WORDS Bruce Maxwell
Fishing is the world’s most popular pastime. In every country, people fish. Creeds and customs don’t matter. Even in land-locked places, angling in fresh water rivers and lakes replaces the bounty of seas and oceans. Wetting a line or net is the truly transcendental act that binds us together.
At one end of the scale, there is subsistence fishing by people who simply fish to survive. No shortage of them amid Asia’s many island and coastal villages. And then there is heavy-tackle commercial fishing, dominated in Asia-Pacific by the formidable, far-roaming North Asian fleets of Japan, Korea and China, co-ordinated by high-tech mother ships.
Prolific fish farming in recent decades has eaten into the market share of “wild” offshore catches. Together they now total about 100 million tons a year, says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Fishing for pleasure, perhaps for a simple “feed of fish”, or to catch-and-release, has thus receded to a tiny sliver of today’s high-tech intake, yet it remains an important part of our lives. Enough varieties of fish are left to make private angling quite interesting, even therapeutic, and a real test of skills.
In places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, beach and rock fishing, bottom fishing over reefs, and offshore trolling are all practiced. There are expeditions from boat clubs and marinas. Competitions are run. Fishing charters are offered.
For more esoteric exeriences, keen fisherman Carmine Vastola set up Hong Kong Deep Sea Fishing Charters some years ago. He bought a 90-foot, aluminium, three-screw vessel called Fortuna from treasure hunters in the States, refitted her as a recreational fishing vessel in New Jersey, and she is presently based in Kwun Tong.
Fortuna is able to sleep 30 passengers and six crew. She cruises at 15 knots, and has a range of 800 nm. Her longest trips are two-night affairs to oil rigs off the China Coast. The rigs act as Fish Activation Devices, or FADs, because marine growth on the legs attracts small fish, which attract bigger fish, and so on. Cost for the three-day voyage is a very reasonable HK$4,000, and there are other shorter options from as little as HK$1,500 – $2,000.
This vessel can be hired for a private charter, or in “open boat” mode, when the payment above is accepted for a single berth. At least those booking alone can assume that their fellow charterers will likely know a bit about fishing.
Vastola’s other boat is a 32-foot Boston Whaler called Thai Lady, also purchased in the States and shipped to Hong Kong. Based at Clearwater Bay Marina, very near inshore fishing waters, she carries four passengers and two crew, has twin 250 Verado 4-stroke engines, and a 300 nm range. One of the world’s most successful fishing boats ever, the Boston Whaler has done more than 100 trips to closer offshore rigs.
Fish hooking up include marlin, sailfish, barracuda, mackerel, wahoo, mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna, amberjack, rainbow runners, trevally, snapper, garoupa and a variety of others. Some trolling, others bottom fishing.
Supporting his endeavours is Simpson Marine, Asia’s largest and oldest boat dealer, which offers Barracuda and Viking fishing boats. The latter is one of America’s best-known brands, and has an impressive pedigree in tournaments and private charters around the world, although she is classed as a convertible, allowing the family and friends to have full range of the vessel when not in fishing mode. Po Kee Fishing Tackle is another strong backer of these ventures.
Hong Kong’s Mandarin Sport Fishing Club was formed decades ago, and originally included mostly expats from Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Aircraft and Engineering, who had the time and means to fish tournaments in Japan, Philippines, Thailand and further afield at Kailua-Kona in Hawaii, Cairns-Lizard Island in Australia, Mauritius, Kenya and other exotic places.
Mandarin SFC members nowadays are mostly Chinese, although many expats continue to wet a line too. A tournament was held at Taiwan-controlled Pratas Reef or Dongsha, 165 nm SE of Hong Kong, for five years in the late 1980s to early 1990s, which was covered by the US Marlin magazine, anointing it as “the world’s furthest offshore event”.
This was sponsored by Hatteras, which with Bertram were the two biggest names in sport fishing boats at the time. Those yards still produce very upmarket models. Pratas, however, was over-fished by nearby Chinese and Taiwan trawlers, and has been reclassified as a marine park to recover. The Mandarins now hold two China Coast events in the lull between the nor’east and sou’west monsoons, and after summer, as cooler nor’easters begin again.
Singapore has followed much the same pattern. Expeditions fanned out to the Indonesian Riaus, into the South China Sea, and particularly into Malaysia, be it Tioman and Terengganu in the east, or off Penang and Langkawi. Some big pelagic fish have been boated in these equatorial waters.
Like the Mandarins, Singapore anglers formed teams to contest tournaments abroad. We particularly recall running into Shaw Vee King at one lively event in Mauritius in his younger days. Bob Kwan of Sinbad fame is a scuba diver and fisherman too.
Other superyacht owners, like Brian Chang and Goh Cheng Liang, are also very accomplished fishermen. Transom platform of the
61m White Rabbit E at Marina at Keppel Bay, for example, can be fitted with a fighting chair, which is kept aboard, although he prefers to use auxiliary craft. David Lieu in Hong Kong, owner of the 65m
Van Triumph, fished far and wide, including at now-disputed Scarborough Shoal.
Phuket has been a beacon for Southeast Asian fishing tournaments for several decades, although whether fish are the principal attraction is open to question. One of the regular organisers, Uwe Shittek, comes up on Skype most days, and there are many options for private fishing charters available from larger boat dealers. Try Asia Marine, Lee Marine, Derani Yachts, Simpson Marine etc. Also check out Phuket RendezVous exhibitors in January.
Elsewhere, some world record pelagic fish, confirmed by the US International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) have been hooked and boated in the Philippines, notably in the mid-Sulu Sea east of Palawan. Southern parts of this sea are not recommended due to the insurgency, and be careful anywhere. Eminent restauranteur Vic Vic Villavicencio has been the Philippines leading light. Manila and Subic Bay Yacht Clubs are good places to assess options, as are Puerto Galera and Cebu.
Japan Game Fishing Association (JGFA) holds an annual tournament, usually somewhere around Sagami Bay south of Tokyo, so if Ginza has been one’s focus, worth trying the coast as well, and the fishermen are friendly. Former Mandarin SFA President Noel Jones, whose wife Chiko is Japanese, has been a regular, and his boat is named Kajiki, Japanese for marlin.
The Hawaii International Billfish Tournament on the Kona Coast of the Big Island, Hawaii itself, in progress as I write this mid-September, has long been the world’s most famous event, and the location offers fairly flat water and big billfish year-around, give or take Kilauea volcano which is presently erupting in spectacular flows of fiery red lava. The fishing is a good hour’s drive away.
American former superyacht skipper Joe Gallegos runs a Hawaiian big money sportfishing tournament, for those inclined to have a wager, a month or two earlier. His Hawaii Open is scheduled 15-17 July 2018, with the Kona Shootout immediately after. Some prior exerience helps at these sort of events, but basically, one can hire a boat at Honokohau Harbour anytime.
Last but by no means least, Australia’s Great Northern 31st Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic takes place 21-28 October. If you want to know anything about game fishing in the Pacific or Indian Oceans, this is the place to be, and like Hawaii, the heavy tackle tournament offers the chance to fight so-called granders, 1,000lb billfish. Fiji and New Zealand are other great sport fishing destinations, including casting for salmon, but unfortunately this issue space precludes. Tight lines.