!.

Solo success. Boon Yew flashes one finger short of his total haul number.

In the absence of endorsement arrangements, we have omitted specific mention of the make and model of Boon Yew’s “super” lure. But if you wanna know, feel free to e-mail me via Hurry though, ‘coz Boon Yew plans to buy up every damn one in the market!

Watch out for and check out our tackle crunching story "ROCKIN' @ ROMPIN" on May 20, 2008!!!

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