Monday, May 19, 2008


By Trevor Tau Fik

Mere minutes after we left the riverside chalet, our boat cruised out of the estuary, towards open sea. Upon seeing the calm waters before us, Boon Yew remarked that it was a good day for me, referring to my retching intolerance to corrugated waters. I nodded in agreement, but my buoyant mood leaned more towards catching something great on this trip, rather than just being able to hold down my breakfast. Unbeknown to me, this was the day that would teach me that there are other ways to feel good and great... that are not related to catch, bounty or haul.

On our way out to sea, we enjoyed a silky-smooth ride on the Rompin river.
Arriving at our destination, we quickly deployed bottom-fishing rigs that were specially customised for our specific quarry - the coveted wrasse. That meant strong and long leaders armed with a sturdy hook, to deal with the submarine strength and line-snapping speed of a hooked wrasse crashing through the coral fortress it calls home. I was warned that fighting one needs to be a hard and fast extraction i.e. strike savagely, pound your pumps and retrieve rabidly (yes, I mean rabidly, and not just rapidly). Although there are other practised ways of bringing one to the boat, we believed in this method, so that is how we would do it. Of course, we had the corresponding hardware - stiff rods, heavy lines, robust reels... the works. And to entice them tough-toothed, coral-crunching aquatic juggernauts to do business with us, we had brought along their candy indulgence... live mud crabs. Cut into quarters or halves, the succulent scent of crab meat is apparently irresistible to wrasse, with the fleshy claw being acknowledged as the most potent bit.
Only the best for the wrasse.
Believing that to be the case, I grabbed a bulbous pincer and smashed it lightly to release its flavours, before hooking it through the thick membrane at the "elbow" joint. Fussing a little too much to get it just right resulted in me being the last one to prep up. Usually, that meant nothing. But on this day and on this trip, it was of the utmost significance.

The guys had already set their lines when I was just about to lower my bait. As I thumbed the line, a sudden jolt rocked the boat a little and startled me green. I grabbed the handrail and turned around, as Boon Cheng was shouting excitedly from that direction. I saw everyone looking at Boon Yew, who was behaving like a beast possessed. He was wildly whipping his rod repeatedly, with crazed cranking of the reel in between each lash. If I had seen him like this on land, hell, I would've run the heck away.

A dazzling diamond, straight out of Neptune's treasure chest.
But this was serious... he had a hookup! Barely two minutes into his first cast, Boon Yew was now tangling with something really savage and strong. He wasn't doing much good retrieving, so he kept high-yanking his rod. On one such maneuver... PAHP! His rod tip snapped, between the second and third rings. But the line held and the fish was still on! Having been transformed into a walking stick now, it was unlikely that the rod would snap a second time, so Boon Yew put his "new" rod to good use. As he reclaimed line, we peered into the blue crystal waters hoping to see the green jewel colours of a mighty wrasse. But instead, up came an angular-shaped fish adorned with a mother-of-pearl suit. An ebek (diamond trevally)!!! Everyone was chattering away about how such a fish could have munched a crab bait, shell and all. But of course, we didn't mind the absence of a conclusive explanation. The fish was on deck. That was all that mattered.

Victorious angler, vanquished fish and wrecked rod.
Among the many things that we superstitious anglers subscribe to, is the Law of Attraction, the phenomenon where positive vibes produces positive results. Put simply, when you feel good and exude good vibes, you attract good energy and good things will happen to you... or as in this case, your twin brother.
Don't mess with wrasse, they pack quite a bite.

While I was still photographing Boon Yew and the ebek, another surge of commotion suddenly tilts the boat slightly. This time, it is Boon Cheng who is doing the deranged monkey dance. He's onto a solid hookup! There is shouting, stomping and swearing but fortunately... no broken rod. Boon Cheng turns red from the strenuous effort of his encounter with the furious fish, whose demonic spirit seem to have manifested in his PE3 rod. From the beastly bend of the heavy stick, we are pretty sure that it is a whopper wrasse. In the belief that losing even a foot of line would allow the fish to pile itself into a coral hole, Boon Cheng put all his faith in the braided line and clutches his spool. Gritting his teeth, he executes a "make or break" hard pump and painfully manages to regain about a metre of line. That three feet made all the difference. From then on, we could see that the fight had swung in Boon Cheng's favour, evident from the angle of his line, which was slowly rising. Then, as if expecting confetti and champagne, a regal green slab of jade rose to the surface and stretched out in surrender. In unison, we exhaled a breath of awe at the sight of this wonderful wrasse with a head as big as Boon Cheng's face. Our skipper ceremoniously brought it aboard, where it instantly became the most photographed subject of our entire trip.

Bling! Bling! Boon Yew & Boon Cheng flashes their diamond & jade trophies.
As noon approached, the current came to an absolute standstill. It was so placid that even without a sinker, my rig went straight down on the weight of the bait alone. We had been relegated from neap tide to "nap" tide, further eroding our chances of catching fish. It was at this time that our skipper displayed his remarkable skill at getting fish to bite. The long lull of inactivity and the sedative slow rocking of the boat had made my eyelids heavy, so honestly, I didn't notice what Razali did. But the next thing I knew, he was on his feet and grappling with his rod. Hookup! He was fishing from the front of the boat and his fish forcibly pulled him repeatedly from the right to the left side of the bow and back. For two minutes or so, I watched him tussle arduously with the fish. He didn't get it any easier than Boon Yew or Boon Cheng, but there was one noticeable exception in the way his dealt with his fish... the absence of panic. Whatever the fish hurled, spat and kicked at him, Razali remained calm and collected. Under such circumstances, there can be only one conclusion. As the seasoned skipper brought his leader up, we saw that smile-inducing gorgeous green hue in the water. Another wrasse! With a swift dip and sweep of a huge landing net, it was brought safely on board. Although only about half the size as the earlier one, it was nonetheless accorded the same amount of celebration.
Skipper Razali strikes a stern, male-supermodel pose with his captive.
With the exception of a thumping tripletail that Razali caught later in the day, the motionless waters yielded nothing else for the rest of our trip. On the ride back, we talked jovially about how amazing adversaries the wrasse were. Everyone had an exciting tale to tell, although not all of us scored on this outing. We even had a hearty laugh about Boon Yew's broken $XXX rod. Heck, we were happy as hyenas!
I do not know of any other activity where loss brings joy. I guess that's just the infectious magic of angling at work...

A thuggish tripletail to complement Razali's rugged demeanour.

Walloping Whiskers!!!
Check out this colossal cat!
Lunging in on June 01, 2008.

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